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.

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.

Review of Gideon Mailer’s *John Witherspoon’s American Revolution*

MailerMy review of this important book is in the Summer 2017 issue of New Jersey Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal.

Here is a taste:

Prior to John Witherspoon’s American Revolution, the received wisdom from historians of Witherspoon’s thought was that the Presbyterian divine was the perfect representation of how evangelical Protestantism had either merged with, or was co opted by, the enlightened moral thinking emanating from the great Scottish universities. Historians Ned Landsman and Mark Noll argued that Witherspoon’s ethical sensibilities drew heavily from moralist Francis Hutcheson and the moderate wing of the Scottish Presbyterian Church. Landsman coined the phrase “The Witherspoon Problem” to describe how Witherspoon strongly opposed Hutcheson’s human-centered system of morality prior to arriving in the colonies in 1768, but then seemed to incorporate these same ideas in the moral philosophy lectures he delivered to his students at Nassau Hall. Noll forged his understanding of Witherspoon amidst the intramural squabbles in late twentieth-century evangelicalism over whether or not the United States was founded as a “Christian nation.” Since Witherspoon was a minister with deep evangelical convictions, many modern evangelicals claimed him as one of their own and used his life and career to buttress the Christian nationalism of the Religious Right. In a series of scholarly books, Noll challenged his fellow evangelicals to understand Witherspoon less as an evangelical in the mold of First Great Awakening revivalists such as Jonathan Edwards or George Whitefield, and more as a product of the Scottish Enlightenment who drew heavily from secular ideas to sustain his understanding of virtue.

Mailer’s revisionist work challenges much of what we have learned from Landsman and Noll. 

Read the entire review here.

The Author’s Corner With William Harrison Taylor

HarrisonWilliam Harrison Taylor is Associate Professor of History at Alabama State University.  This interview is based on his new book Unity in Christ and Country: Presbyterians in the Revolutionary Era, 1758-1801 (University of Alabama Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write Unity in Christ and Country

WHT: This project had its origins during my time in graduate school. I was hoping to make my small contribution to our understanding of the American Revolution and I had decided that the best way for me to do so was by exploring the emerging religious marketplace. Presbyterians were still my primary focal point, but I was determined to examine the dimensions of how they were competing for membership against the myriad of democratically inspired churches. After a year or so of research I couldn’t overlook the obvious any longer. The more I read, the more it became clear that the loudest cry from the Presbyterian church was not one of competition, but rather for cooperation. Having decided to let the sources speak for themselves (wasn’t that kind of me?) I realized that by pursing their goal of Christian unity, the Presbyterians had a much broader influence than I originally envisioned and it was a story, I thought, that needed to be told.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Unity in Christ and Country?

WHT: In Unity in Christ and Country I argue that during the revolutionary era, as the American Presbyterians began to actively pursue the elusive dream of Christian unity, they not only helped to shape the period, but they also unintentionally planted the seeds that kept unity beyond their grasp, split their church, and helped to divide the nation.

JF: Why do we need to read Unity in Christ and Country?

WHT: From what I have read, reading is thought to be a great exercise for the prevention of Alzheimer’s, so there’s that. However, if you already have your Alzheimer’s preventative reading regimen in place, you may still find this book helpful if you are interested in learning more about the dynamics and influence of people’s faith during the American Revolution. Included are stories where belief transformed the understanding of who should hear the good news, encouraged people to struggle and fight against tyrannies (real and perceived), and fostered desires for temporal and spiritual unity where once animosity and self-interest prevailed.  Granted, these stories don’t all have pleasant endings, but that is partly why they can be useful.

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

WHT: I had some excellent story-tellers for professors as an undergraduate—Kit Carter and Allen Dennis standout in particular—who had a big impact on my decision to primarily study American history.  Yet, while they helped steer me to graduate study in American history, their work was aided by a foundation laid much earlier.  During most summers while I was growing up my family would trek to various places around the country as part of my dad’s job.  We drove everywhere and along the way we were forced to visit (at least at first) to what felt like every historical landmark within a hundred miles of our route.  I might not have admitted it then (what self-respecting and properly annoying teenager would give their parents the pleasure?) but I came to enjoy those side trips. Being so often immersed in an historical environment such as Colonial Williamsburg or Mark Twain’s home in Hannibal, Missouri sparked an appreciation of the American past that not yet run its course.

JF: What is your next project?

WHT: Currently, I am exploring the depths of American anti-Catholic sentiment in the years leading up to the War for American Independence. Whether this will turn out to be anything more than my previous attempt to study the competitive nature of the Presbyterians in the religious marketplace remains to be seen. Still, my early reading suggests that there is much more to this relationship than has yet been revealed. Hopefully, the more I read, the more I will find to support this early optimism.

JF: Thanks, Harrison!

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.

The Author’s Corner with Gideon Mailer

John Witherspoon.jpgGideon Mailer is Associate Professor of History at the University of Minnesota, Duluth. This interview is based on his new book, John Witherspooon’s American Revolution:  Enlightenment and Religion from the Creation of Britain to the Founding of the United States  (The University of North Carolina Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write John Witherspoon’s American Revolution

GM: Since my undergraduate days, I have always been interested in the links between Anglo-Scottish unionism and the formation of American religious, intellectual, and constitutional identity. I first came across Witherspoon in undergraduate work on religion in colonial America. I had just been working on New England religious foundations for a previous module. I had read much about the “Puritan Origins of the American Self” (I was a big Bercovitch fan!). Yet I found out that the only clergyman to sign the American Declaration of Independence was a Scottish Presbyterian; not a New England Congregationalist or a Virginia Anglican.

Fast-forward a decade, to a four-year postdoctoral research fellowship at St. John’s College, Cambridge, and an Assistant Professorship at University of Minnesota, Duluth: Witherspoon continued to provide a rich case study to explore the wider intellectual, religious, and constitutional framework of the American Revolution. After all, he fought on behalf of Britain against Jacobite rebels in 1745, yet only a few decades later supported the American revolutionary cause against that same British state.

As I soon realized, a lot of what we have come to call “The American Enlightenment” – the consolidation of rational thought and a growing trust in individual moral perception – has been linked to Witherspoon’s influence after his arrival in America. Having left Scotland, he is said to have brought aspects of the Scottish Enlightenment to America. Yet I was intrigued by the associated paradox: how could an evangelical theologian, focused on sin and damnation, have inspired Enlightenment ideals in America? And how could a religious proponent of Anglo-Scottish unionism help to inspire American revolutionary ideology?

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

GM: The book questions whether the United States could have been founded according to Enlightenment principles – notions of innate sympathy, rationality, and ethical discernment – even while those principles accompanied the onset of rebellion and the chaotic disintegration of an empire. Tracing the wider meaning of Witherspoon’s move from Scotland to America, the book uncovers the broader constitutional and civic contexts that framed Witherspoon’s use of moral sense reasoning, but which also afforded him an opportunity to critique its role in religious and political discourse.

JF: Why do we need to read John Witherspoon’s American Revolution?

The book is useful, I hope, in its attempt to integrate the political and religious influences of the 1707 Act of Union between Scotland and England on subsequent American history. It traces the tension between the Scottish Enlightenment and Protestant evangelicalism and the place of that tension in the developing philosophies of American independence and American constitutionalism. That America’s founding incorporated potentially contradictory philosophical ideas is important to note – and perhaps explains a lot about subsequent history! More broadly, the book contributes to an expanding field on the role of Presbyterianism in the political theology of the American Revolution and the subsequent founding.

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

GM: I was one of the last cohort to study for the old style “A-Levels” at school in the UK. By sheer luck, one of our teachers was able to offer a module in colonial American history. Most A-Level history students in the UK, at that time, studied the Tudors and Stuarts, Victorian Britain, and 20th century World History. I was lucky to study American history. I was attracted to the field, thinking it would provide an escape from kings, queens, and capricious European dynastic alliances. I was a little naïve, therefore; but wanted to become an Americanist since then.

JF: What is your next project?

GM: The project is tentatively titled The Character of Freedom: Slavery and the Scottish Enlightenment. It builds on research I have begun to synthesize. It assesses the relationship between American moral philosophy (particularly as inspired by Scottish Enlightenment and Scottish Presbyterian thought) and slavery from the colonial era, through the American Revolution, and into the antebellum period.

JF: Thanks, Gideon! 

Religion and the 1776 Pennsylvania Constitution: A Short Series, Part 8


David Rittenhouse

OK.  This is my last post in what turned out to be a rather long series on the 1776 Pennsylvania Constitution.  Read the entire series here.

In this post I am sharing some of my ongoing research on the religious affiliations of the signers of the Constitution.  As you can see, I still have work to do. If you know anything about the religious affiliation of these guys please shoot me an e-mail or comment below.

So far my research has revealed a very large number of Presbyterians and German Reformed signers. (By the way, why aren’t more people writing about the German Reformed population in Pennsylvania?  We haven’t had a book on them in years!)

What do the religious affiliations of the signers have to do with the religious dimensions of the Constitution discussed in the previous seven posts? I don’t know.  Maybe nothing. But I do think that it is a question worth asking.

Here are the signers:

Philadelphia City

Timothy Matlack: Free Quaker

Frederick Kuhl: Anglican

James Cannon: Probably Presbyterian

George Schlosser: Probably Lutheran

David Rittenhouse: Presbyterian


Philadelphia County

Robert Loller: Presbyterian (Abington)

Joseph Blewer: Probably Anglican (Southwark)

John Bull: ? (Providence Township)

William Coates ? (Northern Liberties)


Bucks County

John Wilkinson: Free Quaker (Wrightstown)

Samuel Smith: ? (Buckingham)

John Keller: Probably Lutheran (Haycock Township)

William Van Horne: Baptist (Southampton)

John Grier: Presbyterian (Plumstead)

Abraham Van Middleswarts: ?

Joseph Kirkbride: Free Quaker (New Britain)


Chester County

Benjamin Bartholomew: Baptist (Devon)

Thomas Strawbridge: ? (Londonderry)

Robert Smith: Presbyterian (Uwchlan)

Samuel Cunningham: Probably Presbyterian (Nantmeal)

John Mackey: Presbyterian (New London)

John Flemming: Presbyterian (Valley Township)


Lancaster County

Philip Marsteller ?  (Lebanon)

Thomas Porter: ? (Drumore)

Bartram Galbreath: Presbyterian (Donegal)

John Hubley: ? (Lancaster)

Alexander Lowrey: Presbyterian (Donegal)


York County

James Edgar: Presbyterian (York)

James Smith: Probably Presbyterian (Susquehanna)


Cumberland County

John Harris Jr.: Presbyterian (Paxton)

Jonathan Hoge: Presbyterian (East Pennsboro)

William Clarke: ? (Middletown)

Robert Whitehill: Presbyterian (Paxton)

William Duffield: Probably Presbyterian (Mercersburg)

James Brown: Probably Presbyterian (Carlisle)

Hugh Alexander: Probably Presbyterian (?)

James McLain: Probably Presbtyerian (Antrim)


Berks County

Jacob Morgan: Anglican (Carnarvon)

Gabriel Hiester: Probably German Reformed (Bern)

Benjamin Spyker: German Reformed (Tulpehocken)

Valentine Ecker: German Reformed (Wolmesdorf)

Charles Shoemaker: Lutheran (Windsor)

Thomas Jones Jr.: ? (Heidelberg)


Northampton County

Simon Driesbach: German Reformed (Lehigh)

Jacob Arndt: German Reformed (Forks)

Peter Burkholder: ? (Whitehall)

Jacob Stroud: ? (Stroudsburg)

Neigal Gray: Presbyterian (Allen Township)

Abraham Miller (?)

John Ralston: Presbyterian (Allen Township)


Bedford County

Benjamin Elliott: Presbyterian (Huntingdon)

Thomas Coulter: ? (Cumberland Valley)

Rev. Joseph Powell: Baptist (Southampton)

John Burd: ? (Bedford)

John Cessna: ? (Friend’s Cove)

John Wilkin: ? (Bedford)

Thomas Smith: Anglican (Bedford)


Northumberland County

William Cooke: ? (Northumberland)

James Potter: Probably Presbyterian (Northumberland)

Robert Martin: ? (Wyoming)

Matthew Brown: Presbyterian (White Deer Hole Valley)

Walter Clark: Presbyterian (Buffalo Valley)

John Kelley: Presbyterian (Buffalo Valley)

James Crawford: Probably Presbyterian (Pine Creek)

John Weitzel: ? (Sunbury)


Westmoreland County

James Barr: Presbyterian (Ft. Barr)

Edward Cook: Presbyterian (Fayette City)

James Smith: Presbyterian (Bedford)

John Moore: Presbyterian (New Alexandria)

John Carmichael: Presbyterian (Franklin)

John McClelland: Presbyterian (Franklin)

Christopher Lobingier: German Reformed (Mount Pleasant)


Ben Franklin: President

John Morris: Secretary

A Hessian Tries to Understand Religion in Revolutionary America

HeinrichsJohann Heinrichs was a member of the Hessian jager corps occupying Philadelphia in January 1778.  In this letter to friend in Hesse, dated January 18, 1778, he tries to make sense of the religious influences on the American Revolution.

He writes:

Call this war, dearest friend, by whatsoever name you may, only call it not an American Revolution, it is nothing more nor less than an Irish-Scotch Presbyterian Rebellion.  Those true Americans, who take the greatest part therein, are the famous Quakers.  The most celebrated, the first ones in entire Pennsylvania and Philadelphia and Boston are, properly speaking, the heads of the Rebellion.

Source: Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography XXI:2 (1898)

Thanks to Chris Juergens for bringing this letter to my attention.

Is Heinrich’s confused about Quakers leading the charge or is he referring to the so-called “weighty friends” in Philadelphia who did support the Revolution?

Paxton Boys/Conestoga Massacre Conference Wrap-Up

Philadelphia awaits the arrival of the Paxton Boys

If you have been reading The Way of Improvement Leads Home this weekend, you know that I spent parts of Friday and Saturday in Lancaster, Pennsylvania at the McNeil Center mini-conference to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the massacre of 20 Conestoga Indians by a group of men known as the Paxton Boys.  You can catch up with the tweets at #paxtonconf

First, let me give a shout-out to the primary host of the conference. is the product of a merger between two historical organizations in Lancaster: The Lancaster Historical Society and the James Buchanan Foundation for the Preservation of Wheatland.  This seems like a very unique venture. has obviously taken the name of a web domain and thus has a significant online presence, but the organization is housed in a new and very impressive building with a lecture hall, exhibits, a museum store, and a research library.

The conference actually began at the Hans Herr House in nearby Willow Street, PA.  The Hans Herr House dates back to 1719. It is the oldest house in Lancaster County and the oldest original Mennonite meeting house still standing in the Western Hemisphere.  But more importantly for the purposes of the conference, the property is the home of a replica Native American longhouse.  The conference began with scholars and the general public gathering together in the longhouse to learn more about native American culture and dwelling places. Several members of the Circle Legacy Center in Lancaster and other members of the local native American community spoke to the audience from a stump in the middle of the longhouse.  It was good to share the weekend with these local native Americans.  They provided a necessary moral perspective on the murders that took place in December 1763 and they did not hesitate to let their voices be heard during the sessions.  This made the conference more than just a run of the mill scholarly event.

As a newcomer to the study of the Conestoga Massacre and the Paxton Boys, I learned a great deal at this conference.  In the first session, I was quite taken by Judith Rider’s (Mississippi State) paper on the material culture references in the pamphlet literature published in the wake of the Paxton riots.  For example, Ridner discussed how pro-Paxton writers used a reference to “The Looking Glass” to argue that the Pennsylvania Quakers, despite their claims to be plain, pious, and pacifist, were hypocrites. They refused to show mercy and love to the frontier settlers and were more than willing to take up arms to fight the Paxton Boys when it appeared that they would invade Philadelphia.

Late Friday afternoon there was a roundtable on the Paxton Boys that included Peter Silver, Dan Richter, and Jack Brubaker.  Silver discussed his Bancroft Prize-winning book Our Savage Neighbors: How Indian War Transformed America. In the process he expounded on the transition from his Yale dissertation to his prize-winning book.  According to Silver, the dissertation was about “fear,” but the book was about “hatred.”  He also noted that the Paxton Boys’ attacks on the Conestoga Indians mirrored what many European settlers imagined an Indian attack on whites might look like.  Brubaker, the author of Massacre of the Conestogas: On the Trail of the Paxton Boys in Lancaster County, gave a blow-by-blow account of the massacres and showed how the story of what happened in December 1763 got “fouled up” by nineteenth-century “historians” and other writers who fabricated evidence.  Richter reflected on the place of the Paxton Boys and Conestoga massacre in recent historiography.  Most of the scholarship in the past few decades has focused on race.  He lamented the fact that none of the presenters at this conference were dealing with the massacre from the perspective of the Indians.  He also insisted that the events of this tragedy must be understood as an extension of Pontiac’s War.

Despite the threat of snow, the Saturday morning session on religion went forth as planned.  In what I thought was the best paper of the conference, Scott Gordon of Lehigh University offered some minor changes to the traditional narrative of the Paxton Boys based on his reading and translation of Moravian diaries. These sources offer a “counter-weight” to a story dominated by Philadelphia and provincial politics. Gordon argued (among other things) that the Paxton Boys had less of a beef with the Quakers in Philadelphia than they did with Edward Shippen, the magistrate in Lancaster city.

My paper dealt with the Paxton Boys as a “Presbyterian event.”  I argued that it is impossible to interpret the massacres as being motivated by religion.  We just don’t know enough about the Paxton Boys or the mysterious Presbyterian minister at Paxton, Rev. John Elder, to make this case.  However, the Paxton Boys and their grievances were a catalyst for Presbyterian political organization in Pennsylvania and the role of clergy such as Francis Alison and Gilbert Tennent in this mobilization.  My paper attempted to merge the ecclesiastical history of Presbyterians with the political history of the so-called “Presbyterian interest” or “Presbyterian party” that emerged in Philadelphia in 1764.

Finally, Barry Levy, a historian at the University of Massachusetts who is best known for his book Quakers and the American Family: British Settlement in the Delaware Valleydiscussed the use of the Old Testament in the anti-Paxton pamphlets.  Levy argued that the Bible was important in this entire affair and made some connections between religion and the formation of militias.  My favorite line in Levy’s paper went something like this: “One could argue that the Paxton Boys were the worst militia group ever assembled.”

In good McNeil Center style, about an hour was reserved in each session for conversation and questions. Since most of the audience were members of the general public, the questions and comments were pretty much all over the place.  One audience member in the front row asked me to explain the “Great Awakening” to him.  (After saying it was “interpretive fiction” I went on to offer a quick explanation). Many of the members of the native American community voiced their outrage.  Some waxed eloquent in their knowledge of local Pennsylvania military history.  Others tried to portray the Scots-Irish as immigrants sent to America by force for the sole purpose of killing Indians.  (Barry Levy did not let this guy get away with such an interpretation). It only took a few minutes of discussion in the longhouse before someone said the United States Constitution was modeled after the Iroquois confederacy.  Yet, despite some of these errors, essentialist interpretations, and misconceptions, I think it is important that we have more conferences like this.  Scholars need to work harder in making their arguments accessible to general audiences.  Some of the presenters did this well.

In conclusion, here were a few of the questions/issues that seemed to dominate nearly every session:

  • Why are the identities of the Paxton Boys unknown?  Was this a massive cover-up?  
  • If the Paxton Boys were motivated by religion, we cannot prove it.  All of the religious explanations of the murders come from anti-Paxton writers like Ben Franklin.
  • If religion was not the issue, what motivated the Paxton Boys to do what they did?
  • As Dan Richter noted at one point during the weekend, this conference revealed just how much we don’t know about this event.
It was a great weekend.  I was also glad to get to hang out a bit with Drew Hermeling, a Messiah College history graduate (2006) who is now working on a Ph.D in early American history at Lehigh.

Drew asked a very insightful question during the religion session and also showed justified outrage (though not in public) about how my last name was consistently mispronounced.  I was also thrilled to see another former student, Wayne Kantz (2003), at the session on Saturday morning.  Wayne teaches history at Manheim Township High School in Lancaster County.  Finally, it was good to make a connection with Tom Ryan of and some members of the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society

In the end, I left the conference inspired about the possibility of incorporating the Paxton Boys story into my ongoing research project on Presbyterians and the American Revolution. Stay tuned.

Paxton Paper Abstract

Here it is.

Though we would be hard pressed to claim that the Paxton Boys massacre of the Conestoga Indians in December 1763 was motivated or caused by Presbyterian Christianity, the riots, the pamphlet war, and the subsequent political struggle in colonial Pennsylvania was a “Presbyterian event.”  This paper argues that the Paxton affair was one of many moments between the First Great Awakening and the American Revolution that promoted Presbyterian unity, strength, and cultural engagement in the colonial mid-Atlantic and made the church the most important cultural institution in the region.

Off to Chattanooga!

The Paxton Boys and Presbyterianism

Philadelphia prepares for the Paxton Boys

I do not teach on Thursdays so I am trying to finish up a paper for next month’s conference on the 250th anniversary of the Conestoga Massacre and the Paxton Boys.  I will be presenting a paper as part of a panel devoted to the religious aspects of the event.  It is titled “The Paxton Riots as a Presbyterian Event.” The sponsor of the conference, The McNeil Center for Early American Studies, has not put the conference program online yet, but most of it will be held at the Lancaster (PA) Historical Society (now apparently known as on December 13-14.  The presenters will be Daniel Richter, John Smolenski, Judith Ridner, Patrick Spero, Jack Brubaker, Peter Silver, Barry Levy, Angel-Luke O’Donnell, Richard McMaster, Scott Paul Gordon, Leslie Stanton, and Rick Gray.  It also appears that there will be a dedication of a Conestoga Massacre historical marker on Saturday afternoon.

I am trying to churn out my paper so that it can be pre-circulated to the registered conference attendees.  It explores some of the ways we can, and cannot, interpret the Paxton Riots through a religious lens.  The paper will be built on some of the pamphlets produced in the wake of the massacre (with particular focus on Isaac Hunt’s A Looking Glass for Presbyterians), Presbyterian ecclesiastical developments in the 1750s and 1760s, and the political implications of the massacre on Presbyterian politics in Pennsylvania.  Since I want to have a Paxton Boys chapter in my ongoing project on Presbyterians and the American Revolution, I am hoping that this will be a good place to try out some of my ideas and learn from the scholars and audience members in attendance.

Stay tuned and keep the coffee flowing.

Mary Tanner Lecture Recap

Sunday afternoon I drove to Rider University in Lawrenceville, NJ to deliver the Lawrence Historical Society‘s 10th annual Mary Tanner Lecture. My talk drew on research from my ongoing project on Presbyterians and the American Revolution.  I was quite impressed that a lecture sponsored by a town historical society drew somewhere between 75 and 100 people. 

My lecture traced the history of Presbyterianism in New Jersey in an attempt to explain why so many observers described the American Revolution as a “Presbyterian Rebellion.”  It was also fun to use the eighteenth-century story of the Presbyterian congregations at Maidenhead (Lawrence) and Hopewell (Pennington) as a window into the First Great Awakening and the coming of the American Revolution.  Maidenhead was a fascinating New Jersey Presbyterian congregation.  I described the place as a “rehabilitation center” for some of the most extreme Presbyterian New Siders.  Both Timothy Allen (of Shepherd’s Tent fame) and James Davenport spent time serving the church after they had repented of their First Great Awakening antics.
Of course no lecture on Presbyterians, New Jersey, and the American Revolution would be complete without a discussion of John Witherspoon.  I took some time in the lecture to discuss his famous 1776 sermon The Dominion of Providence Over the passions of Men and talked about the way Witherspoon fused good old-fashioned Presbyterian providentialism with Lockean political principles.
It was good to return to this material after taking time off this summer to do some consulting and put the finishing the touches on Why Study History? I drove back to south central Pennsylvania with a renewed commitment to make headway on this project, although it might be tough if I agree to another somewhat related project (details may be forthcoming) that could take up a lot of my research time over the next year or two.
Thanks to Dennis Waters, Lawrence Township Historian, for the invitation to do the Tanner Lecture. Thanks as well to Brooke Hunter of the Rider history department for being a great host and for her role in creating these wonderful posters.  

New Jersey Research Trip Wrap-Up (with photos!)

We are back from our whirlwind research trip of New Jersey archives and libraries.  In the course of four days we conducted some research at the Mudd Manuscript Library in Princeton, the library of the Morristown National Historic Park, and the New Jersey Historical Society in Newark.  I will be heading back to all of these places later in the summer.  We also visited the First Presbyterian Church of Elizabeth, Boxwood Hall, and Liberty Hall.

Learn more about the trip at this week’s Virtual Office Hours.

What are we doing in Elizabeth and all of these other places?  Read about the James Caldwell Project here.

Here are some photos:

Boxwood Hall, Elizabeth, NJ.  Elias Boudinot, a President of the Continental Congress, lived here from 1772-1795
First Presbyterian Church, Elizabeth, NJ

Construction in the front room of The Academy  at the Elizabeth Presbyterian Church.  This room will house a museum exhibit devoted to James Caldwell and Elizabeth’s role in the American Revolution
Brianna looks over the work being done on The Academy in Elizabeth, NJ.  This room will serve as a cultural center in midtown Elizabeth
Rev. Bob Higgs and Brianna in the Academy
The Academy
Research assistants Brianna and Megan in the pulpit of the First Presbyterian Church of Elizabeth
Nice shot of the graveyard of the Elizabeth Presbyterian Church taken from the Academy building

Quote of the Day

Another jewel from my current research on Presbyterians and the American Revolution:

To take any man’s money, without his consent, is unjust and contrary to reason and the law of God, and the Gospel of Christ; it is contrary to Magna Charta, or the Great Charter and Constitution of England; and to complain, and even to resist such a lawless power, is just, and reasonable, and no rebellion.

-Francis Alison, James Sproat, George Duffield, Robert Davidson, “An Address to the Ministers and Presbyterian Congregations in North Carolina.” July 10, 1775.

Project Reading

Here are my continuing thoughts on the secondary reading I am doing for my current project on Presbyterians and the American Revolution.  (For additional entries in this series click here).

I just finished re-reading Peter Silver’s award winning Our Savage Neighbors: How Indian War Transformed Early America.  It is an excellent book, certainly worthy of the 2008 Bancroft Prize.  Silver argues that the diverse population groups of the Middle Colonies solidified into a single people during the Seven Years War when they began to define themselves as white people over and against the native American populations on the frontier.

I was particularly interested in Silver’s treatment of the Paxton Riots and the pamphlet wars that came in their wake.  He does not give much credence to the idea that the rioters were motivated by religion, but he does not ignore the fact that many of the rioter’s opponents believed that Presbyterian faith had something to do with their violent behavior toward the Conestoga Indians.

Silver writes:

…besides being European savages, they were also certainly “aw Presbyterians,” who had stupidly understood what they did as “fetching the Lord’s Battles” against Old Testament enemies.  It became a truism that the killers had seen themselves as the predestined elect and their victims–real and potential, Indian or European–as heathens.  The idea had no detectable documentary basis, but contemporaries felt strongly that it made sense….

Silver may be correct when he writes that there is “no detectable documentary basis” for believing that the riots were religiously or theologically motivated, but he fails to say much in this section about John Elder, the Presbyterian minister who may have organized the rioters (probably because we do not know much about him). I need to dig deeper on this front.

After reading Silver’s book I am beginning to think that a religious interpretation of the Paxton Riots may be more difficult than I originally thought it would be.  If I remember correctly, Kevin Kenny’s Peaceable Kingdom Lost: the Paxton Boys and the Destruction of William Penn’s Holy Experiment may have more to say on the matter.  Patrick Griffin’s The People With No Name is also in the queue.  Whatever the case, I have decided against writing a proposal for this conference, but there is a good chance that my mind will change in the next few days.

Silver’s book also reminded me just how much the Presbyterian interest in Pennsylvania was driven by anti-Quakerism.  I am still trying to sort out if this was a religious anti-Quakerism or a political anti-Quakerism.  Probably a little bit of both.

Stay tuned.