Decision Activity: David Cooper, October 1776

Decision Activity – David Cooper

Woodbury, New Jersey, October, 1776

“These times will try many.” As a Quaker, I am a pacifist, and I abhor war. Though we have tried to remain neutral in the current conflict, the war has been brought to our doorsteps as George Washington and the Continental Army retreat through New Jersey. Having lived in Philadelphia for several years, I moved to Woodbury in West Jersey.

My younger brother, John, is a Patriot and caught up in the revolutionary fervor. He served on the Provincial Congress of New Jersey, was the author of the New Jersey Constitution of 1776, and is a member of the Second Continental Congress, which adopted the Declaration of Independence.

The Society of Friends has decided to disown any Quaker who participates as any “Insurrections, Conspiracies, & illegal assemblies.” As a result of his participation in the American Revolution, the Society of Friends has ultimately decided to disown my brother John, effectively removing him from our faith. John’s “ground of action and that of his relations was different, and a coolness ensued, until too much of an estrangement took place.” My brother and I were “as nearly united as perhaps two brothers ever were,” but I fear the Revolutionary War will is tearing us apart. 

What should David Cooper do as his relationship with his brother frays under the stress of the American Revolution? Be sure to provide reasoning for your response.

A. The Society of Friends warned John not to get involved in the Revolution. What he did is unforgivable and I will not attempt to reconcile our relationship.

B. Family is the most important aspect of my life. I will reconcile with John even if it means it will create tensions with the Society of Friends and my beliefs.

C. John is doing what he believes is right, and even if I do not agree with him, I will do everything I can to reconcile our relationship.

Complete the following after you make your decision in Part 1:

Write a letter to your brother John, informing him of your decision regarding his involvement in the American Revolution.

Decision Activity: Joel Fithian, December 1774

Decision Activity: Joel Fithian

Cumberland County, December, 1774

I was born on September 29, 1748 and was the eldest son of Samuel and Priscilla Fithian.   I was well educated growing up and with my father’s guidance and encouragement I pursued a career in public service. I would serve as an officer through much of the American Revolution and settled in Greenwich, N.J. permanently when my military service had concluded. Most, if not all of the Fithians, were huge supporters of the revolutionary cause. Philip and I both participated in the Greenwich Tea Burning that took place in December of 1774. Duty to one’s family, public service, the belief in American independence, and a strong religious fervor were very important ideals to both of us.

The death of my second cousin Philip affected me deeply. We were very close. He named me as the co-executor of his will. I would suffer another terrible loss when my first wife Rachel Holmes died prematurely in 1779 at the age of 28.

I would go on to marry Philip’s widow Elizabeth Beatty Fithian on February 2, 1780. We would have nine children together. We also named our third child after my second cousin, Philip. My public service continued in the state legislature for several years and as the sheriff in Cumberland County.

What action should Joel Fithian take following his participation in the Greenwich Tea Burning on December 22, 1774? Select one option and explain your answer in 4 to 6 sentences.

  • Flee the area in an effort to avoid civil and criminal charges and possible imprisonment.
  • Immediately enlist in the Continental Army.
  • Continue to live in Greenwich, confess and face the consequences for the damage to property.
  • Continue to live in Greenwich and deny any involvement.

Interview Joel Fithian at the end of the Revolutionary War in 1781. Select one question below and explain what might have been his answer in 4 to 6 sentences.

  • Would you put your family before your country?
  • Would you put your faith before your family?
  • Would you risk your life in support of the revolutionary cause?

Below is a passage from a journal entry by Philip Fithian describing the Greenwich Tea Burning.  Read and analyze the journal entry and answer the following guided questions:

1. Write one sentence summarizing the journal entry.

2. What was happening at the time in history this journal entry was written?

3. What did you find out from this journal entry that you might not learn anywhere else?

“Last night the tea was, by a number of persons in disguise, taken out of the house & consumed with fire. Violent, & different are the words about this uncommon Manoeuvre, among the inhabitants. Some rave, some curse & condemn, some try to reason; many are glad the tea is destroyed, but almost 4 all disapprove the manner of the destruction.“

 – Philip Vickers Fithian

December 23, 1774

“Telling Our Story: Living in New Jersey Before and During the Revolution”


Telling Our Story: Living in New Jersey Before and
During the Revolution”

By Mr. David A. DiCostanzo, M.Ed, Social Studies Department Chair at Vineland High School North

A Depiction of the Greenwich Tea Party (December 22, 1774)

Courtesy of the Lummis Library, Cumberland County (N.J.) Historical Society.

Introduction:

Several Social Studies teachers from around the state conducted research for a grant from the New Jersey Council for the Social Studies (NJCSS). This grant examined 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 ongoing effort by the N.J.C.S.S. 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 is part of the overall mission of the N.J.C.S.S. to provide and make available meaningful lessons and activities to students, teachers, and the public.

The life of colonists living before and during the American Revolution in New Jersey is a fascinating aspect of American history.  It’s been pointed out that “Generations of scholars have echoed historian Leonard Lundin’s 1940 argument that New Jersey was the “cockpit” of the American Revolution, a central site in the struggle over the fate of the continent.” [1] The fact that New Jersey lies between Philadelphia and New York City was significant.  Both of these cities were major hubs of activity during the revolutionary era. The Declaration of Independence was drafted by the “Committee of Five” in Philadelphia.  Dozens of battles during the American Revolution took place in and around New Jersey.  George Washington’s victory in the Battle of Trenton is regarded by many as one of the major turning points in the American Revolution.  New York City would serve as our nation’s capital from 1785 until 1790 before moving to Washington D.C. during John Adams presidency.

What was life like living in New Jersey before and during the Revolution?  It’s reasonable to conclude that many, if not a majority, of the residents in New Jersey felt a certain sense of pride about the revolutionary cause.  In contrast, many New Jersey residents, including Benjamin Franklin’s son William, did remain loyal to Great Britain throughout the American Revolution.  William Franklin would serve as the Colonial Governor of New Jersey until 1776 when he was incarcerated for a couple of years.  In 1782, William Franklin departed for Great Britain and would live abroad for the rest of his life.  The relationship between father and son would remain permanently strained over William’s support of the British crown.

Exploring primary sources, such as journal entries, pamphlets, and letters related to the lives of people in various counties throughout New Jersey during the American Revolution is the most accurate method we have in determining how people lived.  Discovering how people from this era lived is important work because it engages students and residents in various counties throughout New Jersey about the birth of representative government in America. The majority of the counties in New Jersey have a rich history associated with the American Revolution. Several battles took place in various counties throughout New Jersey. The city of Burlington in Burlington County was the capital of West Jersey and Perth Amboy in Middlesex County was the capital of East Jersey prior to the American Revolution. In 1790, Trenton would become the official state capital.  Cumberland County also has a rich history associated with the American Revolution. Many of the people who lived in Cumberland County before and during the Revolution were huge supporters of American independence. 

Historical Background:

Cumberland County has a rich history associated with the American Revolution. The Greenwich Tea Party took place in Cumberland County in 1774 in support of the revolutionary cause. Greenwich is located along the Cohansey River which flows into the much larger Delaware river. 

Greenwich, New Jersey, from the banks of the Cohansey River (ca. 1800). The town dates back to the original English settlement of the region in 1676 by the Quaker proprietor John Fenwick.

Courtesy Lummis Library, Cumberland County (N.J.) Historical Society.

During the 18th Century, Greenwich was a stop for boats transporting goods.  It is commonly held by historians that:

“In mid-December of 1774, a British ship called the Greyhound was carrying a shipment of tea up the Cohansey River towards Philadelphia. Along the way, the Greyhound docked at Greenwich, and tea was hidden in the home of a local British sympathizer named Daniel Bowen. On the night of December 22, local residents were meeting at the Cumberland County Courthouse to discuss the recent guidelines stated by the Continental Congress. During the meeting, they were made aware of the hidden tea, and a five-man committee was appointed to determine what should be done about it. While this was occurring, a group of local citizens decided to take matters into their own hands. They confiscated the tea and burned it near where the monument stands today. Some of the tea burners faced civil and criminal charges. However, due in part to sympathies of the local citizens for the tea burners’ cause, the trials were not completed.” [2]

A Depiction of the Greenwich Tea Party (December 22, 1774)

Courtesy of the Lummis Library, Cumberland County (N.J.) Historical Society.

This event took place about a year after the famous Boston Tea Party which is widely considered one of the most important and legendary occurrences during the Revolutionary era.  It has been determined that “it would be difficult, following the Greenwich Tea Burning, to find a region more in tune with the Revolutionary call of Witherspoon, the Continental Congress and the Philadelphia and New York Synod than Cohansey.” [3] Clearly, the citizens of Greenwich wanted to leave an indelible mark on this time period as well.  A monument to the tea party was dedicated in Greenwich on September 30, 1908.  A couple of the images below show the sides of the monument that list the names of the twenty-three men thought to have participated in the Greenwich Tea Burning. Most of these men would go on to serve in the Continental Army during the American Revolution, including Reverend Philip Vickers Fithian. [4] Reverend Philip Vickers Fithian life and family is the primary focus of this grant which includes a documentary and a couple of learning activities.

Greenwich Tea Burning Monument (Dedicated September 30, 1908)

Courtesy of the Revolutionary War New Jersey Website

Ordinary People:

Reverend Philip Vickers Fithian

Reverend Philip Vickers Fithian

Courtesy of the Lummis Library, Cumberland County (N.J.) Historical Society

Reverend Philip Vickers Fithian was born in Greenwich, Cumberland County, New Jersey, in 1747. Philip was the eldest son of Joseph and Hannah Fithian. Fithian had fond memories of his childhood in Greenwich and often referred to the town affectionately.  His various journal entries and letters to various people including several members of his family contain his thoughts and observations on a wide-range of topics including American independence, plantation life, the treatment of African-American slaves, and religion. It is commonly held that:

“Philip attended Princeton University, which was then called the College of New Jersey, in 1771-1772 to study for the clergy. He studied under the college president John Witherspoon, who would later sign the Declaration of Independence. Philip also met other future Revolutionary War figures such as James Madison, Aaron Burr, and Philip Freneau, who were attending the college as students. After graduating, he spent some time in Virginia as a tutor and then returned to Greenwich where he became a Presbyterian minister. He preached at a number of locations, including the Greenwich Presbyterian church. Philip was a supporter of the American cause of independence and is believed to have been one of the Greenwich Tea Burners.” [5]

Greenwich home where Philip Vickers Fithian was born.

Courtesy of the Lummis Library, Cumberland County (N.J.) Historical Society

Fithian’s letters “did not commit his own thoughts on independence immediately to paper so far as we know. Yet for him and many of his contemporaries, the great Declaration marked the climax of a long personal patriotic odyssey. Fithian’s actions after July 4, 1776, speak eloquently of his inner convictions. Love of country, religious conviction, and the bravery of his friends and relatives in service swept Fithian, along with his old friend, Andrew Hunter, Jr., into the Revolution.” [6] Like thousands of colonists, Fithian clearly had an emotional response the day the Declaration of Independence was signed. He clearly had positive feelings related to the Colonies’ call for independence.

After graduating from Princeton, Fithian returned home and it has been surmised that “the year spent reading and preparation for ordination, cultivating the affective bonds with friends that were essential to a civil society, and learning hard lessons from his relationship with Elizabeth Beatty simultaneously enhanced his local attachment to Cohansey and sharpened his skills as a learned gentleman. His way of improvement, rooted in Presbyterian notions of moral and societal progress, was lived daily in the context of this remote landscape. Indeed, for Philip, “rural enlightenment” was not an oxymoron.” [7]   He clearly used the comfort of living in the country as a way of improving himself spirituality, emotionally, and intellectuality. 

Images of the Philip Vickers Fithian Exhibit

Courtesy of the Gibson House, Cumberland County (N.J.) Historical Society

When Fithian was in Virginia as a tutor he was very critical of slavery.  In various letters to members of his family Fithian made it clear that “learning of the food allowance for slaves and hearing of harsh treatment of those considered to be difficult, he wrote of their owners, “Good God! Are these Christians?” Some overseers he called ‘bloody’, and he believed that black slaves from Africa were less economical than free white tenant farmers would be.” [8]  This mindset wasn’t unusual for a Presbyterian minister from Greenwich. A large segment of the population in Cumberland County during this time period was against the practice of slavery. Several southern counties in New Jersey including Burlington and “neighboring counties (Gloucester and Cumberland) also saw a significant decline in the number of slaves after 1790, while the slave population in East Jersey counties grew between 20 and 30 percent.” [9] In general, slavery in New Jersey during the late 18th century was actually more evident in the northern part of the state. The data indicates that, “in 1790, it’s estimated there were 120 slaves in Cumberland County and 141 in Cape May County. By 1800, that number dwindled to 75 and 98, respectively, until finally, in 1830, Cumberland had only two slaves and Cape May had three.” [10] In fact, “local Quakers who, unlike Quakers in North Jersey, didn’t own slaves sold small plots of land to the free blacks.” [11]

Cumberland County also played a large role in the Underground Railroad.  It has been reported that “there’s a small church in Cumberland County that played a large role in South Jersey’s efforts to help runaway slaves seek their freedom. The Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Springtown, Greenwich Township, was a significant stop along an Underground Railroad route running from Maryland’s Eastern Shore to Canada.” [12]  The church still stands today as a reminder of those who helped guide African-Americans to freedom.

The Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Springtown, Greenwich Township

Courtesy of the Cumberland County New Jersey Website

Fithian would serve as a military chaplain in the local militia and traveled north with the soldiers from Cumberland County to help in the defense of New York.  Due to crowded and unsanitary conditions, a great deal of disease spread throughout the camp where Fithian was posted. A smallpox epidemic was sweeping through New York during this time and would eventually lead to the decision to vaccinate the entire Continental Army.  Fithian became very ill in late September of 1776 with a high fever and with boils all over his body. Fithian held on as long as he could but died on October 8th at the age of 29.   He is remembered for his various accomplishments as well as his views on slavery, and his support of the Colonies.  John Fea, who wrote a well-researched book on Fithian makes it clear that “such chronicling—the stuff of encyclopedia entries and biographical dictionaries—only scratches the surface of Philip’s life. It fails to acknowledge the inner man, the prolific writer who used words—letters and diary entries mostly—to make peace with the ideas that warred for his soul. Philip was a man of passion raised in a Presbyterian world of order.” [13] As his numerous journal entries and letters reveal, Reverend Philip Vickers Fithian died for the cause of liberty.

The Battle of Harlem Heights, September 16, 1776

Courtesy of the Lummis Library, Cumberland County (N.J.) Historical Society

Below is an image and a link to a transcription of the last known letter Philip wrote to his wife Elizabeth which was a few days after the Battle of Harlem Heights:

This is the last known letter that Philip Fithian wrote to Elizabeth Beatty Fithian, dated September, 19 1776. Courtesy of the Lummis Library, Cumberland County (N.J.) Historical Society

As mentioned, Fithian kept several journals and wrote numerous letters to various people about his beliefs and experiences. These documents demonstrate that “Philip is an Enlightenment (and American) success story: the oldest son of a grain grower who turns his back on the farm to pursue a college education and a life or learning. On the other hand, his life reminds us that even the most eager of eighteenth-century Enlightenment hopefuls balance rational quests for improvement that could not be explained by reason alone.” [14] This grant focused on some of the key people in his life.  His wife, father-in-law, and cousin were all major influences in Fithian’s life.  These ordinary individuals provided a tremendous amount of insight into what life was like for people living in New Jersey before and during the American Revolution.

Elizabeth “Betsy” Beatty Fithian

Image of Dress Worn by Elizabeth “Betsy” Beatty Fithian

Courtesy of the Gibson House, Cumberland County (N.J.) Historical Society

About six years before his death, Philip began to court Elizabeth “Betsy” Beatty. Unfortunately, no known image of Elizabeth Beatty Fithian exists.  What we do know is that Elizabeth, whom Philip referred to as “Laura”, was born on March 26, 1752 in Neshaminy, Pennsylvania.  She was the fourth child of Charles and Ann Beatty. Charles Beatty, who was a highly respected clergyman from Neshaminy, was helpful in Philip’s education in the clergy. It is clear that “Philip first met Elizabeth “Betsy” Beatty in the spring of 1770 when she visited the southern New Jersey town of Deerfield to attend her sister Mary’s wedding to Enoch Green, the local Presbyterian minister.” [15] Subsequently, Betsy would make several trips to Deerfield to visit her sister Mary and would on occasion see Philip.  Philip would also travel to Neshaminy to meet with her father Charles and to call on Elizabeth.    

In accordance with the customs of the time period “much of Philip and Betsy’s courtship was conducted through letters, the exchange of sentiments usually flowed in only one direction. Perhaps Betsy did not like to write. Perhaps she preferred more intimate encounters or feared the lack of privacy inherent in letter writing. Or perhaps she did not want to encourage her suitor with a reply. Whatever the case, women generally did not write as much as men, especially when it came to love and courtship letters. In other words, Betsy may simply have been following the conventions of her day.” [16]  Many of the letters from Philip to Elizabeth included poetry he used to describe his feelings for her.  After a long and somewhat tense courtship, the couple finally married on October 25, 1775 at the Deerfield Presbyterian Church in Cumberland County.

Below is an image and a link to a transcription of a letter written to Elizabeth Fithian by Thomas Ewing a few hours before Philip’s death:

         Transcription of October, 8 1776 Letter

This is a letter written to Elizabeth Beatty Fithian from Thomas Ewing, dated October, 8 1776. Courtesy of the Lummis Library, Cumberland County (N.J.) Historical Society.

After her husband’s tragic death, Elizabeth would go on to marry Philip’s second cousin Joel Fithian on February 2, 1780, brother of Dr. Enoch Fithian and grandson of Samuel, an emigrant from Long Island, dating back to 1700, and first of the name in Cumberland County. Mr. Joel Fithian represented the county in the legislature, and was an elder in the Presbyterian Church. [17]  Elizabeth would have nine children with Joel.  Elizabeth would die at the age of seventy-three on August 6, 1825 in Stow Creek Landing, Cumberland County.  She is buried next to her second husband, Joel, in the Greenwich Presbyterian Church Cemetery which is also in Cumberland County.

Reverend Charles Beatty

Reverend Charles Beatty

          Image Courtesy of www.findagrave.com

Reverend Charles Beatty was the father of Elizabeth.  As mentioned, Reverend Beatty had a positive influence on Fithian as a clergyman.  Fithian actually followed in his father-in-law’s footsteps. Reverend Beatty served as a military chaplain during the French and Indian War. Between 1770 and 1772,  Philip would travel to Neshaminy to preach in that area, meet with Reverend Beatty, and to call on his daughter Elizabeth.  In various letters Philip describes that while at Princeton “he joined fellow classmates on weekend excursions into the country to visit Charles Beatty’s church in Neshaminy (about thirty miles from Princeton), and it was during these visits he made his first serious attempts to court Betsy.” [18] Charles Beatty was born sometime in Ireland in 1715. It is well documented that:  

While very young he sailed for America, and, with other passengers, was landed on Cape Cod in a nearly famished condition, the ship having run short of provisions. Making his way to the neighborhood of Philadelphia, he began peddling in the vicinity. On one of his excursions, he stopped at the “Log College” near Neshaminy, and fell into conversation with its founder, the Rev. William Tennent, who discovering that the young peddler had a classical education, and possessed the true missionary spirit, persuaded him to study for the ministry, and he was ordained on 13 Oct., 1742. He became pastor of the Presbyterian church at the forks of Neshaminy, Pa26 May, 1743.” [19]

Beatty married Ann Reading on June 24, 1746. They would go on to have eleven children together. Like Fithian, Beatty would also write numerous letters and keep extensive journals about his life including his various travels to Europe, the British Isles, and through many areas of Virginia, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.   It’s important to note that “in 1766, Mr. Beatty made a prolonged missionary tour through the frontier settlements of Pennsylvania. Some of his sermons were printed, and he published the “Journal of a Two Months’ Tour among the Frontier Inhabitants of Pennsylvania” (London, 1768), also a letter to the Rev. John Erskine, advocating the theory that the American Indians are the descendants of the lost Hebrew tribes.” [20] 

            Like Fithian, Beatty’s journals and letters cover a wide range of topics.  American independence was a topic of conversation noted in his journal.  Beatty refers to a conversation he had at a dinner in February of 1769 while fundraising in England.  In his journal he states “the question discussed was whether America wd. not be subjected to greater difficulties by being independent than depending upon the Legislature of Great Britain. Several Spoke to the Question — I Spoke twice — the Chairman in summing up the whole seemed to give it in the affirmative.” [21]  This mindset was not uncommon in the late 1760s because many people, both at home and abroad, were still torn about the relationship between the Colonies and Great Britain.

 Reverend Beatty spent time doing missionary work in Virginia, along the Shenandoah Valley, and in various parts of Western Pennsylvania and Ohio. Beatty didn’t technically live in New Jersey prior to and during the American Revolution but he spent a considerable amount of time visiting and preaching in the state.  Furthermore, two of his daughters, Mary and Elizabeth, settled in Cumberland County after they were married. One of his sons, Dr. John Beatty, resided in Princeton before and during the American Revolution.  It is also important to point out that Reverend Beatty was a huge supporter of the College of New Jersey (Princeton) and served as a trustee for several years. In fact, he died prematurely of yellow fever while on a visit to Barbados trying to raise money for the then struggling college in 1772. The sugar trade brought tremendous wealth to Barbados during this time period. Beatty’s journals would go on to be edited by research historian Guy Soulliard and published by the United Presbyterian Church in 1962.

Joel Fithian

Joel Fithian

Joel and Philip were second cousins who grew up together in Greenwich.  The cousins were close and Joel would serve as the co-executor of Philip’s will. Joel Fithian would also serve as an elder in Greenwich Presbyterian Church and was one of the participants in the tea burning that took place in December of 1774.  The Fithian family had deep roots in Cumberland County.  It has been documented that:

The Fithian family of Cumberland County descended from William, who according to tradition was a native of Wales. He was a soldier under Cromwell and present at the execution of Charles I. After the restoration of Charles II, he was proscribed as a regicide and obliged to flee the country. He came first to Boston, then to Lynn, from there to New Haven, finally settling in East Hampton, Long Island. He died about 1678. His son Samuel, married Priscilla Burnett, March 6, 1679: removing to Fairfield about 1698, he soon afterwards settled in Greenwich, where he died in 1702.” [22] 

Joel Fithian was the eldest son of Samuel and Pricilla Fithian. Joel was born on September 29, 1748.   He was well educated growing up and with his father’s guidance and encouragement Joel pursued a career of public service. At the age of twenty-eight “his patriotism led to his election as sheriff in 1776, an office of much responsibility and attended with no little danger in the exciting times of the early part of the Revolutionary War. He served also in 1777 and 1778, when feeling his presence needed in the field he commanded a company in Colonel Enos Seeley’s battalion and rendered service at the battle of Princeton and elsewhere.” [23] 

Joel served as a captain through much of the American Revolution and settled in Greenwich permanently when he had concluded his military service. Joel would eventually marry his second cousin’s widow Elizabeth “Betsy” Beatty Fithian. Joel Fithian was first married to Rachel Holmes who died in 1779 at the age of twenty-eight. Rachel gave birth to a boy prior to her death.  Elizabeth and Joel were married on February 2, 1780. In letters written by Elizabeth Beatty Fithian it is made clear that “immediately following the wedding, Betsy returned with Joel to the familiar surroundings of the Cohansey. Her brother, Reading, surmised that Betsy’s “partiality for that country” and the fact that Joel was a “good fat farmer” convinced her to remarry. Their courtship probably lacked the passion of Betsy’s relationship with Philip, but Joel certainly offered his new bride stability and security.  Joel and Betsy would have nine children together. They named their third son Philip.” [24] Joel Fithian served in the state legislature for several years before dying in 1821.   He is buried next to his second wife Elizabeth in the Greenwich Presbyterian Church Cemetery in Cumberland County.

Conclusion:

The life of colonists living before and during the American Revolution in New Jersey is a fascinating aspect of American history.  It is difficult to characterize these individuals as ordinary because they lived through such an historic and uncertain time.  Discovering how people from this era lived is important work because it engages students and residents in various counties throughout New Jersey about the birth of representative government in America. Cumberland County has a rich history associated with the American Revolution. Many of the people who lived in Cumberland County before and during the Revolution were huge supporters of American independence. It’s an acceptable assumption that many, if not a majority, of the residents of New Jersey felt a certain sense of pride about the revolutionary cause.

What was life like for these individuals who lived in New Jersey before and during the American Revolution? Duty to one’s family, public service, the belief in American independence, and a strong religious fervor were all important values that each of them possessed.   It’s also important that we ask “what can we learn from the life of Philip Vickers Fithian? He reminds us that Enlightenment cosmopolitanism always existed in compromise with local attachments.” [25] Greenwich was Philip’s local “attachment” that he would return to throughout his life for rest and self-reflection.  Philip used the comfort of his home as a way of improving himself spirituality, emotionally, and intellectuality.  He was one of the thousands of ordinary individuals that died for the cause of liberty.

What can our students learn from studying these ordinary people? Maybe the importance of living your life in a certain way can be appreciated and realized? Some historians argue that even today “Americans still pursue self-betterment through higher education and career advancement in cosmopolitanism. They are often willing to fight and die for modern ideas such as liberty and freedom.  Yet, they also long for the passion, love, and faith that bring meaning, in a transcendent way to their lives.” [26]  Like the ordinary people examined as a part of this grant, the majority of Americans today, at some level, are still seeking ways to improve themselves and our country while living during uncertain and historic times.  We are still seeking democratic values, encouraging civic participation and working towards a country that supports opportunities for all Americans regardless of a person’s religion, skin color, gender, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic background.  The history teachers of New Jersey have a unique opportunity to use these lessons and activities related to these ordinary people from the American Revolution to help their students improve themselves not only as citizens but also as human beings.

Works Cited

Andrews, Frank D. The Tea-Burners of Cumberland County Who Burned at Cargo of Tea at Greenwich, New Jersey December 22, 1774, Vineland, Cumberland County, New Jersey, 1908.

Andrews, Frank D. Philip Vickers Fithian of Greenwich, New Jersey Chaplain in The Revolution 1776 Letters to His Wife Elizabeth Beatty, Vineland, Cumberland County, New Jersey, 1932.

Barlas, Thomas Cumberland County played a large role in Underground Railroad Route, The Press of Atlantic City, April, 2015.

Bennett, Eileen. Slavery Slumbers in Cumberland’s History, The Press of Atlantic City, November, 1997.

Fea, John. The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment in Early America, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009.

Fea, John. Presbyterians in Love, Commonplace: The Journal of Early American Life, January, 2008. http://commonplace.online/article/presbyterians-in-love/

Frazza, Al. Revolutionary War Sites in Greenwich, New Jersey, Revolutionary War New Jersey, December, 2021.  https://www.revolutionarywarnewjersey.com/new_jersey_revolutionary_war_sites/towns/greenwich_nj_revolutionary_war_sites.htm

Gigantino, James A. The American Revolution in New Jersey: Where the Battlefront Meets the Home Front, Rutgers University Press, 2014.

Klett, Guy, S. Journals of Charles Beatty 1762-1769, The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1962.

McCluskey, Vincent Stanley, Ph.D. The Life and Times of Philip Fithian Vickers, (William & Mary Dissertation) New York University, 1991.

Montclair State University Anthropology. Part 5 – The Struggle For Abolition, https://www.montclair.edu/anthropology/research/slavery-in-nj/part-5/ , Accessed January 12, 2022.

Parker, Franklin; Parker, Betty J. Philip Vickers Fithian (1747-1776), a Princeton Tutor on a Virginia Plantation, ERIC, 1996. P.8 https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED393773.pdf

Philip Vickers Fithian of Greenwich, New Jersey, Chaplain in the Revolution 1776, Letters to His Wife with a Biographical Sketch by Frank D. Andrews, Smith Printing House, Vineland, New Jersey 1932.

WikiTree Contributor. https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Beatty-1996 , WikiTree, Where Genealogists Collaborate, Accessed 14 December 2021.

WikiTree Contributor.  https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Beatty-495 , WikiTree, Where Genealogists Collaborate, Accessed 14 December 2021.


[1] Gigantino, James A. The American Revolution in New Jersey: Where the Battlefront Meets the Home Front, Rutgers University Press, 2014, P. 1.

[2] Frazza, Al. Revolutionary War Sites in Greenwich, New Jersey, Revolutionary War New Jersey, December, 2021.  https://www.revolutionarywarnewjersey.com/new_jersey_revolutionary_war_sites/towns/greenwich_nj_revolutionary_war_sites.htm

[3] Fea, John. The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment in Early America, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009, P 149.

[4] Frazza, Al. Revolutionary War Sites in Greenwich, New Jersey, Revolutionary War New Jersey, December, 2021.  https://www.revolutionarywarnewjersey.com/new_jersey_revolutionary_war_sites/towns/greenwich_nj_revolutionary_war_sites.htm

[5] Frazza, Al. Revolutionary War Sites in Greenwich, New Jersey, Revolutionary War New Jersey, December, 2021.  https://www.revolutionarywarnewjersey.com/new_jersey_revolutionary_war_sites/towns/greenwich_nj_revolutionary_war_sites.htm

[6] McCluskey, Vincent Stanley, Ph.D. The Life and Times of Philip Fithian Vickers, (William & Mary Dissertation) New York University, 1991.

[7] Fea, John. The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment in Early America, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009, P 105.

[8] Parker, Franklin; Parker, Betty J. Philip Vickers Fithian (1747-1776), a Princeton Tutor on a Virginia Plantation, ERIC, 1996. P.8 https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED393773.pdf

[9] Montclair State University Anthropology. Part 5 – The Struggle For Abolition, https://www.montclair.edu/anthropology/research/slavery-in-nj/part-5/ , Accessed January 12, 2022.

[10] Bennett, Eileen. Slavery Slumbers in Cumberland’s History, The Press of Atlantic City, November, 1997.

[11] Barlas, Thomas Cumberland County played a large role in Underground Railroad Route, The Press of Atlantic City, April, 2015.

[12] Barlas, Thomas Cumberland County played a large role in Underground Railroad Route, The Press of Atlantic City, April, 2015.

[13] Fea, John. Presbyterians in Love, Commonplace: The Journal of Early American Life, January, 2008. http://commonplace.online/article/presbyterians-in-love/

[14] Fea, John. The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment in Early America, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009, P 7.

[15] Fea, John. Presbyterians in Love, Commonplace: The Journal of Early American Life, January, 2008. http://commonplace.online/article/presbyterians-in-love/

[16] Fea, John. Presbyterians in Love, Commonplace: The Journal of Early American Life, January, 2008. http://commonplace.online/article/presbyterians-in-love/

[17] WikiTree Contributor. https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Beatty-1996 , WikiTree, Where Genealogists Collaborate, Accessed 14 December 2021.

[18] Fea, John. The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment in Early America, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009, P 81.

[19] WikiTree Contributor.  https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Beatty-495 , WikiTree, Where Genealogists Collaborate, Accessed 14 December 2021.

[20] WikiTree Contributor. https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Beatty-495 , WikiTree, Where Genealogists Collaborate, Accessed 14 December 2021.

[21] Klett, Guy, S. Journals of Charles Beatty 1762-1769, The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1962.

[22] Andrews, Stephen. The Tea-Burners of Cumberland County Who Burned at Cargo of Tea at Greenwich, New Jersey December 22, 1774, Vineland, Cumberland County, New Jersey, 1908.

[23] Andrews, Stephen. The Tea-Burners of Cumberland County Who Burned at Cargo of Tea at Greenwich, New Jersey December 22, 1774, Vineland, Cumberland County, New Jersey, 1908.

[24] Fea, John. The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment in Early America, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009, P 211.

[25] Fea, John. The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment in Early America, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009, P 211.

[26] Fea, John. The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment in Early America, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009, P 215.

An Educator’s Perspective on Teaching the Voices of Enslaved People in New Jersey as Part of Local History

Few high school history textbooks have much to say about slavery in the northern colonies and states. While coverage of the evils of slavery has dramatically increased in recent years, the focus has always been on enslaved people in the south. Although slavery is mentioned 14 times in the NJSLS 2020 standards, the only connection to slavery in New Jersey is 6.1.8.History CC.4.a: “Explain the growing resistance to slavery and New Jersey’s role in the Underground Railroad,”[1] implying that New Jersey was a hotbed of abolitionism instead of the dark reality: the gradual abolition law in 1804 maintained slavery for life for those born before its passage, and the so-called Act to Abolish Slavery in 1846 replaced slavery with apprenticeship for life[2]. The ratification of the 13th Amendment didn’t merely free the enslaved in states that were in rebellion, but 16 enslaved people in New Jersey.[3]

An Educator’s Perspective on Teaching the Voices of Enslaved People in New Jersey as Part of Local History

Robert Fenster

            Is it at all surprising that most students graduate high school in New Jersey unaware of the enduring nature of this institution in their home state? Although it might be argued that malignant forces are behind a whitewashing of New Jersey history, it seems more likely that a collective reductionism is at work here. There are only so many days to “cover” the curriculum, so some simplification is necessary. It’s easier for students to understand the binary depiction of the southern enslaver states being evil, while the north is the home of abolition. However, that sort of teaching is oversimplified and not only does injustice to actual history, but to the lives of thousands of people who were enslaved in New Jersey.

            In the summer of 2020, I was fortunate to participate in Slavery in the Colonial North, a National Endowment for the Humanities institute held at Philipsburg Manor in Sleepy Hollow, New York under the guidance of Leslie Harris and Jacqueline Simmons. There I was inspired to dig deeper into New Jersey history. I went to the Somerset County clerk’s office and examined  birth certificates and manumission records of enslaved people from Hillsborough, the town I teach in. Some of the names of the enslavers were recognizable to my students because their descendants are still in town or particular roads are named for them. Although that lesson was in and of itself was impactful, it didn’t do enough to explore the lives of enslaved men and women.

Before I began to focus on agency, I would often be asked by students, “Why didn’t they fight back?” I would turn the question back to the class and ask them to consider possible answers. Typically students would suggest a fear of consequences, a lack of options in a world of systemic oppression, or white access to authority and weaponry. Although these are all somewhat valid in particular circumstances, and the conversation worthwhile, a better immediate response would have been, “They did, and in many ways.” No U.S. history class should lack a focus on the myriad ways that enslaved people resisted: open rebellion, self-liberation, sabotage, poisoning, self-harm,, defiance of rules governing marriage, religion, and literacy, and the development of a unique culture to name just a few. During the American Revolution, thousands of enslaved people self-liberated and joined the British military in the hopes of bringing down the institution of slavery for themselves and others. A smaller number served as substitutes in the Continental Army or state militias with the hope of gaining their freedom through their service.

            One of the biggest stumbling blocks to adequately examining the lives of the enslaved is a lack of primary sources. Many enslaved people did not know how to write or were actively prevented from learning. As a consequence, most of the sources from the relevant time periods are secondary sources, which require historians to draw inferences after filtering for the potential biases of the original authors. In some cases, the bias is overt and easy to spot; for example, the writing of any white supremacist. On the other hand, Memoir of Quamino Buccau, A Pious Methodist, is written by William Allinson, an abolitionist. Although the book provides some basic biographical information, its focus belies the author’s utter lack of interest in the enslaved person’s internal life, reducing him to a prop.[4] Allinson and other similar contemporary writers may have had good intentions, but they tend to infantilize their subjects, providing their own form of racist depiction to the mix.


[1]New Jersey Student Learning Standards – Social Studies, accessed January 8, 2022, https://www.state.nj.us/education/cccs/2020/2020%20NJSLS-SS.pdf.

[2]An Act For the Gradual Abolition of Slavery (1804), accessed January 8, 2022, https://www.loc.gov/resource/rbpe.0990100b/?sp=1.Selected New Jersey Laws related to slavery and Free People of Color, accessed January 8, 2022, https://www.montclair.edu/anthropology/wp-content/uploads/sites/36/2021/06/Slavery-in-New-Jersey-Literature-Review-Appendix-B-Slave-Codes_Remediated.pdf.

[3] Julia Martin, “Slavery’s legacy is written all over North Jersey, if you know where to look,” NorthJersey.com, accessed January 8, 2022, https://www.northjersey.com/story/news/essex/montclair/2021/02/28/american-dream-paramus-nj-part-north-jersey-slavery-legacy/4212248001/.

[4]Kenneth E. Marshall, Manhood Enslaved: Bondmen in Eighteenth- and Early Nineteenth-Century New Jersey (Rochester: University of Rochester Press, 2011), 18

The Real Historians of New Jersey: How to Connect with the Past in 170 Miles

The Real Historians of New Jersey: How to Connect with the Past in 170 Miles

Susan Soprano

How often do you get the opportunity to “practice what you preach?” After a decade of teaching social studies, writing social studies curriculum, and leading professional development, I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve discussed the importance of thinking like a historian. After years of working so hard in my career, I was looking forward to spending the first part of the 2021-2022 school year bonding with my new son on maternity leave. As I dreamed of spending my days in pajamas, drinking coffee that has gone cold, an email comes in from Hank Bitten at the NJ Council for Social Studies. The email contained an application for a grant project to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the American Revolution. The project would focus specifically on the work and decisions of lesser-known NJ citizens during the war. As I took another sip of my cold coffee, I thought, “Yeah! I can make some time for this!” I realized that after so many years of promoting research, citing sources, making history come to life, etc., I’ve had less time than I’d care to admit actually doing it. I saw this grant project as an opportunity to bring my knowledge of early American history to life.

My work on this project began in November 2021 at the Dey Mansion in Totowa, NJ. The mansion served as Washington’s headquarters during the Revolution in 1780. Over 600 pieces of correspondence from Washington are a part of the artifacts in the mansion’s collection. Me and other members of the grant project worked with educational director Jessica Bush for a day of learning and engaging with history at the Dey Mansion. Bush spoke candidly about slavery at the Dey Mansion and about how the institution of slavery was prevalent in New Jersey during the war. History books do not often discuss this. My interest was piqued here and I planned on focusing on slavery for my part of the project. As a teacher in Passaic County, I planned to focus on slavery and early abolition here.

            The next day, the grant team met at the Monmouth County Historical Association (MCHA) in Freehold, NJ. We worked with Reference Librarian and Archivist, Dana Howell. She led us upstairs to a table filled with documents, many of which could take hours, even days to read. I cautiously walked up to the table and scooped up some primary sources thinking, “Well, I’ll start here.” The very first document I picked up was a manumission paper written by this man named Samuel Allinson. He’s not a Passaic County man, but somehow, I was led right to the topic I planned to focus on. Right here, I was hooked on Allinson. I began to look for more documents containing his name, and I dove into the internet to learn more. I left the Monmouth County Historical Association pleased with the work I had done.

            Over the next several weeks, I put together an activity and documentary on Samuel Allinson that could be utilized by New Jersey middle school students, and their families alike. Through this project, I am helping NJ residents understand the significance of the lesser known Samuel Allinson. He was a Burlington County native (fun fact: never been there!) who was a Quaker, lawyer, and abolitionist. He helped provide education to free blacks living in his county, and he was a supporter of the Loyalist cause during the Revolution. He was able to manumit over 30 slaves. There is evidence of his correspondence with George Washington, William Livingston, and Patrick Henry. His correspondence speaks to his beliefs that liberty for all included the enslaved, thus leading him to question the ideals of liberty that the Patriots were fighting vehemently for. In many ways, we are still discussing the very questions that Allinson had about freedom in his time.

 I had an opportunity to review excerpts from The Ragged Road to Abolition by Jim Gigantino. I was thankful enough to speak with Jim virtually in mid-January to review some final details about Allinson’s work, and about the early abolitionist cause of Quakers like him. He describes Allinson as being “savvy” and “astute”, knowing that he was fighting for an unpopular cause. He stood out in Burlington County and among the Quaker community.

Before I finalized my project, I took another trip back to MCHA where I again met with Dana. I went there wondering if there was any more information available on Allinson’s work as an abolitionist. At first, Dana thought she wouldn’t have much on a Burlington County resident, but within no time, she located the Freedom Papers-a collection of 37 manumission documents all finalized by Samuel Allinson! This gave me the evidence I needed to show the abolitionist work he was doing in the late 1700s. An added bonus of working with Dana was getting an opportunity to view the Beneath the Floorboard exhibit at Marlpit Hall, a property that is maintained by the MCHA. Artifacts here show how slavery is a part of Monmouth County’s history, and tells the story of seven slaves who lived in this home. For more information on this exhibit, see ​​https://www.monmouthhistory.org/beneath-the-floorboards

Beneath the Floorboards: History of Enslaved Persons in Marlpit Hall
Opportunity to Learn the story of enslaved individuals living in Marlpit Hall in Monmouth County

Ultimately, the team working on this grant project will introduce you to lesser known “heroes” of the Revolution who lived all over the state. This is such important work for educators to take part in. From my experience in this project, I have two main points to reflect on:

1. Don’t miss any opportunity to learn more! The experiences that I had doing research were hands-on and challenging. Aside from the work I’ve created, I’m left with unanswered questions about abolition and lives of the enslaved in NJ that have been hidden for far too long. I can’t help but wonder what could have happened in our country if only abolition was fought for more feverishly at the Constitutional Convention. Knowing about the work of Samuel Allinson will enrich my teaching of the American Revolution and early abolition in the United States. These new insights will allow students to engage with primary texts that support the work of Quakers right here in their own state.

2. Make connections! Because I decided to work on this project, I am now connected with historians all around NJ, and in Arkansas (Jim Gigantino). Hopefully these relationships will grow, and it’s worth will be reflected in my teaching. In the near future, I hope to plan and lead professional development that will allow my colleagues to become teacher-scholars, similar to the experience I had on this project. It is my hope that this type of “hands-on” learning will ignite passion, and will remind educators why they do what they do.

And who knows, maybe one day I’ll take a drive to Allinson’s old haunts (with cold coffee in hand, obviously).

Reflections on the 1770’s: Diaries of New Jersey Quakers

Reflections on the 1770’s: Diaries of New Jersey Quakers

Robert Ciarletta

It is thrilling to go back in time and encounter writing from a few hundred years ago. I love uncovering the stories, experiences, and feelings embedded there. For those of us who love language, we can also use these texts to observe how the language we use changes just as human life evolves. For my research, I read the diaries of two New Jersey Quakers (the Religious Society of Friends). The writers are John Hunt, a farmer who regularly partook in meetings with other friends in Evesham, now part of Moorestown; the other is Margaret Hill Morris, a nurse practitioner and widow who had four children and lived in Burlington. When reading these diaries, I had to adjust to the different spellings, sounds, diction, and structure, since it is so different from how we write today. To fully appreciate these diaries, you must also recognize that the Quakers wrote in a sort of language of faith. Faith encompassed their lives so much so that it became a central theme in their diaries, arguably just as much as the American Revolution itself. No matter what subject these people wrote about, they constantly alluded to passages from the Bible and looked up to God as a way to make sense of their world.

As you dive in, the language reveals that New Jerseyans used to have a lot of daily items and objects that are so unfamiliar to a reader today. Many of us buy our food pre-packaged at the grocery store, or we order items through online marketplaces like Amazon. Though all of this is convenient, we tend to know little about the processes that go into creating our necessities. On the other hand, early Americans like Hunt must have been quite skilled since they produced numerous things for themselves. For instance, he wrote about tools like a sider press (another way to write cider), a cheespress, silk reel, and others. It is beneficial to expose students to texts like this because it adds a level of dignity to another way of living, and may spark students’ interest in old tools and artifacts.

It is also fun to pick up on the patterns that differentiate someone else’s English from our own. One common quirk is that Hunt used the letter ‘d’ as an inflectional suffix to signal the past tense of verbs, whereas we use ‘e’d. For instance, prayed, composed, and stayed were written as prayd, composd, and stayd in Hunt’s diary. What great, local proof to our students that our language is dynamic! His diary also proves that the names of our places have changed in history; he spelled Moorestown as Mourstown.

These diaries also show that sometimes life can seem ordinary until the moment when it suddenly is not so, anymore. After the French and Indian war, the Friends promoted pacifism with new vigor[1], intending to be a light to the world. But peace did not last, and they felt helpless when the war reached a point of no return. It was impossible to feel safe; their beliefs could only remove them from the war so much. And if you choose to help neither side, does that create zero enemies for you? Or does it possibly create two? There is danger in a decision to declare yourself neutral, and Hunt and Morris had to navigate the war this way.

The Quakers were appalled at the effects of the war on their communities and lives. When John Hunt entered the Evesham meeting house on January 1, 1777, he found soldiers lying in filth, comparing them to animals in a stable. He also writes about the tense situations a year later in 1778, when people around him are dying from a smallpox epidemic, and British soldiers are plundering neighboring homes. It was dismal –the townspeople dying around him, and always on edge anticipating the soldiers coming. He kept these entries brief, not wanting to give the bad all of his focus. The next day he would be back to normal again, and write about farming or attending a meeting.

Hunt’s diary reveals his industry too. A single task occupied him for days on end. For example, he wrote 2-4 mowing to signify that mowing dominated the second through fourth days of the month. And he not only labored physically but also in thought. William Penn said that Quakers should write at least one line in a journal daily[2], and this inspired Hunt. I would get bored writing the same things every day, but Hunt wrote continually to keep track of his days and gain wisdom from a holistic view of his life. He wrote for the sake of writing, and I find that beautiful.

And, you can find duality in Margaret Morris’ diary if you choose to read it. At first, she was overwhelmed by the war, but writing her diary helped her to think clearly and grasp this reality. As you read her diary, you see her use words like ‘terrible and horrid’ to describe the war, and she seems scared. She also writes about seeing soldiers march past her town on their way to meet death, and this suggests an emotional, fearful side of Morris. And then as I read further, she had a similar moment to John Hunt that caught my interest. On January 3, 1777, Morris sneaks into a house next door at night and finds soldiers sprawled on the floor, “like animals”. Yes, one part of her pitied these men. But this was also the moment when I knew Morris was not the kind of woman to just sit home scared during a war, but she also wanted to make sense of things for herself. A light bulb went off in her mind that the soldiers were deserters since she realized that they shouldn’t have been around. Morris does not shy away from what she sees but keeps it to herself in her diary, a form of secret knowledge. 

By the end of the war, Morris gained boldness and found herself. While her neighbors were able to leave for the countryside, she had to stay with her family. She survived cannon fire, evaded a hunt for Tories, and hid one of them in her home. Moreover, she followed her own convictions and gave generously to American troops, despite the mandate in 1776 that Quakers who gave to either side (non-civilians) would be disowned[3]. In chronicling extensive information daily about the war in her diary, she found a sense of confidence and purpose. Later, Morris opened her own medical and apothecary practice in Burlington, in 1779[4]. Morris was well-equipped to provide for her family and protect them. 

So, when people read your diary centuries later, are you still an ordinary person? And what if you provide insight about a time so critical to our nation’s story, like the American Revolution? Hunt and Morris’ slice of the human experience represents something greater, even if the impact of their writing seemed insignificant to themselves at the time. Their diaries tell us about the whole New Jersey revolution experience. And when one’s experiences are immortalized like this, you do in fact become a bit more than ordinary.


[1] Kashatus, William C. “Quakers’ painful choice during the american revolution.” The Philadelphia Inquirer, Jul. 5, 2015.

[2] “John Hunt Papers.” TriCollege Libraries, https://archives.tricolib.brynmawr.edu/resources/5240johu.

[3] Mekeel, Arthur J. “The Relation of the Quakers to the American Revolution.” Quaker History, 65(1), pp. 3-18. Friends Historical Association.

[4] Brandt, Susan. “‘Getting into a Little Business’: Margaret Hill Morris and Women’s Medical Entrepreneurship during the American Revolution.”  Early American Studies, 13(4), pp. 774-807. University of Pennsylvania Press.

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.