July 1, 2016

The Crossroads of the American Revolution

  • By: Katharine Keane

Often referred to as the “Crossroads of the American Revolution,” New Jersey played a critical role in the Revolutionary War as one of the original 13 colonies to revolt against the British. Due to its location between Britain’s stronghold in New York and the Patriot headquarters in Philadelphia, New Jersey was the setting for multiple key battles during the war as well as the home to much of the Continental Army.

In the Summer 2016 issue of Preservation magazine, you will learn about the recent restoration of one of General Washington’s headquarters in Passaic County, New Jersey, but this is only one of almost 100 historic sites around the state related to the American Revolution.

We put together a list of some of these places that you can still visit that will satisfy both the history buff and the adventurer in you.

Morristown National Historical Park

Established in 1933 under the guidance of the National Park Service, Morristown National Historical Park is made up of various Revolutionary War-related sites in Morris County, New Jersey. This region served as the winter encampment for George Washington and the Continental Army during the 1779-80 winter and still welcomes visitors today.

Ford Mansion, an early 1770s Georgian home built by the Ford family, served as Washington’s personal headquarters during his stay in the Morristown area. Widower Theodosia Ford moved with her four children into two of the mansion’s rooms while the General, along with Martha Washington and almost two dozen others, occupied the rest of the space.

While Washington resided in what was considered one of the finest houses in the area, the troops and lower-level leaders set up camp in the nearby Jockey Hollow. Many of the 2,000 soldiers from the Pennsylvania Brigade constructed log cabins throughout the area. Major General Arthur St. Clair took over the circa 1750 Cape Cod-style Wick House also in the area. Henry Wick’s 1,400 acre forest-covered farm attracted the army looking for land and resources to build camp and stay for the winter months.

photo by: drpavloff/Flickr/CC BY-NC 2.0

Following the Revolution, New Jersey and New York disputed who had the rights to the lighthouse.

Sandy Hook Light

Known as the oldest surviving lighthouse in the United States, Sandy Hook Light was first illuminated in 1764, 11 years before the onset of the Revolutionary War. By 1776 the conflict was in full swing and talk of a British invasion of New York City and its surrounding areas became more concerning. In an effort to negate the lighthouse’s use guiding ships into New York City’s harbor, Patriot Major William Malcolm was dispatched to remove items vital to the lighthouses functioning—copper lamps, tackle falls and blocks, and casks of oil. With this task accomplished, the Continental army left the lighthouse unprotected. However, in April of that year a British party settled on the peninsula of Sandy Hook.

Following a series of skirmishes, by May of 1776 the lighthouse and the peninsula were firmly under the control of the British Army and would remain so until the end of the war in 1783. In an effort to challenge the British troops, the Continental troops carried out a series of attacks on the lighthouse, damaging the exterior with cannonball fire.

Batsto Village

Located inside the boundaries of Wharton State Forest, Batsto Village is a National Register-listed site that dates from the mid-18th century. Its founding is credited to ironmaster Charles Read who reportedly opened an iron workshop along the Batsto River where bog ore was plentiful, trees for charcoal abounded, and water flowed for power and transportation.

Batsto Iron Works, then under the leadership of John Cox and later Joseph Ball, would eventually provide the munitions and other supplies for the Continental Army during the war. General George Washington commissioned firebacks from Batsto for some of the fireplaces in his Mount Vernon estate where they are still on display.

Today, over 40 of the original structures remain including the Batsto Mansion, which now reflects changes made in the 1870s and 80s by then-owner Joseph Warton of Philadelphia. Many of the changes made reflect the Victorian-style preferences of the time and likely cost around $40,000. You can still visit buildings such as an 1828 gristmill, the General Store—today a museum—which opened in 1784, and the 1852 Batsto Post Office.

photo by: Steve Elgersma/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Damage from cannon fire is still visible on the exterior of Nassau Hall.

Nassau Hall at Princeton University

The Battle of Princeton began on January 3, 1777 and is now considered one of the pivotal battles of the war as George Washington’s forces defeated the British militia. After marching north from Trenton, Washington and his army finally claimed victory at a nearby farm, but the conflict ultimately ended at Nassau Hall on the campus of the College of New Jersey (today, Princeton University).

When Nassau Hall was constructed in 1756, it was the largest stone building in the American colonies. Throughout the American Revolution it served as quarters for both the American and British troops. But by the time of the Battle of Princeton, the building was occupied by British troops who, according to legend, finally surrendered when an incoming American cannonball decapitated a portrait of King George II hanging in the Hall.

Six years later Nassau Hall would again host Washington as he announced his resignation as the head of the Continental Army at the Continental Congress of 1783. Nassau Hall was named a National Historic Landmark in 1960 and today houses administrative offices for the university.

Exterior of the Rockingham from 1930s

photo by: Library of Congress/HABS NJ, 18-ROHI, 1-2

Rockingham circa 1936 in its Rocky Hill location.

VIiw of Rockingham Historic Site from driveway

photo by: Doug Kerr/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

The house was moved for a third and final time in 2001 and reopened to the public in 2004.

Rockingham Historic Site

As the war came to a close, the Continental Congress requested that Washington stay in the Princeton area. Located just four miles from the university sat an early 18th-century farmhouse and estate of widower Margaret Berrien. Though the property was up for sale, Washington agreed to pay for a monthly rental fee. By August of 1783, George and Martha Washington, with a small retinue of guards and servants, had moved into the Rockingham house and would remain until the end of that year. As Washington’s final wartime headquarters, it was at Rockingham that the general wrote his farewell orders.

Though the structure was relocated on three separate occasions after Washington’s stay, today, in its permanent location, it is again within four miles of Princeton University and remains under the supervision of the NJ Parks & Forestry branch.

Katharine Keane is a former editorial assistant at Preservation Magazine. She enjoys getting lost in new cities, reading the plaques at museums, and discovering the next great restaurant.

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