Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Having a Blast in Revolutionary New Jersey!

Having a Blast in Revolutionary New Jersey!
Written by NJ Historian

After a long and cold winter, spring is finally upon us here in New Jersey, known as the "Crossroads of the American Revolution." Positioned between Philadelphia, the young nation’s capital, and New York, the British stronghold, no place in New Jersey was spared during the Revolutionary War. In fact, General George Washington and the Continental Army spent more time in New Jersey than any other state over a period of six years. As the warmer months approach, historic sites across the state are gearing up to celebrate New Jersey's 350th anniversary and its themes of diversity, innovation, and liberty. This week, Mr. History Girl and I have assembled five sites associated with the American Revolution in New Jersey that are a must-see for any novice or seasoned history buff in order to get a better understanding of the political, military, and civilian aspects of the Revolutionary War. While there are many, many other sites in New Jersey that witnessed actions (directly and indirectly) associated with the War, we could simply not include them all and it does not detract from their significance and contributions. The National Park Service’s American Battlefield Protection Program lists a total of 296 significant military engagements within the state, in addition to hundreds more skirmishes from 1775 through 1783. This small selection is just a small representation of the sites intertwined in the fabric of New Jersey's Revolutionary history.

Morristown National Historical Park
Morristown, Morris County
Morristown National Historical Park is composed of three separate park units in the Morristown area. Visit and explore the sites of Morris County where Washington and his troops stayed during the harsh winter of 1779-1780. Built between 1772 and 1774, the Jacob Ford Mansion served as Washington's Headquarters for six months. Just behind the mansion is the 1937 Washington's Headquarters Museum, which offers visitors a thirty minute film and three exhibit galleries pertaining to civilian and military life during the American Revolution. At nearby Jockey Hollow, visit replica huts that housed between 10,000 to 12,000 troops, and the Wick House, an authentic eighteenth century structure built in 1752. Originally owned by Henry Wick, a wealthy farmer, the house was used as a headquarters by Major General Arthur St. Clair of Pennsylvania during the Jockey Hollow Encampment. Located in between Jockey Hollow and the Ford Mansion is another site known as Fort Nonsense. Constructed during the 1777 encampment, Fort Nonsense was built on a hill with stunning vistas of Morris County and of the hills beyond. The fort no longer exists, but the site is marked and interpreted to give the visitor a sense of the size and meaning behind this fort in the hills of Morristown.

Franklin Township, Somerset County
Moved not once or twice, but three times, historic Rockingham was General George Washington's last headquarters of the American Revolution from August 23 to November 9, 1783. During this time, Congress was meeting in Princeton and the treaty ending the war was being negotiated in Paris. From the house, Washington wrote his 'Farewell Orders to the Armies of the United States,' giving thanks and praise to his troops and announcing his retirement from military service. Various programs are held on-site throughout the year and a colonial-era Dutch barn barn is being reconstructed on the property to house programs and exhibits. The barn is similar to the one documents indicate stood near the house when Washington was in residence, bringing more authenticity to a site that may have been altered by three moves, but has not lost its significance and association with Washington and the Revolutionary War.

Monmouth Battlefield
Freehold and Manalapan Townships, Monmouth County
Just off of Route 9 in Freehold and Manalapan Townships is Monmouth Battlefield State Park, where the longest sustained battle of the Revolutionary War took place on June 28, 1778, as Washington and his troops chased the British through New Jersey on their retreat toward Sandy Hook. The day of the battle was extremely hot, with temperatures reaching one hundred degrees Fahrenheit. The majority of the fighting occurred in the swamps, forests, and fields between Old Tennent Church and the Monmouth Courthouse in Freehold. Of the 30,000 engaged troops, about 501 died. Half of the deaths were attributed to heat stroke. Although the British escaped, it is seen by some historians as a victory, proving that the newly-trained American army was capable of meeting on the battlefield and holding back the strongest military power in the world. Today, it is a 2,928 acre State Park featuring a new state-of-the-art visitor center, a number of historic homes that stood during the battle, including the Craig House, and interpretive markers across the miles of trails through orchards, fields, and meadows. Each June the Friends of Monmouth Battlefield hold a two-day reenactment of the battle.

Old Barracks
Trenton, Mercer County
Within a few hundred feet of the New Jersey State House is one of the best-kept secrets in Trenton - the Old Barracks. On a cobblestone street and surrounded by a stockade fence similar to what once existed, the Old Barracks bring Revolutionary New Jersey to life through tours, exhibits, costumed interpreters, reenactments, and programming. The barracks were built in 1758 during the French and Indian War and used during the Revolution the Officers' House was used to house British prisoners of war from Canada while four companies of the Second New Jersey Regiment of the Continental Line were trained. In February 1777, the site was transformed into an army hospital for the treatment of smallpox under the watchful eye of Dr. Bodo Otto, a Senior Surgeon for the Continental Army. The hospital was in use until 1781. Through the efforts of local women in the early 1900s, the site was preserved as a historic site and a portion of it reconstructed after it was taken out to provide a through-street. Today, the restored barracks enable visitors and schoolchildren a glimpse into the rough conditions soldiers faced living in cramped quarters during the American Revolution in the only remaining Revolutionary War barracks in New Jersey.

Hancock House
Hancock's Bridge, Salem County
Although a good portion of the action occurred in northern New Jersey, that does not mean southern New Jersey was spared during the American Revolution. Hancock's Bridge in Salem County was a strategic transportation route for the American colonies. It was used by the Continentals to move cattle and provisions to General Washington at Valley Forge from the fertile lands of southern New Jersey. The British, on a foraging mission, faced opposition from the local militia at all of the bridge crossings in Cumberland and Salem Counties. On March 20, 1778, in retaliation, British Lieutenant Colonel Charles Mawhood issued the following mandate to his British troops: “Go - spare no one - put all to death - give no quarters.” His area of attack was Hancock's Bridge. That next morning, March 21, 1778, he attacked from the front and rear, and members of the local militia staying at the Hancock House were bayoneted. Not a shot was fired during the massacre. Among the ten killed and five wounded was Judge William Hancock, who had unexpectedly returned home that evening from Salem City. Today, the Hancock House interprets the events of that morning, the Hancock family, and their role during the Revolutionary War. The site also features a reconstructed Swedish Plank Cabin, which has been standing since at least 1701. Each March a commemoration is held at the house, honoring those who perished in the name of liberty.

For More Information
Crossroads of the American Revolution

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