How Princeton is dealing with John Witherspoon’s slave ownership

Princeton 2018 2

The Witherspoon statue at Princeton University

I must have missed this from two weeks ago, but the Princeton Public Schools Board of Education unanimously voted to change the name of John Witherspoon Middle School because the Presbyterian minister, signer of the Declaration of Independence, and former president of the College of New Jersey at Princeton (now Princeton University) owned slaves.

Marissa Michaels has it covered at The Daily Princetonian. She also reports on an attempt to remove the Witherspoon statue from the campus of Princeton University. Here is a taste of her piece:

Their petition — which has garnered 1,558 signatures — reads, “In the midst of the ongoing support of the Black Lives Matter movement, this has created the opportune moment for John Witherspoon Middle School to rid itself of its slave-owning and anti-abolitionist namesake … This change is imperative, as the school’s name and Witherspoon’s legacy creates a hostile environment for both the middle school and district’s racially diverse student body.”

A full letter to the Board, which includes alumni testimony, outlines the reasons for the Witherspoon name removal, citing the Princeton & Slavery Project. Witherspoon, the University’s sixth president (1768–94), owned slaves, as did his children. In 1790, Witherspoon and the majority of a New Jersey Board voted against helping to abolish slavery, believing it was “already dying out.” Slavery in New Jersey, however, continued until the end of the Civil War.

Witherspoon’s legacy has also sparked debate at the institution over which he once presided. An early-July open letter signed by over 350 University faculty members called on Nassau Hall to remove a campus statue of Witherspoon. When asked about the letter then, University Spokesperson Ben Chang said the administration was “currently reviewing these and other suggestions for change that have been made by members of our community” as part of a process laid out in June.

In a controversial response, classics professor Joshua Katz wrote, “Since I don’t care for this statue or its placement in front of the  building in which I have my office, I would not be sad if it were moved  away—but emphatically not because of Witherspoon, a signer of the  Declaration of Independence who was a major figure in Princeton and  American history with a complex relationship to slavery.”

Witherspoon middle school

My take on this story is similar to what I wrote about the removal of the George Whitefield statue at the University of Pennsylvania.

If Princeton University does decide to remove the Witherspoon statue, we should not interpret the decision as “erasing history.” We will still talk about Witherspoon. In fact, he features quite prominently in my uncompleted book manuscript (very) tentatively titled, “God in the Crossroads: The American Revolution in New Jersey.”

19th Amendment anniversary roundup

Suffrage Wilson

Today is the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the United States constitution. The amendment gave the right to vote to all American women.

As you might expect, some people are writing about this important anniversary. Here is a short roundup of what is out there:

President Donald Trump celebrated the day by giving a posthumous presidential pardon to Susan B. Anthony. She was arrested in 1872 for voting and fined $100.00.

The irony of this move cannot be overlooked. Trump is trying to stop mail-in-voting during the pandemic by defunding the post office. Yesterday he claimed that the only way he would lose in November is if “the election is rigged.” And he could not pass-up the opportunity to take a shot at a former First Lady.

Anna North has a nice piece at VOX. She cites historians Martha Jones, Lisa Tetrault, Catherine Cahill, and Stephanie Sellers.

The New York Times offers an amazing photo essay titled “Suffrage at 100: A Visual History.” It includes insights from historian Susan Ware, Martha Jones, and Ellen Carol DuBois.

Historian Rosemarie Zagarri reminds us that women voted in New Jersey as early as 1776:

Over at Time, Olivia Waxman debunks some myths.

Treva Lindsey reminds us that “virulent racism, classism and xenophobia” plagued “a storied movement for women’s right to the elective franchise.”

Dayton, Ohio is proud of its role in the women’s suffrage movement.

Over at The Anxious Bench, Chris Gehrz offers a religious history of the 19th Amendment.

Why Princeton University’s Nassau Hall is not called “Belcher Hall”

36167-nassau_hall_princeton

In a September 24, 1755 letter to New Jersey governor Jonathan Belcher, the trustees of the College of New Jersey at Princeton wrote,

By the Skill and Prudence of the Measures pursued in your Administration (thro’ the Smiles of Heaven) Harmony, good Order, and Tranquility is restored in a Province, which before your Accession, was unhappily distracted with Animosities, Tumilts, and general Disorder.

Belcher, an evangelical (New Light) governor, was a great defender of the college. He granted the college its second charter (after its first charter was contested by New Jersey Anglicans) and served as chair of the Board of Trustees. He was influential in moving the college from Newark, New Jersey to Princeton and donated his large library to the school.

Belcher was also celebrated in New Jersey for bringing a temporary end to some of the social unrest over property rights that wracked the colony in the 1730s and 1740s. His enlightened evangelicalism also brought renewed unity to the religious life of a colony divided over the First Great Awakening. His efforts in leading the New Jersey through the early years of the French and Indian War made these unification efforts possible.

Belcher responded to the letter of the Princeton trustees:

When I first had the Honour of his Majesty’s appointing me Governor in his Plantations (now nineteen Years ago), I determined, as far as it would consist with his Majesty’s Honour and Interest, and with the Welfare of his People, to look upon Moderation, as a wise Temperament for the easy and happy Administration of Government: And this I believe has greatly contributed to the present Peace and Tranquility of this Province, after the many Tumults and Riots it had been groaning under for a long Time before my Arrivals.”

The Princeton trustees wanted to name their newly constructed building at Princeton “Belcher Hall,” but the governor refused to lend his name to it. Instead, he recommended the name “Nassau Hall” after the “House of Nassau,” the

great Deliverer of the British Nation, from those two monstrous Furies–Popery and Slavery. And who, for the better Establishment of the true Religion and of English Liberty, brought forward an Act in the British Parliament for securing the Crown of Great Britain, to the present Royal Family, whereby we are not become happy, under the best of Kings, in the full Enjoyment of English Liberty and Property.

Source:

To His Excellency Jonathan Belcher, Esq; captain general, and governor in chief of the province of Nova-Caesarea, or New-Jersey, chancellor, and vice-admiral in the same. An address from the trustees of the College of New-Jersey  (September 24, 1755).

New Jersey and the Albany Congress

Belcher

Jonathan Belcher

Some 18th-century history today:

Yesterday I was reading the minutes of the Spring 1754 meeting of the New Jersey General Assembly held in Perth Amboy.

The meeting opened with a message from royal governor Jonathan Belcher urging the Assembly to send a delegation to Albany, New York in June 1754 to participate in the Albany Congress.

Belcher wrote: 

I… earnestly recommend to your most deliberate and mature Consideration, these extraordinary Proceedings [in Albany]; and then I shall not doubt your doing every Thing in your Power, in Aid and Assistance with the rest of the English Colonies: I say, I hope you will cheerfully unite with them, to ward off from yourselves and your Posterity, the fatal Consequences that must attend the present unjustifiable Violences and Insults of the French (in Conjunction with the Indians).

As Belcher notes, the Albany Congress was called to discuss the mutual defense of the British colonial frontiers against French and native American invasion. (It is best known, however, for Ben Franklin’s so-called “Albany Plan of Union“).

The New Jersey Assembly responded to Belcher’s call in the negative. They refused to participate in any plan of mutual colonial defense until other colonies–especially Pennsylvania and Maryland– committed first:

it does not appear that Schemes are concerted by the several Governors of the Colonies, for preventing the Incroachments of the French, upon His Majesty’s Dominions; nor does it appear, that the Colonies of Maryland and Pennsylvania, have yet done any Thing in that Affair; though they are situated much nearer to the French Forts: That his House is of Opinion with your Excellency, that there should be strict Union amongst all his Majesty’s Colonies, on this Important Affair: But as this Colony, have never been Parties to any Treaties with the Five Nations; and their Allies, nor Partakers of the Benefits of the Indian Trade, and consequently quite unacquainted with the Interest and Trade of those Indians; they therefore hope it will not be taken as a Neglect of the Common Cause at this Time, to leave the Management of the Treaty to the Colonies that are accustomed to carry on those Negotiations.

In other words, the New Jersey Assembly said that the French and Indian threat on the frontier was not really their problem. They were happy to help, but only after other colonies more susceptible to French and Indian raids stepped-up.

The Assembly also commented on Virginia’s attempts at fortifying western forts in Ohio country:

They are of Opinion from Lieutenant Governor Dinwiddie’s Letters to your Excellency that Nothing appears in them more than a Design to build a Fortification in the Forks of Ohio, in order to check the Incroachments of the French and to protect the Indians in Alliance with Great Britain, in that Part of the Country: And from the Time these Things have been in Agitation in the Colony of Virginia, they are in Hopes they are, before this Time, happily completed: However, the Duty and Loyalty of the good People of this Colony, sufficiently appears by their Conduct on former Expeditions.

In other words: “we would love to help, but:

This Colony, though lying under a great Load of Debt, by assisting his Majesty in the late Wars against Spain and France, are, however, willing chearfully to contribute towards the Assistance of the other Colonies, in what is necessary towards preventing the Incroachment of the French on his Majety’s Dominions  ,but at present, are not of Ability to do it; having no Money in the Treasury, nor any Funds upon which it can be raised.” 

Sorry. No money.

Needless to say, Belcher was not happy about this response. First, he corrected the Assembly by informing them that Pennsylvania and Maryland had indeed agreed to send representatives to Albany in June. Second, he said that the New Jersey colony would benefit from peaceful relations with the Indians, especially on the “Northern Boundary of this Province.”

Belcher thought that the Assembly was acting selfishly. If they really wanted to do their part for the British Empire they could raise money through taxes. (This would become a heated political issue down the road).

Moreover, by refusing to participate in the conversations at Albany, New Jersey might lose “his Majesty’s Favour.” Belcher makes an interesting point here. Some have interpreted the Albany Congress–the first attempt to bring all the colonies together for a common purpose–as a forerunner to the American Revolution. These historians point to the fact that the Albany Plan of Union, proposed by Ben Franklin at the meeting, was invoked by the First Continental Congress in Fall 1774 as a model for political union amid the imperial crisis. But that is not what was happening here in 1754. Belcher, a representative of the Crown, makes it clear that New Jersey’s failure to send delegates to Albany would hurt their standing in the British Empire.

On June 5, after a committee of assemblymen considered Belcher’s response, the body seemed to be more open to working with their neighbors. The committee concluded:

That a strict Union among his Majesty’s Colonies is absolutely necessary, to prevent the unjust Encroachments of the French on his Majesty’s Dominions; and that the House ought to join with the rest of his Majesty’s Colonies in the Expence of any well-concerted Scheme for that purpose.

The Assembly voted 18-3 in favor of considering support for their neighbors as soon as a “well-concerted Scheme” was in place. 

Belcher thought this was a weak response:

I have this Session laid before you, the Necessity of your enabling me to send Commissioners to meet at the present Congress at Albany, and also to make a suitable Present to the Indians, to continue them our Allies and Friends. I have also recommended to you, your doing something to strengthen the Forces raised in Virginia, to repel the French out of the King’s Dominions on the River Ohio; but to all this you have turned a deaf ear: Neither the Expectations of his Majesty, his Honour and Dignity, and Peace, Happiness, Safety, and Lives of his Subjects, in these his Dominions, have moved you; but rather than to give a helping Hand, you seem willing to suffer the French to enter into, and possess themselves of, a great Tract of Land (undoubtedly belonging to the Crown of Great Britain) and tamely permit a most cruel and barbarous Enemy, to have it in their Power, at their Will and Pleasure, to murder and destroy Hundreds of Families in this and the neighbouring Colonies; which more certainly will be the Case, if the French are allowed to continue on the Lands of the Ohio.”

Belcher railed against the Assembly’s unwillingness to send representatives to Albany until the delegates who attended this meeting put forth a “well-concerted Scheme.” He wrote: “Can this be judged any Thing but an intended Evasion? Do you expect to be consulted in the Scheme, or Plan of Operation?” Belcher wanted New Jersey to have a seat at the table in Albany.

He concluded:

Your Conduct has rendered it absolutely my Duty, for the Honour of his Majesty, and the future Well-being of his Colony, to dissolve this present Assembly; thereby putting it in the Power of the good People of this Province, to show how they stand affected in the Choice of their future Representatives, for the Good of the great and common cause, recommended to you this Sessions.

Would New Jersey send a delegation to the Albany Congress?

Stay tuned! (Or go look it up).

My review of the Monmouth County Historical Association’s Springsteen exhibit

Springsteen exhibit

Some of you may remember our interview with Melissa Ziobro, the Monmouth University history professor who curated a recent exhibit on Bruce Springsteen’s relationship with his hometown of Freehold, New Jersey.

Listen to Episode 60 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.

This week New Jersey Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal published my short review of the “Springsteen: His Hometown” exhibit. Read it here.

Presbyterians in Love

Letter to Beatty

The first letter that Fithian wrote to Elizabeth Beatty, dated July 15, 1770. From the Fithian Papers, Manuscripts Division, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library. Courtesy of the Princeton University Library. 

I am glad to learn that Commonplace: The Journal of Early American History and Life is re-running my 2008 piece “Presbyterians in Love” at its new website. I love the subtitle they chose: “He was a man stretched between worlds: one of cautious belief, another of passion and sentiment; one of rational learning, another of devotion and deep emotion.”

I can’t I published that piece twelve years ago.

Here is a taste:

Can Presbyterians fall in love? Okay, everyone falls in love, but when people think of Presbyterians they normally conjure up images of stoic Protestants whose kids eat oatmeal and memorize the Westminster Confession of Faith. Reverend Maclean, the Montana minister and father figure played by Tom Skerritt in A River Runs Through It, comes to mind. Presbyterians don’t “fall” in love—they rationally, and with good sense, ease themselves into it.

This was my image of Presbyterians until I read the correspondence of Philip Vickers Fithian. Most early American historians know Philip Vickers Fithian. He was the uptight young Presbyterian who served a year (1773-1774) as a tutor at Nomini Hall, the Virginia plantation of Robert Carter, and wrote a magnificently detailed diary about his experience. For most of us, Fithian is valued for his skills as an observer. His journal offers one of our best glimpses into plantation life in the Old Dominion on the eve of the American Revolution.

But despite Fithian’s ubiquitous presence in the indexes and footnotes of contemporary works of Virginia scholarship, most of us know little more about him than the very barest facts: He was born in 1747 in the southern New Jersey town of Greenwich. He was the eldest son of Presbyterian farmers but left the agricultural life in 1770 to attend the College of New Jersey at Princeton. After college he worked for a year on Carter’s plantation and was ordained to the Presbyterian ministry. In 1776 he headed off to New York to serve as a chaplain with a New Jersey militia unit in the American War for Independence.

Such chronicling—the stuff of encyclopedia entries and biographical dictionaries—only scratches the surface of Philip’s life. It fails to acknowledge the inner man, the prolific writer who used words—letters and diary entries mostly—to make peace with the ideas that warred for his soul. Philip was a man of passion raised in a Presbyterian world of order. He came of age at a time when Presbyterians were rejecting the pious enthusiasm of the Great Awakening for a common-sense view of Christianity. And while Philip was clearly a student of this newer rational and moderate Protestantism, he remained unquestionably Presbyterian. For he was a man stretched between worlds: one of cautious belief, another of passion and sentiment; one of rational learning, another of devotion and deep emotion. His struggle to bring these worlds together is seen most clearly not in his well-known observations of plantation life but in his letters to the woman he loved—Elizabeth Beatty.

Philip first met Elizabeth “Betsy” Beatty in the spring of 1770 when she visited the southern New Jersey town of Deerfield to attend her sister Mary’s wedding to Enoch Green, the local Presbyterian minister. It may not have been love at first site, but it was close. Philip was enrolled in Green’s preparatory academy, and Betsy was the daughter of Charles Beatty, the minister of the Presbyterian church of Neshaminy, Pennsylvania, and one of the colonies’ most respected clergymen.

Betsy was a new face in Deerfield, a fact that made her especially enchanting to the town’s young men. Philip had spent enough time with Betsy while she was visiting to begin a friendly correspondence with her. In his first letter, written shortly after she returned to Neshaminy, Philip wrote, “You can scarcely conceive . . . how melancholy, Spiritless, & forsaken you left Several when you left Deerfield!” He hoped for a prominent place “in this gloomy Row of the disappointed.” Since Betsy had departed Deerfield he could not “walk nor read, nor talk, nor ride, nor sleep, nor live, with any Stomach!” The “transient golden Minutes” they had spent together, he added, “only fully persuaded me how much real Happiness may be had in your Society.” Philip was smitten.

Betsy did not reply to this letter, and Philip’s obsession waned as he headed off to college in the fall of 1770. While he was there Philip had more than one opportunity to see Betsy again. He joined fellow classmates on weekend excursions to visit Charles Beatty’s church at Neshaminy, and it was during these visits that he made his first serious attempts to court Betsy. Though Philip and Betsy would spend much time together over the course of the next several years, the establishment of a correspondence was equally important to the development of their relationship. Betsy had given Philip permission to write her, a clear sign that she approved of his desire to move the friendship forward. By February 1772 he was signing his letters with the name “Philander” (“loving Friend”), an obvious indicator of his affection for his new correspondent.

Though much of Philip and Betsy’s courtship was conducted through letters, the exchange of sentiments usually flowed in only one direction. Perhaps Betsy did not like to write. Perhaps she preferred more intimate encounters or feared the lack of privacy inherent in letter writing. Or perhaps she did not want to encourage her suitor with a reply. Whatever the case, women generally did not write as much as men, especially when it came to love and courtship letters. In other words, Betsy may simply have been following the conventions of her day.

Read the rest here. Or get the entire story here:

Fithian Book

 

 

Women Could Vote in New Jersey Between 1776 and 1807

NJ Map

I continue to plug away on my history of the American Revolution in New Jersey.  This piece encouraged me to keep forging ahead.  Here is a taste of Jennifer Schuessler’s New York Times‘ piece “On the Trail of America’s First Women to Vote“:

“The New Jersey exception,” as it’s sometimes called, has been puzzled over by historians, who have debated whether it represented a deliberate, widespread experiment in gender equality, or an accidental legal loophole whose importance was greatly exaggerated by the era’s partisan press.

But curiously, there has been little to no direct evidence that more than a handful of women had actually cast ballots — until now.

After scouring archives and historical societies across New Jersey, researchers at the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia have located poll lists showing that women really did vote in significant numbers before the right was taken away.

The newly surfaced documents, which will be featured in an exhibition opening in August cheekily titled “When Women Lost the Vote,” may seem to speak to a hyperlocal story.

But the discoveries, the curators say, shed fresh light onto the moment when the meaning of the Revolution’s ideas was being worked out on the ground, in elections that had more than a little resemblance to the messy, partisan and sometimes chaotic ones we know today.

Read the entire piece here.

How Should You Respond When Your Stamp Distributor Resigns Under Pressure?

WilliamFranklin2-570x381

William Franklin

On September 3, 1765, William Coxe, the Distributor of Stamps for New Jerseyresigned.  Parliament passed the Stamp Act on March 22, 1765 and it was scheduled to go into effect on November 1, 1765.  The New Jersey Sons of Liberty were putting pressure on Coxe to resign and the treatment that stamp collectors received in other colonies was probably also a factor.

Here is Coxe’s resignation letter to New Jersey royal governor William Franklin. It’s  short and sweet:

I think it incumbent upon me to acquaint your Excellency, that on my Return from New-Jersey on Sunday last, I came to a Resolution to Surrender the Office of Distributor of Stamps for the Province to the Lords Commissioners of the Treasury. My Resignation, & the Reasons for it, I have sent to their Lordships this Day, and if any Papers come to my Hands relative to that Office, I shall transmit them to your Excellency as the proper Person to receive them, but I think it most probably my Letters may arrive in England before any Commission or Stamps are sent away.

Franklin was not happy about it.  He responded the next day (September 4, 1765).

I received yours of Yesterday, acquainting me with your having resigned the Office of Distributor of Stamps for New Jersey, I must own myself not a little Surpriz’d at the Information, as I have not yet had the least Reason to apprehend but that the Act might be quietly carried into Execution throughout this  Province. It is true, that the Inhabitants here have their Objections to the Stamp Act, as well as those of the other Colonies, but I have not heard of any Design among them to oppose its Execution by Violence or otherwise. All of them with whom I have conversed on the Affair seem to think that they are as much bound to pay Obedience to their Act as they are to the Acts laying Duties on Trade, & those other Acts relative to the Colonies which they have heretofore obeyed, and that, as good Subjects, they ought no to make any Opposition to the Act, now it is pass’d, till they ave first try’d all dutiful Means of obtaining Redress of such Grievances as it may occasion.  These likewise (to do the Americans Justice) seem to be the Sentiments of the most Sober discreet Men of every Province. As to sending me the Papers which may come to Your Hands relative to the Office, it can answer no good Purpose whatever, as I am not impowered to appoint any Person to execute it. But I cannot help thinking, as you made Application for the Office, that you are bound to Honour to endeavour, at least, to carry it into Execution.  The ill Consequences, after the Act takes place, which might result, for Want of  the Stamps, to every Inhabitant who ha any Dealings and other Mischiefs which may be brought on the Province on Account of their being supposed by our Superiors at home to have prevented your exercising the Office, must otherwise lie at your Door.  At any Rate, it is your Duty to keep the Papers until some person shall be appointed to Succeed you. Thus much, Sir, I am induced to mention to you, not only from a Sense of Duty to the Crown, but out of the Regard I have for the Interest & Character of the People of this Province. 

Episode 60: Springsteen’s Hometown

PodcastIf you know anything about John Fea, it’s that when it comes to rock and roll, his tastes begin and end with the Boss. So when he heard that a new Springsteen exhibit was opening in Springsteen’s hometown of Freehold, New Jersey, John couldn’t help but give himself a Christmas present and dedicate an episode to the exhibit. He is joined by the museum’s curator and Monmouth University historian, Melissa Ziobro.

Episode 59: Miss America’s God

PodcastThroughout the history of the Miss America Pageant, there has been a complicated relationship between sexuality and religion. The goal of the pageant is to crown the ideal American woman. But contestants are judged simultaneously based on their so-called purity as well as their sex appeal. Host John Fea explores his own relationship with the pageant and its roots in the New Jersey boardwalk culture. He is joined by Baylor’s Mandy McMichael (@mandyemcmichael), author of Miss America’s God: Faith and Identity in America’s Oldest Pageant.

 

Where is Governor Livingston?

Liberty Hall Kean

William Livingston’s Liberty Hall

New Jersey’s revolutionary-era governor William Livingston was constantly on the run during the war.  Here, for example, is historian James Gigantino on Livingston during the British occupation of New Jersey in 1776:

Livingston’s whereabouts from mid-December to early January remain unknown; not known even if he remained alive, John Hancock addressed a late December letter to “Governor Livingston or the present Executive power in New Jersey.”

Livingston managed to survive several assassination plots. His home in Elizabeth-Town (Liberty Hall) was damaged by the British. And he was forced to move his family back and forth between Liberty Hall and Parsippany.

Here is Gigantino again:

Livingston had good reason to request personal protection.  British troops attacked Elizabethtown in February 1779 with the intention of capturing or assassinating him at Liberty Hall.  Finding only his wife and daughters, they hoped to seize the governor’s papers, but the quick-witted Livingston women instead proffered a pile of old law papers and correspondence from a recently captured British ship….Apparently , the governor agreed that a strong “conspiracy against me” had formed in Essex [County, New Jersey].  After the summer of 1779 and until the end of the war, he never returned for significant periods to Liberty Hall.  He believed that both he and his wife had to accept the inevitability that the British would burn their home and that the couple should “prepare ourselves to bear it with Christian fortitude.”

This is the context for understanding a letter that I read over the weekend.  A twenty-six-year-old British spy (and a former member of the Elizabeth-Town militia) named John Cunningham wrote the February 26, 1780 letter to William Tryon, the loyalist governor of New York.  It contained intelligence on the Continental Army.  Here is a relevant taste:

The Assembly is now sitting in Mount Holly in West Jersey. It is hard to say where Governor Livingston is to be found….In general the old County man may be said to be disgusted…They openly say the country has been cheated by the cry of Liberty, and that it is all a Delusion….Dr. Witherspoon is turned out the Congress–Mr. Livingston the state Governor less and less tolerated. He is called Cruel and miserly & cowardly both by Whigs and Tories. He is universally spurned at for dodging up and down the Country and shunning his own house where he leaves one of his daughters almost always alone.

According to Cunningham, things were not going very well in New Jersey in the winter of 1780.  Earlier in the letter he discusses the dire conditions among the Continental Army at Morristown and notes that the people of Morristown are tired of having the army in town.

Source: (CO 5/1110 The British Nation Archives, Adam Matthew Database).

Governor Franklin Was Worried About His Stamps

WilliamFranklin2-570x381

William Franklin

Parliament passed the Stamp Act on March 22, 1765. This law was designed to raise revenue in the wake of the French and Indian War through the sale of stamps on paper products, including attorney licences, land grants, playing cards, newspapers, and pamphlets.  Prime Minister George Grenville appointed men to distribute the stamps shortly after Parliament passed the act.  The Stamp Act would go into effect on November 1, 1765.

Grenville appointed Philadelphia merchant William Coxe to distribute the stamps in New Jersey, but amid pressure from the New Jersey Sons of Liberty, including threats to Coxe’s life, he resigned his post on September 3, 1765, weeks before the stamps even arrived in the colony.

Last night I read New Jersey Governor William Franklin‘s September 14, 1765 letter to British general Thomas Gage concerning the Coxe’s resignation. Franklin writes from Burlington, New Jersey and Gage, the British commander-in-chief of North America, is in New York.  Here is the letter:

The Person appointed Distributor of Stamps for this Province having resigned his Office on Account, as he Says, of the Intimidations he had received that both his Person & Property would otherwise be endangered, & having likewise refused to take Charge of them on their Arrival here, it becomes my Duty to do all in my Power for the Preservation of what is of so great Importance to His Majesty’s Revenue.  I have summoned the Council to meet here [Burlington] on Tuesday the 24th Instant, to ask their Advice on the Occasion; and as I have Reason to think it will be their Opinion that the Stamps should be placed in the Barracks in this City, under a guard until His Majesty’s Pleasure should be known thereon; and as it may be dangerous to employ the Inhabitants in that Service, considering the risque there is of their being infected with the Madness which prevails among the People of the neighboring Provinces, I should be glad to be informed by you, Sir, Whether if I should find it necessary to call upon you for the Aid of the Military I may be assured of receiving it. I imagine that about 60 men, with officers, will be sufficient, as the Barracks may be easily made defensible….P.S. By What I can learn, the Stamps are not expected here till some Time next Month.”

And here is Gage’s September 16th response:

I have the Honor of your Letter of the 14th Instant, and take the earliest opportunity of informing you that you may depend upon the Aid of the Military that you demand & seem to think necessary for the Preservation of good Order in the Province of New Jersey.  The Troops are at present a good deal dispersed but I shall give Orders for their being immediately assembled, and One Hundred Men with proper Officers, Shall be ready to march at your Requisition. I beg leave to remark that the sooner you come to a final Resolution the more effectual Service the Troops are likely to be of.”

Both of these letters can be found in CO 5/987, The National [British] Archives, Adam Matthew Database.

Crossroads of the American Revolution Will Place Historical Marker Outside First Presbyterian Church of Elizabeth, New Jersey

ETown Graveyard

In 2013 I did some consulting for a non-profit organization affiliated with the historic First Presbyterian Church of Elizabeth, New Jersey.  My team conducted research on James Caldwell, the revolutionary-era pastor of the church.  You can read about our work here and here and here.  Some of you will also remember my January 2014 writing binge related to this project.  Somewhere on a flash drive I have that 40,000 word report.  I am sure some of it will eventually make its way into my current book project on the American Revolution in New Jersey.

I was thus pleased to see that the church, the burial ground, and the neighboring academy building (which sits on the site of the school where both Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton studied before they went to Princeton and Kings College respectively) will be commemorated with a historical marker.  Here is a taste of a piece at Yahoo:

The story of the City of Elizabeth’s deep Revolutionary War heritage is now being told by two interpretive signs located outdoors on the campus of the historic First Presbyterian Church and burial grounds on Broad Street.

The signage will be unveiled on Monday, Nov. 4th, 2019 at 11am by representatives from the City of Elizabeth, The Elizabeth Destination Marketing Organization [EDMO], the Greater Elizabeth Chamber of Commerce, Crossroads of the American Revolution, and the Snyder Academy.

The Elizabeth markers are a vital part of the Crossroads of the American Revolution Association’s statewide signage program to create a recognizable brand for more than 200 sites that tell the story of New Jersey’s crucial role in the war for independence. Featuring the six-pointed star used in the original United States flag, the signs are designed to make it easier for residents and heritage tourists to locate key Revolutionary-era historic sites and learn more about the state’s deep Revolutionary War heritage.

New Jersey saw more battles and skirmishes during the American Revolution than anyplace else, and families were deeply affected by the many years of conflict that took place at their front door,” said Janice Selinger, executive director of Crossroads of the American Revolution. “Crossroads is proud to highlight the many contributions of Elizabeth’s Revolutionary notables, especially as we work towards attracting more heritage travelers to discover the state’s contributions during the commemoration of the nation’s 250th anniversary in 2026.”

“As the first capital of New Jersey and home to our first Governor, Elizabeth has played a vital role in our state’s and nation’s past,” said Mayor J. Christian Bollwage. “Now residents and visitors can learn about Elizabeth’s deep ties with the Revolutionary War through these informative signs and what better place to do so than in front of the City’s First Presbyterian Church, where the first Colonial Assembly met in 1668.”

Read the entire article here.

 

The Fake Mount Holly, New Jersey Witchcraft Trial

Mount Holly

Over at Boston 1775, J.L. Bell writes about some 18th-century fake news. On October 22, 1730, Ben Franklin’s Pennsylvania Gazette published a report of a witchcraft trial in southern New Jersey:

Saturday last at Mount-Holly, about 8 Miles from this Place, near 300 People were gathered together to see an Experiment or two tried on some Persons accused of Witchcraft. It seems the Accused had been charged with making their Neighbours Sheep dance in an uncommon Manner, and with causing Hogs to speak, and sing Psalms, &c. to the great Terror and Amazement of the King’s good and peaceable Subjects in this Province; and the Accusers being very positive that if the Accused were weighed in Scales against a Bible, the Bible would prove too heavy for them; or that, if they were bound and put into the River, they would swim;

the said Accused desirous to make their Innocence appear, voluntarily offered to undergo the said Trials, if 2 of the most violent of their Accusers would be tried with them. Accordingly the Time and Place was agreed on, and advertised about the Country; The Accusers were 1 Man and 1 Woman; and the Accused the same.

The Parties being met, and the People got together, a grand Consultation was held, before they proceeded to Trial; in which it was agreed to use the Scales first; and a Committee of Men were appointed to search the Men, and a Committee of Women to search the Women, to see if they had any Thing of Weight about them, particularly Pins. After the Scrutiny was over, a huge great Bible belonging to the Justice of the Place was provided, and a Lane through the Populace was made from the Justices House to the Scales, which were fixed on a Gallows erected for that Purpose opposite to the House, that the Justice’s Wife and the rest of the Ladies might see the Trial, without coming amongst the Mob; and after the Manner of Moorfields, a large Ring was also made.

Read the rest, along with Bell’s interpretation, here.

Liberty Hall Museum Appoints New Director

Liberty Hall

Liberty Hall, once the home of New Jersey’s first governor William Livingston, has a new executive director.  Her name is Rachael Goldberg.

Here is the press release:

UNION, N.J.Oct. 24, 2019 /PRNewswire/ — Liberty Hall Museum, Inc., the organization devoted to the preservation and protection of New Jersey’s first Governor’s house, announced today that Rachael Goldberg has been named as Executive Director.

Rachael is a long-term employee, who has served in a number of capacities at the Museum.  Her new responsibility now will be to provide direction as the Museum strengthens its unique school program and looks for ways and means to encourage repeat visitors.

John Kean, President of the Museum said, “We are particularly fortunate to be able to promote someone within our organization who has such exceptional qualifications.”

Rachael began working for the Museum more than 10 years ago and has served in a number of different assignments. She is a graduate of the University of Rhode Island where she earned her degree in History.  She holds a Master’s Degree in American History from Monmouth University, as well as a certificate in historic preservation from Drew University.

Liberty Hall was the home of New Jersey’s first elected Governor, William Livingston.  Built in 1772, on the eve of the American Revolution, and passed down through seven generations of the Livingston and Kean families, Liberty Hall has been a silent witness to more than 200 years of American history.

The Livingston/Kean family has produced governors, senators, congressmen and captains of industry.  No less accomplished were the ladies of Liberty Hall.

A chronicle of New Jersey and American history, as glimpsed through the experiences of one family, this Victorian-style mansion is a treasure trove of historic riches.

This is of interest to me for two reasons:

  1. I continue to work on a new history of the American Revolution in New Jersey.
  2. I am consulting on Kean University’s William Livingston’s World project.

Best Shore Towns in New Jersey

Jersey ShoreOct2009 014

Looking for gold at Ocean Beach

Here are the top ten, according to NewJersey.com:

  1. Cape May
  2. Harvey Cedars
  3. Manasquan
  4. Beach Haven
  5. Ocean City
  6. Bradley Beach
  7. Cape May Point
  8. Surf City
  9. Ship Bottom
  10. Island Beach State Park

Here is my ranking (I’ve been to just about every beach listed by NJ.Com and others that are not listed):

  1. Ocean Beach (Dover)
  2. Beach Haven
  3. Island Beach State Park
  4. Seaside Heights
  5. Ocean City
  6. Cape May
  7. Asbury Park
  8. Ortley Beach
  9. Wildwood
  10. Harvey Cedars

Review of James Gigantino, *William Livingston’s American Revolution*

GigantinoYou can read my review of Gigantino‘s new book William Livingston’s American Revolution in the recent issue of New Jersey Studies.

Here is a taste:

William Livingston (1723-1790) was a prominent Whig lawyer, prolific writer on behalf of the cause of liberty, member of the Continental Congress, and the governor of New Jersey during the American Revolution. His personal papers are widely accessible to historians. It is thus surprising that until James Gigantino’s William Livingston’s American Revolution, the only biography of Livingston was James Sedgwick’s hagiographical A Memoir of the Life of William Livingston, published in 1833.

Read the entire review here.