Decision Activity: Elizabeth Covenhoven, Monmouth County, 1778

Elizabeth Covenhoven

Decision Activity: Monmouth County, 1778

“What’s a Woman To Do … In Times Like These?”

“These are the times that try men’s souls.”  Those infamous words were echoed throughout the colonies since the publication of Thomas Paine’s American Crisis in December of 1776. But what then, can be said, of us ladies? Women: married, single, daughters, mothers, sisters, and grandmothers. A war where loyalties were drawn, neighbor against neighbor, friend against newly formed foe. And here, especially in New Jersey, the war was always in our backyard. With the colonial victories at Trenton and Princeton in the winter of 1776-1777 it would seem as though Washington’s troops were making some progress toward their campaign for victory. But the British were a tough enemy. They were unrelenting and refused to let a rag-tag group of Patriots win. That’s why it was no surprise to me when I heard the rustlings around town that the British were moving throughout the area on their way to New York, perhaps even stopping in the area of the Monmouth Courthouse, my hometown! (Freehold, New Jersey) This was a scary thought, especially to me, since I had heard rumors of British troops burning down homes, taking animals from the barns, and stealing good supplies, foodstuffs, and other valuables from the colonists!

Those of us ladies that remained were often left on our homesteads, alone, to fend for ourselves in the midst of war. I myself have reared 10 children in a one-room home that has stood on this property at 150 West Main Street for the past 25 years. After our children were grown and gone, my husband William and I built a substantial home with the wealth that our families left us, making it one of the most impressive in Monmouth County. We were also able to purchase some very nice furniture, and of course, a beautiful set of china plates, for entertainment purposes of course. I have worked too hard to lose any of these things!

            I guess by now you’re wondering, who am I? Well, my name is Elizabeth Covenhoven.   My husband William is a 5th generation Dutch-American who roots in Monmouth County date back to 1709.  At the time that the war came through my backyard in 1778, I was 74 years old, left alone to fend for myself alongside my four enslaved persons that lived with me on my property. My husband, unfortunately, was not here at the time that General Clinton passed through, and therefore, I alone had to make tough choices in order to survive. My home and its belongings are all I have. 

What should Elizabeth Covenhoven do in order to survive the British occupation of her hometown? Be sure to provide reasoning for your response. 

  1. RUN. This might be a bit challenging due to her age, but certainly, she can hopefully make it to one of her children’s homes and see if they can offer her protection from the British. That is, if they themselves aren’t already in trouble …
  1. OUTWIT. She realizes the limitations of her age. However, with the help of her enslaved persons, she can most certainly hide what possessions she has in the nearby woods and under the earth. The British certainly can’t be that intuitive to know what she has done …
  1. NEGOTIATE. Certainly, the British can’t be *as bad* as how they are perceived? And besides, she is a wealthy Monmouth County socialite, that could be helpful to tired and hungry soldiers and their officers.
  1. FIGHT. She can attempt to defend her land claims and property with the support of her four enslaved persons. Certainly, she can’t take on the British Army by herself, but she could attempt to not let them into her house to seize her property and possessions or set fire to her home.

After discussing and deciding on your decision, select one of the following activities. Be sure to use support from your knowledge of the time period in order to justify your response:

  1. Write a letter to your husband, William, justifying the choice that you made for survival. Remember that you will need to outline what happened to your possessions, as well as the home.
  1. Write a letter to General Clinton. Make sure that you state your case as to why your home should be spared from invasion/destruction of the British.
  1. Write a letter to General Washington. Explain your case to the General of the Continental Army and ask for any type of retribution that has to deal with what has happened to your homestead.


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