Scattered across New Jersey are dozens of historic sites with connections to the American Revolution. They range from the United States’ first National Historical Park at Morristown to the locations of famous battles including Trenton, Princeton, Red Bank, and Springfield. We have well-known sites, including the Old Barracks and Morven, and others that are nearly forgotten. Historic house museums dot the landscape from High Point to Cape May. They include the remains of grand estates, such as Liberty Hall at Kean University and White Hill Mansion in Fieldsboro. More common are the modest homes of ordinary Americans such as the stone house of Christoffel Vought, a German-American farmer and Loyalist leader from Hunterdon County and the Dutch-American farmstead of Abraham Staats, a renowned patriot from South Bound Brook. These sites are physical reminders of our Revolutionary neighbors, individuals who staked their fortunes, their reputations, and their futures on the success of the American Revolution.
Recently, the Crossroads of the American Revolution National Heritage Area (Crossroads) began a project designed to bring these sites to life and to reintroduce a select group of New Jersey’s colonial residents to their modern successors. The project is called, “Meet Your Revolutionary Neighbors.” For this project, Crossroads recruited a group of talented historians to write biographies of 100 colonial New Jerseyans. These individuals, our Revolutionary neighbors, came from all walks of life. They include the rich and poor, the free and enslaved, men and women, and people representing a wide variety of political persuasions from Revolutionaries to Tories. Some are famous and some are forgotten. Their stories will be told through a series of trading cards designed to be used in classrooms as part of educational exercises focused on the American Revolution.
The cards are particularly aimed at educators teaching at the primary school level. We are also developing a companion website with more extensive biographical information and curricular materials geared to New Jersey’s core curriculum standards. The final product of the project will be an illustrated book of biographies highlighting the 100 colonial New Jerseyans. Perhaps most important, the project aims to introduce modern New Jerseyans to their Revolutionary-era neighbors and in so doing inspire a new generation of New Jersey residents to stand up for the ideals that helped shape our nation, liberty, equality, and self-determination.
New Jersey’s National Heritage Area
“Meet Your Revolutionary Neighbors” is part of Crossroad’s broader efforts to foster the conservation, preservation, and interpretation of New Jersey’s Revolutionary-era sites and landscapes and to enhance the public understanding of the people, places and events that shaped the course of American and New Jersey history. Crossroads also works to encourage stewardship and raise awareness of these historic resources that contribute so greatly to the quality of life in modern New Jersey. Established by an Act of Congress in 2006, Crossroads is one of 49 National Heritage Areas in the United States. It takes in approximately 2,155 square miles, including 212 municipalities in 14 counties. Crossroads focuses on a broad swath running from northeast to southwest across the state, a region where several major encampments took place including Morristown, Middlebrook, and Pluckemin, as well as dozens of significant military engagements.
Individuals highlighted as noteworthy neighbors include both William Franklin and William Livingston. Franklin, who resided in Perth Amboy’s Proprietary House, was the son of Benjamin Franklin. He served as the last royal governor of New Jersey and was later an important leader of the Refugees or Tories. Livingston, his successor, the owner of Liberty Hall, was a noted jurist, patriot, and the first governor of the state of New Jersey. Franklin and Livingston might be thought of as kings or all stars in the Revolutionary deck. There are cards for military figures, such as Baron Friedrich Ludolf Gerhard Augustin von Steuben, a German émigré who volunteered for service with the Continental Army and helped transform a ragtag fighting force into a professional army trained in the European manner. He spent a winter at the Staats House in South Bound Brook and is famous for writing Manual for the United States Army, an important guide to military operations that was employed by the United States Army into the 1800s. At the war’s end, the state of New Jersey gave von Steuben a fine stone house at New Bridge Landing in Bergen County. It can still be visited today.
Patriots, Loyalists, men, women, enslaved and free
New Jersey was a deeply divided state, with many residents choosing to side with the British. These loyal neighbors, or refugees as they often called themselves, are here, too. We meet Colonel Tye, or Titus, probably the former slave of John Corlies of Shrewsbury. When the war began and Virginia Governor Lord Dunmore, offered freedom to African-Americans willing to serve in the Crown forces, Titus signed up. Over the course of the war he become one of the best known and most feared of the Crown’s partisans. An injury took his life before the war ended.
There are noteworthy women, such as Patience Lovell Wright of Bordentown. Wright, though raised a Quaker, became a talented sculptress who worked first in clay, and later more famously in wax. Seeking a broader audience for her work, she relocated to London. However, even as an expatriate, this former New Jerseyan remained a fiery advocate for freedom, corresponding with Benjamin Franklin and speaking out forcefully for the colonies’ independence.
Not all of the individuals commemorated on cards in this deck are heroic. Joseph Mulliner, a resident of Burlington County who lived near Little Egg Harbor, was a Loyalist privateer, who is supposed to have been headquartered near the headwaters of the Mullica River. Called “the terror of the country” he was accused of indiscriminately plundering both Patriots and Tories. Although the truth about his activities is elusive, Mulliner was captured, tried, and hanged in 1781. Was Mulliner a criminal taking advantage of the general lawlessness of the time or was he simply a British privateer? The records are scanty and we may never know. Nonetheless, his story highlights the story of the Pine Robbers who took advantage of the Revolution as well as the summary justice they sometimes faced when captured.
The deck of cards for the 100 Revolutionary neighbors will contain basic facts about these individuals and brief biographies. Much as a modern baseball card might list a player’s statistics and career highlights, these cards will provide important facts about these historical figures. In homage to modern social networks like Facebook and Instagram, individuals will be linked to their contemporaries through their own historic social networks. The cards and biographies also serve to link these individuals to historic sites and important themes associated with New Jersey’s role in the American Revolution, such as the famous Christmas campaign of 1776, known as the Ten Crucial Days.
Finally, illustrations based on historic likenesses or other contemporary evidence will illustrate the faces of the cards. The cards will be available online and in hard copy. Using the associated curricular materials, students will be able to play out their own American Revolution, determine if they would be Patriots or Loyalists, and discuss broader issues of liberty, freedom, responsibility, and community. Teachers and students are also encouraged to use the cards as a starting point for visiting local historic sites and delving more deeply into New Jersey’s Revolutionary history.
For more information about the project or to learn how you can get a set of cards and curricular materials contact the Crossroads of the American Revolution at firstname.lastname@example.org or check www.revolutionarynj.org for project updates. Help us bring America’s continuing Revolution to life in the classroom by participating in the Crossroad of the American Revolution’s Meet Your Revolutionary Neighbors project. Huzzah!
Richard Veit is a professor in the Monmouth University Department of History and Anthropology and Crossroads board member.