On September 22, 1778, Gen.
Sir Henry Clinton ordered Maj. Gen. Sir Charles Grey, Maj. Gen. The Marquess Charles Cornwallis,and Brigadier General Edward Mathews to mobilize troops in an effort to provoke Gen. George Washington into a battle. After learning that Col. George Baylor had secured quarters for his troops, twelve officers and 104 enlisted men, in the barns of several farms on Overkill Road (now Rivervale Road), Cornwallis ordered Grey to pursue Baylor's troops.
Around 3 o'clock in the morning on September 28, 1778, British Major-General Charles Grey mobilized six companies of light infantry under Major Turner Staubenzie and six companies of light infantry under Colonel John Maitland. The troops used their bayonets to maintain the element of surprise as they went from house to house, a tactic Grey used previously in the Battle of Paoli. At least 69 of the dragoons were killed, injured or taken prisoner. Eleven were killed outright; four were left and died of their wounds.
After the attack, some of the injured were taken to the Reformed Church of Tappan in nearby Tappan, New York, which served as a prison and hospital.
The 52nd Regiment of Foot, which was nearing the end of its service in the American War, was involved in this incident. The events were described as follows by General Hunter: "While at New Bridge we heard of their being within twenty-five miles of our camp, and a plan was laid to surprise them. We set out after dark, mounted behind dragoons, and so perfectly secure did the enemy think themselves that not even a sentry was posted. Not a shot was fired, and the whole regiment of dragoons, except a few who were bayoneted, were taken prisoner". Shortly afterwards, the 52nd was ordered back to England.
As they were in their beds and fired not a shot in opposition, the credit that might have been due to the Corps that effected the surprise is entirely buried in the barbarity if their behaviour.”— Lt. Colonel Charles Stuart of the 26th Foot
Early on Sunday morning, the 27th of September, the Third Regiment of Continental Light Dragoons left Paramus to take a position between the Brigade of Major General Putnam - now located at Clarks Town - and the British foraging troops thought to be around "Liberty Pole" and Hackensack. When Colonel Baylor and his troops came to the little stream of the Hackensack River often called the "over the kill" neighborhood, some three miles from the Tappan village, the troop was already familiar with the countryside. After the Battle of Monmouth the previous spring, the regiment had passed that way en route to positions around Hackensack and Paramus. The location was known by various names. Because it was the place of residence of a family named Haring, some called it "Haring town"; others, because it was "outside" of Tappan, thought of it as "Old Tappan". Today the site is in the township of River Vale, New Jersey. Baylor's force consisted of about twelve officers and 104 enlisted men. Many officers and enlisted men were being utilized on detached service and were scattered about. An advance party traveling with the Quartermaster, probably commanded by Major Clough, had previously scouted the area, had met the residents of the community and had identified likely prospects for quartering the unit. When Baylor and his officers arrived at Haring town at the quarters previously selected, the Cornelius A. Haring family allowed them billets and space for the night.
Either the prior scouting of the area had been incomplete or the officers of the Third were displaying a dangerous degree of overconfidence, if not neglect. The neighborhood was definitely a Tory stronghold. Cornelius had been arrested in 1777 as a "disaffected person." His son, Ralph, and his new bride, Elizabeth, were living in the same home now being offered as a billet for the dragoon officers. Elizabeth was the sister of Teunis Blauvelt, a known Tory. Dirck Haring, brother of Abraham and John - both known Tories - had married Sophia Bogert, whose brother, Peter, also a Tory, lived just north of the Haring home. Baylor his troops were about to bed down among dedicated enemies.
Tradition has it that Ralph opened the door and welcomed the Dragoons into his father's home. The senior Haring then received them but warned forthrightly that the British were thought to be lying at New Bridge and might come upon them. Baylor did not appear alarmed by this statement. He moved his gear into the space reserved for himself, Major Clough and other staff in the Haring's home and directed his other officers to the neighboring home of Cornelius Blauvelt, whose wife was a member of the Haring family - probably the only household in the area truly sympathetic to the American cause. Others were billeted in a third home along Overkill Road owned by the Bogerts, a true Loyalist family. Enlisted men were quartered by troop in some six barns belonging to these homes.
As a precaution, a guard was posted at the bridge about one half mile south of Mr. Haring's house. It was under the command of Sergeant Isaac Howe Davenport from Dorchester, Massachusetts, a member of the First Troop, and consisted of twelve privates. Their orders were to maintain a patrol of two men on each road the road to Hackensack and the south and the road to Tappan and the east and to keep watch for a distance of a mile below. They were to be relieved every hour. For a night late in September, the weather was severely cold. The moon was in the last quarter. The Third Dragoon guards on the bridge, as well as the guards detailed from Hay's militia to protect the cattle herd, complained to their officers three successive times that they found it impossible endure the bitter cold. They were told they must protect themselves from the cold as best they could until relieved. Nearby, sentinels detailed from Hay's militia to protect the cattle herd protested too, and with as little effect.
Hay commanded two battalions of about 250 militiamen, one of which seems to have been located about a mile north of the Third Dragoon quarters. Close by, across the trail from the bridge, on the property of Mr. Blauvelt, were three abandoned tanning vats, covered with fallen oak leaves and overgrown with weeds, and a large stone tanning wheel that had long ago fallen over.