Decision Activity: Christofel and John Vought
Hunterdon County, 1776
Everyone living in New Jersey in 1776 was faced with the difficult decision of remaining quiet, supporting the movement toward independence being debated in the Continental Congress, or remaining loyal to the King of England and Britain. Families, communities, and the population in New Jersey was divided. People were divided because of their location with many Loyalists living near the Hudson River and New York City where the British assembled a large military and naval force and Patriots living near the Delaware River and Philadelphia where the Continental Congress was meeting.
The battle for independence was also a civil war. Revolutionaries made life exceedingly hard for many with sympathies for the British cause, seizing their property, accusing neighbors of sedition and having them arrested and placed in local jails, boycotting their businesses, and tarring and feathering them. If you were the victim of any of these abuses, you had to consider moving to British-held New York, to the Canadian provinces or to England.
In Hunterdon County, near the village of Clinton and Lebanon, the family of John Vought sided with the British. They were Loyalists living among neighbors who supported the Patriot or the American cause for independence. As a result, they faced difficult decisions.
The Voughts came to America after the French and Indian War from the Palatinate are of the Holy Roman Empire (Germany). This productive agricultural and mining region was frequently invaded and people of the Protestant faith migrated to America in the 18th century. Many moved to New Jersey and Pennsylvania. They likely traveled on the Rhine River to Amsterdam and then on a clipper ship to New York or Philadelphia.
Christofel Vought built a home in 1759, during the French and Indian War on a 258-acre farm. He built a reputation in his community as a market for food supplies. Sometime in the 1770s he transferred ownership of the home to his son, John. On June 24, 1776, John Vought was part of a group of approximately twenty-five loyalists who attacked the home and tavern of Captain Thomas Jones. The tavern was also a recruiting station for the Hunterdon County Militia. John Vought and the other Loyalists beat Jones and “plundered and robbed the house.”
The raid on the Jones property drew a swift reaction from the Provincial Congress of New Jersey and the adopted the following resolution two days later. The minutes of their June 26, 1776 session state:
“Whereas it appears, from authentick [sic] information, that certain disaffected persons, in the County of Hunterdon, have confederated for the purpose of opposing the measures of the Continental and Provincial Congresses, and have even proceeded to acts of open and daring violence; have plundered and robbed the house of Captain Jones; have beaten, wounded, and otherwis [sic] abused the friends of freedom in said County, and now publickly [sic] declare, that they will take up arms and engage in behalf of the King of Great Britain, the avowed and implacable enemy of the United Colonies. In order to put an effectual stop to a combination so hostile and dangerous,
“It is resolved unanimously, That Lieutenant-Colonel Ten Eick, and Major Berry, take to their aid such a number of the militia, properly officered and armed, of the Counties of Hunterdon and Somerset, as they may think necessary, and proceed, without delay, to the said County of Hunterdon, in order to apprehend such insurgents and disaffected persons as this Congress shall direct.”
John Vought and his father, Christofel, spent five days in prison at the Hunterdon County Courthouse in Trenton.
During the winter of 1776-77 when the British occupied New York City and Philadelphia, John and Christopher Vought had to decide what they would do:
Should they go to New Brunswick, about 25 miles away, to enlist in the Loyalist troops known as the New Jersey Volunteers?
- Should they remain in their home and wait for the British to control New Jersey and Pennsylvania?
- Should they leave their home and start a new life in New York City, where they should be protected?
- Should they move to Canada and begin a new life?
- What would likely be the consequences of each decision for them and their family?