August, 1781 (Two months before the Battle of Yorktown)
Father came to visit today. I think this was his fourth visit to the Sugar House Prison in New York City on Crown (now Liberty Street) in four days, but my memory might be failing me — hunger tends to expand time. It feels like decades since my stomach was full. These measly rations (when we get them) would be barely enough to satisfy a small baby, let alone a nineteen-year old man. Of course, my father, David, reminds me that my hunger is my choice. I need but only swear fealty (loyalty) to the Crown, abandon my principles of liberty, and turn against the twenty-three other Patriot members of my family to no longer be hungry.
Father accused me of betraying our country, but how can I betray a country I never felt I belonged to? Our ancestors are French, not British, and we don’t even speak English at home – we speak Jersey Dutch. He is the traitor, not I. Even my mother, Jane, doesn’t support his decision to join the British.
Father told me to join him and his refugee group. He demanded I join him. But if I join him now, what about Philip and John, my cousins? We were captured together by my father and his men, who were raiding homes in the area for food and supplies, at New Bridge in August but separated upon arrival at the prison (Lurie: Taking Sides, Page 101).
I wonder what will happen to Mother when this is all over. If the British win, will she be persecuted because she and her sons supported the American cause? Will they point to the fact that I willingly enlisted five different times (in 1777, 1778, 1779, 1780, and 1781) for the American militia? If we win, will she be persecuted because her husband fought on the side of the British? I do not know if I will make it out of this Sugar House prison to see her again. I think I might have a fever. Two men next to me had a fever five days ago. Now, they are dead.
Oh, how I wish I could ask them what they would do….
What should Guillam do in this situation?
Accept his father’s offer to take An Oath of Allegiance to the Crown?
Refuse his father and remain in the Sugar House prison until the Patriots arrange for his release through a prisoner exchange?
Attempt to escape from the Sugar House prison before he dies?
Do something else? Explain.
Guillam ultimately chose to refuse his father’s offer and remained in the Sugar House prison for nine months. Following his release, he rejoined the American militia, where he ended up receiving a serious hand injury. In 1782, Guillam married Bridget Brower with whom he had six children. His father, David, who according to a family acquaintance, “deserted his country’s cause,” moved to Nova Scotia after the war. His mother Jane, ended up having her property confiscated because of her husband’s decision to join the British army. She remained in New Jersey with Guillam.
Koquethagechton, also known as White Eyes, was a Lenape chief living in Ohio Country. He married Rachel Doddridge, a white woman who had been taken captive by the Lenape at age 5 and had become fully assimilated to Lenape life. As an adult, Doddridge chose to remain an adopted Lenape.
When the American Revolution began, Koquethagechton initially tried to remain neutral, but before long it became evident that he would have to take sides. In 1777, Koquethagechton addressed the Continental Congress, and the following year negotiated a peace treaty with American representatives.
Which of the following provisions should Koquethagechton have sought in a peace treaty?
Select one option and explain your answer in 3 to 5 sentences.
A new state shall be created for the Lenape, incorporating the nation into the United States with representation in Congress.
The United States must build a fort in Lenape territory to help protect the Lenape from attacks by other Native American nations or from the British.
The United States shall provide the Lenape with clothing, utensils, and weapons as needed.
Amazingly, the Treaty of Fort Pitt, signed September 17, 1778, included all of these provisions. The promise of a 14th state along with Congressional representation is something that was never promised to any other Native American group, but relied upon the further approval of Congress. Unfortunately, the treaty never received the support of Congress and was ultimately rendered meaningless.
Later that year, while accompanying American soldiers in Ohio Country, Koquethagechton died at the age of 48. Initially the cause of death was reported as smallpox, but eventually it was revealed he had been murdered by the American militia. Nearly ten years later (circa 1788), Rachel Doddridge was murdered in the course of a robbery by white men disguised as Native Americans. Both of their stories are compelling and worthy of more examination, but our focus here turns to their son, George Morgan White Eyes, partly named for Koquethagechton’s American friend, who would become the boy’s guardian.
White Eyes was seven years old when his father died. The Continental Congress assumed financial responsibility for the upbringing of the chief’s son. White Eyes was likely the first recipient of government-based student financial aid from the U.S. government. After completing grammar school, he was enrolled at the College of New Jersey in Princeton in 1785.
In December 1787, he and three other students were summoned before a disciplinary committee for insolence towards a tutor. Apparently, it wasn’t the only time he’d gotten in trouble at school. His guardian decided to remove him from Princeton and sent him to New York City to temporarily be under the care of a merchant tailor while awaiting instructions from Congress on what to do with young White Eyes. His guardian explained in a letter to Congress that White Eyes’ misbehavior may have had to do with his learning the news of his mother’s recent death and the long-concealed truth about his father’s murder. Morgan suggested that instead of sending him back to Princeton – or back to his nation – that White Eyes be sent to a different institution of higher learning, like Yale.
Which of the following choices do you think 18-year-old George Morgan White Eyes would make?
Select one option and explain your answer in 3 to 5 sentences.
Go back to Ohio Country to live among his own people.
Let his future be decided by George Morgan and the decision of Congress.
Strike out on his own in the New York to find a job and be independent.
Appeal directly to someone in power, explaining his desire to either be given a job or further education.
On June 2, 1789, George Morgan White Eyes wrote to President George Washington:
“[N]ot the severest Want shall make me return to my native Country—Tis thought from the Behaviour of my Colleagues while at Princeton that I will follow their Example—but never—I shall say but little but I trust my heart is fixed, & the time may come that this now feeble Arm, may be stretched out in the Service of America; & render the United or Individual States essential Service.
My humble request is & has this some Months past, that if the Burthen (sic) is too great on the United States that some kind of Employment may be pointed in order that I thereby may obtain a Living a[long] the Line that Congress probably first intended—That is agreeably to the Education they have been pleased to bestow upon me—I care not what [it] is I am willing to do what I am able, & you should think necessary to my future Welfare—[E]ntreating your Excellency’s kind Patronage on this Occasion I have the Honor to remain With the most perfect Respect, Sir, Your most Obedient & most devoted Servant”
Congress did not act quickly, and as the weeks went by, ‘the severest want” apparently changed White Eyes’ mind. He wrote President Washington again:
“The treatment I met with at Princeton & the Character I bear (which I know I am innocent of) here, are great Grievances to me, especially as I have undergone a great many Difficulties, I shall stear (sic) my Course towards my native [country] let the Consequence be what it will.
For it is better for me to live in Contentment & Quietude, than a life Contempt & Ignominy.1 I have not had any thing this while past & I am almost naked, thro’ some guile or other, for what I know. I believe they are tired of doing any thing for me & I am tired waiting for their duty which is incumbent on them by a resolve of Congress.
I am now to look out for myself since I cannot behave myself, better than I have done; for all that I do is in vain, yet all these things are not discourages of my staying here any longer, but I am [anxious] to return & see my Mother & Friends, as it ought to become every person who has a regard for their Nation. I beg you would assist me in my return as I have no other person to apply to; but if not I must do as well as I can.”Source
In March of 1790, George Morgan White Eyes returned to his nation in Ohio Country.
Sadly, his story has an ignominious ending. Eight years later (1798) in West Point, Ohio, an intoxicated White Eyes ran at 17-year-old William Carpenter Jr. with a tomahawk. Fearing for his life, Carpenter shot White Eyes, killing him instantly. Initially the boy and his father were charged with murder and aiding and abetting, but the case never came to trial.
To GEORGE MORGAN Mount Vernon, August 25, 1788.
Sir: The letter which you did me the favor of writing to me the 31st. of last month, with a Postscript to it on the 5th. of this, came duly to hand; as did a small parcel of wheat, forwarded some time before, by the Post Master General from New York. For your polite attention to me in these instances I pray you to accept my best acknowledgments and Thanks. With much concern I have heard of the ravages of the Hessian fly on the wheaten Crops in the States East of the Delaware and of the progress of this distructive (sic) insect Southerly; but I congratulate with you sincerely on your successful endeavors in the management of your measures &c. to counteract them. If the yellow bearded wheat from a continuation of experiments is found no matter from what cause, to be obnoxious to and able to withstand this all devouring insect [it] must indeed be valuable; but I have paid too little attention to the growth of this particular kind hitherto, to inform you in what degree of cultivation it is in this State, I may venture, at a hazard, however, to add that it is rare: because it is unusual to see fields of bearded wheat of any kind growing with us, particularly in the Western parts of the State, which falls more immediately under my observation. I will distribute the Seed which you have sent me; make enquiry into this matter and communicate the result, begging in the meantime, if any further observations on this insect, and the means of guarding against him should be made by you that you will have the goodness to communicate them to. 67 Source
Finding Our Place in Revolutionary History Karen Parker
All human beings want to feel like they belong to something bigger. This is especially true when students reach adolescence, their whole psyche revolves around being liked, accepted, and belonging to a group. The importance of that “place” that they hold is the driving force held together by peers, social media, cliques, fashion, and home. Relating part of their place to history and pique that sense of belonging to that history, not feeling left out of it as a spectator, not feeling odd or different from the people and feeling like they are connected with the locations, can be the key to the level of engagement. Luckily, in New Jersey, it is not difficult to find Revolutionary era connections in our backyards and neighborhoods.
There is a disconnect with children during their education of history. Students often feel disconnected because of the difficulties in relating to elapsed time, distant places, and unfamiliar habits and customs. As educators, it is our challenge to create as many opportunities for connections as possible, to have the students relate to some “thin and brittle” threads of familiarities, and often we can wrestle grudging interest in the topics presented.
History, unlike active experimentation in science and the excitement of fiction in language arts, is unsurprisingly often deposited toward the end of the favorite subject list, to muddle around in student’s heads where they view the facts as dull lists of events and dates of forced importance with scattered entertaining facts – more so if they relate to a holiday that includes time off from school.
To connect with people from generations past, it is important to find that common ground with today. Where I grew up in Morris County, I lived a short drive from an active and preserved area of Revolutionary history, spending many hours of my childhood roaming the woods and fields of Revolutionary significance, taking short field trips to Jockey Hollow, Fort Nonsense, and the Ford Mansion. Where I teach in Hunterdon County, the most notable area is Washington’s Crossing State Park, with which many of my students are completely unfamiliar, and the war to them seems very distant. It is important to find nearby locations and people that are connected to the Revolution era.
In my research for the New Jersey Council for the Social Studies, I was looking for information on people from Hunterdon County who were actively involved in the Revolutionary War. There were many references to soldiers, the Commissary General for Washington’s army and the local militia, but I came across one primary source that I thought might catch the interest of my students.
Through researching into the life of this average local person, James Parker, reading about his daily missives on the management of the property, connections to the effects that the war had on the common people became evident. Parker’s connections began as a proprietor whose primary residence was in one of the colonial capitals, Perth Amboy. He was a major landowner in Hunterdon County, owning land in what is now Kingwood, Union, Bethlehem, and Tewksbury Townships and built a large stone house in Union Township called Shipley. It is interesting to note that many people in this local area were not following the political patriots, but many had loyalist leanings or were ambivalent.
Mr. Parker was one of those who did not support the patriotic feelings and was sentenced and jailed by the New Jersey Council of Safety during the summer of 1777, in Morristown, for refusing to take an oath renouncing loyalty to Britain. He was paroled and exchanged for a Patriot held in New York in 1778. At this time, he spent more and more of his time in Hunterdon County, overseeing his lands. Some think that he was avoiding the political climate of the large shore town of Perth Amboy, though he documents in his farm journal his travels back and forth to his original home for proprietor meetings.
Some other examples of Parker’s political leanings come from an entry in his journal that appeared sympathetic to a local loyalist family, the Voughts who lived in Clinton, known then as Hunt’s Mill, about three miles away from Parker’s home in Pittstown.. On December 18, 1778, Doc Smith took his contribution to a relief fund for women, wives of people gone into the British line and had all of their effects sold. This is the same date that the Voughts had all of their belongings auctioned off. These families were considered traitors by the New Jersey Legislature, which allowed all of their property and possessions to be confiscated. At this time, a large amount of the British army and many of their sympathizers occupied areas of New York and Staten Island) (Gigantino 2015)
The farm journal expresses many tasks that most would take for granted at the time, documented in amazing detail, though commonplace and ordinary back then. These entries in this primary source give glimpses of insight on the challenges of conducting business during the Revolutionary War. He notes that on July 1, 1778, he was in the meadow with great firing heard at a distance, “Regulars and Continental troops engaged in general or skirmishes since Sunday last.” He notes that it was a “severe engagement” and we can assume that he was hearing the Battle of Monmouth and he must have been at Perth Amboy to be in the proximity to hear the fighting, even though he does not mention it. There are no references of any major engagement during this time period anywhere near his lands in Hunterdon County.
Financial struggle, even for wealthy proprietors, was a part of daily life. The farm journal mentions the use of many different denominations of hard currency: Continental Dollars, Johannes and Moidore, which were Portuguese gold coins, English Guineas, New York Currency, English Pounds and Spanish dollars. In January of 1779, Parker discusses an issue with the prevalence of counterfeiting, by mentioning that he was buying land from Abraham Bonnell. He could not confirm if the money he was paying with was counterfeit. Bonnell said he didn’t believe any was, due to being very careful to examine the bills and that the mark of a printer was not necessarily a proof of authenticity. At one point he mentions, “Paid for bushel of wheat in hard money.”
This may have been noted because of the general lack of coinage and the use of continental paper money. He noted on March 5, 1780 that taxes were collected but there was a scarcity of money, and on March 13 taxes were collected on his Bethlehem property, and he complains about having no money until he could collect on his debts. On March 23, taxes were collected on Tewksbury property, and he mentions that he is owed more money than he can pay; he can’t pay the taxes until his debtors pay. For the same year, he was taxed on 200 acres, was able to pay three-quarters of the bill but had no continental money, so he borrowed it.
Everyone knows that Continental and British troops moved all around New Jersey. It is common knowledge that they were located near the famous areas of conflict such as Monmouth, Trenton, Princeton, and Washington’s Crossing at the Delaware River. Troops on both sides of the war marched through Hunterdon County and stopped to rest their soldiers and horses.
On December 4, 1778, Parker mentions being told by Moore Furman, a local miller and merchant who was well connected as a Deputy Quartermaster General for New Jersey, that Gen. Burgoyne’s army was marching to Virginia and would be quartered in the neighborhood as they marched along. On December 5, troops of the 1st Division came down with three companies of men, eight officers. He notes little business was conducted due to attending the troops. On December 6th, the 1st Division “marcht” off and the 2nd division came in. Charles Stewart (local and the Commissary General of Washington’s army) spared a gallon of spirits. On December 7th the 2nd division left, no others came, on December 8th, the 3rd division troops came with six companies and five officers of the 62nd regiment, on December 9th, the 3rd division left. Parker noted that the Brunswick troops arrived with three officers and 78 men on the 10th and that little work was accomplished when troops were there. December 11th was active with part of a company of ‘foreign troops” that were there with a major, two horses, a baggage wagon with four more horses; this group left on December 13th.
Imagine the disruption of regular life and business when these troops had been quartered on the property. May 15, 1779 brought troops from the Continental army through the Pittstown area. James Parker notes that the Regiment of the New Jersey Brigade, commanded by Colonel Ogden, marched to Pittstown on the way to Easton with 300-350 men. The Continental troops pastured horses in local fields. Parker notes that he put into pasture twelve Continental horses, then took on seven more Continental horses, ending the day with a total of twenty. On August 25th, he received from Nehemiah Dunham, who built the stone mill in nearby Clinton, five barrels of flour for Continental service. On August 25th, he put into pasture 12 Continental horses. On August 26th he took seven more Continental horses, September 4th put up nine more Continental horses and on September 18th, all Continental horses left.
In today’s military, food and supplies are provided by the government, but back in Revolutionary times, troops were expected to be supplied by local people, sometimes with promissory notes, sometimes by donation with no recompense. Sometimes a tax was paid to help sponsor troops. In Parker’s journal he mentions that on July 12,1779, he paid Adam Hope a tax toward raising a state regiment, as assessed by Colonel Beavers and Charles Coke, of 45 dollars. On August 25th, he received from Nehemiah Dunham of Clinton five barrels of flour for Continental service. He noted a meeting in Pittstown on January 18, 1780, “Spent day in Pittstown where residents met to deliver cattle and grain collected for the army.”
Students need to imagine for themselves that not all of the population of New Jersey followed the Patriot cause, most sources agree that in the colonies they made up only about thirty to forty percent of the population. They believe that around twenty percent were acknowledged Loyalists, while the remaining population were neutral. There were many risks on both ends of the political spectrum, with neighbors who harassed or reported neighbors, or turned their coats when it was to their benefit.
They need to experience the feelings of taking sides, or remaining neutral in situations. It is important to realize that everyone in New Jersey was involved in the Revolutionary War because it influenced their ordinary lives in ways that did not directly involve battles, shooting, famous officers and other incidents memorialized with statues and National Parks. The areas right around the corner, a barn down the street, an old house, mill or tavern, a name of a road in New Jersey, may have been owned or named after ordinary people whose stories were intimately intertwined with the Revolutionary War.
The decisions of James Parker and others were difficult for them and they have relevance for us today whenever we receive criticism for our decisions.
References Gigantino, J.J. (2015). The American Revolution in New Jersey: Where the Battlefront Meets the Home Front. Rutgers University Press.
Stevens, S.B. (2015). All Roads Lead to Pittstown. Hunterdon County Historical Commission
For nearly a century, the Monmouth County Historical Association (MCHA) has told the story of the Taylor family at Marlpit Hall, the c. 1760 historic house museum in Middletown, NJ. It is a fascinating story indeed, and speaks to the strife between Patriots and Loyalists in Monmouth County, a hotbed of activity during the Revolutionary War. Until recently, however, a chapter of the house’s history had gone untold. In October of 2021, MCHA unveiled the exhibit
BeneaththeFloorboards:Whispers of the EnslavedatMarlpitHall to include this forgotten chapter. This award-winning exhibit was the culmination of two years of extensive research done by curators Bernadette Rogoff and Joe Zemla to interpret the home to include the long-silenced voices of the enslaved who lived there.
Primary source documentation and discoveries of material culture were the foundations of the research done to uncover the lives of seven of the twelve known enslaved individuals at Marlpit. Birth, death and census records, wills, runaway ads, inventories, bills of sale, and manumissions (or freedom papers) shed light on the experiences of Tom, York, Ephraim, Clarisse, Hannah, Elizabeth, and William. In 2020, Joe Zemla discovered secret caches of artifacts hidden beneath the floorboards of the kitchen loft living quarters that spoke to their religion and protective rituals, while archaeological digs supervised by Dr. Rich Veit of Monmouth University provided further evidence to piece together what life may have looked like for the enslaved. Throughout the house, mannequins dressed in
historically accurate reproduction clothing bring each individual to life, supplemented by their carefully researched biographical panels. The artifacts they left behind are now on display; there is no longer a need for them to be hidden from view.
One of the most prevalent comments made by visitors is that they were unaware that slavery existed in New Jersey. For many years, our educational system had been complacent with the general notion that the northern states were free, while the South had enslaved labor. New Jersey has been referred to as the “most southern of the northern states,” second only to New York in the number of enslaved persons and the very last to legally abolish the institution on January 23rd, 1866.
Comparatively, little has been written about slavery in the North. We can read about the facts of the matter, but the personal stories in the Floorboards exhibit make an impact that no textbook or blog can. The enslaved are presented without any form of politicization, but rather from an evidence-based and humanized lens. Students are able to connect with them, particularly with Elizabeth and William, who were born in the home and are represented as children – another sad fact of slavery that often goes overlooked. It is a unique opportunity to be able to mentally place these individuals in surroundings which are familiar to the student, albeit long ago. The students learn that we can make educated guesses about what life was like during the time in which the enslaved lived and explore the spaces they inhabited, but we can never truly understand their experiences as enslaved human beings. The only thing we can do is try to imagine it, using historical evidence from primary sources as our guide.
There is a sad deficit in age-appropiate classroom resources to teach slavery, and almost none that cover slavery in the North. This deficit creates roadblocks for public school teachers who are mandated to teach these topics as required by the NJ Department of Education’s 2020 Student Learning Standards, incorporating the 2002 Amistad Law.
While nothing can compare to the experience of actually visiting Marlpit Hall, the opportunity to do so poses challenges for many school districts. In order to make the fascinating information in the exhibit as accessible as possible to students, MCHA has created two NJ standards-based digital education resources adapted for the elementary and middle/high school levels. Created under the advisorship of respected professionals in the fields of education and African American history, both age-appropriate resources provide background on the system of slavery in New Jersey with a focus on the enslaved at Marlpit Hall. In it, they will be introduced to each individual, along with the primary sources that helped to build their stories. Dr. Wendy Morales, Assistant Superintendent of the Monmouth Ocean Educational Services Commission, notes “The questions and activities included in this resource are standards-aligned and cross-curricular. This means students will not only learn historical facts, but will be challenged to think like historians, analyzing primary sources and making connections between historical eras.” Creative writing, art, music, and civics are all explored.
The section on the origins of slavery in New Jersey stress that the enslaved came here not as slaves, but as individuals who were taken from a homeland that had its own culture and civilization. Two videos, courtesy of slavevoyages.org, make a powerful impact. Students will get to view a timelapse of the paths of over 35,000 slave ship voyages, plotted in an animated graph. This visual representation helps students visually process the magnitude of the forced migration of the enslaved, while a 3-D modeling of an actual slave ship offers a uniquely realistic view of these vessels.
Time lapse of plotted slave ships Video featuring 3-D model of slave ship
Both grade level resources come with downloadable worksheets that can be customized to accommodate differentiated learning strategies, and submitted through Google Classroom. Teacher answer keys are provided for guidance as well. MCHA is proud to provide these resources free of charge to aid educators in their responsibility to teach slavery. The resources offer a guided approach to help educators navigate this sensitive and often difficult topic in the classroom. The new mandates are an excellent start to correcting the record on New Jersey’s history of enslavement, but it is truly New Jersey’s educators who will place their personal marks on bringing relevance and reverence to the topic in the classroom.
New Jersey Local History: Stephen Smith House and Underground Railroad at Cape May
Stephen Smith was the original owner and builder of a summerhouse in Cape May, New Jersey.
Although born in the late eighteenth century, Smith was a nineteenth century philanthropist. During his lifetime, he was said to be the wealthiest Black American in the nation. He established the first home in the United States for aged and indigent Colored people. This home is still in existence today.
An energetic businessman, Mr. Smith had a coal mine, stone quarry and lumber yards in Philadelphia and Columbia, Pennsylvania. His business activities led to many real estate holdings. He established Smith, Whipple & Co. with his cousin William Whipper. Stephen Smith was a devoted church and family man; married to Harriet Lee, they lived in a stone mansion on Lombard Street in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The vacation house was built by him in Cape May, New Jersey using material from his lumber yard. This house is still standing except for the carriage house, kitchen and fireplace room once visible in the rear of the building. Not having children of his own, he welcomed the offspring of his wife’s secretary and friends; namely the Bascoms and Harlans. His secretary Anna Vidal, wife of Ulysses B. Vidal, brought their three children, Etienne, Marie and Anna Clorise to Cape May. Etienne engraved his name in a small glass windowpane with his diamond ring at this house. In later years Marie would point out the pane and recall the prank, for Etienne had long since emigrated to France. Stephen Smith was called “Daddy” Smith by the children and he relished the time consuming carriage ride to Cape May with them. Portraits of Stephen and Harriet were painted by the noted Black artist Edward Stridom and are today the property of the Pennsylvania Historical Society. An avid abolitionist and agent in the Underground Railroad, Mr. Smith was active in politics and church affairs. Records of the AME church attest to his generosity.
Stephen Smith was born October 13, 1795 in Columbia, PA. At the age of nine he was purchased by an officer who was a Revolutionary War general named Thomas Boude. His mother escaped from her owner, found her son, and was taken in by Boudes. Weeks later her mistress (owner) followed and demanded her property. The Boudes’ refused and were supported by the townspeople who believed in aiding a fugitive. Raised by the General Thomas Boude, in time, Stephen purchased his freedom. Before the general died, he set Stephen up in the lumber business. Stephen earned the respect and confidence of the people of Columbia, PA and they supported his endeavors. At age 21, he was inspired by the eminent minister, Richard Allen, founder of the AME church, and at age 31 became licensed to preach. He was a Teller in the election of every Bishop since Richard Allen until his death in 1873. Smith built a public hall in Philadelphia for the use of the “People of Color”; but this was destroyed by fire in the riots of 1842. Stephen Smith was one of the Signers of Frederick Douglas’ Men of Color to Arms appeal during the early part of the Civil War calling on Black Americans to join the Union Army.
An Educator’s Perspective on Teaching the Voices of Enslaved People in New Jersey as Part of Local History
by Robert Fenster
Few high school history textbooks have much to say about Black people in the northern colonies and states. While coverage of the evils of slavery has dramatically increased since I was a student in the 1980s, the focus has predominantly been on enslaved people in the south and not enslaved northerners nor free Black people. Slavery is mentioned 14 times in the New Jersey Student Learnings Standards from 2020, but 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.” The standard implies 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. The ratification of the 13th Amendment didn’t merely free the slaves in states that were in rebellion, but also 16 people who remained enslaved in New Jersey in December of 1865.
Is it at all surprising that most students graduate high school in New Jersey unaware of the enduring nature of this institution or the experience of Blacks in the north? 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 celebrated as the home of abolition. That sort of teaching is oversimplified and not only does injustice to actual history, but to the lives of thousands of men and women who were enslaved in New Jersey, as well as the lives of free Black people. This essay shares my ongoing pedagogical journey, and provides some suggestions for my fellow educators who wish to improve student understanding of the history of Black people in New Jersey.
Although modern textbooks include the death of biracial Crispus Attucks at the Boston Massacre, overall Black participation in the actual American Revolution is typically relegated to a sidebar or absent altogether. Graham Russell Hodges describes the American Revolution as a Black revolution, “the largest slave revolt before the Civil War.” Hodges indicates there is documentation for at least 18,000 Black individuals who fought for the British, with the possibility of tens of thousands more having served in an effort to throw off the oppressive shackles of the colonial governments.
At a week-long National Endowment for the Humanities seminar on Slavery in the Colonial North in 2020 at Philipsburg Manor in Sleepy Hollow, New York run by Leslie Harris and Jacqueline Simmons, I saw the buildings where enslaved people toiled, and heard from expert tour guides who shared how historians pieced together so much of the history of the manor. It inspired me to focus more on slavery in New Jersey. I went to my county clerk’s office and found birth certificates and manumission records of enslaved people from our town and prepared a lesson plan incorporating these primary sources. My students were taken aback especially to see names familiar to them among the enslavers. In addition to discussing how the descendants of the enslaved people might feel about their history, the students also considered what the descendants of enslavers might think about their family’s past. That lesson in and of itself was impactful, but I was acutely aware it didn’t do enough to explore the lives of enslaved men and women.
Well-intentioned teachers sometimes make cringe-worthy mistakes. There are lessons I did early in my career (and, truth be told, even more recently) that were tone deaf at best. It seems as if every year there’s another incident where a misguided teacher somewhere in the United States steps knee deep into controversy by running a slavery simulation. The vast majority of teachers know such a lesson has no pedagogical value and runs the risk of inducing trauma. A cursory search for lesson plans online still finds dozens of “walk a mile in their shoes” lessons, where educators think they can responsibly and effectively get students to learn by pretending they understand what an enslaved person went through, usually done through some kind of journaling activity. Although I believe it can be useful to consider what enslaved people might have been feeling, it’s ultimately presumptuous and reductive to suggest students would be able to have that level of empathy and understanding. The temptation to work solely in the affective domain when dealing with slavery and other atrocities should be resisted.
Many enslaved people were actively prevented from learning how to write, creating a dearth of first-person documents in comparison to white contemporaries who kept journals and wrote letters. There are a number of insightful enslaved person narratives, but when trying to keep to New Jersey history it is a bit challenging. There are a handful of narratives written by white contemporaries, like William Allinson’s Memoir of Quamino Buccau, A Pious Methodist. Although Allinson is an abolitionist, he uses his subject as a prop to further his political cause rather than illuminate the individual he is writing about. This focus belies an utter lack of interest in the enslaved person’s internal life and somewhat limits the usefulness of the text. Historians are left to construct meaning out of other resources like fugitive notices, laws, tax registers, censuses, travel logs, registers of free Black people, and manumission records. New Jersey has a fairly robust set of available documents, making the work of historians easier than in several neighboring states.
My evolving goal as a history teacher is three-fold: depict enslaved people as complex individuals who exercised their agency in a variety of ways, examine the ugly reality of slavery in our town, county, and state, and empower students to become historians themselves by examining the wealth of resources available to them on local history.
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The study of agency is absolutely essential to shift student understanding from a one-dimensional conception of hapless victims to recognizing the humanity and complexity of individuals. Enslaved people’s agency was exhibited on a daily basis in a wide variety of ways. When students would ask me “Why didn’t they fight back?” I used to foolishly accept their premise and engage in a conversation about weaponry, psychology, and geography. Although those are all worthy of examination in a larger conversation on the subject, the fact is they fought back in innumerable ways. Agency was exhibited through armed revolt, breaking equipment, arson, working slowly or poorly, poisoning, feigning illness, self-harm, self-liberation, negotiation, and the development of an enslaved culture through language, families, community, religion, and music.
Jigsaw lesson plans are best used when the specific content is less important than the larger concepts. Examining the organized rebellions of enslaved people is an excellent opportunity to use this approach to its maximum efficacy. Students can research the Stono Rebellion, the New York Conspiracy of 1741, Gabriel’s Conspiracy, the German Coast Uprising, and Nat Turner’s Rebellion, for example. I have my students identify key figures, provide a description of the events, and then require them to find a way to frame the event as a successful endeavor. Students, of course, recognize the limits to their success, but by going beyond the reductionism of “Were they emancipated as a result of their rebellion?” it provides a key lesson.
Incidents of self-harm present a challenge to educators. We want students to understand the lengths to which enslaved people would go to assert their agency, but want to be careful about triggering existing trauma on the subject of self-harm. I’m still grappling with how much focus to put on the subject, but have used some narratives of enslaved people and newspaper articles to at least touch on the subject, if not dwell on it. The National Humanities Center has a collection of suicide-related items for teachers to consider using in their curriculum. There are also an array of primary and secondary accounts of self-mutilation, such as the report of the “Desperate Negro Woman” in the Staunton Vindicator who “deliberately cut three of her fingers off, taking two licks at them” with an axe. Needless to say, educators should tread lightly in this area, keeping a keen eye out for the reactions of their students.
Small acts of sabotage are more challenging to document as they likely would be chalked up to accidents or the natural wear and tear on equipment when tools would break. I don’t use any primary sources for this, but there are quite a few descriptions in narratives of enslaved people describing particular incidents that occurred prior to their emancipation. More dramatic forms of resistance like arson tend to capture students’ imagination such as the Albany fires of 1793.
We used to speak of “runaway slaves,” but both terms have undergone a transition for similar reasons. As Katy Waldman pointed out, “To reduce the people involved to a nonhuman noun was to reproduce the violence of slavery on a linguistic level; to dispense with it amounted to a form of emancipation.” Similarly, Daina Ramey Berry writes about the self-liberated: “[T]heir emancipation reflected a level of agency—a public showing of their personhood—and for them, escape was not a crime.” Students can benefit by examining enslavers’ advertisements about the self-liberated which reveal so much about their assumptions and beliefs about their “property,” and often unintentionally expose the skills and accomplishments of the individuals in question.
Giles Wright wrote that the American Revolution was “the cultural metamorphosis of Africans into African Americans.” However, students rarely consider the creation of a common culture to be a form of resistance without being led to that conclusion. I’m still working on developing plans to help students see enslaved people as something more than one-dimensional figures. I found the Historic Hudson Valley’s People Not Property interactive website particularly useful in helping students make the connection. Modules on the poetry of Phylis Wheatley, the celebration of Pinkster, and the role of extralegal marriages help students better understand how oppressed people can offer resistance through assertions of their own humanity. It helps students understand that these individuals were not passive victims who allowed their oppressors to defeat them at every turn.
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When I was given the opportunity to participate in the New Jersey Council For Social Studies grant “Telling our Story: Living in New Jersey in the 1770s” focusing on the lives of lesser known individuals during the American Revolution, I knew from the outset I wanted to research Black people from Somerset County, and ideally, from Hillsborough, the town I teach in. I’d read Elaine Buck and Beverly Mills’ powerful book If These Stones Could Talk. The Revolutionary War service of William Stives gets particular attention along with his decision to settle near Hillsborough after the war. The Sourland Mountain ridge runs 17 miles from Lambertville to the western end of Hillsborough, so my students would recognize various geographic locations from his life story. However, since the authors’ work had gained significant attention, I wasn’t sure my focusing on his life would do much to elevate Stives’ story.
I spent several afternoons at the Somerset County Library in Bridgewater, poring over their local history holdings. Having never done much in the way of local history research, it took awhile to orient myself as to what was available, but before long I encountered a number of promising leads. The most significant came from the Somerset County Historical Quarterly, an outstanding publication compiling historical essays and primary source documents, which ran from 1912 to 1919. It was all I could do not to get lost reading unrelated articles about Hillsborough and nearby towns. However, the article entitled “Revolutionary War Record of a Somerset County Slave” in the 1914 edition utterly captivated me. The story of an enslaved man named Samuel who served as a substitute for his enslaver in exchange for the promise of freedom takes several awful, though not surprising twists. Samuel’s two years of service, including fighting at the battles of Long Island, Princeton, Monmouth — and the very local Millstone — ended in two leg wounds and the broken promise of his enslaver. Decades later, in his mid-80s, Samuel sought a pension for his service, but was repeatedly denied his just due because the pensions board claimed he had not proven his service. Ultimately, the New Jersey legislature passed a law specific to Samuel, providing him $50 a year for the remaining few years of his life.
Chasing down information on Samuel Sutphen (as he came to be called later in his life) was both challenging and invigorating. It’s been decades since I was a college student doing research in the basement of Alexander Library at Rutgers University. I had hoped to revisit the same location for both nostalgic and practical reasons (the holdings at Rutgers are quite impressive), but Hurricane Ida made that an impossibility. Instead I relied mostly on internet-based research and was able to gain enough materials to prepare a structured academic controversy for my students. The activity incorporated materials on the multiracial Marbleheaders, and Black participants Benjamin Whitecuff, Colonel Tye, and Prime. Frankly it is a work in progress in need of development, but my students saw the breadth of Black participation in the war instead of merely seeing the battles through the eyes of the white officers.
When I mentioned my desire to learn about enslaved people in Hillsborough, I was pointed towards the biography of Silvia Dubois, a formerly enslaved woman who received her freedom after a physical altercation with her enslaver. Dubois self-liberated after the encounter and negotiated her freedom in exchange for promising never to return. Her story is remarkable, but chronologically was outside the purview of the grant. Nonetheless I read a series of items about her story and took notes for a future lesson plan. In the meantime, I encountered an article about her grandfather Harry Compton written by Kenneth E. Marshall. In turn, this led me to Marshall’s book Manhood Enslaved: Bondmen in Eighteenth- and Early Nineteenth Century New Jersey, in which he focuses on the lives of three enslaved men, including the aforementioned Quamino Buccau. I liked the idea of examining a second Black man from the time period who had not served, but instead experienced changing circumstances during the American Revolution. With many enslavers off serving in the militia or Continental Army, numerous enslaved people used the opportunity to liberate themselves, negotiate better conditions for themselves, or rebel in other ways.
In examining the experiences of various individuals based on limited and sometimes questionable documentation, it is crucial that students understand that there are limits to what we can definitively know. Many students struggle with history because they struggle with nuance, wanting everything to be crystal clear. For me, the shades of grey are what make history fascinating, and the use of deductive reasoning a great and wonderful challenge. The best conversations in the classroom are the ones where students have honest disagreements about historical interpretations with equally compelling logical arguments to support their positions. What we can do to help them is to identify particular facts and events that serve as anchors. Quamino Buccau, in his teens, was forced to watch executions of enslaved people accused of arson and other crimes. Because Allinson never bothered to ask his subject how he felt about his experiences, we are left to speculate about how such experiences would impact an individual and their subsequent behavior. When he converts to Christianity after hearing what he believed to be the voice of God, a fascinating dichotomy occurs. Some, like Allinson, hold him up to be a model enslaved person, the very proof the abolitionist is seeking to demonstrate the notion that Black people could become responsible citizens imbued by their faith in religion. His subsequent enslaver, however, looked at his religiosity as something inappropriate and suspect. Kenneth Marshall raises fascinating questions about how an enslaved person might show interest in Christianity to curry favor with their enslaver, and how that in and of itself might be an assertion of agency. There’s a lot to unpack here and it may be something that cannot be easily converted into a one- or two-day lesson plan. That being said, a discussion of religion and agency is definitely important in the coverage of slavery.
Conducting this type of research and lesson planning is simultaneously rewarding and humbling. Even as I create a useful lesson plan that I will share with other educators and likely use for the rest of my career, I reflect on how many years I didn’t adequately address the subject matter in my classes. And I recognize that despite including them in the opening paragraphs of the essay, I have yet to develop resources and lessons on the lives of free Blacks in New Jersey. There is always more work to do, but at least we’re going in the right direction.
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We want our students to be more than passive receptacles of knowledge that we distill. There are myriad critical thinking activities we can provide, but perhaps nothing could surpass doing the actual work of historians. There are thousands of primary and secondary source documents available online, in historical society archives, and in government offices. For example, in West Hartford, Connecticut, students participated in the Witness Stones Project, researching their town’s sordid history in connection to slavery. Beginning with an Advanced Placement US History class and then spreading out to lower grade levels, students dug into historical archives to learn more about the lives of enslaved people, commemorate their lives, and create lasting tributes through the placement of historical markers. Although Covid-19 continues to present obstacles for some research, there’s no reason that our students here in New Jersey can’t start doing similar work to the West Hartford students in an effort to elevate the stories and voices of forgotten people from our local communities.
 Giles Wright, “Moving Toward Breaking the Chains: Black New Jerseyans and the American Revolution,” in New Jersey in the American Revolution, ed. Barbara J. Mitnick (New Brunswick, NJ, Rivergate Books, 2005), 113.
 Elaine Buck and Beverly Mills, If These Stones Could Talk: African American Presence in the Hopewell VAlley, Sourland Mountain, and Surrounding Regions of New Jersey, (Lambertville, NJ, Wild River Books, 2018).
 Abraham Van Doren, “Revolutionary War Record of a Somerset County Slave,” Somerset County Historical Society, Volume III (1914), accessed February 6, 2022, http://hdl.handle.net/10929/46268.
Quamino was born near New Brunswick, New Jersey in 1762. Young Quamino had a complete family unit when he was living in Somerset County. Despite describing Quamino as “compliant,” his contemporary biographer William Allinson described a horrific episode where young Quamino was forced to watch a fellow enslaved person burned at the stake as punishment for alleged crimes. At no point in the memoir or in any other documentation is Quamino described as rebellious or uncooperative. Much of this is attributed to his religious conversion and subsequent piety. Allinson essentially uses Quamino as the model version of a benign, non-threatening Black man as a means of condemning the institution of slavery, consistent with Allinson’s abolitionist views. Allinson’s book is described as a memoir, including numerous quotations directly from Quamino, but neglects to offer a physical description of the man, the names of his siblings, or many of his inner emotions and rationale for his behavior.
At age nine, Quamino was essentially rented out to an enslaver in Poughkeepsie, New York. He was separated from his family and upon the commencement of the Revolutionary War was unable to have any communication with his “master” (and thereby his family). From roughly age 9 to 18, he remained in New York, but in 1780 was unexpectedly returned to his original enslaver and reunited with his family. Allinson wrote, “Overcome with this too sudden announcement, he burst into a violent and uncontrollable fit of crying, and for hours cried aloud as though he had been beaten — unable to answer questions, or to stay his emotions at the kindest efforts to pacify him.”
How do you think each of the following may have contributed to his uncontrollable response to the news?
Shock that his situation would ever improve.
Joy at the prospect of being reunited with his family.
Separation from his family caused emotional deprivation.
The experience of enslavement is a form of mental and physical torture.
Consider the implications of each of the items in a response of two or three sentences.
Back in Somerset County, Quamino had a religious experience, claiming that God had spoken to him, thus beginning his period of devout faith in the Methodist religion. His enslaver looked suspiciously upon enslaved people’s faith, believing it could interfere with maintaining a degree of ignorance and thus make them less “serviceable” as workers. He even suspected Quamino’s position was a pose, designed to gain a level of respect from others in the community. Consequently, he would criticize and may have beaten Quamino for participating in religious services, but Quamino accepted the consequences and maintained his personal beliefs.
As there is only one source for this information, we have no idea of how sincere Quamino’s religious conversion was, but either way, one could argue that maintaining his faith was an exercise of autonomy and personal agency.
Two Options to Consider:
A. Quamino was wholly genuine in his religious conversion, and was willing to deal with any obstacles in his path to exercise his faith.
B. Quamino was less than 100% genuine in his conversion, but believed that some degree of deception would provide him some degree of social standing.
Describe in two to three sentences how each of the options would mean that Quaminowas exercising personal agency.
In 1788, he married Sarah, an enslaved woman who lived nearby. She was soon sold and moved five miles away, allowing them to see one another as infrequently as once a week. When Quamino’s enslaver died around 1789, he was passed onto one of the enslaver’s sons. Several years later, he was beaten by his enslaver. Quamino told him he refused to work for him further, a tactic that some other enslaved people had used to demand being sold to a new owner. In some locations, the relationship between enslaver and enslaved was perceived as a sort of social contract with obligations flowing in both directions. “Unjustified” abuse might be grounds for “slave quitting” depending on local customs. Although enslaved people might be aware of instances of slave quitting via word of mouth, nothing was in the law, thus employing this tactic was enormously risky for Quamino.
Consider the possible outcomes of this risky decision.
Three Possible Outcomes to Consider:
A. His enslaver could have rejected the claim and then worsened his treatment of Quamino.
B. His enslaver could agree to sell him to a new enslaver whose treatment of Quamino could be the same (or worse).
C. His enslaver could agree to sell him to a new enslaver whose treatment of Quamino would be an improvement.
Which of the following seems the most likely outcome?
If you think the outcome would have been A or B, would Quamino have regretted his decision of refusing to work?
Why was it difficult for Black Americans to enjoy the ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as stated in the Declaration of Independence?
Quamino was sold to a new enslaver, who did not seem to have used physical violence against those he enslaved. Quamino even arranged for his new enslaver to purchase Sarah, allowing the couple to live together as husband and wife. In 1806, Quamino was manumitted through an elaborate process that included having to testify before a committee to demonstrate that his freedom would not be a burden upon the state of New Jersey. Sarah died in 1842 and Quamino lived to around 1850 (age 88). They had at least two sons together, although it appears at least one of them was sold as an infant.
 Frontispiece of William Allinson, Memoir of Quamino Buccau, A Pious Methodist
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?
Parents throughout history want what is best for their children, sometimes they try to pressure their children into decisions that may be against what the child wants to do. An example of this was Philip Freneau, whose family moved from New York in 1762 to what is now known as Matawan, Monmouth County, New Jersey. He attended the College of New Jersey, now Princeton University, beginning in 1768 and majored in theology at the urging of his parents. While attending, Philip became acquainted and made friends with people who would be very influential in the impending conflict with England. Some of the notable people included the president of the college, Reverend John Witherspoon who was delegate to the Continental Congress from New Jersey and a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Freneau’s roommate was James Madison, future father of the Constitution and President of the United States. His good friend, Hugh Henry Brackenridge, was a teacher, newspaper editor, chaplain in the Continental Army, Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice, and influential in Thomas Jefferson’s campaign for President. Aaron Burr and “Lighthorse” Henry Lee also attended Princeton University while Philip was there.
Philip Freneau and Hugh Henry Brackenridge became notorious for writing poetry which included the mistreatment of the colonies by Britain. This debate was intensified by two campus organizations, the American Whig Society and the Clio-Sophic Society, which the Whigs referred to as the “Tories”. Philip enjoyed writing and composing poetry, yet was influenced by the stories from his father, who was a merchant in the wine trade sailing from the colonies to Madeira off the coast of northwest Africa, to the Caribbean and back to the colonies.
Making a decision about a future career can be difficult. If you had the choice to pursue a steady and sustainable career in the ministry or education, or chasing the romantic, adventurous stories of your father, which would you choose and why?
Freneau chose to begin his career as a teacher in New York, perhaps a career more in line with his parent’s expectations but lasting only thirteen days. “Those who employed me were some of the gentlemen from New York; some of them are bullies, some merchants, others scoundrels. They sent me eight children, the eldest of whom was ten years old. Some could read, others spell, and a few stammer over a chapter of the Bible – these were my pupils and over these I was to preside” (Griswold)
He realized that he was unsuited for teaching school and yet failed to return the money he received as a retainer for employment. After spending time at his mother’s farm, called Mount Pleasant, in Matawan, New Jersey, he realized that he was also not particularly fond of the farming life and accepted an invitation from his friend, Henry Brackenridge to come to Maryland as a teacher in his school. He taught there for three years before heading home to Mount Pleasant and then moving to New York to pursue his love of writing and publishing poetry.
How do you think he felt with his lack of success?
Freneau continued to publish poems for little or no profit, using this medium to express his feelings on the political climate which was difficult due to the occupation of British forces in New York. His writing expressed his hope for reconciliation with Britain, but also the idea of liberty. Poetry at this time was read as entertainment and at times used to verbally and satirically discredit and attack public figures. Poems were published in newspapers, broadsides, and books. Earning a living from publishing was difficult due to the expenses of printing and binding books.
An excerpt from Freneau’s poem:
TO THE AMERICANS On the Rumoured Approach of the Hessian Forces, Waldeckers, & c. (Published 1775)
If Britain conquers, help us, heaven, to fly:
Lend us your wings, ye ravens of the sky;—
If Britain conquers—we exist no more;
These lands will redden with their children’s gore,
Who, turned to slaves, their fruitless toils will moan,
Toils in these fields that once they called their own!
To arms! to arms! and let the murdering sword
Decide who best deserves the hangman’s cord:
Nor think the hills of Canada too bleak
When desperate Freedom is the prize you seek;
For that, the call of honour bids you go
O’er frozen lakes and mountains wrapt in snow:
No toils should daunt the nervous and the bold,
They scorn all heat or wave-congealing cold.
Haste!—to your tents in iron fetters bring
These slaves, that serve a tyrant and a king;
So just, so virtuous is your cause, I say,
Hell must prevail if Britain gains the day.
How does this poem try to influence the reader’s opinion? What examples of influential vocabulary is he using? How would you write a poem about the Boston Massacre that would influence your audience to follow your perspective of the incident if you were a Boston resident?
For male citizens in the eighteenth century, militia duty was often required; if you were at sea for business, you would be exempt. Freneau used his family’s connections to go to sea and gained valuable career experience by staying in Santa Cruz, now known as St. Croix. He observed the effects of plantation slavery, having previously only been exposed to the few house and field slaves owned by his family. He was thoroughly disgusted by the treatment Caribbean slaves received and wrote poetry reflecting his feelings. He then traveled on ships to islands and in Bermuda he fell in love with a local woman, who unfortunately became ill and died. He returned home in 1778 and joined the New Jersey militia, serving as a lookout by patrolling and scouting the shore area for British ships.
Philip took every opportunity to sail ships, serving as a privateer, sailing between Philadelphia and the West Indies. He participated in successfully capturing the British Ship Brittanie on December 30, 1779. At the end of his militia duty he continued his privateering activities as a civilian on the ship Aurora, while trading tobacco in the Caribbean. His ship was attacked by the British Ship Iris and all of his belongings were confiscated and he was held captive on a British prison ship in New York Harbor. He was held in miserable and filthy conditions for three weeks before becoming ill and taken to a hospital ship where conditions were not much better.
Imagine being locked in a cell on a rotting and filthy ship, not knowing when and if you would be included in a prisoner exchange? How would you pass the time? Would you give up and sink into misery, why or why not? How would you find ways to try to occupy your mind to keep your spirits up in hopes for release?
Freneau later wrote a poem about his experiences called The British Prison Ship.
THE various horrors of these hulks to tell,
These Prison Ships where pain and penance dwell,
Where death in tenfold vengeance holds his reign,
And injur’d ghosts, yet unaveng’d, complain;
This be my task —ungenerous Britons, you
Conspire to murder whom you can’t subdue. —
No masts or sails these crowded ships adorn,
Dismal to view, neglected and forlorn;
Here, mighty ills oppress’d the imprison’d throng,
Dull were our slumbers, and our nights were long——
From morn to eve along the decks we lay
Scorch’d into fevers by the solar ray;
No friendly awning cast a welcome shade,
Once was it promis’d, and was never made;
No favours could these sons of death bestow,
‘Twas endless vengeance, and unceasing woe:
Immortal hatred does their breasts engage,
And this lost empire swells their souls with rage.
He was released after six weeks and needed to decide how he should pursue a career. Philip moved to Philadelphia and became a writer for the Freeman’s Journal, an anti-British publication. At the time, it was a frequent practice for writers to take pseudonyms in order to avoid persecution over political statements. Words were used as political pressure and were often combined with entertainment using satire. Freneau’s writings would often be targeted as well as a target for more conservative publications such as The Pennsylvania Packet and The Pennsylvania Gazette and his brutal criticism and biting satire made so many enemies that he was pressured to resign as editor.
After the Revolutionary War was over, he went back to sea in 1784, but was shipwrecked in a storm off the coast of Jamaica. He survived and made it to land and returned to Philadelphia. He tried his hand at publishing yet again, but could not earn enough money to survive, so he went back to sea on a ship owned by his brother in Charleston, South Carolina. He continued writing and publishing poetry.
How would you feel about your writing if you had a group of critics and opponents just waiting for an opportunity to argue with your work? What should Freneau do?
The shipping business struggled and Philip returned to his mother’s farm. He continued writing and publishing. While in Matawan, he married Eleanor and acquired more land to add to his family holdings.
To augment the income from the farm and support his growing family, he became an editor of a New York paper The Daily Advertiser. With the relocation of the nation’s capital to Philadelphia, New York was no longer a profitable market for newspapers and he moved back to New Jersey and started his own newspaper, The Monmouth Gazette. The newspaper followed his anti-federalist views, agreeing with the principles of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Through James Madison, Freneau was offered the position of clerk for foreign languages in the new capital city. He. He was also offered a position with The National Gazette, through his connection with Thomas Jefferson.
Were these appointments ethical? Why or why not?
Philip took the opportunity afforded by his editorial position with the National Gazette to antagonize the Federalists in the Executive Branch, especially targeting Alexander Hamilton and comparing Washington’s presidency to a monarchy. In a letter to Henry Lee in 1793, Washington states:
“The publications in Freneau’s and Beach’s Papers are outrages on common decency; and they progress in that style, in proportion as their pieces are treated with contempt, & passed by in silence by those, at whom they are aimed.” (Washington, n.d.)
The National Gazette continued in publication through the Yellow Fever epidemic of 1793, but the exodus from the city of Philadelphia eventually led to a decline in subscriptions and the end of the paper. Freneau resigned as editor as well as Clerk of Translation, as he was highly unqualified, knowing only English and French. He spent a majority of his money paying other people to translate for him and returned to Matawan with little income.
How would you feel if it seemed that the careers you tried for success kept failing? What would you do next?
Philip began his own local paper, The Monmouth Almanac, which communicated important local events such as the schedule of the New Jersey Supreme Court, Quaker Church meeting places and times, and the weather. He also published poetry and sold subscriptions with moderate success. For more income he began to publish The New Jersey Chronicle which promoted his Republican agenda. Unfortunately, this publication failed.
Persevering, Freneau found a partner in Alexander Menut in 1797, to co-print a newspaper in New York called The Time Piece and Literary Companion. This paper, like Freneau’s previous, attempted to influence the citizenry of New York toward his Republican ideals. He criticized the XYZ affair in 1797, which resulted in many canceled subscriptions and financial losses.
While in New York, Freneau was enlisted by Deborah Sampson Gannett to petition Congress for a pension. Mrs. Gannett had enlisted as a soldier in the Revolutionary War by disguising herself as a man from May of 1782 to being honorably discharged in October of 1783. She had been wounded in battle and claimed disability due to her injury. Freneau used his knowledge of her situation to write an ode that channeled his displeasure with the Federalists. As a result, Deborah Gannett did not receive her pension for many years, eventually receiving it in 1805.
Career and financial misfortune followed. He returned to his land with a loan and a financial gift from his brother in order to stay out of debtor’s prison. He needed money to pay dowries for the weddings of his daughters and for running the farm. He sold property to raise money. In October 1818, a fire burned the Freneau home to the ground, including many unpublished poems. He and his wife settled in a new house under construction on the property. In his family Bible it states:
“The old house at Mount Pleasnt accidentally took fire on Sunday afternoon at 4 o’clock October 18th – 1818 precisely one year after my mother’s decease. It was consumed to the ground with a large part of property therein. The following day we began to remove into the New House, which was partial finished. The Old House was built in 1752 by my father – 42 feet in length and 24 in breadth.” (Ryer, n.d.)
In his elder days Philip Freneau was seen roaming the roads to Freehold and the local hills wearing worn clothing and was well known for frequenting the local taverns, libraries and country store. The lack of money forced his family to sell off more property and the Freneau’s poverty led them to move to an abandoned house belonging to Eleanor’s brother. Philip had a reputation for excessive drinking which may have led to his final demise. On December 18, 1832 he had been at the local country store, meeting with friends and died of exposure when walking home alone; he was found the following day. Philip Freneau is buried in the locust grove in Matawan near his mother.
I am the son of William Leddel, a French naval surgeon who settled in Elizabethtown, New Jersey, born in 1747. Upon my father’s death in 1766, I (William Jr.), moved to Mendham, New Jersey and apprenticed myself to Dr. Ebenezer Blachy. I established myself as a physician and practiced in Mendham for the remainder of my life.
I chose to be active in military matters, serving as a lieutenant in the Morris County Troop of Light Horse during the Revolution. I participated in the Battles of Connecticut Farms (Elizabeth) and Springfield and in the retreat of George Washington from New York.
I married Phoebe Wick, the daughter of Henry Wick, in 1770 and we settled at Washington Corner on a part of the Wick tract in Mendham. It was here that we raised our five children: Mary (1774-1780), Henry (1776-1799), Tempe (1779-1810), Eliza (1781-1803), and John (ca.1784-1865).
I also used my medical skills to tend to Washington’s troops during their stay in Morristown in the winter of 1779-1780. Later, I was a major in the forces that put down the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794 and served as a captain of the cavalry during the War of 1812.
I served two terms as Morris County’s sheriff from 1783-1785 and tried cases before the Justices of the Peace.
Decision Activity 1:
The Leddel family had a lot to lose in this fight. He was a well-established doctor in the prosperous colony of East Jersey and living on a large property in Mendham with three young children. During the war, they faced many risks to their lives and property. When Dr. Leddel provided medical care to General Washington’s army during their retreat through Morristown, the conflict was brought to the doorstep of their home.
1. Should Dr. William Leddel join the Continental Army in 1776?
2. Should Dr. Leddel join as a foot soldier, medical doctor, or in another capacity?
3. Should his wife, Phoebe, encourage him to remain at home in Mendham or to join the Continental Army?
Decision Activity 2:
Dr. Leddel’s father left France during a time of conflict, high taxes, and economic difficulty. As the son of immigrants who came to New Jersey in search of a better life, how might his family’s story have influenced his decision to support the ideals of the American Revolution?
1.During the winter of 1779, Tempe was born and her five year old sister, Mary, was ill. General Washington’s troops, his entire army of about 13,000 troops, are at Jockey Hollow and in need of medical care. Should Dr. Leddel leave his family and provide care for the soldiers?
2. What are some possible challenges the Leddel family faced, as a family from France, when they moved to New Jersey? Write a few sentences about the possible challenges they faced, especially during the years of the French and Indian War.
3. How did the events of the French and Indian War impact the urgency of the decision? How could the relationships and attitudes change between the colonists and England deteriorate so quickly? How should Dr. Leddel and his family handle the impact of prejudice against colonists of French heritage?
4. Explain the implications or consequences for the Leddel family. How were they impacted socially, economically, professionally and politically?
Talking point and Comparison of modern conflicts (Writing Prompt):
Dr. Leddel and his family risked everything in his decision to support the American Revolution. The Wick family, he married into, was a leading family in Morris County. This made for a very contentious debate within the family. His wife, Phoebe’s sister supported the Loyalists. In 1780, after the death of Tempe’s father, her mother became seriously ill and asked Tempe to get Dr. Leddel to care for her. How did the Revolution bring conflict within families and how do you think families dealt with these divided positions of support? Were they able to trust each other?
Wick House – Henry Wick built this Cape Cod Style house around 1750. His 1,400 acre farm, most of which was covered by forest, made him the largest landowner in Morristown. Henry Wick’s trees attracted Washington’s army to the area as a winter encampment site because they needed logs to build cabins for shelter and wood to burn for heating and cooking. During the winter of 1779-1780 the army chopped down over 600 acres of his trees on Mr. Wick’s property and more on the neighbor’s property. Additionally, Major General Arthur St. Clair, commander of 2,000 Pennsylvania soldiers, made his quarters in Mr. Wick’s home for the winter. Today the house is furnished to portray its use as a general’s headquarters.