A General’s Funeral: The Burial of Enoch Poor


May 30, 2016
by Todd W. Braisted Also by this Author


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Untold thousands died during the American Revolution, some by bullets or bayonets, cannon balls or cutlasses, but the vast majority were carried away from life by the innumerable diseases present in both armies.  Death came to privates as well as generals, but few accounts of their interment are as detailed as that of Brig. Gen. Enoch Poor of New Hampshire.

Born at Andover, Massachusetts in 1736, Poor joined the revolutionary forces in May 1775, and after serving as colonel of the 2nd New Hampshire Regiment was promoted to brigadier general on February 21, 1777.[1]  After serving in numerous battles and campaigns in both the Northern Army and Washington’s command, the summer of 1780 found this New England officer in command of one of the battalions of light infantry under Maj. Gen. the Marquis de Lafayette.

Washington, at the head of an army of 14,000 men including the light infantry, marched on August 23, 1780 from Orangetown, New York into Bergen County, New Jersey on a twofold mission: to procure food and forage for hungry soldiers and horses; and to await French troops and warships to cooperate in a final attack on the British in New York City, perhaps finally ending the war that had been raging for over five years.  Enoch Poor would not live to see that outcome.

What happened to Enoch Poor the first week of September, 1780 is still unsettled. The army lay at Steenrapie, an area running south to north on the west side of the Hackensack  River.  Most periods accounts agree that the general died of a fever brought on by some illness.  News of his illness had spread through the army. Two Pennsylvania Line soldiers, Daniel Power and Michael Logan, deserted from Fort Lee and informed the British that “General Poor was carried very ill from where the Light Infantry were but they do not know whether he be dead or not.”[2]  The light infantry camp alluded to was in an area of the modern day town of Oradell, still referred to as “Soldier Hill.”  On the clear and pleasant morning of September 9, 1780, Andrew Kettall of the 16th Massachusetts Regiment simply noted in his journal, “The Brave Genl. Poor Died.”[3]

Kettall was off by a day. Poor actually passed away on September 8, 1780.  Another New Englander, Elijah Fisher of the 4th Massachusetts Regiment, got the date right, but perhaps little else: “The 8th  Gen. Poor Died, he receved his wound by fiteing a duel with a Major.  He Commanded the [Light] Infintry and belonged to New Hampshire.”[4]  The rumors of Enoch Poor succumbing to a wound from a duel exists to this day.  To be sure, dueling occurred in the army’s camp at that time.  Brig. Gen. Ebenezer Huntington, writing on August 30, 1780, mentioned “four days ago a duel was fought between Lt. [Dade] Peyton and another officer, both of them of Maryland [sic– Moyland’s] Horse;[5] Peyton was killed, the other wounded.  The next day a duel was fought between Baskenridge, Wm. Livingston & a Mr. [John] Stack, volunteer in the Marechosa Horse.[6]  Livingston was killed, & buried the night before last at Hackensack.”[7]  It is entirely possible that Elijah Fisher mistook one of these duels for the cause of Poor’s passing.

Washington, in his after orders of September 9, 1780, announced funeral arrangements to the army: “Brigadier General Poor will be interred tomorrow afternoon at Hackensack Church; the funeral procession will commence at four o’clock from Brower’s house in front of the Infantry.”[8]  Surgeon James Thatcher, a comrade of Andrew Kettall in the 16th Massachusetts Regiment, left a remarkable account of General Poor’s funeral the next day.  It shows the somber military procession, based closely on popular European military textbooks,[9] and perhaps a level of professionalism in the Continental Army that would not have been likely earlier in the war:

We are now lamenting the loss of Brigadier-General Poor, who died last night of putrid fever. His funeral solemnities have been attended this afternoon. The corpse was brought this morning from Paramus, and left at a house about a mile from the burying-yard at Hackensack, whence it was attended to the place of interment by the following procession: a regiment of light infantry, in uniform, with arms reversed; four field-pieces; Major Lee’s regiment of light-horse; General Hand and his brigade; the major on horseback; two chaplains; the horse of the deceased, with his boots and spurs suspended from the saddle, led by a servant; the corpse borne by four serjeants, and the pall supported by six general officers. The coffin was of mahogany, and a pair of pistols and two swords, crossing each other and tied with black crape, were placed on the top. The corpse was followed by the officers of the New Hampshire brigade; the officers of the brigade of light-infantry, which the deceased had lately commanded. Other officers fell in promiscuously, and were followed by his Excellency General Washington, and other general officers. Having arrived at the burying-yard, the troops opened to the right and left, resting on their arms reversed, and the procession passed to the grave, where a short eulogy was delivered by the Rev. Mr. Evans. A band of music, with a number of drums and fifes, played a funeral dirge, the drums were muffled with black crape, and the officers in the procession wore crape round the left arm. The regiment of light-infantry were in handsome uniform, and wore in their caps long feathers of black and red. The elegant regiment of horse, commanded by Major Lee, being in complete uniform and well disciplined, exhibited a martial and noble appearance. No scene can exceed in grandeur and solemnity a military funeral. The weapons of war reversed, and embellished with the badges of mourning, the slow and regular step of the procession, the mournful sound of the unbraced drum and deep-toned instruments, playing the melancholy dirge, the majestic mien and solemn march of the war-horse, all conspire to impress the mind with emotions which no language can describe, and which nothing but the reality can paint to the liveliest imagination. General Poor was from the state of New Hampshire. He was a true patriot, who took an early part in the cause of his country, and during his military career was respected for his talents and his bravery, and beloved for the amiable qualities of his heart. But it is a sufficient eulogy to say, that he enjoyed the confidence and esteem of Washington.[10]

Members of the Bergen County Historical Society carrying on the wreath-laying tradition in 2015. (Photo by Sue Braisted)
Members of the Bergen County Historical Society carrying on the wreath-laying tradition in 2015. (Photo by Sue Braisted)

Long after the war had ended, and many of the high-ranking officers who had led the fight for independence had passed on, General Poor’s grave had one very special visitor, one whose youth during the Revolution enabled him to survive well into the nineteenth century when many of his comrades of similar rank had long since departed.  In 1825, the United States was approaching its fiftieth anniversary as a free and independent country, and one of its early heroes was returning for a tour, the Marquis de Lafayette.  Amongst the places on his itinerary was Hackensack, which certainly greeted him with all the pomp and ceremony the countryside was capable of.  One local resident, Nicholas P. Terhune, was an eye-witness and fifty years later sent an account of the event to the New Jersey Republican newspaper.  Terhune’s account shows what held importance to Lafayette:

It was in the summer of ’25 when he came to Hackensack in the month of June. Mr. Levi Haywood made the address on this occasion, of which I was an ear witness.

The General’s reply was very brief, but very much to the purpose. He said, “I recognize this place, for,” pointing to the church yard, right opposite “there lies buried one of my brave generals.”

Almost immediately after, he went to the church yard accompanied by the committee among whom Robert Campbell, Esq., and Archibald Campbell, Esq., were quite conspicuous. I also remember seeing the portly form of William Halsey, Esq., of Newark, among them.

They all stood uncovered for a few moments looking at the slab which covers the remains. “That” said he, “was one of my Generals.”[11]

In recent years, the Bergen County Historical Society has revived an earlier tradition of the 110+ year old organization, namely, placing a wreath at General Poor’s grave each Memorial Day.  They believe without doubt this son of New England would approve.

*** Todd W. Braisted is the author of Grand Forage 1778: The Battleground Around New York City (Westholme 2016), a book in the Journal of the American Revolution book series. Buy it now on Amazon.


[1] Francis B. Heitman, Historical Register of Officers of the Continental Army during the War of the Revolution (Washington, DC: Rare Book Shop Publishing, 1914), 446.

[2] Sir Henry Clinton, Information of Deserters and Others, Not Included in Private Intelligence, From October, 1780 to March 26, 1781.  Emmett Collection, EM. C*, New York Public Library.

[3] Journal of Andrew Kettall, entry for September 9, 1780.  Collection M-804, Pension and Bounty Land Application Files, No. W13568, Andrew Kettell, Massachusetts, National Archives and Records Administration.

[4] Elijah Fisher’s Journal While In The War For Independence And Continued Two Years After He Came To Maine 1775-1784 (Augusta, Maine: Badger and Manley, 1880), 39-40.

[5] Moyland’s was the 4th Light Dragoons.

[6] The Marechaussee Corps, commanded by Capt. Bartholomew von Heer, ironically was a provost unit created to help keep discipline in the army.

[7] Huntington to Col. Samuel B. Webb, Teaneck, August 30, 1780.  J. Watson Webb, Reminiscences of Gen’l Samuel B. Webb  (New York: Globe Stationary and Printing Company, 1882),  209-210.

[8] General After Orders, September 9, 1780.  George Washington Papers, Series 3, Continental Army Papers 1775-1783, Subseries G, General Orders, Letterbook 5, April 11, 1780 — September 5, 1781, Varick Transcripts, Library of Congress.

[9] See, for example, Regulations for the Prussian Infantry, Translated from the German Original (London: J. Nourse, 1759), 321-327; Thomas Simes, Military Course for the Government and Conduct of a Battalion (London: printed for the author, 1777), 8-13; Robert Hinde, The Discipline of the Light Horse (London: W. Owen, 1778), 308-313.

[10] James Thatcher, A Military Journal During the American Revolutionary War, from 1775 to 1783 (Boston, MA: Cottons & Barnard, 1827), 212-213.

[11] The account is published in Kevin Wright’s The Nation’s Guest – Lafayette on the website of the Bergen County Historical Society, http://www.bergencountyhistory.org/Pages/lafayette.html, accessed April 21, 2016.


  • I found it curious to what extent Gen. Washington lamented over the loss of Gen. Poor; however, when it came to the capture, wounding and ultimate death of Gen. Nathaniel Woodhull, during the Battle of Long Island (Brooklyn), not a word was uttered by the Commander-in Chief.

  • Certainly a fascinating look into a lesser understood part of military life. I am surprised to see that the riderless horse was used during the time. The duel with Peyton is interesting, had no idea he died in such a way. Just the year before he was a Cornet, and informed General Robert Howe of the approach of Clinton’s army over the Croton River which forced Howe to withdraw from attacking Verplank.

  • Another source that Poor did not die in a duel:

    September 10, 1780, Head Quarters New Bridge Hackensack
    “Three Duels have lately been fought, in which two of the Parties concern’d have been kill’d & three wounded—The Gentlemen kill’d were Bill Livingston of Baskenridge, & Lt Peyton of Moylans—
    Several More, now on the Carpet are inevitable—
    so you can see what a passion we have for fighting—What a pity it can not be gratified on the Common Enemy.—
    Genl Poor who Died of a fever is to be buried this day—The Army in general is healthy, in a very unusual degree—more so than for the two last Campaign[s.]”
    David Humphreys to Jeremiah Wadsworth, 10 September 1780, Photocopy, William A. Oldridge Collection, Box 1, Library of Congress. Original shown to be at Henry E. Huntington Library.

  • General Poor’s Statue in Hackensack, NJ, is missing the sword from his right hand. Personally can attest to it missing for 10 years. Contacted multiple sources to see the sword replaced and none were successful. He never surrendered his sword in battle and his statue should not be standing without one now.

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