Paine's Stirring Words Were Formed in Teaneck


"These are the times that try men's souls."

Many are familiar with Thomas Paine's stirring words that go on to chastise the "summer soldier" and the "sunshine patriot," and warn that "what we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly."

What is not so well known is that Paine conceived those words in 1776 while he was in Teaneck. He had been with Gen. George Washington at Fort Lee as they observed on the far shore the disastrous defeat and surrender of nearly a fifth of their entire fighting force.

Anticipating that the British and Hessians would quickly launch another attack on the remaining 2,500 troops at Fort Lee, Washington vowed the enemy would not be successful a second time. Thus, the ragtag remnants of the Continental troops hastily abandoned the outpost at Fort Lee on Nov 20, 1776, in the face of 6,000 Redcoats, hot on their heels.

Later that evening, Paine stood watching as the poor wretched men shuffled across the New Bridge at Brett Park in Teaneck on their way to Hackensack. Soldiers in name only, they marched two abreast, wrapped in tattered blankets, many with no shoes on their feet. A cold November rain began to fall.

It seemed to Paine that he was witnessing the death throes of the Revolution itself. He sensed correctly that now was the time for a moving reminder of the principles of liberty to revitalize the flagging troops and enervate the squabbling Congress at Philadelphia. The result was his masterpiece of political prose that has since transcended the actions here in Teaneck.