Unpublished Work © 1987
Author: Robert J. Shanahan, Jr.
Prepared for Internet publication © 1997
By: D. Mark Faber with permission of author


Economic, social and geographic conditions in Bergen County produced the circumstances for its role in the American Revolution. A large loyalist population and the County’s use as a foraging base for British soldiers can be tied directly to the area's pre-war economic connections with New York. Similarly, the violence of Tory raiders was, in part, an extension of religious hatred within the Dutch Reformed Church, begun decades before the colonial revolt. The County's geographic closeness to British Headquarters in New York created a haven for loyalist troops, making them immune to counterattack. Against these conditions, John Outwater's company of militiamen, and other Bergen County troops, could do little but watch as area farms were stripped and burned by enemy foraging parties. The militiamen themselves were confined to harassment of the enemy and to stopping illicit trade. Even this was without success.

In the preparation of this manuscript, I wish to thank the New Jersey Historical Commission for its "1980 Grant-In-Aid For Research In Local History". I would also like to thank the numerous people who assisted me in this project, especially Dr. Terence Ripmaster and Dr. Michael Shaw of The William Paterson College of New Jersey, whom I found to be unfailing sources of inspiration and guidance.

Robert J. Shanahan, Jr.
March 1981

By the beginning of the eighteenth century, the Village of Hackensack had become the most important settlement in colonial Bergen County. Excellent shipping facilities along the adjacent Hackensack River, access to major roads north, south, east, and west, and proximity to one of the few bridges across the river, made Hackensack a center of trade, travel and communication between the County's agricultural society and the great markets of New York City. It was also the seat of county government.

The majority of the County's citizens were prosperous Dutch farmers1 , the descendants of the original settlers who had founded New Netherlands a century and a half before. Complete records are unavailable, but land indentures, birth and baptismal records and wills suggest an ethnically homogeneous community and one, moreover, of modest but general prosperity.2 These close economic and ethnic ties were also reflected in the political organization of the County. Public office holders usually were men of piety with interlocking familial and social connections.3

Religion was an important element in the life of this community. By the 1770's there were thirteen Dutch Reformed churches in the County. One of the most important churches, at Hackensack, was founded in 1686. In those days it was common for one minister to serve several congregations. Thus in 1737 the churches of Hackensack and Schraalenburgh (present day Dumont) shared the same minister.4

The homogeneity of the County -- enforced by ethnic, economic, social and religious ties -- was shattered in the early 1730's by a religious reform movement known as "The Great Awakening." Protestant ministers of various sects throughout New England and the middle colonies began to complain of a decline in religious zeal among their congregations. They complained that people gave only an outward compliance to religious practice and had lost the inner fervor which had once been a vital sign of faith. A growing number of ecclesiastics began to urge a regeneration of the faith in their congregations and called on them to confront their sins and to become Christians of spirit. The skill and fervor with which these ministers attracted large and responsive audiences, and moved many to emotional displays of repentance. The more orthodox ministers, sometimes referred to as the "old lights"5 viewed these religious outbursts as the heresy of enthusiasm, and rejected the belief that the emotional impulses were signs of God's will. Thus a new factionalism emerged throughout the colonies, which affected, as well, the Dutch Reformed Church of Bergen County.6

The upheaval in Bergen County can be traced to the arrival in 1730 of Reverend Antonius Curtenius, who was called from Holland to be the pastor of the Hackensack Reformed Church. Curtenius would serve Hackensack for more than thirty years. During his tenure he succeeded in uniting the churches of Hackensack and Schraalenburgh under his ministry. Curtenius appears to have been an "old light" and would not have agreed with the emotional teachings of such new light ministers as Theodore Frelinghuysen in the Raritan Valley.7 The growing Popularity of "new light' ministries in Bergen County is reflected in the congregations. John Henry Goetchius arrived in October of 1748 from Long Island, where he had already gained a considerable following, and sharp criticism from old light ministers for his fervent sermons. In particular, one sermon, "The Unknown God", which bad criticized the piety of his church members, had drawn an angry denunciation from church elders: "shall this stripling tell us that we have so long served an unknown God?"8 Thus, his arrival in Bergen County led to a sharp conflict between Curtenius and Goetchius which soon spread to engulf the two congregations of the united churches.9

The bitter struggle at Hackensack and Schraalenburgh is easily established. Shortly after his arrival, Goetschius attempted to gain control of church property by obtaining a charter from the governor without the knowledge of the Curtenius faction. When the latter objected to this, the charter was revoked. Goetschius was successful however in electing a church consistory which supported his ministry over that of his rival. As a result, elders refused to attend services lead by Curtenius.10 The victory for the "new lights" was not a total one, however. The congregations of the two churches divided into two hostile factions, each of which rejected the authority of the other's minister. The passions aroused by this conflict often took the form of verbal abuse and even threatened. violence. On one occasion Goetschius was forced to wear his dress sword behind the pulpit at Hackensack to assert his authority.11

During this same period, a controversy over ecclesiastical authority developed within the Dutch Church. Those ministers associated with the forces of the Great Awakening sought to obtain ecclesiastical autonomy from the Classis of Amsterdam. These progressive ministers claimed that it was too distant and the cost too prohibitive to justify a reliance on Amsterdam for ordained ministers and religious rulings. They formed the Coetus party, of which Goetschius was a member, and petitioned the Amsterdam Classis for autonomy in 1738. In 1747, this petition was granted. The old lights opposed this separation and the subsequent decision of the Coetus to constitute itself as an American classes, in 1753, made the former only more fervent in their opposition. By 1755 the old light dissenters had organized themselves into the Conferentie party, of which Rev. Curtenius was a member. The resulting conflict between Conferentie and Coetus adherents exacerbated the struggle between the Goetschius and Curtenius factions in Bergen County. This split cut across family lines, dividing husband from wife, parents from children.12 One faction would lock out the other from worship and attacks on members of opposing factions were common. It is said that violence from the Conferentie was most "vehement and outrageous."13 The previously united congregations split into two at Hackensack and Schraalenburgh, "worshipping on alternate Sabbaths in the same building, each acknowledging the right of the other to one half of the property at each location."14 Although by 1775, both Curtenius and Goetschius had been replaced, factional enmity would continue for decades.

John Outwater was born on September 17, 1746, just as the Great Awakening began to affect the Bergen County area.15 The American roots of his family extend back to Franz Jacobsen who had emigrated sometime prior to 1657 from Oudewater, Holland to settle in Albany, New York. In Albany, Franz had raised two sons: Thys Franz Outwater and Thomas Franz Outwater. In 1686, Thys left Albany and settled in Tappan, New York where his descendants can be found today. Thys' grandson, Dr. Thomas Outwater, was a noted surgeon in the Revolutionary army.16 Franz’s other son, Thomas Franz Outwater, bought a third share of a stretch of land called Moonachie Island between Berry's creek, Indian Path, Losing Creek, and the Hackensack River by 1680.17 Thomas had seven children: Jacob, Thomas, John, Peter, Elizabeth, Jnnneke and Annajie.18 John Outwater, the son of Jacob, was born at Moonachie in 1746.19

The Jacob Outwater family differed little from other Bergen County Dutch families. Their moderate wealth was derived mostly from the sale of farm products in Hackensack and New York. Jacob Outwater served as a Bergen County Judge in Hackensack between 1755 and 1758.20 The Outwater's were also active members of the Reformed Church at Hackensack.21 Although Jacob's role in the Coetus - Conferentie dispute is not known, the available evidence does suggest that his was an active one. For example, a meeting of the Coetus on September 11-14, 1753 requested that:

The existing differences at Hackensack and Schraalenburgh should be adjusted in love, and that the two ministers, Curtenius and Goetschius, and also the Consistory, and Outwater (J. Outwater) and his friends should be earnestly recommended to revive the brotherly love which has begun to grow cool.22
Further evidence of his religious beliefs can be found in Jacob's will. in it, Jacob warned his three sons that if they left the Dutch Reformed Church he would divide his properties evenly among his eight children instead of bequeathing it to them alone.23

Jacob's son John married Harriet Lozier and had six children.24 By 1774, John had begun to acquire large tracts of land adjacent to the properties he had received from his father. In this same year, he was elected Sheriff of Bergen County.25 The services to his monarch would be short lived.

The relative prosperity of this closely-knit farming community was little affected by the growing opposition to the acts of the British Parliament. However, the blockade of Boston did send ripples of concern through Bergen County. If Parliament could blockade Boston, it could also disrupt the Bergen County economy by blockading New York. Thus it was natural that a majority of Bergen County's farmers supported efforts toward a peaceful solution to the dispute between the colonies and the Crown. At a meeting of over 300 residents of Bergen County, held in Hackensack in 1774, a resolution was passed which, while reaffirming their loyalty to the King, endorsed the election of delegates to a colonial congress whose purpose was to petition an end to Parliament's ruinous ad-ministration of the colonial economy.26

The worst fears of Bergen County were confirmed with the arrival of Admiral Richard Howe's fleet in New York Harbor on June 27, 1776, and the reinforcement of the British garrison on Staten Island. To counter this military presence, the newly established Continental Army, then concentrating its forces in New Jersey, built Fort Lee along the Hudson and Washington himself established his headquarters in the center of Hackensack.27 The war had come to Bergen County and with it came the disruption of its economy. The most pressing problem for the Bergen County farmer became economic survival.

For many in the county, there was little choice. Washington's undisciplined and disorganized army could never force the professional British army from the colonies. Soon His majesty's regiments would be operating freely throughout Bergen County, taking reprisals against all those disloyal to the King. The British occupation of New York, which was Bergen County’s major market, made it increasingly practical for Bergen County's residents to profess loyalty to the King. This was especially true because the King's army paid for its provisions in gold.28 To these economically minded Dutchmen, it was only a matter of time before the rebellion ended.. Thus, from June until November 1776, the majority of those who had previously been known as Whigs would sign loyalty oaths. Some, such as Abraham Van Buskirk, received commissions in the loyalist militia.29 One Whig, Robert Morris, complained:

The County lies under the direction of men who in their hearts are our secret enemies and oppose the measures taken by the continent, and do no one thing in 'their capacity as a Committee but what fear compels and they secretly disapprove .... Judge you, sir what a damp (these men) throw upon those among us who are heartily disposed to favor the cause (of our) country. I….fear the consequences.30

Most members of the Conferientie party of the Dutch Reformed Church were loyalists while many of the Coetus subscribed to Whig beliefs. The more conservative Conferientie wished to maintain old world ties, while the reform-minded Coetus was naturally predisposed to take a more independent position. Consequently, the religious qualms which had divided these two groups would spill over into the struggle for political sovereignty. Unfortunately, the violence also carried over; the Revolution became a pretext for religious civil war.31

Continue this article in PART II

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1. Bergen County Bar Association, Washington and His Army in Bergen County: November 13-21, 1776 (Hackensack, NJ: Bergen County Bar Association, 1957), p. 10.

2. Ruth M. Keesey, Loyalty and Reprisal: The Loyalists of Bergen and Their Estates (New York: Columbia University, 1957), P. 218.

3. Ibid., p. 7.

4. Benjamin C. Taylor, Annals of the Classis of Bergen of the Reformed Dutch Church (New York: Board of Publication of the Protestant Dutch Church, 1857), p. 170.

5. Institute of Early American History, The Great Awakening: Documents on the Revival of Religion, 1740-l745. Richard L. Bushmand, ed. (New York: Atheneum, 1969), p. 85.

6. Ibid., p. 3-87, et passim.

7. Ibid., p. 4.

8. Rev. Theodore B. Romeyn, Historical Discourse Delivered on Occasion of the Re-opening and Dedication of the First Reformed (Dutch) Church at Hackensack, New Jersey: May 2, 1869 (New York Board of Publication, 1870), p. 58.

9. Ibid., p. 49-58, et passim.

10. Taylor, p. 181.

11. Romeyn, p. 60.

12. Taylor, p. 182-83.

13. A number of secondary sources state that the intense level of congregational violence at Hackensack and Schraalenburgh was not found elsewhere among Dutch churches in New York and New Jersey. There is no clear evidence of this assertion. Romeyn, p. 55.

14. Ibid., p. 55.

15. Tombstone of John Outwater, Hosbach Farm Cemetery, Carlstadt, New Jersey.

16. There were at least three Thomas Outwaters. The first, the son of Thys, was appointed by authorities to practice the "Suttonian System of Physick" in Orange and Bergen Counties. New Jersey Historical Society, Archives of the State of New Jersey: Newspaper Extracts (Paterson: The Press Printing and Publishing Co., 1905), VIII, 1770-1771, p. 481. The second was a 1762 Princeton College graduate and a Dutch Reformed Church minister. He was the son of Elizabeth Outwater, a sister of John Outwater's father. The third Thomas, was a loyalist in the Revolutionary War period. John Outwater may have been his cousin. New Jersey Historical Society, Archives of the State of New Jersey: Newspaper Extracts (Paterson: The Call Printing Co., 1902), V, 1762-1765, p. 637. Keesey, p. 244.

17. Frances A. Westervelt, History of Bergen County, NJ: 1630-1923 (New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Co., 1923), I, p. 382.

18. Cornelius B. Harvey, ed. Genealogical History of Hudson and Bergen Counties, New Jersey (New York: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1900), p. 169.

19. Memorial Stone to John Outwater. Hosbach Farm Cemetery, Carlstadt, New Jersey.

20. Woodford W. Clayton and William Nelson, History of Bergen and Passaic Counties (Philadelphia: Everts & Peck, 1882), p. 82.

21. Adrian C. Leiby, The United Churches of Hackensack and Schraalenburgh, New Jersey: 1686-1822 (River Edge, NJ: Bergen County Historical Society, 1976), p. 97.

22. Romeyn, appendix V, VIII, IX, XXVII.

23. New Jersey Historical Society, Archives of the State of New Jersey: Abstracts of Wills (Newark, New Jersey Law Journal, 1944), IX, 1796-1800, p. 271-72.

24. Clayton, p. 401.

25. On November 10, 1774, John posted an eight hundred pound bond obliging him to fulfill his duties "with respect to all persons whatsoever concerned as to our said Lord the King." Bergen County Deed and Mortgage Vault, Bergen County Administration Building, Hackensack, NJ. Book C, #17.

26. Bergen County Bar Association, p. 11.

27. Ibid., p. 12.

28. Keesey, p. 7.

29. Westervelt, P. 103-04.

30. Adrian C. Leiby, The Revolutionary War in the Hackensack Valley: The Jersey Dutch and the Neutral Ground (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, l980), p. 33.

31. Ibid., p. 20.

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