The Belleville Historical Society will mark its annual July 4th observance with a special ceremony at the historic Dutch Reformed Church cemetery.
It will be dedicating a replica tombstone for Pvt. Hermanus Brown, the 67th Revolutionary War soldier known to be buried in the graveyard. Until recently, the society had been only aware that the cemetery was the final resting place for 66 veterans of the War for Independence.
But Michael Perrone, president of the society, said that the new revelation came to light when, last September an out-of-state resident called to request a tour of the cemetery for a very personal reason.
The caller was Susan Fritz, a South Carolina resident and a 5x great granddaughter of Lt. Henry Brown, who fought with the 1st Regiment of the Essex County Militia and is buried in the graveyard.
Through conversations with other relatives, including Michigan resident Glen Goudley, the 5x great grandson of Lt. Brown, the society learned about a previously unknown Revolutionary War soldier in the cemetery – and the first known to have been killed in battle.
Typically, Perrone said, “the dead were … buried on the battlefield … unless they were close enough to home and there was someone to return the body,” which, he said, was the case with this soldier, Pvt. Hermanus Brown, the son of Lt. Brown, who gave his life for the new country at the age of 18 in June 1780 at the Battle of Connecticut Farms in what is now Union Township.
As outlined by Perrone, the battle was preceded by the enemy forces, 3,000 German and 3,000 British troops, led by Gen. Wilhelm von Knyphausen, landing in Elizabeth with the intent of marching to Morristown to attack Washington’s Continental Army.
But the invaders were spotted by American scouts who sent riders to alert Washington and to call out the Morris and Essex militias. The Second River (Belleville) Dutch Reformed Church served as local military HQ and the mostly Dutch village of Second River was a patriot stronghold.
A mortar blast was fired from the church steeple and church bells rang in the middle of the night as an alarm and the 100 members of the Essex militia scrambled out of bed and formed ranks. Among them were Lt. Henry Brown, his son Pvt. Hermanus Brown and Henry’s cousins Issac and John Brown, who marched off under the command of Brig. Gen. Philip van Cortlandt to take up positions at Connecticut Farms (Union).
At 9 a.m. June 8 the enemy appeared and battle was engaged. Despite being outnumbered and outgunned, the Americans prevented von Knphausen’s men from advancing and, by the afternoon, Washington arrived with reinforcements and ordered a counteroffensive to attack the now-retreating enemy.
However, von Knyphausen had set up an artillery line to cover their retreat and, as the Americans pursued the German-British army across an open meadow, they were met by a barrage of cannon fire from the woods.
As one Essex militiaman, Ashbed Green, later wrote in his diary, “no thunderstorm I have ever witnessed, either in loudness of sound or the shaking of the earth, equaled what I saw and felt in crossing that meadow.”
One of the cannonballs fired struck down Hermanus Brown, thereby ending his brief military career, just 12 miles from his home in what is now the Spring Garden section of Nutley.
Von Knyphausen and his men made it back to Elizabeth where they boarded boats and sailed to New York.
Brown was taken by his father and cousins back to Second River for burial June 9 in the cemetery of the Dutch church where he had been baptized in what must have been the town’s first military funeral.
His tombstone – which bore this epitaph: “Behold me here, as you pass by, Who died for Liberty, From British tyrants now I’m free, My friends prepare to follow me” – was destroyed by British Loyalists as the war raged for three more years after the private’s death.
Perrone credited the Rev. Timothy Alden, a Newark cleric, historian and onetime Allegheny College president who lived during the period, with recapturing the wording of the inscription on the tombstone.
Alden had visited the Dutch Church cemetery while traveling the country in search of inspiring memorial monuments. He pieced together the broken fragments of the original headstone and published the inscription in a book containing a series of inspiring memorials in 1814.
On July 4, at 10 a.m., the society will install an historically accurate new monument to Pvt. Hermanus Brown at the church cemetery. In addition, as part of a tribute to America’s first troops, the society will read a roll call of the 1st Regiment, read from the Declaration of Independence, raise the Colors, sing the national anthem and conclude with the firing a 21-gun salute.