The Millstone Valley in the American Revolutionary War
The Millstone River Valley, a natural north-south corridor across New Jersey’s Piedmont Plain, became an important route of travel after the Van Veghten Bridge was built across the Raritan River in 1763. This corridor was used repeatedly by armies of the American Revolution.
First to come this way was a detachment of the British Army sent out in 1776 from New Brunswick to reconnoiter up the Raritan River. They rejoined the main British forces at Princeton via the Millstone valley.
Washington, withdrawing after his victories at Trenton and Princeton in January 1777, turned north at Kingston and led his weary, ragged army up the alley toward the safety of the Watchung Mountains, destroying bridges as he went to hinder pursuit. His exhausted army slept that night in the open fields at Somerset Courthouse (now Millstone).
Washington was an overnight guest in the home of John Van Doren. Next day their march continued north up the valley to the hills and a rest stop at Pluckemin.
A well-armed British foraging party, sent out from New Brunswick on January 30, 1777, were raiding Van Neste’s mill at Weston when militia under General Dickinson waded across the ice-filled river downstream, surprised and routed them, and seized their haul of much needed supplies.
On June 14, 1777, British General Howe, hoping to lure Washington down from the hills into a major engagement, led a British army 10,000 strong out from New Brunswick as far as Somerset Courthouse (Millstone) and set up fortified positions. Skirmishes ensued as far south as Blackwell’s Mills, but Washington stayed aloof. General Howe, having failed to bring on a showdown fight, after a four day encampment returned with his army to New Brunswick.
On October 16, 1778, Lieutenant John Graves Simco and his loyalist Queen’s Rangers launched a daring raid through the upper Raritan Valley, continuing down the Millstone River valley as far as Somerset Courthouse. They arrived by a circuitous route at Van
Veghten’s Bridge, set fire to the Dutch church and a number of flatboats on the north side of the Raritan River, then crossed to follow Millstone River Road to Somerset Courthouse.
There they burned the courthouse, after releasing several loyalist prisoners, and headed east across the Millstone toward a rendezvous at South Amboy. Ambushed near New Brunswick, Simcoe was taken prisoner, but his rangers escaped.
On August 29 – 31, 1781, the French general, the Comte de Rochambeau, at the head of a French army of 4000 en route to Yorktown, Virginia, followed River Road south from Van Veghten’s Bridge, camping overnight at Somerset Courthouse. On the following day the army continued south, crossing the Millstone River at Griggstown, crossing back at Rocky Hill, and continuing on to the next camp at Princeton. The next year, in September 1782, after the defeat of the British Army at Yorktown by the combined American and French forces, the French Army returned north by the same Millstone Valley route.
From August 24 to November 9, 1783, while the Continental Congress was meeting at Princeton, General Washington established his headquarters at Rockingham, home of the Widow Berrien at Rocky Hill. While there he wrote his farewell address to the army.
"Relying on its kindness in this as in other things, and actuated by that fervent love towards it, which is so natural to a man who views in it the native soil of himself and his progenitors for several generations, I anticipate with pleasing expectation that retreat in which I promise myself to realize, without alloy, the sweet enjoyment of partaking, in the midst of my fellow-citizens, the benign influence of good laws under a free government, the ever-favorite object of my heart, and the happy reward, as I trust, of our mutual cares, labors, and dangers," George Washington
ROLE OF THE MILLSTONE RIVER VALLEY IN THE REVOLUTIONARY WAR