Defenses were set up quickly and soldiers were quartered at the homes scattered throughout New York’s northern Westchester County.
While New York’s northern Westchester County did not witness any major battles during the Revolutionary War, skirmishes were frequent in the area among the militia, bands of Loyalists, and the American and British armies. Lieutenant Christopher Greene was given a strategic command in the area when George Washington decided to fortify the Pines Bridge crossing of the Croton River.
Greene arrived during early April 1781 with his 1st Rhode Island Regiment of Negro and Indian slaves purchased by the government for military service. The soldiers were quartered in farmhouses north of the Croton River. These homes belonged to Widow Remsen, Isaiah Flewelling, Widow Griffin and David Montross.
Negroes were posted at the Griffin and Montross homes. Griffin lived on a part of Crompond Road, also known as King Street (presently Hanover Avenue, with Hanover an earlier name for the area), about one half-mile from Pines Bridge. Burned during 1913, the home was a three-story L-shaped white structure at the northeast corner of the present Boone Road and Hanover Avenue. Montross lived on the present Somers Road (which was known at the time as the Pines Bridge Road, as were several roads in the area, including Hanover, that led to the crossing). Remsen lived between them. The Montross, Remsen and Flewelling sites now are under the reservoir created when the Pines Bridge valley was flooded during the early 1900s.
Farther north on the Crompond Road continues to stand the farmhouse of Quaker Isaac Underhill. It served as quarters for a French general during that army’s movement through the area. It also is the house where British Major John Andre ate breakfast, supposedly on the back steps, before he crossed Pines Bridge to make his way back to the British lines with the plans to West Point.
Strategic Davenport House
The nearby Davenport House occasionally served as patriot headquarters. The first known occupation was by Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Thompson, the commander at Young’s House about 12 miles south during a February 1780 raid. Not long before Greene arrived, it was headquarters for Colonel William Hull.
After his arrival at the Davenport House, Greene inspected defenses and wrote to Rhode Island’s secretary of state on April 16: “I was overjoyed at the Major’s (Ebenezer Flagg) arrival. I yesterday went with him to the lines at Pines Bridge…I expect when I go upon the lines to be more industrious and alert, otherwise I may be surprised; that, you know, I always held up as unpardonable for an officer.”
Davenport’s is a considerable distance form Pines Bridge by modern roads. A more direct route through the several hundred acres of the family farm existed at the time. This route joined with Crompond Road about a half mile north of the bridge at a once narrow pass through a rock formation. After the war, this area was called “Spook Rocks” as locals believed spirits of those who died during the war manifested themselves during favorable occasions.
Over the years, the appearance of the Davenport House has changed, but the original structure is evident. The first owners (Danfurtt anglicized to Danforth and then Davenport) settled the land prior to 1750. Croton Heights Road once passed in front of what is now the back of the house. Greene and his officers were quartered in the western portion of the house, allowing the Richard Davenport family to conduct life in the larger eastern section.
The Setting At The Davenport House
On the night of May 13, 1781, the Croton River’s passes were secured and the bridge’s floor planks removed to prevent a surprised approach by Loyalist bands and British soldiers. At widow Griffin’s home, 30 colored troops were quartered under Ensign Jeremiah Greenman (Colonel Greene’s nephew). Greene’s cousin, Captain Thomas Hughes, the regiment’s paymaster, came to the lines to pay the troops and elected to remain the night. Troops also were at the nearby Flewelling and Montross homes. Major Amos Morrill of the 1st New Hampshire Line and attached to the headquarters staff, was at Widow Remsen’s home and may have been off duty.
At Davenport’s, a large bedchamber occupied most, if not all, of the second floor of the western section. Those present were Greene, Flagg, Lieutenant Ebenezer Macomber (confined to bed), an unknown lieutenant from the New Hampshire Line and a Continental Surgeon known as Dr. Cushman. About 50 troops occupied tents in the yard east and north of the house. A small unit was on the south side.
As May 14 dawned, patriot guards at nearby Oblenis Ford on the Croton River were dismissed. According to British accounts, a party of 300 (200 foot soldiers and 100 cavalry) had left Morrisania (now part of the borough of The Bronx but then part of southern Westchester County) on May 13. As the soldiers traveled overnight to Pines Bridge, Loyalist guides led them past patriot pickets and patrols.
This was the setting for what would become known as the Massacre at Pines Bridge. Descriptions of the fight are preserved in contemporary accounts that include stories passed down over time among members of the Davenport family.