NJCSS Commences Grant on Living in New Jersey Before & During the American Revolution

NJCSS Commences Grant on Living in New Jersey Before and During the American Revolution

by David DiCostanzo, Vineland High School (NJ)

Several Social Studies teachers from around the state began a research grant from the New Jersey Historical Commission to examine the histories of ordinary people in New Jersey and how the events leading up to and during the Revolutionary War impacted their lives. The grant, “Telling Our Story: Living in New Jersey Before and During the American Revolution”, is an effort by the NJCSS to prepare educators in New Jersey for the 250th anniversary of the American Revolution during the 2025-26 school year. The 250th anniversary celebrations will continue through 2031 and are part of the overall mission of the NJCSS to provide and make available meaningful lessons and activities to students, teachers, and the public. This is important work because it engages students and residents in various counties throughout New Jersey about the birth of representative government in America.

Research Scholars Working at the MCHA Museum on 11/6/2021

The purpose of this grant is for each research scholar to explore primary sources, such as pamphlets and letters, related to events that affected the lives and livelihoods of people during the American Revolution. The results of this research will be communicated to students in Grades 4-12 (and college) through activity-based lessons requiring role playing, simulation and/or debating decisions relating to the personal experiences of people living in New Jersey in the 1770s. Each research scholar is also responsible for submitting an article on their topic for publication, producing a 3-5-minute documentary, and including an annotated bibliography.  The articles will be published on the NJCSS website and the documentaries will be made available via our Vimeo channel. Our team of research scholars include:

Bobby Ciarletta           Ramapo College of New Jersey

Kevin Daly                  Parsippany Troy Hills High School

David DiCostanzo      Vineland High School

Bob Fenster                 Hillsborough High School

Bill Smith                    Shore Regional High School

Karen Smith                Immaculate Conception MS

Susan Soprano            Passaic Middle School

The Dey Mansion in Wayne, New Jersey

Recently, these research scholars in coordination with Dr. Lucia McMahon, Professor and Chair of History at William Paterson University, Dr. Mark Percy, Professor of Social Studies Education at Rider University, and Mr. Hank Bitten, Executive Director of the NJCSS visited two historical sites as a way of beginning their research. On Friday, November 5, 2021, the group worked from the Dey Mansion in Wayne, New Jersey. Dey Mansion was the headquarters of General George Washington and the Continental Army during the fall and summer of 1780. The Dey Mansion promotes the examination of life during the colonial era and the events and people of the American Revolution.  This historical site also offers a wide range of inquiry based educational programs for students in all grade levels.  Under the direction of Dey Mansion Curator and Research Librarian Jessica Bush, the group spent a productive day touring the grounds, learning about the importance or material culture, and conducting independent and group research. Marc Lorenc from the New Jersey Historical Commission welcomed us.

The Monmouth County Historical Association Museum in Freehold, New Jersey

On Saturday November 6, 2021, the grant participants headed south and spent the day at the Monmouth Historical Society Museum in Freehold, New Jersey.  Founded in 1898, the Monmouth County Historical Association manages the museum.  Their mission of the association is to collect, preserve, and interpret its extensive museum, research library, and archival collections that relate to Monmouth County’s history and culture and makes these resources available to the widest possible audience. Under the direction of Research Librarian and Archivist Dana Howell, the group read through and scanned over 200 primary source documents related to dozens of individuals that lived in Monmouth County during the American Revolution. Several of the educators were extremely impressed with the museum which included a recent exhibition honoring hometown musician Bruce Springsteen. The NJCSS would like to thank Jessica Bush and Dana Howell for a wonderful two days!

Going forward, the research scholars will be meeting at the New Jersey Historical Society in Newark, New Jersey on December 4, 2021.  In Newark, they will carry on their research which will continue to be guided by Dr. McMahon, Dr. Pearcy, and Mr. Bitten. The research scholars will have two additional opportunities to meet in January to work on their projects.  All of the grant participants will also conduct independent research by visiting 18th century historical sites in their own respective counties and by sharing their findings and presentations with other Social Studies teachers and people in their individual school districts. The finished products are scheduled to be completed in February and March of 2022.

Teaching the Creativity & Purpose Behind George Washington’s Giant Watch Chain

Teaching the Creativity & Purpose Behind George Washington’s Giant Watch Chain

by Robert Skead, Author

There are so many amazing and creative aspects of the American Revolution that I never learned in school—and I was in sixth grade in 1976 during America’s Bicentennial. Things like the Culper Spy Ring, the use of invisible ink and secret codes, the American Turtle submarine 9yes there was a submarine that worked during the American Revolution), top-secret gunpowder factories (gun powder was such a precious commodity the patriots had to have secret factories) and every-day patriots who went on covert missions to help the cause of liberty.

I never discovered these truths until my own research into this time period as an adult. Add the creation of the Great Chain at West Point to all these creative devices that helped American patriots win the war and you have a hook that will engage any individual’s imagination to want to learn more.

The Great Chain at West Point had an important mission. General Washington needed to prevent the British from taking control of the Hudson River and splitting the American colonies. If the British controlled the river, they’d have the ability to launch a major invasion from Canada and cut New England off from the middle and southern colonies—allowing them to win the war. Washington and the Continental Congress were not going to let that happen! They needed to keep the British fleet in New York, so they financed a giant chain to be forged and installed across the Hudson River at West Point—and it worked!

The chain was installed on April 30, 1778. It took 40 men four days to install it. The chain was supported by a bridge of waterproofed logs, like connected rafts that stretched across the river. There was a clever system of pulleys, rollers, and ropes, and midstream, there were anchors to adjust the tension to overcome currents and tides. Creative, right?

Consider these facts:

  • The chain consisted of 1,200 large links;
  • Each iron link was 2 feet long; and
  • Each link weighed 100 to 180 pounds.

As the British fleet approached the Great Chain at West Point, they were intimidated and retreated. Had they done so, the chain would have ripped a ship’s hull apart.

General Washington kept the chain a secret in all of his correspondence in the fall of 1778, referring to it as one of “several works for the defense of the river.” A tory spy did, however, report news of the chain to the British in New York City. Later, the Great Chain was dubbed “Washington’s giant watch chain” by newspapers in New York. It was certainly a special project of his – so much so that when they decided to take it down, Washington had to be on hand to oversee the operation himself. On the day after the Continental Army took it down, November 29, 1779, Lieutenant Reynolds, Aide to Colonel Timothy Pickering, The Adjutant General, U.S. Army, West Point, wrote the following to his wife about General Washington:

“The day started with breakfast of dried beef and talk of the upcoming battles and the need to keep the British Forces split between New York and Canada.  As assistant to Colonel Pickering, I got to sit in on all meetings and see the leaders at work.  Colonel Pickering is so very calm, which I believe he has learned from General Washington.  … The chain came out of the river yesterday and it was quite an operation to behold.  General Washington took his entire staff down to River Bank to the chain emplacement and oversaw the removal of the chain personally.

“It was quite a spectacle to see as the entire staff, General Washington on his great horse, Nelson, overseeing all the Soldiers and officers conducting the boat operation to retrieve the chain before the river would freeze over.  … Boats were used to maneuver the barges and raffs toward shore where the oxen could pull the great chain up on the bank of the river.  It took the entire afternoon and evening by torchlight to get the chain onto the shore and it was none too soon as the river had ice floating in it as we finished up last night.

“I will never forget seeing General Washington riding back and forth on that great horse talking to every Soldier, talking with the head of his honor guard and with his guests.  General Washington is always at his best when riding.  He becomes more animated and actually talks to almost everyone.  … General Von Steuben and The Marquis de Lafayette both commented to Colonel Pickering that General Washington is the right man at the right time for the American Army, as he is as noble as any aristocrat on horseback yet is truly an American Patriot in demeanor and leadership.”

Robert Skead is the author of Links to Liberty, the third book in the American Revolutionary War Adventure series, from Knox Press. Patriots, Redcoats and Spies, the first book in the series, features an adventure around an urgent spy letter from the Culper spy ring that needs to be delivered to General Washington. The second book in the series, Submarines, Secrets and a Daring Rescue, teaches about the American Turtle submarine. The stories were created by Robert and his father, Robert A. Skead (now 95-years-old) to inspire readers to do great things and celebrate the creativity of colonial patriots. The Skeads are members of the Sons of the American Revolution. Their ancestor, Lamberton Clark, one of the main characters in the stories, served in the Revolutionary War as a member of the Connecticut Militia and the Continental Army. Discover more at www.robertskead.com.