The Capture of John Cadmus


The Bulletin of the Passaic County Historical Society, November 1956

It all happened when the American Revolution was well under way about 1780 and the British were occupying New York.  But, in that fateful November 1776, when Washington raced his troops from the Hudson River across Bergen and Passaic Counties, with the British at his heels, events occurred which led to the story of John Cadmus.  On November 20, 1776, Washington left Hackensack with his army and got them safely across the Passaic River on the twenty-second.  The British followed and reached the Passaic River on November 26.  Along the Wesel Road on the Passaic County side of the river were about thirty farms extending from that of Michael Vreeland, whose house still stands (1956) off Vreeland Avenue, near East Twentieth Street, Paterson southward to Acquackanonk Landing (Passaic).  There were fewer homes on the Bergen County side of the river along the old Sloughterdam Road.

The British consumed two days in covering eight miles, thus allowing the American forces to reach New Brunswick in safety.  However, while the British were in the vicinity of the Passaic River they pillaged practically every farm in the area before continuing the chase of Washington.

Why they passed by the farm of John Cadmus during that November is not known.  John Cadmus was a son of the immigrant – one Thomas Fredericksan De Cuyper from Cadderius, Friesland, Holland.   Thomas De Cuyper (Cadmus) was in New Amsterdam (New York) as early as 1650 and one of his three sons, John, settled along the Sloughterdam Road, Saddle River Township, Bergen County.

cadmusThe old Dutch-type brownstone farmhouse stood along the river exactly opposite the present (1956) Dundee Dam.  Today  (1956) the old home of his great-grandson, Cornelius J. Cadmus, still stands on the same site.  Here for many years Cornelius J. Cadmus lived and farmed.  After his retirement he built a home on Lexington Avenue, Passaic, the town where he had been born in 1829.  Cornelius J. Cadmus was a vigorous and active man even in his later years, with a very acute mind.  In 1905, when 76 years of age, he wrote the most interesting story of the capture of his great-grandfather by the British having gleaned the facts from many well-preserved family manuscripts.  This unusual story has been in the hands of the family of the late Colonel Wilmer A. Cadmus for many years and we are indebted to his widow, Mrs. Ida Cadmus for the manuscript and permission to publish it for the first time.  To Mr. Warren K. Cadmus, grandson of Cornelius J. Cadmus, we express our thanks for the loan of the (above) 1900 photograph of the Cadmus home along the Sloughterdam road.

Near his farm was a ford across the Passaic River, known for many years as Cadmus Ford.  On November 21, 1939, a bronze tablet, set on a large boulder at the bridge across the Passaic River for N.J. Highway 6 (now U. S. No. 46), was unveiled by Miss Melva Cadmus of Paterson, daughter of the late Colonel Wilmer A. and Ida Cadmus, and a lineal descendant of John Cadmus
of  Soughterdam.

Cadmus Ford Bridge
New Jersey Highway No. 6

Beneath this bridge is the ford of the Revolution from Cadmus’ farm across the Passaic River.  British General Clinton’s map shows fords here, and at Post’s, Van Winkle’s, Garrison’s, Ryerson’s, and Godwin’s near the Passaic Falls.

November 21, 1776

On retreat across New Jersey destroyed Acquackanonk Bridge three miles below.  Hence Cornwallis, pursuing Washington and refugees and raiders used these fords.  In 1780, Washington inspected this York Road site from his Dey Mansion Headquarters.  Old Wesel driftway still runs along the old Doremus farm westerly up the hill to the mountains.

….All gone but memories….
This tablet placed by the
Captain Abraham Godwin Chapter of the
New Jersey Society
Sons of the American Revolution
November 21, 1939

The Raid

patriot22The edited story written by Cornelius J. Cadmus concerning the pillage of his great-grandfather’s farm and the fateful capture of John Cadmus states that it happened about midway of the Revolution when a British raiding party, consisting of an officer and twenty-five men, appeared approaching the farm of John Cadmus.  They were observed by some members of the family.  John Cadmus and his son-in-law David Marinus, recently married to his daughter Sorchie, grabbed their bayoneted muskets and hastily retreated to the low loft above the kitchen.

When the British reached the house, the officer approached the door and assured Mrs. Cadmus that she and her four children, Andrew, Cornelius, Tryntji and Sorchie would be safe from harm if they behaved “civilly” but that it was their intention to loot the place without any resistance.  Due to the size of the party, no resistance seemed wise.

John Cadmus was the possessor of considerable property.  He owned twenty-four slaves, twenty horses, many cows and pigs, fowl and a large quantity of grain and hay.  His smokehouse was well supplied with meats and the potato cellars were filled with potatoes and turnips.  The foragers seized twelve horses, harnessed them, took six large wagons and proceeded to fill them with hay, oats, corn, potatoes, emptied the smoke house taking every strip of bacon and ham; captured many of the fowl but missed the ducks and geese which were swimming on the river.  When every wagon was filled to capacity and they were prepared to drive off to New York with their loot, they held a consultation in front of the door of the farmhouse.  (apparently, they felt that something irregular was taking place since none of the men of the farm had put in an appearance.)The soldiers entered the house and inquired of Mrs. Cadmus as to the whereabouts of the men.  Mrs. Cadmus told them that her husband and son-in-law had gone off to the woods.  Not being altogether satisfied with this explanation, the officers directed a search of the house from the cellar to the garret as well as another thorough search of the outbuildings.  Since John Cadmus and David Marinus were well known, ardent Patriots, the British desired to take them to their command in New York.

A thorough search produced nothing, but as they were about to depart, one of the men spied a scuttle trap in the kitchen ceiling.  It was very small, just barely large enough for a man to squeeze through.  This opening was common in those Dutch farmhouses, which had additions built at the rear of their homes for kitchens.  These additions with low, sloping roofs whose eaves were just above the kitchen door, had but little space above the ceiling.  But it was usual for the Dutch farmwives to use this space to store away a few things which were seldom used.

The British decided to open this trap and take a look through the small, dark loft.  They secured a ladder, forced open the trap and as they approached the opening they were met with two bayoneted muskets.  Both Cadmus and Marinus belonged to the local militia and for the soldiers to proceed meant instant death to them.  Not desiring trouble in this stage, the men held another short parley at the foot of the ladder.

While these events were proceeding, Mrs. Cadmus was busily engaged.  Being desperately angry at the plundering and realizing now that she might lose her men folks to the enemy, she seized the ammunition bag which her husband failed to take with him in his hurry.  She knew that the only ammunition the men had was what was contained in their muskets so she secreted the ammunition bag under her large, full apron, crowded against the troopers who were parleying under the scuttle trap and tossed up the bag saying in Dutch, Take that and help yourselves.

The plunderers, now angered by this act of the plucky Mrs. Cadmus, declared that they would secure the men at all hazards, ordered the women and the children from the house saying that they planned to set it on fire.  As the torch was made ready, the men trapped in the loft, with only the small opening as means of escape, realized that their situation was grave.  Parleying with the British, who promised kind treatment if they would come down, both John Cadmus and David Marinus decided to surrender – thus saving the farm house and themselves from destruction.

No sooner were the men in the kitchen when they were relieved of their muskets, seized, tied and taken to the wagons outside.  Mrs. Cadmus rushed outside and before the teams could be started, she cut the ropes binding the men.  This action was seen by the Red Coats and the men were again tied more securely, handled very roughly and tossed into the wagon and were driving off to New York, but not before  Mrs. Cadmus upbraided the soldiers for their plundering, their falsity and perfidy.

What had been, only a few moments before, a happy, loving home was now one filled with lamentations and woe.  Their natural protectors would be thrown into prison which might be worse than death.  The slaves had been left without a master.  They were practically worthless now and a few of them were actually dangerous.

John Cadmus and David Marinus were taken to the infamous Rhinelander Sugar House Prison which stood at William, Rose and Duane Streets.  This was a place of untold horror and suffering.  Being young, David Marinus devised a plan of escape and, at the risk of losing his life in so doing, he managed to get out after about two weeks of confinement.  He returned to his bride at the old Cadmus farm and took over its management.

With John Cadmus, however, every minute of his long incarceration was tragic.   When he was thrown into the Sugar House, he was a healthy, strong and very sturdy man; upon his eventual release years later, when the British were driven out of New York, he was entirely broken by the ill treatment, confinement and starvation.  He was removed to his Sloughterdam home but lived only two weeks.  He was buried in the ancient cemetery along the Passaic River at Acquackanonk Landing.

To him and the many others who died in the prison an impressive monument was erected in the old Trinity churchyard, close to Bustling Broadway, New York City.  This Gothic spire perpetuates the memory of the men who succumbed beneath the intense rigors of their captivity for the lot of the Americans taken prisoner by the British was most deplorable.