Hudson River and the Highlands

views updated

Hudson River and the Highlands

HUDSON RIVER AND THE HIGHLANDS. The Hudson River, which could be navigated by the largest warships one hundred miles upstream, was a vital avenue of strategic movement between Canada and the thirteen colonies during the colonial wars and during the Revolution. The Hudson River region was of particular concern to the British during the Revolution because of its high concentration of Loyalists.

The Hudson Highlands are a topographical curiosity in that they cross the strategic Hudson River forty-five miles north of New York City, constituting a natural barrier of easily defensible terrain. Rising above the five-hundred-foot contour, they are the highest ground along the Hudson-Mohawk-Lake Champlain system of waterways. Early in the war, on 25 May 1775, the Continental Congress therefore resolved to fortify the Highlands, and a few months later work was started opposite West Point at Martelaer's Rock (later Constitution Island). Early the next year this effort was abandoned, but Forts Clinton and Montgomery were built astride Popolopen Creek.

Clinton's expedition to the Highlands in October 1777 made short work of these defenses, but for strategic reasons the British were forced to abandon their gains. Washington's engineers took another look at this critical terrain and decided that the main fortification should be at West Point. Planned for the most part by the French engineer Louis de La Radière, construction started on 20 January 1778 by Samuel H. Parsons's brigade. Fort Arnold, later called Fort Clinton, was situated on the tip of the forty-acre plateau that dominated the double right-angle bend of the river at West Point. From March 1778 until June 1780 the Polish engineer Thaddeus Kosciuszko was in charge, and an elaborate system of redoubts and water batteries was constructed. In April 1778 a great sixty-ton chain was stretched across the river to Martelaer's Rock, and the land approaches to West Point from the west were barred by Forts Putnam, Webb, and Wyllys. These were in turn protected by four redoubts.

Despite British efforts, the Hudson Highlands remained in American hands for the rest of the war. Visiting West Point in November 1780, Chevalier de Chastellux was overwhelmed by the engineering wonders accomplished here "by a people, who six years before had scarcely ever seen a cannon."

SEE ALSO Arnold's Treason; Burgoyne's Offensive; Clinton's Expedition; Fort Clinton, New York; Fort Montgomery, New York; Kosciuszko, Thaddeus Andrzej Bonawentura; Parsons, Samuel Holden; Stony Point, New York; West Point, New York.


Chastellux, François Jean, Marquis de. Travels in North America. 2 vols. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1963.

Palmer, Dave R. The River and the Rock: The History of Fortress West Point, 1775–1783. New York: Greenwood, 1969.

                              revised by Michael Bellesiles

About this article

Hudson River and the Highlands

Updated About content Print Article