The Benjamin Temple House—the home of Ewing’s historical society—currently sits set back in a park along Federal City Road. But the original location of Benjamin’s circa 1750 home was in another spot not far away, along Pennington Road near I-95—just at the fringes of Ewingville and Ewing—on the old Temple/Ryan Farm. The home was moved to make way for construction of the interstate in the early 1970s.
Centuries before, the Temple family purchased the original tract of land from Edward Hart, a local landholder who immigrated to the area from Long Island in the early 1700s. Edward Hart had five children, including a son named John Hart, who was born in a house on that land later purchased by the Temple Family.
So what, you might ask? Who was John Hart?
Had I said Thomas Jefferson, or Benjamin Franklin, or even that John Hancock had been born on local land, you likely would have already known that a signer of the Declaration of Independence was a “home boy,” a Founding Father patriot in our backyard.
But unfortunately, many of the men who put their lives on the line in the form of a signature on such a crucial and “treasonous” document are not very well known.
John Hart is one of them. Born in Hopewell, John Hart was just one of five delegates from New Jersey to the Continental Congress meeting in Philadelphia in June/July, 1776, where he signed the Declaration. (N.J. was tied with Massachusetts in the number of delegates sent—five—and only Virginia and Pennsylvania sent more, to the total of 56 signers from the 13 colonies.)
Dave Hart has made it a personal goal to raise up his ancestor’s story and stature from obscurity, while ensuring the story is authentic and factual.
Hart was a farmer, with a modest early education, but was also a public servant, and active in local committees and politics in the tumultuous years leading up to the declaration of independence from British tyranny. He studied law and became an esquire and justice of the peace. He served on the local Committee of Correspondence, and as a representative to New Jersey’s Provincial Congress in 1775.
He was a leader in the growing rebellion, and he was a marked man—especially after signing that document in Philadelphia. However, most knew him for his honesty, integrity, common sense and fairness. He died in 1779 at the age of 66 from kidney stones.
The last line of his obituary in the New Jersey Gazette read, “The universal approbation of his character and conduct among all ranks of people is the best testimony of his worth, and as it must make his death regrettable and lamented will ensure lasting respect for his memory.”
That “lasting respect”—well hidden over the centuries—is getting a much-needed boost from another local man named Hart—Dave Hart, a direct descendant of John’s.
Dave Hart has made it a personal goal to raise up his ancestor’s story and stature from obscurity, while ensuring the story is authentic and factual. And thus he has written, produced, directed and financed a documentary entitled John Hart: Portrait of a Patriot.
The documentary features local talent, production companies, and historians—and local sites, including Trenton’s Old Barracks, Trent House and Ewing’s Benjamin Temple House. The 90 minute film is a visual and historical treat to Trenton, Ewing and Hopewell—and a long-overdue homage to our patriot, John Hart.
So, in addition to the picnics and fireworks this month, treat yourself to a local celebration of Independence Day, and attend the screening of John Hart: Portrait of a Patriot.
The film will be shown on Sunday, July 8 at 7:30 p.m. at the 1867 Sanctuary at 101 Scotch Road in Ewing.
Tickets for the film can be purchased at the Benjamin Temple House at 27 Federal City Road in Ewing, starting at 6 p.m. on the day of the show.
Patrons are encouraged to tour the Temple House before proceeding over to the Sanctuary to see the film. General admission is $15 and benefits the Ewing Historical Society. For further information or to pay in advance, visit ethps.org, or call the society at (609) 883-2455.