By Michele S. Byers
Calling New Jersey “the Crossroads of the American Revolution” isn’t just hype. Our state’s location between the British stronghold in New York and the young nation’s capital in Philadelphia led to a pivotal role in the war for independence.
George Washington not only slept here, but he and the Continental Army spent more time in New Jersey than in any other state. And we have more Revolutionary War sites than any other state. If you don’t believe it, check with Honest Abe!
“In the early Revolutionary struggle, few of the States among the old Thirteen had more of the battle-fields of the country within their limits than old New Jersey,” Abraham Lincoln said in an 1861 address to the New Jersey Legislature. Our 16th president recalled reading accounts of those battles in Parson Weems’ Life of Washington as a child and being impressed by the amount of action in New Jersey.
Lincoln was familiar with New Jersey’s Revolutionary War battle sites, but many of us today have no idea about the hundreds of places where the nation’s future was shaped.
Many of New Jersey’s Revolutionary War sites are well-known, like the Trenton Barracks, the Princeton and Monmouth battlefields, and the Jockey Hollow encampment and Washington’s Headquarters in Morristown. They’ve long been preserved and large numbers of school groups, families and history buffs visit them each year.
But dozens of lesser-known sites have fallen into obscurity and are more likely to be visited by bulldozers and cranes. For example, a Continental Artillery winter encampment in the Pluckemin section of Somerset County’s Bedminster Township is nearly obscured by a large townhouse complex.
But good news is coming and you can help!
Two hundred and thirty years after the end of the American Revolution, New Jersey Congressman Rush Holt has introduced a bill that would preserve our Revolutionary War sites before they’re knocked down, paved over or otherwise lost.
Under Holt’s bill, the American Battlefield Protection Program – which currently provides grants to preserve Civil War sites – would be extended to the Revolutionary War and War of 1812 sites. The amendment was passed by the House of Representatives on Sept. 10 and will now go to the Senate, where a companion bill has been introduced.
“Sprawl and commercial development are threatening the historic sites where our nation was forged and shaped,” said Holt. “Each time a historic battlefield is replaced with a parking lot, a chapter of American history is obscured, and future generations lose an important window onto their heritage.”
According to the National Park Service, there’s an urgent need to preserve battlefields and associated sites from the Revolutionary War and War of 1812. Of the 825 significant sites from these wars, 107 have been lost, 245 are in fragmented or poor condition, and 222 are in danger of being destroyed within the coming decade.
If Holt’s bill becomes law, it will boost New Jersey’s preservation efforts – and help our tourism industry! Preserving our state’s Revolutionary War sites complements our farmland and open space preservation efforts. Battlefields, farms and natural areas are all part of New Jersey’s historic landscape – a mosaic of places that gives the Garden State its unique character.
For more information about New Jersey’s Revolutionary War history, visit the Crossroads of the American Revolution website at www.revolutionarynj.org.
To learn more about the bill – officially known as the American Battlefield Protection Program Amendments Act, or S779 – go to the Library of Congress website at http://thomas.loc.gov/home/thomas.php.
Please contact New Jersey’s two U.S. Senators, Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez, and ask them to support S779. You can reach them through the Senate website at www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm?State=NJ.
And for more information on preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, go to the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michele S. Byers is the executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation.