I recently participated in an event highlighting local Revolutionary War history, and the local veterans that fought in that struggle. I spoke about the veterans laid to rest centuries ago in the Ewing Church Cemetery. In honor of Memorial Day this month—and to share the information with a larger audience—this month’s column shares some of that talk.
The cemetery inside the bend of Scotch Road belongs to the Ewing Presbyterian Church. The cemetery was founded first, in 1709, as a prime location on high ground for the early European settlers in this area to bury their dead. Worshipers gathered at the location from time to time, and the congregation subsequently grew at that location.
The earliest portion of the still-active cemetery contains the graves of at least 40 Revolutionary War veterans. The number is not exact, as a few graves are likely unmarked.
Fortunately, around the time of the American Bicentennial, the graves of these soldiers were additionally marked with a ground marker, since many of the original gravestones are now very difficult or impossible to read.
One can wander among the stones reading the markers, and appreciate the contributions of these 18th century local residents. In doing so, it is immediately apparent that the vast majority of these veterans were not killed in battle, and were not members of Washington’s Continental Army, but were instead members of the militia.
Recall that there were a variety of soldiers here in New Jersey in the 18th century. As a British colony, there were professional British regulars in their redcoats that provided an army for their colonies.
However, the British government also expected the colonies to provide their own local defense, and during the 1700s several laws were enacted that required men ages 16-60 (later to age 50) to serve in a local militia.
These men—farmers, tradesmen, craftsmen and such—in addition to their civilian jobs, were required to provide their own muskets, cartridges, gun powder, knapsack, and canteen, and to attend a training day a few times a year.
The militiamen were generally organized at their local county level, and then divided into regiments based on the part of the county in which they lived. Residents of current-day Ewing were in the 1st Regiment, Hunterdon Militia (Mercer County was not yet created).
As relations between the British government and the colonists began to deteriorate in the 1770s due to the what the colonists believed to be unfair regulations, land disputes and taxation without representation, many men became rebels against the government that called them, ultimately fighting battles and skirmishes where they firmly believed that their rights and livelihood were at stake. Others were not sure what to do.
The Declaration of Independence confirmed their intent, and suddenly these part-time companies of men were fighting the world’s greatest army.
The militia evolved over the course of the War, far more than can be covered here. But it’s clear that these heroes were ordinary men, struggling to make a living in difficult conditions, coping with a very challenging political climate, and yet also responding to the call to join their brothers, fathers, sons, and neighbors to protect their individual and communal rights.
A few to remember:
William R. Green (1756-1822) and John Guild (1751-1825), served as guides and assistants during the Christmas March to Trenton in December 1776, due to their familiarity with the land.
John Burroughs (1753-1842) served as a sergeant in the Hunterdon Militia.
Thomas Hendrickson (1739-1822) was a private in Captain Mott’s Company, 1st Regiment.
Daniel Howell (1739-1812) also served in the same company.
Local teen and horseman Israel Carle (1757-1822) joined the light horse troop (cavalry) for Middlesex County as Hunterdon did not have one; but he soon climbed the ranks, becoming captain, and forming a light horse troop in Hunterdon.
Ultimately they each in their own way contributed to events which enabled our freedom today, and we are grateful.
I am indebted to my friend and Ewing resident Larry Kidder, author of A People Harassed and Exhausted, on the New Jersey Militia in the American Revolution, and a source for this month’s column.