Teaching Tye: Slavery, Self-Emancipation, and the Black Brigade
By Bill Smith
Colonel Tye represented much of the inchoate American spirit that the United States would one day embody, even though he fought against the Colonists as a commander working with the British during the American Revolution. Enslaved in Monmouth County, Colonel Tye self-emancipated one day after the promulgation of Lord Dunmore’s Proclamation, freeing all enslaved persons who escaped and fought alongside the British.
Like many enslaved and formerly enslaved persons who participated in the American Revolution, Colonel Tye left very few written records, leaving historians to rely on historical texts sourced mostly from local legends. Colonel Tye first appears in the historical record in a runaway advertisement from November 8, 1775, after self-emancipating from John Corlis, an enslaver and disowned Quaker from Shrewsbury, New Jersey. Tye may have traveled south to Virginia after self-emancipating, joining the famed Ethiopian Regiment, though this possibility lacks corroborating documentary evidence. Colonel Tye then made his way back to New Jersey, likely to Sandy Hook, termed “Refugee town,” by the many free blacks or formerly enslaved persons who lived there. In “Refugee town,” Tye joined the Black Brigade and eventually became the regiment’s commander.
Teachers using these documents can also inform students about the dearth of sources regarding enslaved and formerly enslaved persons during the Revolutionary period while also empathizing how local traditions can become the accepted historical canon without corroborating documentary evidence. Aside from his birthdate and the location where he was enslaved, almost nothing is known from Tye’s early years. However, from his self-emancipation in 1775 until his violent death in 1782, Tye appears in the historical record, most often in local newspapers. Historians, teachers, and students can use these documents to learn about the lived experience of Tye’s early twenties and the outsized impact he had on Revolutionary New Jersey.
On November 8, 1775, Colonel Tye enters the historical record for the first time in a runaway advertisement. Using his footprints as ink, Tye wrote himself into history by self-emancipating from his enslaver John Corlis. From this runaway advertisement, teachers and students can be introduced to the future Colonel Tye, referred to in the advertisement as “Titus.” Teachers can use Colonel Tye’s runaway advertisement to introduce students to the concept of reading archival sources “against the grain,” otherwise known as “counter-reading the archives.” It is imperative for teachers to add context when using sources such as runaway advertisements to teach about the history and lived experiences of enslaved persons. The runaway advertisement for “Titus” reveals important biographical information about Colonel Tye. However, teachers must make students aware that this historical document was written and paid for by his enslaver in an attempt to recapture him. While using runaway advertisements in the classroom, teachers can use Colonial Williamsburg’s useful and accessible “How to” guide.”
While John Corlis paid for runaway advertisements in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, some historians conjecture that “Titus” took the name “Tye” and headed south to Williamsburg, Virginia, where he served in the Ethiopian Regiment. For the next two years, Tye disappears from official sources before reemerging at the Battle of Monmouth, where according to historian Graham Russell Hodges, he took on the title “Colonel Tye.” After the Battle of Monmouth, Colonel Tye established himself as the leader of the “Black Brigade,” an elite combat unit comprised of black loyalists who led a series of devastating raids in Monmouth County over the last three years of the American Revolution.
From 1779 until his death in 1782, Colonel Tye and the Black Brigade repeatedly appear in historical sources as New Jersey newspapers documented their attacks on Jersey shore communities. Teachers can use these newspaper accounts, sourced from throughout the state, to reconstruct the actions of Colonel Tye while also using the primary sources as a lens through which their students can view the experiences of the Black Brigade and the communities they impacted. Focusing on the summer of 1780, teachers can use two newspaper accounts, published within two weeks of one another, to compare the scale of the attacks, the types of supplies taken by the Black Brigade, as well as the response and tone of the primary source authors. For these sources and numerous others, teachers and their students can rely on Documents Relating to the Revolutionary History of the State of New Jersey, a collection of newspaper articles related to the American Revolution. Compiled and published in the early twentieth century, this extremely valuable collection of documentary evidence of the American Revolution has now been digitized.
For a life remembered as nothing short of remarkable, Colonel Tye’s somewhat nebulous death reads like an afterthought. Indeed, a footnote rather than a coda in a well-deserved symphony of life. Tye and the Black Brigade laid siege to the Colts Neck Inn, hoping to capture Joshua Huddy, a well-known Monmouth Militia leader infamous for the extralegal hangings of loyalists. After capturing Huddy following an hours-long siege, Tye and the Black Brigade rowed their prisoner across the Shrewsbury River when they were ambushed by the Monmouth Militia attempting to rescue Huddy. During the fight with the Monmouth Militia, or perhaps during the initial siege, Colonel Tye was shot in the wrist. Teachers can bring the death of Colonel Tye to life by having students examine a letter written by Nathaniel Scudder, in which he describes Tye’s injury.
Tye died shortly after sustaining the gunshot wound, likely succumbing to tetanus, though no documentary evidence survives. While the few remaining extant sources on Colonel Tye present opportunities for teachers and students to critically examine and contextualize part of his life, teachers can offer students secondary source readings from historians when discussing the legacy of Colonel Tye, such as Franklin Ellis, who wrote: “Like our forefathers, he fought for his liberty, which our ancestors unfortunately refused to give him.”
 For recent works that have examined Colonel Tye, see Douglas R. Egerton, Death of Liberty: African Americans and Revolutionary America, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009); James J. Gigantino, The Ragged Road to Abolition: Slavery and Freedom in New Jersey, 1775-1865, (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014); Joseph E. Wroblewski, “Colonel Tye: Leader of Loyalist Raiders and Runaway Slave,” Journal of the American Revolution, (2021); and Graham Russell Hodges, Root and Branch: African Americans in New York and East Jersey, 1613-1863, (Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 1999). Hodges has also written a local history of Monmouth County that investigates Colonel Tye. See Graham Russell Hodges, Slavery, and Freedom in the Rural North: African Americans in Monmouth County, New Jersey, 1665–1865, (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 1997).
 Wroblewski, “Colonel Tye: Leader of Loyalist Raiders and Runaway Slave.”
 Hodges, Slavery, and Freedom in the Rural North, 92.
 For further elaboration on “Refugee town,” see Hodges, Slavery, and Freedom in the Rural North, 98-100.
 For more on the “Black Brigade,” see Jonathan Sutherland, African Americans at War: An Encyclopedia, Volume 1, (Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, 2004), 420-421.
 Philip Papas, That Ever Loyal Island: Staten Island and the American Revolution, (New York: NYU Press, 2009), 97-98.
 The New Jersey History Partnership transcribed a copy of the runaway advertisement, “John Corlies’ Ad for Runaway Slave Titus, a.k.a. Col. Tye, 12 November 1775,” New Jersey History Partnership. While this transcription and some other sources uses the spelling “Corlies,” the runaway advertisement uses the spelling “Corlis.” Tye is referred to as “Titus” in this runaway advertisement, however, this article will use his chosen name of “Tye.”
 On “counter-reading” the archives as a historical methodology and the issue of archival silences, see Stephanie E. Smallwood, “The Politics of the Archive and History’s Accountability to the Enslaved,” History of the Present, Vol. 6, No. 2 (2016); Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History, (Boston, Massachusetts: Beacon Press Books, 1995); and Marisa J. Fuentes, Dispossessed Lives: Enslaved Women, Violence, and the Archive, (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016).
 For differing accounts, see Hodges, Slavery and Freedom, 104; Wroblewski, “Colonel Tye: Leader of Loyalist Raiders and Runaway Slave;” Sutherland, African Americans at War, 421; and Papas, That Ever Loyal Island, 97.
 Wroblewski, “Colonel Tye: Leader of Loyalist Raiders and Runaway Slave.”
 Franklin Ellis, The History of Monmouth County, New Jersey, (Philadelphia: R.T. Peck & Co., 1885), 114, in Wroblewski, “Colonel Tye: Leader of Loyalist Raiders and Runaway Slave.”
“Telling Our Story: Living in New Jersey Before andDuring the Revolution”
By Mr. David A. DiCostanzo, M.Ed, Social Studies Department Chair at Vineland High School North
Courtesy of the Lummis Library, Cumberland County (N.J.) Historical Society.
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.”  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.
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.
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.” 
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.”  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.  Reverend Philip Vickers Fithian life and family is the primary focus of this grant which includes a documentary and a couple of learning activities.
Courtesy of the Revolutionary War New Jersey Website
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.”
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.”  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.”  He clearly used the comfort of living in the country as a way of improving himself spirituality, emotionally, and intellectuality.
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.”  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.”  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.”  In fact, “local Quakers who, unlike Quakers in North Jersey, didn’t own slaves sold small plots of land to the free blacks.” 
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.”  The church still stands today as a reminder of those who helped guide African-Americans to freedom.
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.”  As his numerous journal entries and letters reveal, Reverend Philip Vickers Fithian died for the cause of liberty.
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.”  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
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.”  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.”  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:
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.  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 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.”  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.”
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.” 
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.”  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 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.”
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.” 
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.”  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.
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.”  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.”  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.
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.
The Real Historians of New Jersey: How to Connect with the Past in 170 Miles
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
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).
Poverty and Child Labor in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era New York City
John Louis Recchiuti
Why are people poor? What can be done to protect children who are growing up in impoverished households? These were central questions in Progressive Era New York City and across the country as they remain today. In this workshop your group will be assigned a particular perspective on poverty and child labor and develop arguments championing that perspective. You may find the perspective you are asked to argue to be precisely the opposite of your own view on the subject. The goal is to build-out elements in the debate so that we can gain insight into the public policy challenges surrounding poverty in turn-of-the-twentieth century New York City. Your final product will be testimony before “The New York City Commission on Poverty and Youth.” Your group’s testimony should be based on material provided in this package and any additional sources you wish to consult.
Group 1: ”The Undeserving Poor and the Deserving Poor”
Group 2: Family, Faith, Education, and Work — “No government assistance!”
Group 3: Our Responsibility as Consumers
Group 4: The Need for Mothers’ Pensions
Group 5: State Governments are the proper venue for laws against child labor and for child education.
Group 6: Federal Child Labor Laws must be Passed
Background: New York City History
Source: J. Recchiuti (2007). Civic Engagement: Social Science and Progressive-Era Reform in New York City. University of Pennsylvania Press.
At the turn of the twentieth century New York City had evolved from its early seventeenth century beginnings as a Dutch harbor-colony into an international center of finance, commerce, manufacture, and culture – competing on the world stage with London, Paris, and Berlin. The Brooklyn Bridge was completed in 1883. The Statue of Liberty, arrived from Paris, was installed in 1886. The Washington Arch at Washington Square Park went up in 1889. Carnegie Hall opened in 1893. The first subway line opened in 1904. And, the city rose vertically: the 1902 21-story steel-framed Flatiron Building was eclipsed in 1913 by the 60-story Woolworth Building. Henry Frick, Henry Phipps, the Vanderbilts, and Andrew Carnegie built mansions along Fifth Avenue. While, at the same time, many New Yorkers lived in squalor. Tens of thousands of New Yorkers lived in ill-lighted, overcrowded tenements, many without running water, flush toilets, or electricity.
New York City was, in these years, the world’s largest port, and served as the point of entry for many of the nation’s eighteen million immigrants in the quarter century before the First World War. By 1910, 87 percent of the 4,767,000 people in Greater New York were immigrants or the children of immigrants.
In today’s Gotham there are few factories, but in the early 1900s there were 30,000 manufacturers in the City, employing more than 600,000 workers, and New York City ranked first in the nation’s industrial output. The Lower East Side, around Rivington Street, was an immigrant hub, its immigrant population in the late 1880s and early 1890s mainly Germans, Poles, Russian Jews, and Rumanians. A young woman, Helen Moore, a volunteer among the poor, wrote in 1893 of “fermenting garbage in the gutter and the smell of stale beer” and “a long panorama of heart-rending sights”:
“Every window opens into a room crowded with scantily-clothed, dull-faced men and women sewing upon heavy woollen coats and trousers. They pant for air, the perspiration that drops from their foreheads is like life-blood, but they toil on steadily, wearily…. From a political, sanitary, and educational point of view it [the Tenth Ward] is the worst ward in the city, and social statistics offer no parallel in any city.”
The Lower East Side was, the urban historian Kenneth T. Jackson notes, “The most crowded neighborhood in the world.” It had only private charity — often from churches and synagogues – and some municipal sponsored free coal for heat. (Federal veterans’ pensions did supply aid for that fraction of the population who had served the Union army in the Civil War, but most of the city did not qualify.) In the long tradition of private or county-sponsored relief, places of confinement, such as prisons, orphanages, asylums, and almshouses sheltered those in need and in distress.
A. Poverty in the City
In 1910 in New York City, tens of thousands of children labored for pennies an hour in many the c. 12,000 tenement sweat-shops licensed by the state. “Our little kindergarten children at Greenwich House (located near Greenwich Village in lower Manhattan),” Mary Simkhovitch, the settlement’s founder and head resident, wrote, “go home from school to help make artificial flowers and as late as eleven o’clock at night we have found their baby fingers still fashioning the gay petals.”
Around the country, “Boys of 10 years were common in the blinding dust of coal breakers, picking slate with torn and bleeding fingers, or sweltering all night in the glare of the white-hot furnace of the glasshouse; the incarceration of little 10-year-old girls in the dust-laden cotton mills of the South or the silk mills of Pennsylvania for 12 hours a day was looked upon with approval or indifference; tobacco and cigarette factories, canneries, sweatshops, the street trades, and the night messenger service all took unchallenged too from schoolhouse, playground, or cradle.”
In 1904 Columbia University professor Henry Seager wrote, “It might be thought that considerations of common humanity would lead employers of children to fix hours and other conditions of employment that would not be injurious to them.” “Unfortunately,” “this is not the case,” he wrote. It was a “cruelty,” he said, “not only of employers, but even of [the children’s] own parents.”
New York City’s government was corrupt. Tammany Hall battled with reformers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (Tammany Hall was not vanquished until 1966). In a memorable example of corruption in city government a student in the Manhattan-based “Training School for Public Service” (founded in 1911) recounted his first assignment at the School:
“That assignment was to go to the City Hall and attend the meeting of the City Council; I was told to walk in and take my seat at the press table. I was a complete stranger in New York and had some difficulty in finding the City Hall and where the council met. The only thing the council did that morning was to discuss some routine matters and pass one resolution appropriating $25,000 for the paving of a certain street. I returned to the office of the [Training School] and handed in my report, thinking that the task was ended. The next morning my assignment was to locate that street and to see if it needed paving. The street was more difficult to find than the City Hall but I finally located it over on the east side. I found that it had never been paved. I made this report in writing, feeling that my task was ended. The next morning my assignment was to go to the city clerk’s office and search the records to see if the street had ever been paved before. I discovered that the street every year for 25 years had been paved.”
C. Children in the City
As in today’s New York City, children in the late 1800s and early 1900s had a broad range of experiences, experiences that often depended on their socio-economic class. Edwin Seligman, future Columbia professor of economics, was born and raised in Manhattan—the child of a wealthy German-Jewish family. Seligman was tutored as a child by the children’s author Horatio Alger, famous for his rags-to-riches stories–in which a poor but honest, industrious, and frugal lad finds himself, by dint of pluck and not a little luck, happy, married, and wealthy by story’s end. Seligman’s own family history, and his childhood experiences in New York City, in many ways mirrored Horatio Alger’s stories of childhood flourishing.
But in that same city, and in these same years, on streets near Greenwich Village, the social settlement activist Mary Kingsbury Simkhovitch wrote (in November 1903): ”A neighbor’s child was burned to death alone in a tenement house. A man was stabbed on election night by a drunken comrade. On Cornelia Street…the [Irish and Italian] Jones Street boys are fighting the colored boys nightly with one or two really serious results.” And, a “Jewish girl, sixteen years old,” was told by an employment agent that “she was going to a restaurant to work for two dollars a week and tips,” discovered that she was to be sent to a brothel instead. The girl was saved when an unidentified “assistant” paid ten dollars to the agency for her release.
“CHILD LABOR IN NEW YORK,” New York Times, January 12, 1903, pg. 8. A petition with numerous signers, many of them persons of experience and authority in such matters, has been submitted to the Legislature for amendments to the laws regulating child labor and providing for compulsory education. The chief complaint brought forward by the petitioners is that the two laws do not agree, and the discrepancies interfere with the enforcement of each. The compulsory education law, for instance, requires as to children of twelve years of age merely that they shall attend school eighty days. The child labor law requires that children shall not work until they are fourteen years of age. If the former law required compulsory schooling until fourteen, the enforcement of the latter, it is believed, would be much more practicable. On the other hand, an amendment to the school law requiring school attendance at an age earlier than eight, as at preset, would also help. Amendments are also proposed prohibiting vacation work for children of twelve, making the ten-hour limit strict without reference to shorter hours on Saturdays, including street work in the occupations forbidden under fourteen, requiring a child’s name when employed to appear on a pay roll, and requiring a certificate of ability to read and write as a condition of lawful employment. These, as we understand them, are the points made in the petition, but that document is loosely drawn and not easily interpreted. Probably amendments are needed to the laws. These should be carefully studied and collated by a competent lawyer, and such recommendations should be made perfectly clear to the Legislature.
Group 1:”The Undeserving Poor and the Deserving Poor”
You are assigned to give testimony to “The New York City Commission on Poverty and Youth.” Your group will explain its view that government does harm if it gets involved in aiding poor men and women whose poverty arises because they are “indolent” (lazy). Your group will refer to these men and women as “the undeserving poor.” You will report to the “Commission” as Mrs. Lowell and members of her Charity Organization Society of the late 1800s. You believe the “Undeserving Poor” must be offered jobs and not given “alms” (money). The poor need to learn the discipline of work, and private organizations such as the Charity Organization Society can help them get in the habit of work. Children who watch their parents work hard and take moral responsibility for their lives are likely themselves also to become responsible, hardworking citizens. Society needs to teach the underserving poor to take responsibility for their own lives. They must overcome their indolence, alcoholism, or drug dependency. The undeserving poor need to get a job!
Josephine Lowell founded the Charity Organization Society (COS) in the late nineteenth century. The COS sent “friendly visitors” into New York City’s poor neighborhoods. “Friendly visitors” used questionnaires to determine whether a poor man or woman deserved Charity Organization Society support. “Friendly visitors” went into apartments of the poor and asked questions. If the poor person was judged “undeserving” (that is, undeserving of being given money by the COS—for example, the “friendly visitor” might see evidence of alcohol or abuse) then the poor person would be refused alms.
Josephine Lowell said “recipients of alms become dependent, lose their energy, are rendered incapable of self-support, and what they receive in return for their lost character is quite inadequate to supply their needs; thus they are kept on the verge almost of death by the very persons who think they are relieving them.”
Josephine Lowell continued “It is the greatest wrong that can be done to him to undermine the character of a poor man–for it is his all”; “almsgiving and dolegiving are hurtful–therefore they are not charitable”; “the proof that dolegiving and almsgiving do break down independence, do destroy energy, do undermine character, may be found in the growing ranks of pauperism in every city, in the fact that the larger the funds given in relief in any community, the more pressing is the demand for them, and in the experience and testimony of all practical workers among the poor.” (NOTE the importance of this last sentence: Lowell is arguing that when we as a society give out money to those who won’t work—as ‘welfare’ or alms—we find that more and more (and ever more) money is demanded by them.
Lowell did fault “the pressure of the unjust social laws and legislative enactments which produce hardship and cause more people to become idlers than would otherwise be the case,” but, “the usual cause of poverty,” she wrote, “is to be found in some deficiency–moral, mental, or physical–in the person who suffers.”
The Charity Organization Society’s “Friendly Visitors” assessed the worthiness of each individual poor person who applied to it for aid, and also lectured the poor–and tried to find them jobs. The COS even hired many of the poor. Women deemed employable were sent to wash and iron at a Charity Organization Society laundry that opened in 1889 at 589 Park Avenue and moved to the Society’s Industrial Building at 516 West 28th Street in 1900. By the early 1900s the laundry was training eighty or ninety women a month. The system began first “over steaming wash-tubs, advances them to starching and ironing, and graduates them with a recommendation after thorough instruction in the ironing of filmy lace curtains and finest linen.”
The Charity Organization Society also opened a wood yard in 1884 on East 24th Street, where young men were sent to test their willingness to work. The Society sold tickets to the charitable for them to offer to street beggars in lieu of cash–each ticket entitled its bearer to a day’s work in the wood yard. Beggars who showed themselves willing to work were placed–as jobs became available–as domestic servants, factory workers, janitors and furnace men, messengers and delivery boys, porters, watchmen, drivers, dishwashers, bootblacks, and the like. The Charity Organization Society functioned, in this way, as an employment agency.
The Charity Organization Society did not content itself with its private activities but took public action against what it perceived as New York City’s indiscriminate charity. When the city persisted in distributing free coal to the poor (a practice it had begun in 1875), the COS lobbied legislators and the practice stopped. It even urged the municipal government to follow the European practice of giving lengthy prison sentences to vagrants and street beggars. And, when, in 1904, “a flurry of excitement over children who go breakfastless to school” created a movement to provide “free meals” at public expense, the Charity Organization Society opposed it in hearings before the city’s special committee of the Board of Education.
Two years later, another proposal was offered to “give eye-glasses to all for whom they were prescribed” among the city’s school children, and the Society took a stand against it as “’certainly unnecessary’“ “in view of the admitted ability of parents in the very great majority of all cases to take care of their own children.” Although, the COS was stern but not heartless: it would “supply the needs of any child” whose family was truly unable to feed them or buy eyeglasses. (And, to be fair to Lowell, by the end of the century she was, increasingly asserting the need for some government assistance to the poor.)
Group 2: Family, Faith, Education, and Work — “No government assistance!”
You are assigned to give testimony to “The New York City Commission on Poverty and Youth” from the following perspective. You will explain the view held by Columbia University political scientist John W. Burgess that poverty will best be addressed and curtailed through faith, family, education, and individual moral responsibility. John W. Burgess was a political conservative who believed, as he wrote in 1912: ”We dare not call anything progress . . . which contemplates . . . the expansion of governmental power.” He argued that “improvement and development of — the system of popular education, — revival of the influence of religion, –the restoration of a better family life, producing a more enlightened individual conscience and a more general conscientiousness would … be the truer way, the American way, the real progressive way of overcoming the claimed failure of our system.” In his writings, Burgess advocated government by the elite. “It is difficult to see why the most advantageous political system, for the present, would not be a democratic state with an aristocratic government, provided only the aristocracy be that of real merit, and not of artificial qualities. If this be not the real principle of the republican form of government then I must confess that I do not know what its principle is.”
Burgess also held racist ideas. He believed “Teutonic nations are particularly endowed with the capacity for establishing national states . . . they are intrusted [sic], in the general economy of history, with the mission of conducting the political civilization of the modern world.” In a book on Reconstruction after the Civil War he wrote “black skin means membership in a race of men which has never of itself succeeded in subjecting passion to reason, has never, therefore, created any civilization of any kind.”
Group 3: Our Responsibility as Consumers
Your Group is assigned to give testimony to “The New York City Commission on Poverty and Youth,” from the perspective that each of us as consumers can end poverty by buying goods and services made by workers being paid a living wage. This means buying from stores, farms, and manufacturers that pay a living (good/high) wage to employees — and from employers who do not hire children. If we will each buy goods and services made by workers (especially unionized workers) we can, by our individual shopping habits, reduce poverty among the working class–and end child labor (because working adults will be earning a living wage and will be able to afford to send their kids to school instead of into the factories to earn money to supplement parents’ low wages). Your group will argue from the perspective of Florence Kelley’s National Consumers’ League headquartered in New York City.
Under Kelley’s leadership the Consumers’ League worked against industrial sweatshops and against sweated labor in tenements, it sought an end to child labor, and to excessive hours and night work for women. In 1904 the League published a “Standard Child Labor Law” intended as a model for uniform laws across the country. A “Consumers’ League label” was affixed to articles “made under conditions approved by the League” and the League published a “White List” (the reverse of a blacklist) of recommended retail stores, where working conditions were, by League standards, fair. Kelley also championed state and federal minimum wage laws, and laws to regulate hours of labor, but she urged that we, individually, as consumers must also do our part by buying goods made by workers paid a living wage.
In 1907, Florence Kelly argued “An association of persons who in making their purchases strives to further the welfare of those who make or distribute the things bought. The act of shopping seems to many trivial and entirely personal, while in reality it exerts a far reaching, oft-repeated influence for good or evil.” Kelley also wrote “the interest of the community demands that all workers should receive, not the lowest wages, but fair living wages . . . Responsibility for debilitating workplace conditions “rests with the consumers who persist in buying in the cheapest markets regardless of how cheapness is brought about.”
Frances Perkins, secretary of the New York branch of the Consumers’ League and later United States Secretary of Labor in Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s administration), wrote “The Consumers’ League is an organization of persons who wish to improve the industrial conditions by utilizing the shopping power, the buying power of the consumers, who are banded together, that is, by pledging themselves in their shopping to do their buying in such a way as to improve conditions, rather than make them worse.”
According to Florence Kelley pensions would “lift the burden from the widowed mother by giving her, as her right and not as the dole of a private charity…an allowance out of public funds on condition that she stay in her home and keep her children at home and in school.” Jean M. Gordon, a National Child Labor Committee member, wrote in The Child Labor Bulletin: “I contend it is just as much the duty of the State to pension dependent mothers as dependent veterans. Certainly the mother does as much for the country in rearing her children as the veterans did in killing her sons!”
Group 4: The Need for Mothers’ Pensions
“Public aid would have to be administered with intelligence and care,” Mary Simkhovitch wrote in an essay, “Women’s Invasion of the Industrial Field.” “But the difficulty of developing the technique of such a plan is not to be compared with the difficulty the state will meet through the inadequate care of families.”
Your group will give testimony to “The New York City Commission on Poverty and Youth” explaining that mothers in single-headed households (households in which a father is not present) must be provided with money from New York City and New York State so that these mothers can feed, clothe, and shelter their children. In the early twentieth century the term “pension” was used in the context of giving people state tax dollars — there were, for example, Civil War Pensions in which former Union soldiers from the Civil War were given old age pensions. Your group will urge the Commission to create a system of Mothers’ Pensions (money the state will give single moms to help them raise their children). Your positions is that private charity organizations alone simply cannot feed and clothe all needy children.
Group 5: State Governments are the proper venue for laws against child labor and for child education.
In your testimony to “The New York City Commission on Poverty and Youth,” you will argue that individual states, not the federal government, must pass laws to regulate child labor. You are in agreement with Edgar Murphy and his allies that child labor laws are the responsibility of individual state governments only. Edgar Murphy’s argument was grounded in federalism. Federalism is the view that powers not granted by the Constitution to the Federal government are powers that are retained by individual state governments. Since the regulation of child labor was not listed in the U.S. Constitution as a power of the Federal government, Child Labor must fall under the regulatory power of individual State governments.
Edgar Murphy was an Episcopal minister from the South and the first secretary of the National Child Labor Committee. In 1903, Murphy wrote “The conditions of industry vary so greatly and so decisively from state to state and from locality to locality that the enactment of a federal child labor law, applicable to all conditions and under all circumstances, would be inadequate if not unfortunate.”
Murphy claimed he was “interested in the question of child labor, not merely because I have photographed children of six and seven years whom I have seen at labor in our factories for twelve and thirteen hours a day, not merely because I have seen them with their little fingers mangled by machinery and their little bodies numb and listless with exhaustion, but because I am not willing that our economic progress should be involved in such conditions; and because . . . I am resolved to take my part, however humbly, in the settling of the industrial character of our greatest industry . . . I believe that an intelligent moral interest in the conditions of the factory, and the jealous guarding of its ethical assumptions, will minister not merely to the humanity of its standards and the happiness of its operatives, but to the dignity, currency and value of its properties.”
Group 6: Federal Child Labor Laws must be Passed
Your group will testify to “The New York City Commission on Poverty and Youth” that a Federal Child Labor law is needed. You will advise the Commission to support passage of the Keating-Owen Child Labor Bill, a 1916 bill that would regulate child labor from the federal level by forbidding the interstate shipment of products of child labor.
Samuel McCune Lindsay, Professor of Social Legislation at Columbia University argued at the 1911 National Child Labor Committee conference: ”Is it not our duty to seek for greater uniformity in the protection of working children, so that the children of all states may enjoy the same rights to a normal childhood, to life, education and leisure, to a time for play, a chance to grow and an opportunity to develop their best abilities whether they are raised in Alabama or Pennsylvania, in Georgia or Massachusetts, in Texas or Ohio? It is precisely to promote and secure this equality of opportunity for all American children that we are organized as a National Child Labor Committee [and therefore a FEDERAL LAW making child labor illegal is needed].”