Revolution




The Shot Heard Around the World

At around 10:00 p.m. on April 25, 1775, a rider galloped into Woodbridge with stunning news. Provincial American militiamen had attacked a column of British Army regulars outside of Boston. They had taken on the strongest military force in the world—and had won. It had actually been a series of skirmishes. A troop of 700 British soldiers had left Boston to seize and destroy colonial military supplies stored at Concord, Massachusetts, but militia leaders got wind of the plan and had already moved them to other locations. Warnings of the troop movements were spread by messenger riders, including Paul Revere. Patriot forces were prepared and initiated a series of rolling attacks on the British as they retreated the 18 miles from Concord, through Lexington, and on to Charlestown Neck across from Boston. Known as the Battle of Lexington and Concord, it became the first military engagement of the American War for Independence.

The battles had taken place over the course of the day on April 19th, but news of the development could only travel as fast as a horse could gallop. The Sons of Liberty had first been organized to coordinate resistance to the Stamp Act and other measures (see below). They established a network of Committees of Correspondence throughout the colonies on the suggestion of Samuel Adams as a means to spread news and intelligence. The first descriptions of the battles was not written until April 24, 1775 by John Lockwood of Wallingford, Connecticut. Once in the network, however, the news spread quickly, committee to committee, representatives of each signing off with the date and time they received it before passing it along to the next. By 3:00 p.m. on the 25th, word had reached New York City and  by 7:00 p.m. Elizabethtown, NJ. It arrived at Woodbridge by 10:00 p.m., Tuesday, April 25, 1775. It was signed by three members of their Committee: Nathaniel Heard, Samuel Franklin Parker (James Parker's son), and Jonathan Clawson.

How had things come to such violence? 

  Empire, Taxes & Tea

Empire

From England's perspective the North American colonies existed solely to benefit the mother country. They provided the raw materials to drive manufacturing and maintain the British imperial presence on the continent. They were to be kept sociopolitically and economically dependent, even as their population and territory grew greater. England's main rival for dominance was France, leading to a series of conflicts between 1688 and 1763. The last of these, the French and Indian War of 1754 to 1763, was concluded by the Treaty of Paris by which France ceded all lands east of the Mississippi River to Great Britain, securing England's colonies in America and opening vast territories.

Taxes


The war in America was a front in the global Seven Year's War of 1756 to 1763, which by its conclusion had nearly doubled Great Britain's national debt, leaving the Crown seeking ways of raising revenues. It was not thought unreasonable to expect the American colonies to pay their share of the debt since France's withdrawal made them more secure. Among the measures taken was the Sugar Act of 1764 and Stamp Act of 1765. The first taxed sugar and the second put a tax on all paper used for everything from newspapers to playing cards. The paper was stamped to show the tax had been paid (left). The American colonies were used to taxes levied by their elected provincial legislatures but resented one imposed by Parliament in London where they had no representation. After robust protests, boycotts, and civil unrest, the Acts were repealed by 1766, only to be replaced by other taxes. Woodbridge printer James Parker had ambitions of opening yet another shop in the capital of West Jersey, Burlington—and starting what would have been the colony's first newspaper. These plans were scuttled by the Stamp Act, however, which he likened to "a Killing Frost."

The Townshend Acts

Between 1767 and 1768, a series of five acts of Parliament were passed, first proposed by Charles Townshend (right, 1725-1767), Chancellor of the Exchequer responsible for all economic and financial matters. In addition to taxes on glass, lead, painters' colors, paper, and tea, there were Acts intending to raise the salaries of royal governors and judges to secure loyalty to Great Britain, tighten restrictions on trade, and effectively punish New York for failing to failing to comply with the 1765 Quartering Act. Overall, the Acts were designed to keep the American colonies subservient to England and assert Parliament's right to impose laws on them despite lack of representation. The Townshend Acts are considered among the main causes of the American Revolution, further aggravating the simmering resentments of many colonists until they boiled over into boycotts, riots, and a growing movement towards independence. It was only a matter of time before the situation degraded to active revolt and war. Though Prime Minister Lord North attempted a partial repeal, events were finally overtaken by the escalating violence with the Boston Massacre which coincidentally took place March 5, 1770, the same day repeal was proposed. 

Tea

One of the more effective protests against taxes had been boycotts. When woven cloth was taxed, colonists took to weaving their own "homespun" clothing. Though not the height of fashion, wearing such garments became a badge of loyalty to the Patriot cause. Similarly, a 1773 tax on tea made eschewing the beverage also a patriotic act. This may have been hard to give up, as Woodbridge had a long love of the drink. In 1730, the first tea brought into New Jersey was said to have been imported from New York by the widow Cutter, who invited some of her lady friends to her home (left) to try it. The first step was to work out how how to prepare it. They settled on steeping it in hot water in a tankard and enjoyed cakes between sips. While the verdict was favorable, after 1773, tea was considered obnoxious to Patriot tastes. 

  Woodbridge at War





Jersey Blues

The first settlers had organized volunteer militias to provide for the common defense against Native Americans who came down from New York and Pennsylvania and sometimes harassed and stole from them. The founder and first commander of the first militia regiment in New Jersey was Captain Francis Drake (1615-1687) who served from 1673 to 1685. Units were organized at Piscataway, Woodbridge, and Perth Amboy. Fifty-four men from Woodbridge took the oath to join in 1673.

Later named the 1st New Jersey Regiment, they were nicknamed the "Jersey Blues" after their blue of their uniforms. They served the crown until 1775 when they were raised to serve in the Continental Army. Elements of the regiment, including many men from Woodbridge, served in campaigns in all theaters throughout the war. Over a hundred men from Woodbridge are known to have served the Patriot cause in the American Revolution, including many with family names still familiar around the Township.

When the British were forced out of Boston in March of 1775, they first retreated to Halifax, Nova Scotia. General Washington believed they would next invade New York City and sent the Continental Army there in anticipation. British forces instead invaded Staten Island and used it as the staging ground for invading into New York.

In June of 1776, residents of Woodbridge and Perth Amboy were alarmed to witness 140 British ships crowding into the Arthur Kill and landing some 9,300 Red Coats on Staten Island's shores. This was the beginning of the invasion of Long Island later that August. By September, the defeated Continental Army had been driven back to New York City and then into the Bronx and Westchester. 

Captain Natty

Known to his men as "Captain Natty," Nathaniel FitzRandolph (1747-1780) served during the Revolution as a Captain in the Middlesex County Militia, seeing action in the Battle of Long Island and led raids into Staten Island. Returning to Woodbridge after such a raid in February 1779, he was the victim of a retaliatory raid by English troops who snuck into the town under cover of dark, taking FitzRandolph prisoner around 3:00 in the morning. He held as a prisoner of war in British-controlled New York before being exchanged on May 26, 1780 for a Captain Jones of the British Army. It was reported FitzRandolph had been ill-treated by his captors.

He participated in the Battle of Springfield on June 23, 1780, where he was mortally wounded. According to a contemporary newspaper report, he died the next day from "a wound he received the preceding Friday in pursuing the enemy on their retreat from Springfield. The ball entered his left arm, below the shoulder, penetrated his body, and came out at the right breast."

Described in his obituary as "that Patriot and terror to the abettors of tyranny," he was buried in the graveyard behind the First Presbyterian Church of Woodbridge. His grave marker (left) appears to bear scars allegedly from musket-shots.

In 2015, metal detectorist Capt. Stephen Picken discovered four projectiles within a few feet of the FitzRandolph grave marker, shown at right. The top middle and top right artifacts appear to be .69 caliber round balls that were used in the British-made Brown Bess muskets. That at the top left looks to be smaller perhaps an example of the .50 caliber ammunition used in pistols. The artifact at the bottom is the strangest. It has the shape and ridges of a Minié bullet, however, conical bullets did not appear until the late 1820s and the Minié ball was not invented until 1847. It postdates the American Revolution and may have been unrelated to any shooting at the FitzRandolph marker. It also appears to be flattened, perhaps being deformed by impact with a stone or other hard surface. Other items were discovered by Capt. Picken, including a a 1666 hand-hammered Spanish "cob" coin and a William III half-penny!

[Image courtesy Suzanne Moller, Historian and Archivist, First Presbyterian Church, Woodbridge, NJ.]

Joseph Bloomfield

Joseph Bloomfield (right, 1753-1823) became a physician in Woodbridge, like his father, Moses. However, he also studied law, being admitted to the bar in 1775, and began his law practice in Bridgeton, NJ. At the outbreak of war, he entered the Continental Army as captain of the 3rd New Jersey Regiment on February 9, 1776, advancing to major on November 28, 1776, as well as being appointed judge advocate of the northern army. He was wounded at the Battle of Brandywine in September 1777. He resigned from the Army on October 28, 1778 when he was elected clerk of the New Jersey General Assembly.

Following the war, Bloomfield led Federal and New Jersey state troops to put down the 1794 Whiskey Rebellion. he served as Mayor of Burlington, New Jersey from 1795 to 1800.

At the start of the War of 1812, Bloomfield was commissioned as a brigadier general in the United States Army on March 13, 1812. He served until June 15, 1815 along the Canada-US border. 

Heard's Brigade


Early in 1776, the New Jersey Militia, under Colonel Nathaniel Heard (left, 1730-1792) of Woodbridge, was ordered to take about 500 men to Long Island to disarm dissenting Loyalists. While encamped in New York City, he was promoted to brigadier general. His brigade, composed of sixteen companies of 160 officers and 1762 enlisted men, took part in Washington’s evacuation of New York City on September 12, 1776.

Among the troops were men from Woodbridge, including James Parker's son, Samuel Franklin Parker (c.1745-1779). When Heard was promoted to brigadier general, Parker advanced from captain to major. On October 4, 1776, he served as head of a court martial that acquitted an army wagon master accused of "abusing" a civilian. The rigors of army life appear to have ruined Parker's health. He served out his enlistment as Deputy Mustermaster for New Jersey before returning to Woodbridge, where he died December 6, 1779 of "a long and painful indisposition." He was just 34 years-old.

  Plunder and Burning


Crossroads

The Woodbridge area has long been a geographical crossroads, so it is not surprising that it suffered harassment by British and Hessian troops passing through. In November 1776, British forces marching from Piscataway to New Brunswick burned buildings and pillaged supplies from Woodridge. Following the Battle of Short Hills in June 1777, British forces retreated through Woodbridge to Perth Amboy, again harassing the population. Some 244 families were plundered and 40 buildings - houses, barns, mills, etc. - were put to the torch. The home of Samuel Franklin Parker was burned to the ground. This was mistakenly described in the 20th century as the burning his his late father's printing shop. Postwar damage claims filed by Samuel's widow, however, do not support this. From December 2, 1776 to June 22, 1777, Woodbridge was essentially occupied by enemy forces. Woodbridge was the site of 13 skirmishes between December 11, 1776 and March 31, 1777

Loyalists

Not all Woodbridge citizens sided with the revolutionaries, of course. Ebenezer Foster, for example, had been a man of respectable standing in the community, serving as a vestryman for Trinity Church, a trustee of Free School Lands, a Justice of the Peace, a Judge of both the Middlesex County Court of Oyer and Terminer and the Court of Common Pleas. His sympathies, however, lay with the British Empire, causing his arrest in 1775. He then fled to Staten Island, leaving behind his property to be confiscated and sold off in 1780. In many ways, the American Revolution was a civil war that caused bitter rifts between families and friends. The best-known example was the estrangement of Benjamin Franklin and his son William, last Royal Governor of New Jersey. During a dramatic final meeting at the Proprietary House in neighboring Perth Amboy, each man attempted unsuccessfully to sway the other to their side.

The breakdown of civil authority in a warzone is often fertile ground for the criminally-inclined. A June 20, 1782 report described the death of William Clarke, "shot somewhere in the vicinity of Woodbridge." Since autumn of 1776, he had stolen over a hundred horses from Monmouth County and other places in New Jersey and then sold them to the British in New York City and Long Island. He eluded capture for some five years until lured into an ambush. A fake letter from an accomplice told him of two fine horses tied up in a Woodbridge field - near enough to Staten Island they could be easily spirited away for easy sale. When Clarke arrived at the designated place and time, he was shot down.

Heroines

Many stories can be found of alleged heroism by Patriot women. While there is no doubt many women suffered and sacrificed as much as any man, such stories are often variations on the same themes of a woman or even a girl capturing an enemy soldier, suggesting either invented or embellished stories spread as Patriot propaganda. Woodbridge has its own such tale, dating from an April 16, 1777 account. An unnamed young woman was passing by an evacuated Woodbridge house and spied through a window a drunken Hessian soldier who strayed from his unit. With no men around, she went home, donned men's clothing and grabbed an old firelock gun, and returned to take the inebriated man prisoner. Leading him off at gunpoint, she fell in with a detachment of patrolling New Jersey Regiment guards and proudly delivered her prisoner to them. 

Janet Pike Gage's Liberty Pole

Janet Pike (1755-1821) was descended from among Woodbridge's "first families." Among her relatives was nephew Zebulon Pike of Pikes Peak fame. She married Phillip Gage, who was a Loyalist, joining the British Army. Janet, however, had Patriot sympathies. After her husband's property was confiscated, she was allowed to purchase it back. While many women and children fled for safety to the hills around Plainfield and Basking Ridge, Janet Gage remained at her home on 53 acres of Strawberry Hill.


A local story is that after the war ended, Janet Pike Gage erected a Liberty Pole before the Cross Keys Tavern (then owned by John Manning). An African American servant named Joe cut, carted, and with her assistance set the pole up. The tradition of the Liberty Pole dates back to the assassination of Roman dictator Julius Caesar in 44 B.C. and symbolized freedom from tyranny. During the American Revolution, it became a symbol of dissent and poles were erected throughout the colonies. The story of Janet Gage often presumes the pole doubled as a flagpole, flying  "stars and stripes" for the first time over Woodbridge. While this is not known for certain, it was not uncommon for the time, so it is plausible.

Philip Gage died at age 37 in 1780 and was buried in the Methodist Church graveyard on Main Street. Janet Gage died in 1821 at age 73 and was buried next to him (along with son Thomas, who died at age 22). The family plot with a Tory and a Patriot side-by-side is a poignant reminder of the very human dramas of the period.