New Jersey Forum Wrap-Up

Last Saturday I had the honor of presenting one of the keynote addresses at the New Jersey Forum, a biennial conference on New Jersey history organized by the New Jersey Historical Commission. This year the conference was hosted and co-sponsored by Kean University in Union as a celebration of New Jersey’s 350th anniversary.

My lecture was titled “New Jersey’s Presbyterian Rebellion.”  It focused on some of my research on Presbyterians and the American Revolution (currently on hold at the moment while I finish this American Bible Society project) and some of the thoughts I hope to include in a new narrative history of the revolution in New Jersey that will appear in a few years with Rutgers University Press. I focused my discussion of the Presbyterians in revolutionary New Jersey on John Witherspoon (a man), the Greenwich Tea Burning (an event), and Elizabeth-Town (a town). 
I also attended a great breakout session on pre-revolutionary New Jersey.  Jonathan Sassi of CUNY-Staten Island presented a very interesting paper on anti-slavery in New Jersey prior to the Revolution (1773-1775).  He focused on the attempt of New Jersey Quakers to get the colonial legislature to pass an abolition bill.  Ironically, this bill was derailed by the American Revolution. In the end, New Jersey proceeded down the path of gradual, not immediate emancipation. This story is chronicled quite well in James Gigantino’s book, The Ragged Road to Abolition: Slavery and Freedom in New Jersey, 1775-1865).
I was thoroughly entertained by Brian Regal‘s presentation on the origins of the so-called “Jersey Devil.”  Regal traced the history of this New Jersey folk tale back to the 17th century Leeds family of the Pine Barren region and explained how the Leeds Devil became the “Jersey Devil” thanks to a curiosities museum in Philadelphia who tried to use the legend (and a kangaroo from Albany) to attract visitors.
Timothy Hack of Salem County Community College offered a historiographical overview of the American Revolution in New Jersey and challenged future historians to bring African Americans, women, religion, loyalists, and the Atlantic world into the narrative of the revolution in the colony. (Challenge accepted!).  He also challenged museums and historical sites to plan early for the 250th anniversary of the American Revolution by making documents accessible to researchers.  Hack called for an updated version of Larry Gerlach’s collection, New Jersey in the American Revolution, 1763-1783.
Finally, Chris Belitto, a church historian and medievalist at Kean, gave a fascinating talk on the way that New Jersey revolutionaries John Kean and William Livingston employed the classics in their arguments for independence.  Belitto’s talk made me realize that I need to know a lot more about Livingston as I move forward with my work on Presbyterians and New Jersey.
It was also a pleasure to chat with so many friends and colleagues from the New Jersey history community, including Jean Soderlund, Richard Waldron, Niquole Primiani, Jonathan Mercantini, Joseph Klett, John Fabiano, Tom Winslow, Rich Rosenthal, Richard Veit, and Karl Neiderer.
As a kid who grew up in the Italian-Slovakian New Jersey working class and was a first-generation college student, it was an amazing honor for me to get to speak at the 350th anniversary celebration of my home state.  I want to thank Sara Cureton, Niquole Primiani, and the rest of the conference organizers for inviting me.
While I was writing this post I noticed that Mary Rizzo, a public history professor at Rutgers Camden, storified the conference tweets.  Thanks, Mary.

Speaking at the 2014 New Jersey Forum

I am honored to be giving one of the plenary addresses at the 2014 New Jersey Forum, held this year at Kean University in Union, New Jersey on November 21 and 22.

The conference theme is “New Jersey at 350: Innovation, Diversity, Liberty.” My talk will be at 9:30am on Saturday, November 22 and it is entitled “New Jersey’s Presbyterian Rebellion.”

I am looking forward to the lecture, but I am also thrilled to see so many outstanding scholars who are connected to the conference, either through organizing it or presenting at it.  They include Ronald Becker, Sara Cureton, Larry Greene, Timothy Hack, Mary Rizzo, Brooke Hunter, Joseph Klett, Maxine Lurie, Jonathan Mercantini, Richard Veit, Graham Hodges, James Gigantino, Alison Isenberg, Spencer Crew, Jonathan Sassi, Jean Soderlund, Jonathan Lurie, Brian Greenberg, and Neil Maher.

I hope to see many of you next weekend!  This is going to be a great conference.

Lecture: New Jersey’s Presbyterian Rebellion

This came across the New Jersey history listserv today.  I hope to see some of you in Union next month.–JF

November 21 and 22, 2014
Kean University, Union, NJ
Celebrated Author of Was America Founded as a Christian Nation: A Historical Introduction

New Jersey’s Presbyterian Rebellion

At the time of the American Revolution Presbyterians were the largest religious denomination and most important cultural and political institution in New Jersey, yet their role in the coming of the American Revolution has been largely ignored by historians. Presbyterian clergy and laypeople, including William Livingston, Elias Boudinot, James Caldwell, John Witherspoon, and Jacob Green, fused religious and political ideas to create a powerful impetus for revolution. Presbyterian communities in Princeton, Morristown, Hanover, Greenwich, and Elizabeth-Town, to name a few, were bastions of political radicalism and Christian patriotism. This talk will examine the powerful influence of Presbyterians in the forging of an independent New Jersey and challenge us to think about how we might integrate Presbyterians into the larger narrative of the American Revolution in the state.

Register now and mail your check by November 14th! For more information
The Forum is presented by the New Jersey Historical Commission in partnership with The New Jersey State Archives, New Jersey State Museum and Kean University, and with partial funding from the New Jersey Council for the Humanities. The conference is free, but as a state agency the New Jersey Historical Commission is unable to pay for meals. There is a $25 charge to purchase breakfast and lunch on the 22nd.