SECOND RIVER –
If you recognize this dateline, you know your local history.
In the 18th century, the town of Second River comprised the communities of what we now call Belleville and Nutley. Back then, they were one. We decided to use that dateline on this story because last Friday, in a sense, they briefly became one again, to honor the memory of a native son who gave his life in the cause of liberty 235 years ago.
The heart — one might say the soul — of Second River was in the area of the Dutch Reformed Church at what is today the intersection of Main and Rutgers Sts. The current church building, now owned by Iglesia Pentecostal La Senda Antigua, dates to 1853 and is the fourth to occupy the site. The original structure was built in 1697; it was rebuilt in 1725 and 1807. (For readers who might not know, it’s the church on the west bank of the Passaic River with the Sandy-damaged steeple.)
Adjacent to it is a small cemetery, which contains graves dating to the 1700s — or perhaps earlier, since the inscriptions on some of the oldest are now illegible.
For years, it has been known that 66 Revolutionary War soldiers are buried there. But the tally was recently increased to 67 after the Belleville Historical Society was alerted to the June 1780 interment of Pvt. Hermanus (“Manus”) Brown of Second River. He is also the first of the interred believed to have died in battle.
Descendants of Lt. Henry Brown, who is also buried there and who was Hermanus’ father, provided the information and documentation. And on Friday, one of those descendants, Glenn Gouldey of Rochester, Mich., was at the graveyard to honor his 4x great-uncle, Hermanus.
Gouldey is also the 5x great-grandson of Lt. Brown and is the current guardian of the lieutenant’s sword, which has been passed down to the oldest sons through the generations. (Unfortunately, he couldn’t bring it from Michigan. Can you imagine dealing with airport security?) This past July 4, the Belleville Historical Society dedicated a replica tombstone for Hermanus, a member of the Essex Militia who was killed by British cannon fire June 8, 1780, in the Battle of Connecticut Farms (Union, N.J.). He was just 18 years old.
Hermanus’ father, Henry, and cousins Isaac and John Brown, fought in the same battle — an American victory — and brought the young hero’s body back to Second River for burial.
(Note: Our colleague Ron Leir wrote a succinct account of the Connecticut Farms combat in the June 30, 2015, Observer. You can find it online.)
Gouldey, who grew up in Flemington, told us he had visited the cemetery as a child. He said he has been doing genealogical research for a couple of decades but started “serious research on Hermanus only about a year and a half ago.” Through family documents, Revolutionary War pension records he found in Washington, D.C., and countless hours on the Internet, he was able to piece together his relative’s story.
Among the treasures found was the original inscription on Hermanus’ tombstone. After the war, a Newark clergyman, the Rev. Timothy Alden, visited numerous graveyards to record soldiers’ epitaphs. These, he published in an 1812 book. Gouldey was able to locate a library copy (he now has his own copy of a later edition) in which he discovered Hermanus’ 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.”
During the Revolution, the tombstone bearing that poem was smashed to bits, apparently by British loyalists. Which is why a replica had to be dedicated. Currently, it bears a placard with the original epitaph, but Michael Perrone, president of the Belleville Historical Society, told us they hope to have it engraved soon.
Alas, the tombstone does not stand on Hermanus’ actual grave. What little remained of the vandalized original disappeared long ago, and there is no record of exactly where in the cemetery he is buried. He is possibly in the Brown family plot with Henry, Isaac and John, but his grave is now unmarked.
(Sidelight on why genealogical research can be so difficult: “Brown” was the Anglicized version of the original Dutch family name “Bruyn.” Lt. Henry Brown, Gouldey told us, had been baptized in the church at Second River as Heinrich Bruyn.)
Following his Belleville visit, Gouldey traveled to the other half of Second River — Nutley — where Hermanus had lived on the Brown family farm in what is now the Spring Garden section.
At a ceremony in the office of Nutley Commissioner Steven Rogers, Gouldey was presented with the Nutley Distinguished Service Medal, which he accepted in memory of Hermanus, noting it was a true honor to see the soldier remembered in such a manner.
“I would never have believed we would ever be doing this — honoring a Revolutionary War hero,” said Rogers, who had launched the medal program to recognize township veterans or their survivors.
Perrone noted that Hermanus was likely the first soldier to die in combat in the history of the town. He added, “One day, you’re a farm boy; the next day, you’re a hero — and no one knew. But now we know.”