New Jersey is called the crossroads of the American Revolution, because it held a key geographical position at the center of the new nation, and the armies were in or crossing it throughout the war. It was heavily involved in the fighting, due to the troop movements through the state, and its key geographic position between New York City and Philadelphia. New Jersey had more engagements than any other state during the war, closely followed by South Carolina.
Major actions in the state include:
Washington's troops crossed NJ from NY in 1776, chased by the British after the fall of NY to the British . In late Dec, 1776 to mid Jan 1777, he in turn chased the British out of most of NJ. See THE BATTLES OF TRENTON and PRINCETON, and the NJ Militia during the Revolution. November through December, 1776, is called the Crisis of the Revolution because it seemed the American army could not stand against the British, and the support for the Revolution came to a low ebb, until Washington reversed the military and political situation by the victories in Trenton and Princeton. During the Crisis, NJ, like many states, did not always perform well. The militia in large part refused to turn out to fight with Washington, many began to refuse to accept Continental paper money, and hundreds a day went to the British to sign allegiance papers. Much of this was caused by the poor showing of the Army, which had performed sometimes poorly in the Battles for New York. All the states at that time found support for the revolution decreasing. Still, some militia men resisted the British, such as the ones who ambushed Cornet Geary and his dragoons, south of Flemington, in mid Dec. of 1776. After these battles, the militia came out strong and defended the state well-see The Battle of Millstone for an example of what they did after the Battle of Princeton.
Many people at the time in NJ were "disaffected" as they called it- Tories and loyalist who supported the King. The revolution was actually a civil war, neighbor against neighbor, and it took years after the war to settle the old hatreds. The patriots looted the Tories, raided their strongholds, confiscated their lands, homes and businesses under the treason acts. The Loyalists returned the treatment whenever possible,and paid them back with interest, and passed information to the British about the rebels. Sometimes a father would have one son in one army and an other in the opposing camp in an effort to play both sides and keep his property no matter what the outcome of the war.
The British and their Hessian troops who entered the state to crush the rebellion were brutal in their habits, stealing, looting and raping, both patriots and loyalist. This later worked against them, since it seemed to many Jerseyians better to have local leaders than to trust to British protection after that horrible experience.
In the fall of 1777, the Lower Delaware River was held for a time against the British fleet from the Jersey shore, in the Delaware River Defense at Forts Mifflin and Mercer. In 1778 when the British abandoned Philadelphia, they crossed through NJ again, and Washington engaged them, and won, at Monmouth Court House.
The American army spent two winters at Morristown (see the Morristown site)(see the NPS site:Jockey Hollow National Park) in 1777, and again in 1779-80. Washington passed the winter of '78-'79 in MIDDLEBROOK, between Somerville and Bound Brook. In the winter of '81-82, some units were again posted at Morristown, and the lack of pay and supplies lead to two mutinies, one by the Pennsylvania troops there, and one by the NJ troops in Elizabethtown. Many times various armies passed through the state, on the way to New York, or Philadelphia, or upstate New York. The French allies marched through with the American forces on the way to Yorktown, and again on the way to New England to ship home.
In an attempt to open the route to Washington in the Watchung mountains in July of 1780, The British attacked the Americans around Springfield twice, the 2nd being one of the larger, but least mentioned battles of the war. The British were stopped at the foothills, and the Americans never understood what they hoped to accomplish. At this battle the militia came out strongly to support Washington's troops and were an important factor in the British withdrawal. This was the last of the battles between the armies in NJ. Raids continued throughout the war, especially by Loyalists from British held Staten Island and New York City.
Raids by loyalist units and from British held Staten Island, and against them in return, were common throughout the war. See Poor Twist- the death of a soldier. After the battle of Yorktown in Virginia, the regular troops just watched each other, but the bitter struggle between loyalist and patriot groups continued, and the hatred between sides remained high even after the war.
NJ made important contributions of war material such as raw iron and worked iron, including field pieces, muskets, and shot, salt, gunpowder, and cloth. Manufacturing had been prohibited by the British, and these were new and vital industries that were started.
New Jersey has a long sea coast with many small bays and small ports. During the Revolution they became important points for shipping since NYC was held by the British, and Philadelphia was held for a time. Both commercial shipping and privateers out to capture British shipping based themselves in NJ, and British losses to NJ privateers was a constant sore spot. Occasionally, the British would raid a small port, or supply loyalist units from one. Ships were built along the ocean and Delaware rivers for use against the British. The fighting force of the United States fleet, and State ships was small, but the effect of the commerce raiding on British merchantmen was an important factor in winning the war. Many sea battles were fought in N.J. ocean waters. The small towns along the shore were raided much like the Neutral Ground. They were accessible by water, provided various materials to the revolution, such as salt, and raided the British, so were targeted.
Through the war, with New York City held by the British, the surrounding areas near water were "The Neutral Ground", a no-mans land held by neither side and raided by both. The Americans could only patrol the area and post sentries to warn of attacks by British and Tory troops. They could not prevent the enemy excursions. The civil war in these areas- along the Hudson River and coast to Sandy Hook-were brutal, with neighbor raiding neighbor, assisted by the armed forces of both sides. Both sides thought of the other as little better than murderous thieves. See an example from south Jersey- The Pine Tree Robbers.
In June of 1780, with the troops at Jockey Hollow in very low morale, the British launched an attack towards Morristown, and were held first at Connecticut Farms, (now Union) and then at Springfield. This was the last major action in the north during the war. See The Battles of Connecticut Farms and Springfield
The last local fighting of the war was done by raiding Tories from New York City against the Americans in the surrounding areas, especially in NJ. The British finally stopped supporting the raiders when they murdered an American prisoner taken from a NYC prison, a Captain Joshua Huddy of Monmouth County. Washington ordered a lottery of British Captains to chose one to hang in return, and a Capt. Asgill was selected. Congress supported and reinforced the decision. Washington bargained for the murderers for Asgill, but the British refused to turn them over. They held a trial of the officer responsible, who was found Not Guilty, as he was under orders of the Loyalist Council, a group of high ranking loyalist in New York. The British broke up the Loyalist group and sent most to England. Washington, the war almost over, had no reason or desire to hang Asgill, but could not get Congress to order his release. Finally Lady Asgill, the Captains mother, wrote to King Louis XVI of France and begged for her sons life. The French minister sent a request to Washington to release the boy, and Washington was able to push Congress into acting to release him.
Finally the war petered out to an end. On April 14th, 1783 Governor William Livingston announced the End of the War. No offical hostilities occured after this, but Loyalist were still a problem, even after the war, and the militia still had to keep an eye on the British in New York City until late Novemeber, 1783 when the British handed over first Manhattan, then Staten Island, and took ship for Britian.
See The sufferings of a Continental soldier to understand the difficulties, and hardships faced by the American soldiers of the Revolution.
REVWAR '75 has several articles by John Rees on the NJ Continental Line, and has many other online resources. John Rees also has a HISTORY OF THE NEW JERSEY LINE .
The New Jersey Dept. of Environmental Protection, Geographic section, sells a map of NJ battles during the Revolution, $5.00, which is helpful. Also see my History links page.
My own pages: New Jersey during the Revolution:
The Battle of Trenton
The Battle of Princeton.
The Whaleboat Wars- crossing the water
More on whaleboats
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