Welcome to New Jersey: Crossroads of the Revolution

The fate of every country is largely determined by its geography. The same was true for each of the thirteen colonies. New Jersey had fertile land for farming, raw materials to build homes, ships, and weapons, and was located on the Atlantic Ocean, opening it to trade. It soon found itself between the two largest and most important cities in the colonies, New York City and Philadelphia. It was right in the middle of all the colonies, and when war broke out, the small colony found itself in the middle of a revolution. So despite what many people think, the Garden State (or Garden colony?) actually played a large part in early American history.

As most people know, the first battles of the war were fought in Massachusetts. After losing, the British moved a large number of redcoats by sea to New York City and easily captured it. George Washington and his army retreated north to White Plains, and were again defeated. Thus began a journey southwest across New Jersey, ending with Washington fleeing across the Delaware River to Pennsylvania.

The war was at a low point in the winter of 1776-77. Washington had suffered embarrassing defeats and his army, camped in Pennsylvania, was dwindling by the day, with many dying of sickness. Many of their enlistments were about to run out, and they would surely want to go home. Washington knew he needed a major victory. On Christmas Day, 1776, he made preparations to attack Trenton. The next morning, his army landed a few miles away from the city. They marched towards their target and took the Hessian troops completely by surprise. The Hessians surrendered. The Colonial troops suffered almost no casualties and gained valuable supplies.

The British were stunned by Washington’s victory at Trenton. They sent General Cornwallis to Princeton to gather forces for a counter-attack. He marched on Trenton with 6000 men, leaving a few regiments behind to defend Princeton (Valis, "New Jersey During the Revolution"). The men took up positions around Trenton for the night, deciding to wait until morning to attack. Washington left a few men behind to make noise and act like a large force, while he and the bulk of his men snuck around the British to attack Princeton. They attacked the town, forcing the troops there to surrender, and faced with attack on their rear by Cornwallis, retreated north to Somerset Court House (now Millstone).

There were smaller battles following this, including the Battle of Bound Brook and the Battle of Short Hills in April and June 1777, respectively. In the fall of 1777, forts along the Delaware River in New Jersey tried in vain to defend Philadelphia, and the city eventually fell to the British.

In May 1778, the British were greatly concerned over the French coming to the colonies and capturing important cities. Thus General Clinton, who was in charge of the British Army in Philadelphia, was ordered to move his army to New York City, the most strategically important city in the colonies. The British had a tough time moving due to the warm and wet weather, so the Colonial troops decided to take advantage. Washington moved his army across the Delaware River and met the British near Monmouth Court House. The heat was sweltering, and more troops died from exhaustion than enemy fire. In the end, the British made it north to New York, but with heavy losses, so the largest land battle of the war is considered an American victory.

On June 6th, 1780, Hessian General Knyphausen left Staten Island with an army of 6,000 Hessians, British, and Loyalists, and landed in northern New Jersey. They moved through Elizabethtown towards Morristown. New Jersey militia caught them in Connecticut Farms (now known as Union) the next day. The militiamen chased the enemy all the way back to Elizabethtown. On June 23rd, Knyphausen moved into Springfield. His British/Hessian forces burned most of the town to the ground and escaped to Staten Island. The battle of Springfield was "one of the larger battles of the war, for numbers of troops involved, yet least known" (Valis, "New Jersey During the Revolution").

The Colonies didn’t have much of a navy, but there were privately owned ships that attacked British shipping. The men who owned these ships were called "privateers" (basically a polite way to say "pirate"), who would leave the ports of southern Jersey in their whaling boats, sail up towards New York, capture British merchant ships, and sell their contents. The privateers made a good living this way, and they also helped keep the British from getting vital supplies.

The Revolutionary War ended on September 3, 1783 when the Treaty of Paris was signed. Many battles had been fought on New Jersey’s soil, and many Jerseyans had died defending their new country.

Bibliography

Cunningham, John T. New Jersey: America’s Main Road. Garden City, NY: Doubleday Company, 1966.

"United States-American Revolution." Encyclopedia Americana, 1951 ed.

Post, Todd. "New Jersey In the Revolution."
http://people.csnet.net/dpost/ (24 April 2000)

Valis, Glen. "New Jersey During the Revolution."
http://www.eclipse.net/~gvalis/ggv/NJrev/NJrev.html (24 April 2000)

Note: both of those links now appear to be defunct. This is a paper I wrote in 8th grade.

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