Decision Activity: James Parker
Perth Amboy, Middlesex County, NJ – 1777
My name is James Parker and the year is 1777. I am sitting in my living room in my large home in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, the state capitol of New Jersey. I own large areas of land in eastern New Jersey in Middlesex and Hunterdon counties. My family has served the colony of New Jersey for the British government for many generations, having opportunities and wealth that could not have been obtained in Britain. I have worked directly as a councilor under the Royal Governor of New Jersey, William Franklin, and my brother-in-law, Cortlandt Skinner, served as Royal Attorney General for New Jersey before joining the Loyalist forces in 1776.
The political climate is tense in New Jersey, it is changing with the loud majority supporting the Patriot cause. I oppose the actions of people using intimidating tactics to coerce people to agree with the more radical Patriot factions. You may agree that the taxes are burdensome, but as a former merchant, property owner, landlord, lawyer and having also served as the Mayor of Perth Amboy, you have a solid perspective of the complexity of trying to manage multiple ventures and properties with the associated financial responsibilities. You are trying not to be bold with your political feelings, but are well known in your associations.
The new patriot led state government, having set up a Council of Safety to protect the people who disagreed with the British government, is asking you to swear an Oath of Abjuration, swearing allegiance to the patriotic government. You still feel that all of the benefits you have were due to Britain opening up settlement in the colonies. Do you take this oath to protect yourself from being fined or even jailed, or do you stand by your principles?
Debate with yourself (or another person) by examining both choices and considering the positive and negative impacts of each. Write a short paragraph regarding your choice, explaining your rationale as well as the potential consequences. Consider explaining what would happen if you made the opposite choice. Think about the following:
A. How might your family react?
B. How might your neighbors and town of Perth Amboy react?
C. What might be the physical consequences?
d. What might be the moral consequences?
James Parker refused the oath and was sent to jail in Morristown, New Jersey. In 1778, he was paroled in exchange for a patriot held in New York. Possibly fearing for his family’s safety, he chose to move his family to Union Township in Hunterdon County, where he owned a large amount of property and a home. However, he still needed to conduct his business as a proprietor and maintain his family’s historical residence by traveling frequently to Perth Amboy, one of the two capital cities of New Jersey at the time.
To financially conduct business during colonial times different denominations of money were used. There was a definite lack of hard cash. The saying “cold, hard cash” back then meant coins, because they were metal and the only legal tender. You may have had to deal with coins as James Parker did. He mentions using Continental dollars, “Johannes”, which were Portuguese gold coins, English pounds, shillings, Guineas, New York currency, New Jersey money. The weights were measured and a considered a reliable method of measuring the purity of a coin. A moidore, an English version of a Portuguese term for a gold coin, was equivalent to 27 shillings.
One of the problems with using the paper Continental currency was counterfeiting. James Parker notes in his farm journal on January 19, 1779 that he was paying for a piece of property from Abraham Bonnell and felt it important enough to mention that he could not confirm if the bills he used were counterfeited. He also noted that Bonnell said that he did not believe so and said he didn’t believe any of it was counterfeited, as he had been careful to examine, though he had heard that a mark of a printer was not necessarily proof of authenticity. Parker also notes that he “Paid for a bushel of wheat in hard money”. Write a short paragraph describing how you would keep track of the different currencies.
What difficulties would you have as a landowner during this time with handling currency? Consider the following:
A. The different denominations and origins of the currencies at the time
B. Values of Continental money and ease of counterfeiting
It is December of 1778. You will be expected to help quarter General Burgoyne’s troops as they pass through your town on their way to Virginia. It could take a week or more for them to bring all of the divisions of soldiers through.
How would this affect your business, how you feel and what will you do? Write a few sentences describing how your farm operations would be affected and how you feel about hosting the soldiers on your property and feeding and housing the British officers.
You have heard of a Loyalist family by the last name of Vought, who were suffering due to their allegiance to the crown. The father, John Vought, was particularly well known because of his participation in a violent uprising against the local Patriots in 1776. After being fined heavily, John joined the British army later that year. In the summer of 1778, the Council of Safety confiscated all of their property in Clinton, Hunterdon County and auctioned it off about three miles from your home.
Write a few sentences about how you feel about this woman being left without any belongings while her husband was serving in the British Army? Would you do anything to help or would you be afraid that your help might bring reprisals from your neighbors? Would your good standing in the community counter any harmful reactions?
James Parker was asked to contribute to a relief fund by Dr. Isaac Smith, who was collecting various items and livestock for Mrs. Vought.
How difficult and important is it to choose a path of humanitarian support following your religious and moral beliefs, even when they are in conflict with popular sentiment?