During the American Revolution, a ferry proved important to the Patriot cause prior to and during the Battle of Fort Washington in 1776. Etienne Burdett, a merchant of Huguenot parentage who settled in Manhattan, bought several hundred acres of property on the shore of the Hudson River near Fort Lee, New Jersey.
The family-run ferry service started in 1758. Burdett established a trading post and built his home, a gambrel-roofed structure, at a forest clearing at the foot of a gorge on what is now River Road in Edgewater. This house stood at the site until 1899. From the colonial period to the present, this particular section of Fort Lee was known by various names such as Tillie Tudlem, Tillie Toodlem, Fort Lee Park, Pleasant Valley and Burdett’s Landing.
A road connecting the ferry landing to the top of the palisades was to become known as the Hackensack Turnpike. This route is presently known as Hudson Terrace and connected with Main Street in Fort Lee.
Originally, the ferry was used for the transporting of goods and passengers on a type of sailing boat called periougas. It was one of the major connecting points for the farmers who brought their products from the inland towns of New Jersey to New York City.
The ferry had passed through the family and was doing well. During the American Revolution, Peter Burdett (Etienne’s bother) had become an ardent patriot and operated the ferry for the American Army as a supply line and communications network. His wife was well known to cook flapjacks for General Washington and his staff officers when they were in the area of the Burdett ferry and landing prior to the fall of New York. This story was related to the public by Peter’s grandson T. Fletcher Burdett, a Fort Lee resident in 1900.
Burdett’s Ferry had the distinction of being involved in two military engagements during the siege of New York. The first was on August 18, 1776, and the second was on October 27, 1776. Both occasions were against the British ships HMS Rose and HMS Phoenix, both of which sustained damage.
Burdett’s Ferry was pressed into service by the Continental Army to serve as a vital link between Fort Lee and Fort Washington. In the last days before the Battle of Fort Washington on November 16, 1776, there had been much activity between the forts. There was a meeting between General Washington and his senior officers in the middle of the Hudson River the night before the battle.
The last time the ferry was used was to transport Captain Gooch to Fort Washington to deliver a letter from General Washington to Colonel Robert Magaw, the commanding officer of the beleaguered fort. Unfortunately, the message was never received due to the heat of battle and the fort being surrounded by the British troops advancing from the south and Hessians from the north. Captain Gooch barely made it back to the boat he used and returned safely to Fort Lee to report the incident to Washington.
In time Burdett’s Ferry was no longer needed. It was replaced by other ferry routes that plied the Hudson River in the 19th and 20th centuries.