New Jersey, Mobilization in

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New Jersey, Mobilization in

NEW JERSEY, MOBILIZATION IN. In war, as in real estate, location can be everything. During the war for American Independence, location determined that New Jersey would be one of the most active—if not the most active—theaters of operations. Situated between the chief British garrison in New York and the de facto rebel capital in Philadelphia, New Jersey became the contested middle ground. Between 1775 and 1783, the state witnessed some 600 large and small (mostly small) actions, including naval engagements fought on the state's rivers or off its long coastline. Military affairs became part of the state's routine. Morristown (often called the "military capital of the Revolution") emerged as a critical base area, and the main contingent of the Continental army spent more time in New Jersey than in any other the state, including the winters of 1777 (Morristown), 1778–1779 (Middlebrook), and 1779–1780 (Morristown again, the bitterest winter of the war). For soldiers and civilians alike, conflict, or the threat of conflict, was a virtual constant in most parts of the state.

Yet New Jersey was not originally a hotbed of revolutionary sentiment. In fact, through the early 1770s, most residents were generally content to remain within the empire. New Jersey was a small colony of no more than 120,000 people, and it lacked urban centers or significant commercial communities to feel the sting of British mercantilist policies. Without claims to western lands, New Jersey also remained calm in the face of the Proclamation of 1763, which curtailed settlement beyond the established colonial frontier. Nor did the colony have a redcoat garrison, the source of so much friction in Massachusetts and New York. Indeed, New Jersey had gotten along rather well with the British regulars quartered there during the French and Indian War—army payrolls and contracts were boons to the local economy. Even the Stamp Act crisis found the colonial legislature reticent to mount a protest. Although local political officials ultimately agreed to participate, they initially declined to send delegates to the Stamp Act Congress. A large Quaker population shrank from conflict with Britain; and in any case, with much of the colony's economic prosperity dependent on its larger neighbors, New York and Pennsylvania, New Jersey Patriots would have been largely powerless had the two more influential colonies not acted first.

Opponents of the British government gained traction, however, as protests broadened in the other colonies. There was considerable anger in New Jersey over British opposition to the colony's effort to issue its own currency, a measure dear to New Jersey's largely agricultural populace; and local Patriots did join the inter-colonial protests against the Tea Act. As in the other colonies, an informal Whig political infrastructure gradually supplanted or took over established local and provincial governments, and by 1775 the Whigs effectively controlled New Jersey. Still, sentiment for outright independence remained muted. While a small number of New Jersey volunteers marched north to join the rebel army besieging Boston, Patriots did not oust the royal governor, William Franklin, until June 1776. The definitive break with the empire came only in July, when a new state constitution finally declared New Jersey independent.

It remained for New Jersey to defend its newly proclaimed independence. Until the contest ended in 1783, the state struggled to mobilize its human and material resources and to coordinate its war effort with the other rebellious states and the Continental Congress. It was never easy, as manpower was always in short supply and New Jersey lacked any significant manufacturing or financial base. But efforts to maintain the fight were sustained, and sometimes imaginative, even if results were uneven.


New Jersey troops served in three legally distinct military organizations: the militia, which served rotating tours of duty of short duration, and which could be called out at any time in emergency situations; "state troops," raised for long-term duty within the state; and New Jersey's Continental regiments. In addition to these formal organizations, however, Jerseymen also bore arms in ad hoc, irregular outfits, in an active privateer fleet, and in Continental battalions raised under direct Congressional authority. Over the course of the war, many men saw action in several of these guises.

The formal militia structure emerged from what was left of the colonial militia (purged of Tory personnel) and units raised on private or local authority, mostly during the spring of 1775. The first militia law (June 1775) called for the enrollment of all men between the ages of 16 and 50 into companies of about eighty men each. They were to elect their company officers, who in turn elected regimental officers. Companies were based on townships, and it was not uncommon to find ten or fewer family names comprising the bulk of a militia company. Companies reported to county-based regiments. Many subsequent laws attempted to improve militia effectiveness through experiments with "minute" companies, unit boundary changes, and brigade organizations. Throughout the war, however, most militia operations were local, and regional commanders had a great deal of autonomy. Regimental efforts were of limited scale and duration, and the brigades were never effective.

Whatever its organizational limitations, the New Jersey militia became a potent force. True, it performed poorly during the early stages of the British invasion of 1776, famously evoking Commander-in-Chief George Washington's wrath. But it quickly rebounded and played a major role in the revival of Whig military fortunes in late 1776 and early 1777. While there was never the level of militia participation that Patriot leaders desired, enough men came out to keep the local troops functional. Over the course of the war, the militia made any British moves into the New Jersey interior dangerous; and the militias proved invaluable in suppressing the Tories, guarding regional crops and supplies, providing local security and intelligence, and, buttressed by Continentals, fighting in occasional large-scale actions (such as Monmouth in 1778 and Springfield in 1780). Certainly the British came to dread the incessant harassment by local rebels that occurred during operations in New Jersey; and in the end, the lack of any tight, statewide legal or command structure made little difference in militia effectiveness.

From time to time, New Jersey also raised "state troops." There were units recruited for longer-term duty than the militia—generally six or nine months—during periods of particular need or when the state was unable to persuade Continental commanders to post regulars in New Jersey. These troops took on in-state assignments, usually the guarding of sensitive coastal locations or along the northwestern frontier, and in positions across from British-occupied New York. Three artillery companies (of sixty-four men each) were raised over 1776 and 1777, while a more ambitious effort tried to field 2700 infantry between November 1776 and April 1777. Subsequent legislation kept various bodies of state troops in the field through the end of 1782, by which time every county had at least one company assigned to it. In effect, these troops were state regulars, and many of them saw considerable action in conjunction with Continental and militia forces.

However, most New Jersey troops who served as regulars did so in the Continental line. In the autumn of 1775, Congress asked New Jersey to raise two battalions, with a third requested in April 1776. These men were to serve for a year, and with enthusiasm for the cause high, the state enlisted approximately 2,000 men relatively quickly. Some companies, recruited by their company commanders and other junior officers, were filled within days. Despite supply shortages, they deployed to the northern theater of operations, where two of the regiments suffered cruelly in the debacle of the Canadian invasion. The last of these Continentals returned home by February 1777, and a core of the veterans reenlisted. However, many others, discouraged by hard service in 1776—including major losses to disease—had had enough and were lost to the Patriot effort.

New Jersey recruited a "Second Establishment" beginning in late 1776 (although enlistments did not begin in earnest until early 1777). This time, Congress asked the state for four regiments, for a total of 2,720 men of all ranks. These soldiers would be enlisted for three years or the duration (in other words, "for the war"). Of the requested number, however, the state could raise only 1,586, and only three of the regiments maintained reasonable strength levels. With the ranks thin, Congress reduced the New Jersey quota to three regiments in 1779, with an official roster of 1,566 officers and men. But the actual tally for the New Jersey Brigade (for most of the war, the regiments served as a brigade under Brigadier General William Maxwell) rarely exceeded 1,200 men. Indeed, in 1781, Congress allowed the consolidation of the New Jersey Brigade into two regiments, the total strength of which generally remained below 700 men. Jerseymen also served in regiments raised directly under Congressional authority (the "sixteen additional regiments" and artillery and other units outside of the New Jersey Brigade). But throughout the war, New Jersey Patriots complained that the manpower quotas requested of their state were simply more than the small state could field.


There was some validity to such complaints, as the realities of recruiting and maintaining troop strength actually were daunting. New Jersey's human resources were too limited to maintain a large militia, the state troops, government functions, the farming economy, and Continental battalions. Of the state's 120,000 residents, probably fewer than 25,000 were men of military age. But of these, some 6,000 were Quakers and thus lost to the recruiting pool; and a conservative estimate indicates that another 3,200 were lost to the Tories, including about 1,900 Jerseymen who served as Loyalist regulars (the balance were variously organized "refugees" raiding their home state out of New York, "Pine Robbers" in southern New Jersey, or other local irregulars). The privateer fleet drained additional manpower, and the state granted exemptions to teachers, elected officials, iron workers, express riders, and various government employees. In all, at least 10,000 men were not available for any sort of military duty. The remaining manpower (probably around 14,000 individuals, not much more) had to be shared with agriculture. New Jersey's rich farms were not only vital to the state economy, but also a critical source of military food and forage (and thus hotly contested by the rival armies). Heavy calls on the state militia could be economically disruptive, and thus highly unpopular.

Thus, even as New Jersey complained about the number of men it was to levy, there still was general agreement that the use of regular troops seemed the most efficient use of the state's limited human resources. Washington, of course, as well as many other Patriots, preferred regular Continentals for practical military reasons. Regulars were enlisted for a minimum of three years, better trained and disciplined, and lacked qualms about long-term operations in distant theaters. But (no doubt to spur Continental enlistments) Washington and other senior commanders also pointed out that a stable force of regulars would reduce the necessity for many militia call-ups. New Jersey's governor, William Livingston, agreed, arguing for the "superiority" of a policy that recruited men the economy needed least as regulars—implying the poor and rootless—and leaving "the more industrious farmer" to his husbandry.

This is essentially what New Jersey tried to do as it recruited the Second Establishment. Significantly, recruiting operations changed. Formerly, officers recruited their own units. There was thus no central recruiting service to forward new men to the Continental battalions. But by late 1776, most officers could not be spared off the lines for recruiting purposes. Although Washington sent officers on this duty whenever he could, Congress asked the states to put recruiting on a firmer institutional footing. In October 1777, the New Jersey legislature designated the counties as recruiting districts, and assigned two civi1ian recruiting officers (although some of them may have been militia officers) to each. The law also allowed extra recruiters for locales where recruiting seemed especially promising. The effects of this system were uncertain. Continental officers still recruited Jerseymen personally when they could; and by 1780, each New Jersey battalion also assigned an officer to full-time recruiting duty in the state. The recruiting districts probably helped, but they neither replaced personal recruiting by unit commanders nor ended manpower shortages.

The fiscal aspects of recruiting were important as well. Perhaps the most expensive (and best publicized) aspects of recruiting were bounty monies. A Congressional bounty of January 1777, allowing each soldier $20, a clothing allotment, and a hundred acres after the war (for men who served for the duration), proved too little to attract enough men. Consequently, states, and even towns, offered supplemental enticements. New Jersey towns never issued bounties, but by 1778 the state was offering recruits $40, a blanket, clothing, and—if they enlisted by October 1778—a regimental coat and more clothes. In 1779, this increased to $250 above the Continental bounty. At this juncture, Washington and Congress feared dissension between veterans and new recruits enlisted under the more lucrative state bounties. The states, however, still went their own ways, and in 1780 New Jersey even increased its bounty to $1,000, with subsequent increases to adjust for inflation. Recruiting personnel also received bounties. In 1779, New Jersey gave recruiters $20 a man, a sum increased in 1780 to $200. In 1781, payments were made in specie, also to compensate for inflation. Although not mentioned in the laws, noncommissioned personnel also received bounties for signing up recruits. In addition, the state provided funds to support recruits until they reached their units, and even paid $16 per man to the muster master who swore them into the army.

Obviously, any funding shortage imperiled recruiting. Whenever it could, New Jersey turned to Congress to pay recruiting bills; but this aid was never sufficient or punctual, and the state often had to use its own resources. In 1778 and 1781 the legislature enacted loans to cover recruiting costs. Some New Jersey Patriots became so distressed with the high costs of raising men, and so incensed with Congress for failing to reimburse the state, that they threatened to halt recruiting operations. It was an empty threat, but indicative of the strain that recruiting placed on the state.


Even with the inducements of bounties, however, it became clear that voluntary enlistments would never fill the New Jersey Brigade. The alternative was conscription, and the idea was not new. During the French and Indian War, Quaker opposition had prevented New Jersey from drafting militiamen for long-term duty. Yet other states had; and as early as 1776, Washington had suggested that New Jersey implement a draft to meet its Continental manpower quotas. Initially, the state balked, but in April 1778, faced with a dire recruiting shortfall, the legislature acted.

The new law divided the militia regiments into "classes" of eighteen men. Upon a full regimental muster, commissioners were to explain the recruiting laws and bounties, and then allow each class ten days to present a volunteer or substitute to serve nine months in the New Jersey Brigade. If, after ten days, a class did not present a recruit, one of the men in the class would be drafted by lot, and he then had five days to report for duty, find a substitute, or pay a $300 fine. Over April and May, the militia sent hundreds of draftees and substitutes to the army in consequence of this law, and New Jersey raised more Continentals in 1778 than in any other year. This success, however, was countered by popular distaste for the draft, and the law was allowed to lapse. A draft for six months of duty, passed in 1780, was less successful; after this, New Jersey simply lived with troop shortages and a small New Jersey Brigade for the rest of the conflict.

It is worth noting that not all recruiting activity took place within the formal recruiting structure, or within established regulations. In January, 1777, Washington issued recruiting regulations calling for freemen between seventeen and fifty years old, excluding enemy deserters and Tories. New Jersey, however, was never so particular. The state immediately decided it could not rely solely on "freeman volunteers," and in April 1777, it acted on a Congressional suggestion to exempt any two militiamen from duty if they found a Continental substitute. The legislature also asked persons otherwise exempted to hire substitutes and made provisions for enlisting indentured servants. Nor did New Jersey demand only "freemen." Any "able … bodied and effective volunteers" were sufficient. The use of servants and other substitutes demonstrated less a commitment to a yeoman soldiery ideal than to filling the ranks with anyone available.

In fact, with scant manpower among New Jersey Patriots, the state turned a blind eye to virtually all of Washington's recruiting prohibitions. Enemy deserters appeared frequently in New Jersey ranks, especially as the war dragged on and recruiting became harder. Tories served as Continentals as well. Men accused of Loyalism frequently received a choice of punishment, including hanging, or enlisting in the New Jersey line. In one dramatic incident, the state Council of Safety condemned seventy-five Tories at Morristown and hanged two as an example to the others—who promptly joined the Continental Army. Petty criminals often received similar treatment. There is no complete documentation of the number of Tories and felons compelled into the New Jersey ranks, but available records attest to over two hundred, hardly an insignificant number given the manpower needs of the day.

Yet the mobilization effort was more successful than recruiting difficulties and the thin rosters of the New Jersey Continentals indicated. Accurate numbers are unavailable, but by the end of the conflict, something under 4,000 Jerseymen had served in Continental ranks, while another 10,000 (more or less) saw duty with the militia, state troops, or in supply or other capacities with some military organization. No doubt some men were counted more than once in these tallies (such as those militiamen who also served a tour in the New Jersey Brigade as draftees). In addition, there is evidence that men from neighboring states and even some foreigners served in New Jersey ranks. Even so, given the limited manpower pool—recalling here the losses to Quaker pacifism, loyalism, official exemptions, and other causes—the state did quite well in exploiting its human resources; in fact, it came close to using every available man.


The social profile of the New Jersey regulars reflected a recruiting effort that, as Governor Livingston put it, tried to leave farmers to their fields and put the least prosperous into the rank and file. A majority of the troops were young: more than 54 percent were twenty-two years old or younger, while over 73 percent were no more than twenty-seven. Most also came from the lowest socioeconomic strata. Of the soldiers carried on state tax rolls, fully 90 percent came from the poorest two-thirds of the population, while 61 percent came from the poorest third of taxpayers. Probably some 60 percent of the regulars owned nothing of consequence at all. In a state where 30 percent of the populace owned at least 100 acres of land, only 9 percent of the Continentals could say the same. Many of these men were poor by virtue of youth—they simply were too young to have established themselves, or to have inherited property, before enlisting. But there is no doubt that New Jersey regulars tended toward the lowest rungs of the state's economic ladder. For many of these men, the bounties of 100 acres must have seemed quite appealing.

In marked contrast to the enlisted men, New Jersey officers were well-to-do. Eighty-four percent came from the wealthiest third of society, and almost 32 percent from the upper tenth. The officer corps also held proportionately more of the largest farms than either the enlisted ranks or the general population. Indeed, just over 31 percent of the officers used slave labor on their farms. While there were some poorer officers, few (if any) advanced beyond captain. The New Jersey officers, then, represented the state's traditional social elite; and in the eighteenth century, it was normal for military elites to derive from social elites.

None of this is to argue that the enlisted New Jersey Continentals were essentially a coerced force. Far from it: they served for a variety of reasons, some with a genuine enthusiasm for the cause. Most rendered faithful service, often under appalling conditions, in a war they could have avoided. But most also left little enough behind them when they enlisted, and with only shallow roots in society, the Continental Army offered (at least at this stage of their lives) more than the civilian world.


New Jersey also mobilized its material resources, although beyond agriculture these were quite limited. Significantly, there was no pre-war armaments industry at all. The militia and the first Continental regiments had to rely on privately-owned weapons and munitions, supplemented by purchases from out of state. In 1776, the state initially could arm only two of its Continental regiments. Weapons shortages delayed the march of the third considerably. But maintaining even such arms as New Jersey could find was difficult, because the state lacked enough skilled gunsmiths and blacksmiths. The most prominent gunsmith was Ebenezer Cowell, whose shop in Trenton manufactured gunlocks under a contract with the Continental Congress. But the invasion of 1776 drove him out of Trenton, and he transferred is operations to Pennsylvania for the rest of the war. The events of 1776 also displaced other Patriot blacksmiths and gunsmiths, which seriously disrupted local production of war materiel. Some blacksmiths were able to produce limited numbers of bayonets, ram rods, and other accoutrements, and a trickle of gun repairs continued. Yet the number of guns and parts produced were small, and New Jersey troops were largely dependent on imported arms throughout the war.

Gunpowder was a problem as well. New Jersey had essential deposits of sulfur and saltpeter, and Patriot authorities provided incentives for production of these commodities. But the state had no powder mill. Responding to a Congressional plea, the New Jersey Provincial Congress loaned Colonel Jacob Ford Jr. the funds to construct a mill in Morristown. Ford was in production by August 1776, and the powder mill operated through at least 1779 (the records are obscure thereafter). Production was sometimes impressive—up to 750 pounds of powder per week—but the Morristown mill was the only one established in New Jersey. Consequently, the state's over-all contribution to patriot gunpowder supplies was never great. Nevertheless, at a time when American munitions manufacturing was in its infancy, and when munitions were in demand, for a vital period Morristown remained a steady source of crucial powder supply.

The only major industrial success was in iron. The state was rich in ore, and small-scale production had begun in the late colonial period. By 1775, New Jersey had seventeen furnaces producing pig iron and twenty-two forges capable of producing wrought iron—from which blacksmiths could produce tools, blades, and other implements. The furnaces also could turn out shot and, as war production geared up, cannon. During the conflict, the British destroyed or otherwise halted production at some of these facilities. In 1778, for example, royal troops wrecked important iron works at Bordentown and Mount Holly, which never went back into service. But twelve of the furnaces and seventeen forges remained safely in Patriot hands. The most productive works lay north of Morristown at Hibernia, Mount Hope, and other locations in Morris and Bergen Counties.

Iron production also faced problems. Interruptions in mining could disrupt the furnaces, and skilled labor was always at a premium. Ironmasters used anyone helpful as workers. Hessian and British deserters, and some prisoners, worked at furnaces and forges, and the state agreed to exempt skilled ironworkers from militia duty in order to assist production. Inflation and other fiscal challenges also threatened operations, but iron production managed to expand over the course of the war. In 1777 alone, the Hibernia furnace produced some 120 tons of shot for the army, and was successfully casting and boring cannons. New Jersey production—or American production generally—never made the Patriot military self-sufficient in iron weapons or munitions, but in this area, at least, a domestic industry made dramatic strides.


New Jersey began to mobilize in the spring of 1775 and remained on a war footing for eight years. The duration of the war, coupled with the virtually constant military presence in the state, left a varied legacy. There was considerable physical damage. Some towns, such as Connecticut Farms and Springfield, suffered major battle damage, pillaging, and wanton destruction. Churches and public buildings along the various British lines of march suffered as well, with Presbyterian churches singled out for particular British wrath. Private homes also were targets, and hundreds of farms lost fences, livestock, and crops to pillaging or hungry soldiers in both armies. Bergen and Middlesex Counties were especially hard hit during 1776, and foraging in 1777 led to damage and theft on farms across central New Jersey. Well over 600 farms, buildings, or other private properties were plundered, damaged, or destroyed in Middlesex County alone. Despite pleas for help, there was little the financially-strapped state—New Jersey government debts totaled some $750,000—could do for these communities and individuals. Indeed, the state felt it had to raise taxes to meet its obligations, and New Jersey property owners faced some of the stiffest tax bills that any generation in the state would see down to the Civil War.

There was considerable social dislocation as well. Thousands of Tories had been driven into exile, and their estates often were seized and sold off by the state. The vast majority never returned to New Jersey. Major real estate interests, notably the East Jersey Board of Proprietors, ended the war with their business affairs in disarray. Renters had not made payments, business records were scattered or lost, and some prominent proprietors had fled with the British. Moreover, demobilization had sent most troops home only with promissory notes, and most of these men found few immediate prospects in the civilian economy. Hundreds of war widows and orphans had little access to public support, which was small enough anyway, and had only meager private resources to sustain them.

Somewhat perversely, however, agriculture prospered in the final two years of the struggle. Without any major battles, the occasional skirmishes did not prevent a flourishing if illegal trade between New Jersey farmers and the British garrison in New York City. This commerce brought welcome consumer goods as well as specie into the state, relieving some of the hardships of the war years. But a major economic downturn followed the departure of the British in 1873, and farmers, like almost everyone else, were hard pressed to pay taxes and to make ends meet. Even the iron industry suffered before resuming normal production by 1787. Merchants, hoping to develop international trade out of New Jersey ports, lacked capital and trading connections, and retreated largely into local or coastal commerce.

The distress was general across New Jersey, but the state showed considerable ingenuity in dealing with the situation. A series of fiscal measures, including paper money issued against landed security, gave the state a stable currency and allowed debtors to pay their bills with public securities. While refusing further financial support to the Congress, New Jersey did assume payment of the interest on Continental debts held by its citizens, and it implemented a special tax to pay arrears due New Jersey soldiers and military suppliers. By 1787, the state's fiscal house was generally in order, most war-related damage had been repaired, and the post-war economic slump was passing. Given New Jersey's location as a chief military theater, the impact of the war could have been much worse, and the state's problems in the so-called "critical period" were more political (especially in its relations with the larger states and the Confederation) than economic or social.

SEE ALSO Continental Army, Draft; Livingston, William; Middle Brook, New Jersey;Monmouth, New Jersey.


Bill, Alfred Hoyt. New Jersey and the Revolutionary War. Princeton, N.J.: D. Van Nostrand, 1964.

――――――. The New Jersey Soldier. Trenton, N.J.: New Jersey Historical Commission, 1976.

――――――. "The Social Structure of the New Jersey Brigade: The Continental Line as an American Standing Army." In The Military in America: From the Colonial era to the Present. Edited by Peter Karsten. New York: The Free Press, 1980.

――――――. "The Cockpit Reconsidered: Revolutionary New Jersey as a Military Theater." In New Jersey in the American Revolution, edited by Barbara J. Mitnick. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rivergate Books, Rutgers University Press, 2005.

Lundin, Leonard. Cockpit of the Revolution: The War for Independence in New Jersey. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1940.

McCormick, Richard P. New Jersey from Colony to State, 1609–1789. Newark, N.J.: New Jersey Historical Society, 1981.

Munn, David G., compiler. Battles and Skirmishes of the American Revolution in New Jersey. Trenton, N.J.: Department of Environmental Protect, Bureau of Geology and Topography, 1976.

Salay, David L. "The Production of War Material in New Jersey during the Revolution." In New Jersey in the American Revolution, III. Edited by William C. Wright. Trenton, N.J.: New Jersey Historical Commission, 1976.

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