This July 4 commemorates the birth of our nation 240 years ago, and most folks will celebrate Independence Day with picnics, parades, and fireworks.
I recently attended a family memorial at spectacular West Point and was struck by its convergence of natural beauty and our country’s Revolutionary War history.
Revolutionary War historic sites are scattered throughout New Jersey, and many of them are inspiring and beautiful. They are great places to learn a bit of history, celebrate our nation’s founding, and enjoy the landscapes.
New Jersey played a crucial role in the American Revolution and — located between the new nation’s capital in Philadelphia and the British stronghold in New York — it was truly the “Crossroads of the American Revolution.” General George Washington and the Continental Army spent more days in New Jersey than any other state.
Recognizing the state’s significance, President George W. Bush signed legislation in 2006 establishing the Crossroads of the American Revolution National Heritage Area, which encompasses parts of 14 New Jersey counties where significant events took place. The Heritage Area includes Morristown National Historic Park and sites associated with the Battles of Trenton, Princeton, and Monmouth. The Heritage Area also helps to preserve the historic landscapes of New Jersey — the farms, fields, hills and valleys of the Crossroads region.
Here are some ideas for places to visit in this state we’re in:
Morristown National Historic Park. Jockey Hollow, the winter encampment of the Continental Army and General George Washington’s headquarters in Morristown in 1777 and 1779-’80, preserves both the lands and historic features. The Continental Army used its timber resources for the construction of more than 1,000 soldier huts. If you explore the 27 miles of hiking trails there, you can see evidence of the “log-house city.” Located in the headwaters of the Great Swamp Watershed, many of the park’s trails crisscross the streams that provided Washington’s soldiers with water.
Since the time of the Revolutionary War, the forest at the park has regrown into a secondary old growth tulip tree forest. There are up to 100 acres of old growth tulip trees now 150 to 220 years old, up to 42 inches in diameter and at least 120 feet tall.
Morristown National Historic Park includes three important Revolutionary War sites: Jockey Hollow, the Ford Mansion, and Fort Nonsense, the latter a hilltop fortification overlooking Morristown, including trenches, raised embankments, a signal beacon, and fantastic views.
Battle of Trenton and Battle of Princeton. In the early months of the American Revolution, British forces had won key victories in New York and had driven the Continental Army to retreat into Pennsylvania. If it were not for Washington’s daring crossing of the Delaware River on a stormy Christmas night in 1776 leading to victories in Trenton and Princeton, it’s likely that the Revolution could have come to an early end.
You can see the site of the Delaware River crossing at Washington’s Crossing State Park in Titusville. Originally preserved for its historical significance, the park is also well known for its trails and wildlife habitat. A wide variety of migrating birds use the stream and ravine for resting and nesting. A variety of spring and summer wildflowers can be found throughout the park, making it an idyllic setting for picnicking and hiking.
Not far away is Princeton Battlefield State Park, where on January 3, 1777, Washington led his troops to Princeton for one of the fiercest battles of the Revolution. General Hugh Mercer, Washington’s close friend, refused to surrender to British soldiers and was bayoneted several times before falling next to a large oak tree. The tree was known thereafter as the Mercer Oak. It survived to the age of 300 years before it was felled by strong winds in March, 2000. A sapling grown from a Mercer Oak acorn was planted near the old stump and now the young “new” Mercer Oak is thriving in the same location.
Monmouth Battlefield State Park. The Battle of Monmouth took place took place on June 28, 1778, when the Continental Army intercepted an army of British, German, and Loyalist soldiers fleeing from Philadelphia to New York to escape an impending blockade of the Delaware River. While the British-led troops escaped, the battle established the effectiveness of the Continental Army and is considered an important strategic and political victory for General Washington.
The 1,800-acre park in Manalapan preserves a rural 18th-century landscape of hilly farmland and hedgerows that encompasses miles of hiking and horseback riding trails, picnic areas, and a restored Revolutionary War farmhouse.
To find more Revolutionary War sites in New Jersey, go to the Crossroads of the American Revolution website at http://revolutionarynj.org or the Revolutionary War New Jersey website at www.revolutionarywarnewjersey.com.
And for information about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michelle Byers is executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation.
For information on fireworks and other 4th of July events see the day-by-day listings that begin on page 24.