Revolutionary War Years
The Vails were among the earliest settlers in the Green Brook valley. They owned a succession of large farms reaching across the plains, from the brook to the First Mountain. Many of the little incidents which happened in Revolutionary days are connected in some way or another with their family.
Ephraim Vail, a grandson of John, one of the first settlers, lived in a home still standing on Greenbrook Road. The home was the first two-story house built this side of Brunswick Landing and was the one nearest the Rock for long years.
During the Revolutionary War, Mrs. Abraham Vail, mother of Ephraim, one day discovered four half-famished British soldiers concealed in the barn. Although she stood firmly for the American cause, she was too kind to allow them to suffer from cold and hunger. She took them into the house and warmed and fed them
They were discovered in the house by a detachment of Continental troops. The old chestnut tree (see story of Indians in Green Brook) which stood in an open lot, a little back from Greenbrook Road, marked the spot where they were executed. One was shot and his body is said to have been thrown out into the pig pen. Mr. Vail was arrested and taken to Morristown, where after a hasty trial, he was condemned to death as a traitor to his country.
He was mounted on the scaffold and the rope was already around his neck when a reprieve arrived, releasing him. It seems that Colonel Martin, in command of the Continental troops at New Brunswick, heard of the affair and knowing of his loyalty to the cause of freedom, hastened to procure his freedom. The Colonel also stipulated that if at a later date any boy be born to Mr. Vail, he should be named Martin; hence the name Ephraim Martin Vail. Because of this, many descendants of Ephraim Vail were given the name Martin.
More images and information on the Blue Hills Plantation. Edward Fitz-Randolph, a prominent early settler in Green Brook, owned the home built in 1758 by Thomas Vail which many years afterward became the famous dining place, "The Blue Hills Plantation". It was this same Edward Fitz-Randolph, who was visiting with a group of neighbors at the Jonah Vail farm when Washington rode into the yard and inquired about a good place on the mountain for a look-out.
The following is an extract from a letter written by the late George Fitz-Randolph to Mrs. John P. Harriman, who had written him at the request of the Continental Chapter of the D.A.R.
"In the year 1777 or '78, Washington with 6000 men was encamped on the ridge at Middlebrook, near the West of Bound Brook. The British army was encamped at New Brunswick, Rahway and Perth Amboy, making incursions in the surrounding country. Doubtless with an intent of guarding against a serious incursion or surprise, Washington was on his way to the top of the mountain back of Green Brook. Be that as it may, he, with an aide-de-camp mounted, rode in the gateway and up to a group of men, standing between the house and barn on the farm, now known as the Jonah Vail farm.
Washington asked 'Can any of you gentlemen guide me to some spot on the mountain from whence a good view of the plain below can be obtained?' Edward Fitz-Randolph, on of the group said, 'I know of the best point on the mountain for that purpose', and added that if he had his horse he would take him to it. Thereupon, Washington requested his aide to dismount and await his return. Fitz-Randolph, mounted upon the aide's horse, piloted the General to the Rock, which today bears the historic name of 'Washington Rock'.
"I have given the above nearly word for word, as given by Ephraim Vail, who died a few years since, aged 90, and over on the farm in Green Brook, where he was born and raised. Josiah Vail gave the same version of the incident; indeed, any of the old residents of Green Brook would corroborate the same, were they alive. All these Vails were Quakers, owning adjoining farms, and their word is as reliable and authentic as are similar facts which, in the same way, make up their history.
"Edward Fitz-Randolph, my grandfather, mentioned above, was at the time a young man. He was an ardent Quaker and sat with Ephraim Vail and others on the facing seat in the old Meeting House by the depot, which he, being a mason helped to build.
(Signed) George W. Fitz-Randolph"
Another very prominent family in the area with which the story of Washington and the "Rock" is closely associated is a Dutch family by the name of Vermeule.
Cornelius Vermeule and his brother Frederick lived on a large plantation of 1200 acres which they purchased in 1736. It extended from the mountains over to Eighth Street in Plainfield, and from Spooner Avenue southwest to Clinton Avenue. West of Green Brook it covered all from West End Avenue to Jefferson Avenue. At the Western-most corner was Washington Rock. This large piece of land was called the "Blue Hills" plantation. The homestead on the plantation was a large Dutch house which was located at Clinton Avenue and Greenbrook Road. A large Victorian type house today stands near or on the site of the Dutch homestead.
Cornelius Vermeule was a widower, his wife having died in 1766. He had four sons, Adrian, Eder, Frederick and Cornelius whose ages ranged from eighteen to thirty-three. The father, as well as the sons, did his share in the cause of freedom during the Revolutionary War. Frederick, his brother, took care of the plantation.
The British were in New Jersey. Many battles were being fought. There were important roads and mountain passes that had to be guarded, such as: the Quibbletown-Scotch Plains Road, and an important mountain pass at Somerset Street, and a gap at Middlebrook.
General Washington was aware that some kind of fortification was badly needed in the vicinity. A site was chosen on the Vermeule plantation because of the location at the base of the mountains, the numerous springs that would furnish water, and the gravelly texture of the soil for sanitary reasons. Cornelius Vermeule Sr. was elected a member of the Somerset Committee of Correspondence in 1755. Since he was a very religious man, and very well-known for his patriotic spirit, there was no hesitation about putting a Military Post on his property.
Early in 1777, the camp was established by Colonel Winds. He and his staff were quartered at the Vermeule homestead, where all was a bustle for they were building a large fort at the camp. Every resource of the plantation and of the Blue Hills, from Scotch Plains to Quibbletown (New Market) in horses, cattle, slaves, and material were drawn upon. Eder Vermeule's new house and the new mill on Green Brook were given over to the Army, Over the brook, half a mile west of the fort was the Vermeule homestead, with its great Dutch barns, slave quarters, and abundant equipment. The two mills on Green Brook furnished flour, feed, sawed lumber, and firewood."
Taken from speech made by C. C. Vermeule, "The Revolutionary Camp Ground at Plainfield, New Jersey."
When Washington reached New Brunswick, he ordered many of the Jersey troops that were with him to proceed to the Camp on the Vermeule plantation to protect the country from the plundering bands of enemy soldiers. This important Revolutionary military post, with a large fort, was located along the east bank of the Green Brook, about midway between Clinton and West End Avenues. In all, the encampment covered about 95 acres. The Vermeule family records show that many of the detachments of soldiers and their officers were quartered there during the war.
It was the militia stationed at the Blue Hills post that kept the enemy away from the mountains. Had they gotten through the mountain passes to the other side of the mountain it would have been a great blow to the American Army. They also stopped the pillaging and plundering of the enemy to a great extent and stopped a possible defeat. At all times the Militia in New Jersey outnumbered the Continental line. More than once they saved the Continentals from annihilation.
Washington had been shown the spot on the mountain that made the ideal look-out. He could see not only the area nearby, but for a circuit of sixty miles. Washington himself was often a guest at the Vermeule homestead during the gloomiest period of the War, which was in 1776-1777. It was from the homestead that he went to the "Rock" to watch the movement of the British. It is said that he went there often, alone, and sat in deep thought.
Battles were fought in Quibbletown, Westfield, Woodbridge, Short Hills, Bound Brook, Piscataway and other small towns. Soldiers from the fort came to the rescue. Only once did the enemy get near the Blue Hills Post and that was at the battle of the Blue Hills. Things looked pretty gloomy for a time but the enemy was finally driven back by the Militia. The British failed in their attempt to draw Washington into a general engagement and get him to come down from the Rock. Washington is said to have had just a few men; but when he saw that the British were watching him, he deceived them by keeping them guessing, for he kept the few men marching continuously around the rock. (This story may or may not be true). His scheme seemed to work because on a sizzling June day, 1777, the British retreated via Rahway to Amboy and boarded the ships.
The next time that the Blue Hills saw the Army in force was July 5, 1778. It was returning from the battle of Monmouth. All of the Blue Hills men were returning from that terrible battle on the burning sands of Monmouth. Again in June, 1789, two years later came the battle of Springfield, when the Jersey soldiers drove back 7000 of England's best troops. This was the last important battle on Jersey soil. On August 28, 1781, the American Army came once more over the highway through Scotch Plains and by the Blue Hills Post on its way to the final victory at Yorktown.
For over seven months during the darkest period of the War, the brave Revolutionary soldiers who garrisoned the fort repulsed the enemy. It was from this outpost on the Vermeule plantation that General Washington finally turned back the whole British Army and compelled them to evacuate the State.
The Rock surely played its part in the War and can rightfully take its place in the history of Green Brook Township.
Many attempts were made to mark the Rock in some suitable manner, but it was difficult as the property changed hands so often. The property at last was purchased by Mr. Charles McCutchen and held in trust for the people of Plainfield and North Plainfield. An Act by the Senate and General Assembly of the State of New Jersey to provide for the acquisition of "Washington Rock" and adjoining lands in the County of Somerset and for the appointment of a Commission to improve and maintain the same as a public park was approved on March 27, 1913.
The Washington Rock Park Commission was established with three of the members being Daughters of the American Revolution. The commission had the power to acquire by deed the gift in the name of the State of New Jersey, the land on which "Washington Rock" was located, together with the adjoining lands not to exceed one hundred acres in extent. In all, they acquired twenty-eight acres - "Washington Rock Park." Recently a gift of six acres below the original rock was donated so there are now thirty-four acres in the Park.
The Continental Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution erected a monument to stand as a memorial for all time. So that the people would feel that they had a part in the building of the memorial, money was raised by public subscription. The monument stands about twenty feet above the rock which was the original rock connected with the story of Washington. The caretaker lives in the colonial house which was erected in 1912 on the site of the old Washington Hotel (which burned many years ago). Until a few years ago, most of the first floor of the house was a museum, which contained many articles belonging to the colonial period. When museums opened up in areas nearby, fewer people visited the museum. The articles were taken to the Drake House in Plainfield and other historical museums.