In 2013, Denville celebrated its centennial, but the town’s history goes well beyond the past century. In fact, while doing research for an online exhibit, I came across a man who lived in the area who was an integral part of early American history.
General William Winds was born on Long Island in the early eighteenth century, but moved to New Jersey as a young boy. He lived at what is now the border of present-day Denville, Rockaway, and Dover.
Winds made a name for himself as a captain in the British army during the French and Indian War of the mid-eighteenth century. He fought in the battle for Fort Ticonderoga and other smaller skirmishes in the Canadian campaign. His reputation during the war earned him an appointment by King George III as Justice of the Peace for Morris County.
The actions by the postwar Crown turned Winds from a loyal subject to a Patriot supporting the revolutionary cause. He was responsible for carrying out the laws of the land, however the general refused to enforce the notorious Stamp Act and actively fought against it by using white birch tree bark as paper.
As the situation became more tense, Winds served as a chairman of the Freeholders. The group was responsible for selecting delegates to the First and Second Continental Congress. These delegates signed the Declaration of Independence as representatives of New Jersey.
Winds was promoted to lieutenant colonel by the Continental Congress and given command of the local militia when open conflict commenced. His troops fought all over the state – holding the line against the Redcoats in New York throughout most of the war and occasionally raiding Loyalist strongholds in the boroughs of New York City. Later, Winds would direct armies alongside General George Washington at the Battle of Monmouth – a major battle of the War for Independence which ended in a draw. The battle proved that Patriot troops could hold their own against the British in traditional battle formations rather than the more common guerrilla warfare tactics that were used by the minutemen and other militia groups in the colonies. By the war’s end, Winds was promoted to general and a trusted confidante of Washington.
The general is most famous for one of his early assignments as a lieutenant colonel. He was ordered to arrest the final royal governor of New Jersey, William Franklin, while stationed in Perth Amboy in early 1776. The Royal Governor, Benjamin Franklin’s recognized illegitimate son, remained a steadfast Loyalist until his death. He moved to New York City upon release in a prisoner exchange agreement and eventually left the colonies altogether at the conclusion of the war. Winds and his militiamen freed the state from the tyrannical hand of the Crown.
As a part of the Royal and Continental Armies, William Winds was better traveled than most colonists. Most subjects never saw any land outside their own colony as roads were mainly made of dirt and, therefore, difficult to traverse. The general could have settled anywhere in the states, but chose to return to his farmland in present-day Denville. Despite the return home, his patriotic service did not end when the Treaty of Paris was signed. Winds would go on to serve in the postwar New Jersey Assembly and, as such, was a member of the State Constitutional Convention ratifying the US Constitution.
On October 12, 1789, General William Winds died on his farm at the corner of today’s Cooper and Franklin Roads. He is buried at the First Presbyterian Church’s cemetery in Rockaway – a church that he himself founded and financed.
*Many thanks to Arthur Korn whose piece on William Winds in Denville’s Centennial Yearbook provided much of the information for this blog post.