Marc Mappen, R.I.P.


The New Jersey history community is mourning the death of Marc Mappen, the author of several books on New Jersey history, an administrator at Rutgers, and a former director of the New Jersey Historical Commission (NJHC).

I only talked with Marc face-to-face a few times, but over the last twenty years or so he has been a regular cheerleader of my work, especially when that work intersected with New Jersey History.  I met him when he was leading NJHC, an organization that helped fund my dissertation research, my first book, and my current work on New Jersey in the American Revolution.  I think I first learned about the Mount Holly “witch trials” from his book Jerseyana and I consult his Witches & Historians every time I refresh my lecture on the Salem Witch Trials.   I was also honored to contribute several articles to the Encyclopedia of New Jersey, a major reference took he edited with Maxine Lurie.

Rest in peace, Marc.

Here is Marc Mappen’s obituary:

Mappen, Marc, Ph.D., 74, of Highland Park died on Sunday, January 6, 2018 after an illness surrounded by his family at the Francis Parker Home at River Road in Piscataway.

Dr. Mappen was born in Boston, MA and received his undergraduate degree in American History from Boston University in 1967. He continued his education at Rutgers University attaining his Master degree in 1968 and a Doctorate of Philosophy in 1976. His dissertation was entitled “Anatomy of a Schism: Religious Dissent in a New England Community, 1705-1765.”

He was a frequent speaker on National Public Radio, New Jersey Network, and the History Channel on the subject of New Jersey history and the author of several publications. These publications include Jerseyana: The Underside of New Jersey History, There’s More to New Jersey Than the Sopranos, Prohibition Gangsters: A Generation of Bad Men, Encyclopedia of New Jersey (co-editor-in-chief), Murder and Spies, Lovers and Lies: Settling the Great Controversies of American History, and Witches and Historians: Interpretations of Salem.

Dr. Mappen worked at Rutgers University from 1973 through 2000. During that time, he held a number of positions at Rutgers-Newark and Rutgers-New Brunswick, serving as the Associate Dean for Administration from 1985-1990 in the Faculty of Arts and Science – Newark and as Associate Dean for Academic Affairs from 1990 to 2000 at University College in New Brunswick. He was also extremely proud of his role as Executive Director of the New Jersey Historical Commission for the State of New Jersey from 2000 to 2010.

Dr. Mappen was predeceased by his brother, Felix Roth (2018) and a sister, Edith Ingall (1974).

He is survived by his wife of 48 ½ years, Ellen; a son, Benjamin and his wife Lily Whang of San Carlos CA; and a daughter, Rebecca and her companion Gavin of Somerset, NJ. He is also survived by his sister, Ina Schneider, a brother-in-law, David Ingall, and a sister-in-law, Fortuna Calvo Roth. There are also many nieces and nephews.

A public memorial service will be scheduled at a future time.

In lieu of flowers, please consider a contribution to the Highland Park Public Library or a charity of your choice in his memory.

Here are some Marc’s books:

witches mappen



nj ency




Maybe Bruce Springsteen Was Born to Run Home

springsteen netflix

Springsteen on Broadway (courtesy of Netflix)

Religion News Service is running my piece on Catholicism and “home” in “Springsteen on Broadway.” Needless to say, I had fun with this one.

Here is a taste:

Yet, as Springsteen knows all too well, escaping a Catholic past in the Irish and Italian enclaves of working-class New Jersey is not easy. “You know what they say about Catholics … there’s no getting out … (the priests and nuns) did their work hard and they did it well.”

Springsteen understands that the past often has its way with us — shaping us, haunting us, defining us, motivating us and empowering us. Like a priest conducting Mass, he asks the audience to receive the Lord’s Prayer as a “benediction” — perhaps a final blessing from a music legend who was never quite able to outrun the sound of the church bells.

Maybe this is what it means, as he wrote famously in “Born to Run,” to “get to that place where we really want to go” where we can “walk in the sun.” Maybe Bruce Springsteen was born to run home.

Over the years, Springsteen has become the darling of progressive politicians. He campaigned for John Kerry in 2004, Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, and (briefly) for Hillary Clinton in 2016. But when he tells his story on Broadway, he transports us back to a day when progressive ideals and the relentless quest for the American dream were not separated from tradition, roots, place, a longing for home, and Christian faith.

Read the entire piece here.

Springsteen Exhibit Comes to Freehold, New Jersey


It is Bruce’s hometownMelissa Ziobro, a public history professor at Monmouth University, has curated an exhibit about Springsteen’s relationship with Freehold, New Jersey.  Read all about it at the Asbury Park Press.  Here is a taste:

The exhibit will be the largest drawn to date from the artifacts of The Bruce Springsteen Archives and Center for American Music at Monmouth University. The unveiling will coincide with the Boss’ 70th birthday (Sept. 23, 2019) as well as the centennial of Freehold Borough.

The items on display will include personal scrapbooks handmade by Springsteen’s mom, Adele Springsteen, to alternate album covers never before seen by the public. E Street Band drummer Vini “Mad Dog” Lopez; early Springsteen manager Carl “Tinker” West; and “Born to Run” drummer Ernest “Boom” Carter are contributing oral histories for the exhibit.

Read the entire piece here.

The Author’s Corner with Jim Gigantino

51TXFAw4vAL._AC_US218_Jim Gigantino is Associate Professor of History at the University of Arkansas. This interview is based on his new book William Livingston’s American Revolution (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018).

JF: What led you to write William Livingston’s American Revolution?

JG: In my first book, The Ragged Road to Abolition, I stumbled on William Livingston, specifically his interactions as a quasi-abolitionist and his wartime leadership in New Jersey in its relation to sustaining slavery. What stunned me about him was that he had a vast collection of papers, was a member of the Continental Congress, Constitutional Convention, and a governor in a state central to the Revolution for fifteen years and no one had ever written a book about his relationship with the country’s founding since the 1830s. When I was thinking about a second project, Livingston kept coming into my head so I figured I should listen to him!

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of William Livingston’s American Revolution?

JG: William Livingston’s American Revolution explores how New Jerseyans experienced the American Revolution and managed a state government on the war’s front lines. It illustrates the operations of revolutionary era governments and those who guided the day-to-day operations, administrators, like Livingston, who served as the principal conduits between the local wartime situation and the national demands placed on the states.

JF: Why do we need to read William Livingston’s American Revolution?

JG: If you want to see how the war was prosecuted at the ground level, then this book is for you. As a wartime bureaucrat, Livingston played a pivotal role in a pivotal place, prosecuting the war on a daily basis for eight years. He is the perfect example of a second-tier founding father, those who actually administered the nitty gritty of the war. Through Livingston’s life and political career, we can examine the complex nature of the conflict and the choice to wage it, the constant battle over loyalty on the home front, the limits of patriot governance under fire, and the ways in which wartime experiences affected the creation of the Constitution.

JF: What courses do you teach at the University of Arkansas?

JG: Well, right now, I do not teach much of anything since after three years as our department’s Associate Chair & Director of Graduate Studies, I assumed the role of Department Chair this past July.  In the spring, I will get back into the classroom teaching a survey course but most of my courses are mainly upper-level Colonial America and Revolutionary America courses.  I also teach the first half of African American history when I have a free spot but with these administrative duties, that unfortunately is getting less and less often.

JF: What is your next project?

JG:  I am working on a project tentatively titled 1804: The Year that Changed America. Through five interconnected vignettes (beginning of gradual abolition in the North, the Louisiana Purchase, Lewis & Clark’s Expedition, Haitian Independence, and the burning of the USS Philadelphia in the Barbary Coast War), 1804 illustrates how specific events in a single year influenced the course of American history. Each vignette explores one of three themes set into motion in 1804: sectional antagonism that culminated in the American Civil War, the destruction of Native American power in North America, and the economic and political expansion of American power globally. The book will integrate all of them into a single narrative that illustrates the domestic and international pressures that transformed how Americans saw themselves and their place in the world. It is still in its early stages but it has been exciting to explore a whole host of issues I have not touched for quite some time.

JF: Thanks, Jim!

Homesickness in the Continental Army

ThacherOver at Boston 1775, J.L. Bell tells the story of Dr. James Thacher at the Battle of Springfield, New Jersey in June 1780.  As someone who has written a bit about homesickness, I was attracted to this part of Bell’s post (and Thacher’s diary):

As for other soldiers, Thacher noted another curious condition: 

Our troops in camp are in general healthy, but we are troubled with many perplexing instances of indisposition, occasioned by absence from home, called by Dr. [William] Cullen nostalgia, or home sickness. This complaint is frequent among the militia, and recruits from New England. They become dull and melancholy, with loss of appetite, restless nights, and great weakness. In some instances they become so hypochondriacal as to be proper subjects for the hospital. This disease is in many instances cured by the raillery of the old soldiers, but is generally suspended by a constant and active engagement of the mind, as by the drill exercise, camp discipline, and by uncommon anxiety, occasioned by the prospect of a battle.

As at summer camp, staying busy helped alleviate homesickness. As did the prospect of being hit, or even nearly hit, with a cannon ball.

Read the entire post here.  I am hoping to include Thacher’s account of the Revolutionary War in Springfield in my current project on New Jersey and the American Revolution.

Perth Amboy, New Jersey and the American Revolution


The Proprietary House:  Governor William Franklin’s home in Perth Amboy

Sometimes I posts links here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home because I want to return to them later.  WordPress makes it easy to search past posts.

As some of you know, I am working on a history of the American Revolution in New Jersey.  I will be writing more about that project once the Believe Me publicity campaign is over.  Stay tuned.

Today I learned about this great walking tour of revolutionary-era Perth Amboy, New Jersey.  Here is a taste of Bob Makin’s piece at

Perth Amboy has many attributes officials and residents boast about, including a magnificent waterfront; a delicious, vibrant Latino culture; and the potential for economic development. But perhaps the most splendid jewel in its Bayshore crown is Colonial and Revolutionary War history.

Settled by Scots in 1683, Perth Amboy is one of the state’s oldest towns, which means its full of fascinating historic sites that often get overlooked compared to similar historic towns, such as Cape May, Trenton, Morristown, Freehold, Princeton, Bound Brook and Scotch Plains.

The reason it may get overlooked is because the city was Loyalist, with Colonists on the wrong side of the Revolutionary War, reasoned a city historian Anton Massopust, our guide, along with his childhood friend, local developer and history buff Barry Rosengarten, and the “Old Perth Amboy Walking Guide” by William S. Pavlovsky and the city Historic Preservation Commission. 

Read the rest here.

A Day with the History Department at Kean University

Liberty Hall Kean

Liberty Hall at Kean University.  Liberty Hall was the home of William Livingston, the first governor of the state of New Jersey. 

As I posted earlier this week, I spent the day on Tuesday with the History Department at Kean University in Union, New Jersey.  I am working with Kean as a “public humanities consultant” for their National Endowment for the Humanities program “William Livingston’s World.

First, was very impressed with the Kean History Department and the hospitality I received during my visit.  Special thanks to Jonathan Mercantini (Acting Dean of the College of Liberty Arts) and Elizabeth Hyde (Department Chair).

In the morning, I talked about public engagement with the faculty and campus archives staff.  We had a spirited discussion about whether or not our public engagement as historians should be more political and activist-oriented than our classroom teaching.  I think it is fair to say that we were divided on this question.

In the afternoon, I met with four honors students who wrote papers and created websites on William Livingston.  During this session we watched the “director’s cut” of the Liberty Hall 360 re-enactment of the Susannah Livingston-John Jay wedding.  Several of the students worked on the script.  It was fun chatting with undergraduates who have traveled to archives with Livingston collections, read Livingston’s letters, and tried to make sense of the political, intellectual, and religious life of this New Jersey founding father.

One of these students approached me after the session with a signed copy of Why Study History?  My inscription read: “Caleb, keep studying history and I hope you do so at Messiah College.”  It was dated 2014.  Needless to say, we did not land Caleb at Messiah, but he certainly had a wonderful undergraduate career at Kean.  Caleb asked me to sign the book again with an inscription that began “four years later….”  It was a great encounter with a big undergraduate fish I was unable to land!  🙂

Finally, I met with five adjunct faculty members who teach the department’s general education course: “HIST 1062: Modern World Civilizations: Crises of the Contemporary World.”  We had a great discussion about how to teach historical thinking skills to non-history majors.

Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed my visit and hope to return soon to continue consulting on the William Livingston project.  As I noted in my previous post, I think this is a model grant for any history department interested in merging public history, public humanities, career preparation, and the undergraduate history curriculum.

William Livingston’s World

Liberty Hall

Liberty Hall Museum, the home of William Livingston

Today I am in Union, New Jersey working with the History Department at Kean University.  The department just received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to fund MakeHISTORY@Kean: William Livingston’s World.  It is a three-year project intended to develop  the Kean history curriculum around the concept of a History Lab.  The project incorporates the unique and untapped archival and historical resources of Kean University, Liberty Hall Museum, and the Liberty Hall Academic Center.  Undergraduates will generate a portfolio of original historical research to be shared with a broad public through talks, exhibits, websites, lesson plans, and other genres.

Initially, students will focus their work on the world of William Livingston, a brigadier general during the Revolutionary War, New Jersey’s first popularly elected governor (1776-1790), and signer of the U.S. Constitution.

The project also teaches history majors to think about how their work in the field of history intersects with a variety of career options in business, digital, and STEM to produce graduates who possess the communications and critical thinking skills employers need.

The “William Livingston World” program is already underway.  Students are working on a recreation of the 1772 marriage of Sarah Livingston and John Jay, which occurred in the Great Hall at Liberty Hall (on Kean’s campus).  Check out this video:

I will be talking with faculty and students today as the project’s “Public Humanities Consultant.”  It should be a great day and I am excited to learn more about this project.

The Author’s Corner with Brian Regal

51HcjrS6VnL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Brian Regal is associate professor of the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine at Kean University. This interview is based on his new book co-authored with Frank Esposito, The Secret History of the Jersey Devil: How Quakers, Hucksters, and Benjamin Franklin Created a Monster (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2018).

JF: What led you to write The Secret History of the Jersey Devil?

BR: Following Hurricane Sandy we lost power for over a week. When it came back on, I had a lot of TV watching to catch up on. One of the first things I saw was a show on monsters that was doing a segment on the Jersey Devil. It recycled all the old unsubstantiated clichés and nonsense about witches and bat wings. I began looking into the literature on the subject and realized it too was all crap. No one had ever bothered to do a scholarly investigation into the myth or its origins. It made me mad how lazy and slipshod so much of cryptozoological writing was (anger is one of the underappreciated catalysts to historical writing). I told all this to my Kean University colleague, and former teacher, Dr. Frank J. Esposito, a scholar of New Jersey and Native American history. We immediately decided we should write something together on the legend. That is how this book was born. We wanted to do something that had rarely been done before: approach a monster legend from a historical rather than a sociological or folklorist or biological angle. We went and found a large number of primary sources that had never been tapped or never used for what we used them for. I wanted to write something that might one day be thought of as a compelling narrative and that was sympathetic to the lead character, and maybe even a little poetic with a nice turn of phrase or two (I understand someone else will make that determination).

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of The Secret History of the Jersey Devil?

BR: The story of the Jersey Devil is not one of a monster born of a witch mother. It’s the story of religious strife, bare-knuckled political in-fighting, and cultural scapegoating.

JF: Why do we need to read The Secret History of the Jersey Devil?

BR: No one really needs this: it’s not insulin. It would, however, be of interest to anyone interested in some of the little discussed cultural events that had a major, but unappreciated impact upon American history. If you are interested in where political monsters come from, the treatment of outspoken women, religious intolerance, and the origins of what we today call ‘Fake News’ than you should read it. The story centers on the life of Daniel Leeds, a man largely forgotten today, but who, had he lived a generation later, we might have called a Founding Father. A man who tried to bring the Scientific Revolution to North America; who became the first author in New Jersey and one of the first censored authors in America; and who helped invent the political attack literature that has become a part of modern society. We also placed the origins of the legend within western monster lore and how other such myths contributed to it.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian? 

BR: When I was a kid I wanted to be Jonny Quest. He travelled the world having adventures, he was smart, and he wore a cool, black t-shirt. I wanted to be Jonny, but as an historian. My guidance counselor, however, told me “kids like you don’t go to college” (My father was a construction worker and my mother was a waitress). So, I joined the army after high school. I volunteered for service in the armored cavalry and travelled the world on Uncle Sam’s dime. I kept reading and dreaming and later was fortunate enough to encounter people who helped me get into college and who supported my plans, and I began to think I might just be able to be an historian and a writer after all. I was especially fascinated by the history of science and the relationship between professional scholars and amateur investigators, particularly in the realm of the paranormal and monster studies, and realized there had not been that much done on this topic. I hope that if I ever do meet Jonny, he’ll understand.

JF: What is your next project?

BR: I am currently working on a history of amateur archaeology examining the various legends and myths about who ‘really’ discovered America. I am looking at stories about a Welsh Prince, Vikings, Chinese explorers, African adventurers, and others, and how these stories are largely the result of political and cultural wants and needs rather than any actual archaeological or historical realities, and that are tied to their historical times. It is tentatively titled Waiting for Columbus.

JF: Thanks, Brian!

More on the Bust of Richard Stockton


Last week we published a post on Stockton University‘s decision to remove a bust of Richard Stockton from its library.  Stockton was a New Jersey revolutionary and signer of the Declaration of Independence.  The bust will be replaced with a more thorough exhibit that will apparently deal with Stockton as a slave holder.   Read our post here.

Over at Boston 1775, J.L. Bell offers his own thoughts on the remove of the Stockton bust.

Here is a taste:

This month brought news that Stockton University in New Jersey has removed a bust of Richard Stockton (shown above) from its library. The reason was not, however, because his iconic status in the state rests on a shaky legend of stoic suffering at the hands of the enemy.

Rather, the university removed the bust because Stockton owned slaves. Those people are documented in his will, in which the judge said his widow Annis could free them if she chose. (I’ve found no evidence she did so. Their son Richard owned slaves as an adult, as did their daughter and son-in-law, Dr. Benjamin Rush—even though he advocated for an end to slavery.)

As a public university, and one founded to provide more opportunities for students who don’t have advantages in our society, Stockton University has good reason not to glorify someone who participated in slave-owning even while championing liberty for gentlemen like himself.

At the same time, I don’t see how removing Stockton’s bust will fix that contradiction when the institution is still, you know, named Stockton University.

The school started in the 1970s as South Jersey State College and evolved through Stockton State College, Richard Stockton State College, and the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey before becoming Stockton University in 2015. Has the Stockton name developed enough of its own legacy to leave the judge behind? Does Stockton’s documented interest in higher education (as a trustee of Princeton College) make him a good namesake for a university despite his other behavior?

Good questions.

Read the entire post here.

Chinatown at the Jersey Shore


I am always a sucker for a good story from New Jersey shore history.  Over at Atlas Obscura, Eveline Chao tells the story of how Chinese immigrants living in New York formed a neighborhood at Bradley Beach.  This one hit home because the grandmother of a high school friend had a house at Bradley Beach and I remember spending a few summer weekends there.

Here is a taste:

ONE DAY IN 1941, LEE Ng Shee went for a stroll in Bradley Beach, New Jersey. She was the wife of a prominent merchant in New York City Chinatown named Lee B. Lok, who in 1891 had established Quong Yuen Shing & Company, a general store on Mott Street. The family liked to spend their summers on the Jersey Shore, though it was a challenge to find landlords who would rent to nonwhites. Lee Ng Shee was passing a house on Newark Avenue, stepping carefully on her bound feet, when a woman came out on the porch. “Are you looking for a house?” the woman called out. “Would you like to buy this one?”

Lee knew a deal when she heard one. “Two thousand dollars later, Lee B. Lok and family were ensconced in a summer bungalow of their very own in the village where twenty years before they would have been lucky to be able to rent some rooms over a store,” wrote Bruce Edward Hall in his Chinatown memoir Tea That Burns.

Lee’s lucky break paved the way for more Chinatown families. Others bought along the same street, and soon, Newark Avenue became an equivalent to Mott Street in Manhattan; a mini, parallel Chinatown on the Jersey Shore. Jokingly, they dubbed the area Chinatown-by-the-Sea. Other old-timers call it “the Chinese Riviera.”

While the Lees blazed the path of home ownership, the story of how Chinatown families started renting in Bradley goes much farther back. In 1877, the minister of a rural parish in Sherman, Pennsylvania asked his congregation to open their homes to poor children from New York City. Tuberculosis was endemic in the city’s overcrowded tenements, and fresh air was believed to help with respiratory ailments.

Read the rest here.

Stockton University Removes a Bust of Richard Stockton


I have been doing a lot of reading about Richard Stockton lately.  He was one of the founders of the College of New Jersey at Princeton, he was married to Annis Boudinot Stockton, one of the great female American poets of the eighteenth-century.  He was a member of the Continental Congress and he signed the Declaration of Independence.  He almost became the revolutionary-era governor of New Jersey, but he lost that honor to William Livingston in a very close election.  In the Revolutionary War, Stockton was captured by the British and imprisoned in New York.  He died in 1781 at Morven, his Princeton home.

Stockton also owned slaves.

Here is a taste of Suzanne Marino and Claire Lowe’s piece at The Press of Atlantic City:

GALLOWAY (NJ) — The bust of Richard Stockton has been removed from Stockton University’s campus library in an attempt to address a longtime controversy surrounding the college’s slave-owning namesake, college officials said Thursday.

Although recent protests have erupted around the country over other controversial statues, Stockton University President Harvey Kesselman said that controversy about the college’s namesake has been going on for several years.

“If you look in our 40th (anniversary), you’ll see that the discussion began to take place then,” he said, adding even during the university’s founding it was controversial. “It never was placed in context and I think that’s the most important thing about this.”

The bust of Stockton was on display at the Richard E. Bjork Library. It was taken down Wednesday. Stockton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, also owned slaves.

Stockton Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Lori Vermeulen sent a letter to the campus community Thursday to inform them of the decision to remove the statue.

Vermeulen said the mission of Stockton University — “to develop engaged and effective citizens with a commitment to lifelong learning and the capacity to adapt to change in a multicultural, interdependent world” — affords the university the responsibility to provide an opportunity for students to learn about the facts surrounding Richard Stockton’s place in American history as well as in Stockton’s history.

The removal of the bust is temporary, and will return with an exhibit that is being developed that will show a more historical perspective and one that will allow meaningful dialog about Richard Stockton as a controversial figure, Vermeulen explained.

Read the rest here.

I like the idea of contextualizing the Stockton statue.  At the same time, I am starting to think that National Review writer Victor Davis Hanson may have a few good points in this piece.  Indeed, cleansing the past can be “dangerous business.”

An Unusual Damage Claim Sheds Some Light on the Battle of Connecticut Farms


This summer, when I am not writing about the court evangelicals, I have been working on a book on the American Revolution.  On a good day I get in about five hours of research, and I am fortunate to have a couple of former students helping me.

One of my research assistants, Abigail, is transcribing damage claim reports from the Revolution.  These virtually untapped sources (at least for New Jersey, where I am working right now) tell us a lot about the kinds of goods ordinary people owned at the time of the Revolution.  They also give us a glimpse of the damage and destruction caused by both the Continental and British armies as they rolled through local communities.

Nearly all of the damage claims in New Jersey were filed by individual property owners, but every now and then we find a break in this pattern.  Today, as I was reading through the material Abigail transcribed, I found a note calling my attention to a claim from the Presbyterian “parish” at Connecticut Farms.  Here it is (with Abigail’s not to me embedded):

Damage Claim No. 22 (NJ0407) made at Connecticut Farms on May 28, 1789, for damage done on June 7, 1780. [Dr. Fea, this claim is for the Connecticut Farms parish (including a meeting house, parsonage house, barn, and chair and school houses) and not a person/family—very different from the other claims so far.]

§ “Inventory and Apprisal of the Property of the Parish of Connecticut Farms Burnt, taken and destroyed by the British Army or their Adherents on the 7th of June 1780”

· Items: 1 large well finished meeting house burnt (1500 L), 1 bell (65 L), 1 large Bible (1 L, 10 S), 1 velvet cushion for the pulpit (2 L), parsonage house 40 by 24 (250 L), 1 barn 24 by 24 (30 L), chair house (10 L), school house (15 L), sundry sacramental vessels, de—[?], 1 large silver cup (6 L), 2 large black tin cups (10 L), 2 large pewter platters (1 L, 4 S), 1 basin (3 S), 1 fine diaper table cloth (16 S), and cloth used at buryings (3 L), for a total of 1885 pounds, 3 shillings.

June 7, 1780 was the date of the Battle of Connecticut Farms.  The British planned for one final attack on Washington’s troops in the North.  Lieutenant General Wilhelm von Knyphausen received a report that Washington’s army in Morristown had been reduced, through illness and desertions, to about 3500 men. Spies had informed him that mutinies were occurring in the ranks and morale was at an all-time low.  Knyphausen thought that the time was right to attack Morristown, capture Washington’s army, and perhaps bring an end to the war.

With approximately 6000 men from three different divisions under his command, Knyphausen’s army crossed Staten Island by boat on June 6, 1780 and landed at Elizabeth-Town Point. The following morning the British forces were met by Continental troops from New Jersey under the command of Colonel Elias Dayton whose troops slowed the British advance, but they were eventually forced to retreat to Connecticut Farms later in the morning.  By 8am, Knyphausen troops and the New Jersey Brigade under the command of William Maxwell clashed in Connecticut Farms.  With superior numbers, the British forced Maxwell to retreat to Springfield.  Knyphausen’s troops moved into Connecticut Farms, set part of the town on fire, and eventually halted his attack as the sun set.  At some time during the day George Washington arrived from Morristown and employed his personal guard in an attempt to stop the British advance.

The destruction of the parish property sheds light on one of the great mysteries of the battle. During the battle, Hannah Caldwell, the wife of the Elizabeth-Town Presbyterian clergyman James Caldwell, was shot to death by a British soldier as she stood in the window of the Presbyterian parsonage. News of Hannah’s death spread quickly.  New jersey Governor William Livingston received the news in a letter from brigadier-general Nathaniel Heard.  Greene informed Colonel Jeremiah Wadsworth in Springfield that Hannah had been shot in a “barbarous manner.”

A rather lengthy letter describing the battle and Hannah’s death was published in the June 13, 1780 edition of the Pennsylvania Packet.  The unidentified author of the article believed that Hannah’s death was an attempt to punish James Caldwell, “an object worthy of the enemy’s keenest resentment,” for his patriotic activity and zeal.  The article implies that clergyman had a target on his back, but had always “evaded every attempt to injure him.”  Earlier in the day, the author claimed, a woman on the street in Connecticut Farms was approached by a British soldier who put a bayonet to her breast and threatened to kill her because she was the wife of James Caldwell.  The woman was spared when a young officer who knew her told the soldier that she was not Hannah Caldwell. Eventually, however, they did find the real Hannah. The author of the Pennsylvania Packet story described a British soldier coming to the window of the room of the Connecticut Farms parsonage where Hannah, her maid, and some of her smaller children were seated, and shooting Hannah in the lungs. Immediately following the shooting, a British officer and two Hessians dug a hole, placed the body inside it, and set the house on fire.  All of James Caldwell’s personal effects and papers were lost in the fire. Later an American officer managed to pull Hannah’s body from the grave and bring it to a “small house in the neighborhood.”  There was also a rumor circulating that the soldier who shot Hannah was later seen bragging about the killing.


The seal of Union County, New Jersey represents the “murder” of Hannah Caldwell

There is more to this story, and I hope to tell it soon.  But this damage claim is going to help me flesh out the impact of the American Revolution on religious life in this New Jersey town.  Not only was the church and the outbuildings burned, but the British troops desecrated several of the church’s sacred and sacramental objects. This was not an unusual practice, but such detailed damage claims, at least for New Jersey, are rather rare.

The Livingstons Liked Their Wine

Liberty Hall

Three cases of Madeira wine were found recently at Liberty Hall, the former home of William Livingston, the first governor of New Jersey and a signer of the United States Constitution.

Here is a taste of an article at

A restoration project at Liberty Hall Museum’s wine cellar unearthed spirits 221 years old that had been shipped to the sleepy Elizabethtown cottage shortly after the American Revolution. 

During the six-month revamp, the museum discovered almost three cases of Madeira wine from 1796 and about 42 demijohns from the 1820s.

Some of the original Madeira stock was shipped to the second generation who lived at Liberty Hall, in anticipation of John Adams’ presidency. Although Liberty Hall President John Kean was well aware of the wine collection, he couldn’t have imagined its historical significance…

The museum, originally constructed in 1760, was built as a country getaway by the then prominent New York lawyer, William Livingston. Livingston would go on to serve in the First and Second Continental congresses, become New Jersey’s first elected governor and sign the United States Constitution.

The Kean family was the second generation to live at Liberty Hall, taking over the original estate in 1811. Multiple generations of the Keans continued to live at the estate until 1973, when the home was designated a National Historic Landmark. The family has worked to preserve and enhance the estate’s invaluable character.

“A suit of tar and turkey-buzzard feathers”


Samuel Seabury

The Monmouth County, New Jersey Committee of Observation and Inspection REALLY didn’t like the pamphlet Free Thoughts on the Resolves of the Congress.  The author of the pamphlet was listed as “A.W. Farmer,” a pen name for Westchester, New York Anglican minister Samuel Seabury.  Some of you recognize Seabury from the musical “Hamilton.”

Here is a taste of the Committee’s minutes from March 1775:

At an early meeting of said Committee, a pamphlet entitled Free Thoughts on the Resolves of the Congress by A.W. Farmer, was handed in to them and their opinion of it asked by a number of their constituents then present.  Said pamphlet was then read, and upon mature deliberation unanimously declared to be a performance of the most pernicious and malignant tendency; replete with the most specious sophistry but void of any solid or rational argument; calculated to deceive and mislead the unwary, the ignorant, and the credulous; and designed no doubt by the detestable author to damp that noble spirit of union, which he sees prevailing all over the Continent, and if possible to sap the foundations of American freedom.  The pamphlet was afterwards handed back to the people, who immediately bestowed upon it a suit of tar and turkey-buzzard’s feathers; one of the persons concerned in the operation justly observing that although the feathers were plucked from the most stinking fowl in the creation he though they felt far short of being a proper emblem of the author’s odiousness to every advocate for true freedom.  The same person wished, however, he had the pleasure of fitting him with a suit of the same materials.  The pamphlet was then in its gorgeous attire, nailed up firmly to the pillory post, there to remain as a monument of the indignation of a free and loyal people against the author and vendor of a publication so evidently tending both to subvert the liberties of America and the Constitution of the British Empire.

Apparently violence was not only directed toward other human beings during the American Revolution.  It was also directed to pamphlets!

Tyranny: Real and Imagined


No, this is not a post about Donald Trump.  Sorry to disappoint.

Today I read a November 1774 letter from the Grand Jury of Essex County, New Jersey to Frederick Smyth, the Chief Justice of the Province of New Jersey.  Smyth was a strong opponent of the revolutionary movement beginning to gain ground in New Jersey. The letter is a response to Smyth’s recent “charge from the bench” in which he told the Essex Grand Jury that they were so distracted by “imaginary tryanny, three thousand miles distant” that they were unable to perceive the “real tyranny at our own doors.”

The response of the Essex County Grand Jury, written weeks after the disbanding of the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia, calls into question Smyth’s “imaginary tyranny.”  The letter reveals New Jersey’s sympathies for Boston in the wake of the Coercive Acts (including the Quebec Act).  By the end of the year Essex County had established several committees of safety and observation. including local committees at Newark and Elizabeth-Town.

Here is an excerpt:

As your Honor’s charge from the Bench was not so properly directory to us with respect to our duty as the Grand Inquest of this County, as a matter of instruction for the regulation of our own personal conduct amidst the present commotions of the Continent, we think ourselves obliged, from the singularity of the charge, and its paternal tenderness for our welfare, to express our gratitude for your Honour’s friendly admonitions, (which doubtless derived great solemnity from the pace in which they were delivered,) and at the same time inform you how far we have the misfortune to differ from you in sentiment, both as to the origin and tendency of the present uneasiness so generally diffused through all the Colonies.  If we rightly understood a particular part of your Honour’s charge, you were pleased to tell us, that while we were employed in guarding against “imaginary tyranny, three thousand miles distant,” we ought not to expose ourselves to a “real tyranny at our own doors.”  As we neither know, sir, nor are under the least apprehension of any tyranny at our own doors, unless it should make its way hither from the distance you mention, and then, we hope, that all those whom the Constitution has entrusted with the guardianship of our liberties, will rather strive to obstruct than accelerate its progress, we are utterly at a loss for the idea thereby intended to be communicated.  But, respecting the tyranny at the distance of three thousand miles, which your Honour is pleased to represent as imaginary, we have the unhappiness widely to differ from you in opinion.  The effect, sire, of that tyranny is too severely felt to have it thought altogether visionary.  We cannot think, sir, that taxes imposed upon us by our fellow subjects, in a Legislature in which we are not represented, is an imaginary, but that it is a real and actual tyranny; and of which no Nation whatsoever can furnish a single instance.  We cannot think, sir, that depriving us of the inestimable right of trial by jury; seizing our persons and carrying us for trial to Great Britain is a tyranny merely imaginary.

Nor can we think with your Honour, that destroying Charters and changing our forms of Government, is a tyranny altogether ideals.—That an Act passed to protect, indemnify, and screen from punishment such as may be guilty even of murder is a bare idea.  That the establishment of French laws and Popish religion in Canada, the better to facilitate the arbitrary schemes of the British Ministry, by making the Canadians instruments in the hands of power to reduce us to slavery, has no other than a mental existence.  In a word, sir, we cannot persuade ourselves that the Fleet now blocking up the Port of Boston, consisting of ships built of real English oak and solid iron, and armed with cannon of ponderous metal, with actual powder and ball; nor the Army lodged in the Town of Boston, and the Fortifications thrown about it, (substantial and formidable realities,) are all creatures of their imagination.  These, sir, are but a few of the numerous grievances under which America now groans.  These are some of the effects of that deliberate of plan of tyranny concerted at “three thousand miles distance,” and which, to your Honour, appears only like the “baseless fabric of a vision.”  To procure redress of these grievances, which to others assume the form of odious and horrid realities, the Continent, as we learn, has very naturally been thrown into great commotions; and as far as this County in particular has taken part in the alarm, we have the happiness to represent to your Honour, that in the prosecution of measures for preserving American liberties, and obtaining the remove of oppressions, the people have acted in all their popular assemblies, (which it is the right of Englishment to convene whenever they please,”) with the spirit, temper and prudence becoming freemen and loyal subjects.

My Home County Says Enough Is Enough!


Ford Mansion, Morristown, NJ, 1901 (Wikipedia Commons)

Morris County, New Jersey (home of Montville Township) responds to the Boston Port Act–June 27, 1774

A meeting of a respectable body of the Freeholders and inhabitants of the County of Morris, in the Province of East New jersey, at the Court House in Morristown, in the said County, on Monday, the 27th June 1774. Jacob Ford, Esquire, Chairman

1st. Resolved, That George the Third is lawful and rightful King of Great Britain and all other his Dominions and countries, and that as part of his Dominions it is our duty not only to render until him true faith and obedience, but also with our lives and fortunes to support and maintain the just dependence of these his Colonies upon the Crown of Great Britain.

2d. That it is our wish and desire, and we esteem it our greatest happiness and security to be governed by the laws of Great Britain, and that we will always cheerfully submit to them as far as can be done, consistently with the constitutional liberties and privileges of free born Englishmen.

3d. That the late Acts of Parliament for imposing taxes for the purpose of raising a revenue in America, are oppressive and Aribtrary, calculated to disturb the minds and alienate the affections of the Colonists from the mother country, are replete with ruin to both, and consequently that the authors and promoters of said Acts, or of such doctines of the right of taxing America being in the Parliament of Great Britain, are, and should be deemed enemies to our King and happy Constitution.

4th. That it is the opinion of this meeting, that the Act of Parliament for shutting up the Port of Boston, is unconstitutional, injurious in its principles to the general cause of American freedom, particularly oppressive to the inhabitants of that town, and that, therefore, the people of Boston are considered by us as suffering in the general cause of America.

5th.  That unanimity and firmness in the Colonies are the most effectual means to relieve our suffering brethren at Boston, to avert the dangers justly to be apprehended from that alarming Act, commonly styled the Boston Port Bill, and to secure the invaded rights and privileges of America.

6th.  That it is our opinion, that an agreement between the Colonies not to purchase or use any articles imported from Great Britain or from the East Indies, under such restrictions as may be agreed upon by the general Congress thereafter to be appointed by the Colonies, would be of service in procuring a repeal of those Acts.

7th. That we will most cheerfully join our brethren of the other counties in this Province in promoting an union of the Colonies, by forming a general Congress of Deputies to be send from each of the Colonies, and do now declare ourselves ready to send a Committee to meet with those from the other counties at such time and place as by them may be agreed upon, in order to elect proper persons to represent this Province in the said Congress.

8th.  That it is the request of this meeting that the County Committees, when met for the purposes aforesaid, do take into their serious consideration the propriety of setting on foot a subscription for the benefit of the sufferers at Boston, under the Boston Port Bill, above mentioned, and the money arising from such subscription to be laid out as the Committees so met shall think will best answer the ends proposed.

9th.  That we will faithfully adhere to such regulations and restrictions as shall by the members of said Congress be agreed upon and judged most expedient for avoiding the calamities, and procuring the benefits intended in the foregoing resolves

10th. It is our request that the Committee hereafter named, do correspond and consult with such other Committees as shall be appointed by the other counties in this Province, and particularly that they meet with the said County Committee, in order to elect and appoint Deputies to represent this Province in a general Congress.

11th. We do hereby desire the following gentleman to accept of that important trust, and accordingly do appoint them our Committee for the purposes aforesaid: Jacob Ford, William Windes, Abraham Ogden, William De Hart, Samuel Tuthill, Jonathan Stiles, John Carle, Philip V. Cortlandt and Samuel Ogden, esquires.

(Minutes of the Provincial Congress and the Council of Safety of the State of New Jersey (Trenton: Naar, Day & Naar, 1879), p. 11-13.

A Eulogy for Jonathan Wood: Historian, Christian, Friend

BroadThis morning I had the opportunity to eulogize my friend Jonathan Wood.  Several of you in attendance this morning asked for a copy of my remarks.  I have included them below. (Parts of this eulogy were drawn from an earlier blog post commemorating Jonathan’s death.)

Eulogy, Jonathan Wood, April 29, 2017, Old Broad Street Presbyterian Church, Bridgeton, New Jersey.

On my first real “research trip” as a history graduate student at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, I spent some time at Princeton University’s Firestone Library. As I perused the card catalog in the Department of Special Collections I came across a reference to the diary and writings of Philip Vickers Fithian.  I knew the name.  I had read part of the diary he had written in 1773 while serving as a tutor on a tobacco plantation in Virginia’s Northern Neck.  But I had no idea that there was so much more to learn about this seemingly obscure character in the annals of American history.  I also had no idea that I would spend the next twelve years—years raising a young family with my wife, and starting a career as a college professor—trying to understand this 18th-century man and his place in the ever-changing world of revolutionary America.

I  finished the dissertation and eventually published a biography of Fithian titled The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  It was the story of man who lived in two worlds. On the one hand, Philip was an educated gentleman.  He loved to travel (although, unlike Jonathan Wood, he never made it to Germany or Japan or Africa). He loved to learn new things (he was, after all, the graduate of an Ivy League institution–just like Jonathan). He read great books. And he loved to have deep and meaningful conversations about ideas that mattered.  All of these attributes made him a cosmopolitan–a citizen of the world.

On the other hand, Philip was a man committed to his Presbyterian faith—a faith that was nurtured in the soil of what he always referred to as his “beloved Cohansey.” Philip had a deep connection to his homeland.  He knew the rhythms of everyday life in this place. He understood its history and was eager to tell others about it. When he answered his country’s call to serve in the American Revolution he did so gladly, as both a citizen of a new nation built on the radical ideas of liberty and natural rights and as proud inhabitant of a local place—the small communities of Cumberland County nestled along the Cohansey River that he knew so well.

At an early stage in my research someone mentioned that I needed to talk to Jonathan Wood, one of the officers of the Cumberland County Historical Society in Greenwich.  I was born and raised in Morris County, New Jersey, but, to be honest, I had to check the map to see where Cumberland County was located, as I had never been to this part of the state.  I corresponded with Jonathan for several months before finally driving to Greenwich to meet him. I recall it was a crisp Fall weekday in 1996.  I was there to pick his brain about local history.  Jonathan, as always, was ever-gracious.  We got in his Buick and he drove me around town, telling me about his career as a history teacher in Millville, his family history (Jonathan always made it clear that he was NOT from the Wood family that founded WAWA convenience stores), and, of course, the history of what I was soon realizing was also his “belov-ed Cohansey.”

We hit it off immediately.  Jonathan was passionate about his work as a historian.  He quoted passages from Fithian’s diary at the drop of a hat. He told me about trips he took to Virginia and New England where he tried to learn more about Fithian and some of the earliest seventeenth-century settlers of Greenwich, Bridgeton, and the surrounding townships.

I think he saw me as a kindred spirit.  There were very few people in Jonathan’s life able to talk about Fithian and local Presbyterian history at such a deep level. As we said goodbye at the end of that day I noticed that tears were filling his eyes.  At the time I didn’t understand why he was so emotional. After all, he was just showing around a visiting graduate student in search of a dissertation topic. But as I got to know Jonathan I realized that he saw the potential of a friendship that I did not yet see.  And I am glad he did.

We stayed in touch. At least once a month during this period I would go to the mailbox to find a manila envelope, usually bursting at the seams, filled with materials that he thought might be useful to my book project.  I continued to make visits to Greenwich as a way of reinvigorating my passion for the project.  I always looked forward to running my latest ideas past Jonathan. We continued to walk the grounds of his “beloved Cohansey.” He knew the historical value of such a practice and how important it was for making sense of the lost early American world that we were both trying to uncover and explain.  Eventually I began to see this place through his eyes. And as I began to see this place through his eyes, I began to simultaneously see this place through the eyes of Philip Vickers Fithian.  Jonathan taught me well.

After The Way of Improvement Leads Home appeared in 2008, Jonathan started sending me reviews of the book in the form of hand-written letters.  He liked the book, but he also thought that there were a few small dimensions of Fithian’s life that I got wrong.  I always pushed back at his constructive criticism.  He rarely backed down.  Jonathan relished in the give-and-take of historical conversation.

Whenever I returned to Greenwich he always insisted that I stay with him at his home in Millville.  We stayed up late into the evening most nights talking about American history, Cumberland County history, our shared Christian faith, and the many books stacked-up next to his reading chair.   He would always have a hand-written list of things that he needed to talk with me about, and sometimes lecture me about.  He filled the guestroom with early American history books from his personal collection. In the morning he would cook us breakfast before we headed off to the Lummis Library for the day.

I remember during one visit Jonathan told me about a book he was reading called Amish Grace. It was the story of the 2006 shooting in a one room Amish schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. (Perhaps some of you remember this).  The focus of the book was the power of forgiveness.  Jonathan was greatly moved by the story of the way the people of the Amish community, as a practical way of exercising their Christian faith, offered forgiveness to the shooter who took five of their children that day.  I remember talking about the incident with Jonathan and at one point in the conversation he paused for about 30 seconds. His mind had clearly drifted away in a moment of reflection.  After this period of silence he turned to me, looked me straight in the eye, pointed to the cover of the book, and said “John, now that is true Christianity.”

I stayed in touch sporadically with Jonathan over the years and made several more visits to Greenwich, often bringing students to help with research. I chronicled some of that history in the blog post that has been circulating. I know some of you have read it.

I had not seen Jonathan in several years when I learned of his passing.  I did not know he had been sick.  It is one of my great regrets that I did not get a chance to say goodbye.  I did not know him as well as most others in this room today, but his friendship toward me, and the things he taught me about how to be a Christian and a historian, I continue to take with me in my work.

Jonathan Wood was a gentleman, a man of deep faith, and, at least from my point of view, the heart and soul of the local history community here in his beloved Cohansey.  If you are part of that community I hope that you see the magnitude of what you have lost.  Today we celebrate one of your wise men.  Jonathan was a seemingly endless source of wisdom who has challenged you, in a quiet and humble way, to see that society cannot move forward without first looking back.  We need more of this kind of thinking.

I am sure Jonathan is absolutely thrilled that we are in Old Broad Street Church today. This is the place where his passion for his Lord met his passion for local religious history. Actually, I am a little bit jealous of him right now.  He is probably watching this service with his good friends Ebenezer Elmer, Jonathan Elmer, Judge Lucius Q.C. Elmer, Rev. William Ramsey, Rev. Enoch Green, Rev. Andrew Hunter, Andrew Hunter Jr., Elizabeth Beatty, and the rest of the eighteenth-century Cohansey Presbyterians—the people he spent most of life getting to know. Right now he is having the kind of reunion that historians dream about.  And I have no doubt he has already had multiple meals with Philip Vickers Fithian.  I can almost picture him leaning over the table, grilling Fithian with questions and getting the answers he has been long awaiting.

Jonathan Wood’s way of improvement has finally led him home.

Rest in peace my good friend.

History is Good for Business

MorristownMorristown National Historical Park in New Jersey, the place where George Washington and the Continental Army spent part of the winter of 1777 and most of the winter of 1779-1780, makes a lot of money for Morristown and the surrounding Morris County region.

In 2016, 252,500 visitors came to the park.  They spent $15 million dollars in the region.

American history does not just help us become better citizens, but it is also good for the economy.

Read more here.


Happy New Year from Samuel Mickle, 1798


Woodbury Friends Meetinghouse

An excerpt from the diary of Samuel Mickle, a 52-year old Quaker farmer from Woodbury, New Jersey.

How human folly descends from 1 generation to another!  The infant’s rattle and adult’s guns and drums; as if glad time made such haste away and a new year arrived: witnessed by the noise this evening.  Some feasting and frolicking most of all the day.  Not so with me, but on the contrary (though unusual) not a single person under our roof, beside my own family, all the day and evening…