The 1st New Jersey Continental Battalion in its first establishment was raised in East Jersey. The Jerseys, East and West, had distinct colonial and cultural histories dating from the late 17th Century when they were administered as separate provinces. With an overall population of about 120,000 at the time of the Revolution, the Jerseys were remarkably diverse, but expressed quite differently between and within each region.
West Jersey was Quaker dominated and, as with today, economically oriented toward Philadelphia. Within East Jersey were ethnic communities as diverse as Dutch speaking, Calvinist Bergen and Somerset counties, Anglican Perth Amboy and Puritan Newark. There were mixed areas of Scots and Scots- Irish, as well as the majority of the free and enslaved African American population (about 7% or so of the total population of the state).
Elizabethtown in East Jersey was the oldest English settlement in the Jerseys, and right from the start a thorn in the side of the governing Anglican proprietors. Although the provincial capital was established at Perth Amboy - and during the Revolution remained a bastion of Loyalism - Elizabethtown was in many respects the social and economic center of East Jersey and home to a number of "Gentlemen of the first rank in Dignity and Quality."
It was settled by Long Island Puritans, and among the very first of these were John Ogden and his five sons. Col. Matthias Ogden and his brother Aaron Ogden descended from John Ogden and were the fifth generation of their family to reside in Elizabethtown, Because of its proximity to Manhattan, Elizabethtown was a prosperous economic center and the residence of those like William Livingston with extensive New York social ties and economic interests.
The Ogdens, while not possessing great wealth like the Livingstons, nonetheless represented a prominent local elite as prosperous freeholders and members of a long established family with considerable political and professional interests. Robert Ogden (1716-1787), the father of Matthias and Aaron, was among the foremost lawyers in the Jerseys and had been Speaker of the House of the Provincial Assembly during the Stamp Act crisis. This was his political downfall, as he chose not to sign the resolves of the Stamp Act Congress to which he was a delegate, preferring to have each colony send its protest to the Crown under separate cover. He was vilified in New Jersey and even hanged in effigy, but by the time of the Revolution his reputation had been to some degree rehabilitated. Whatever the sins of the father in the eyes of the state's radical revolutionaries, they do not appear to have been visited on his hotheaded patriot sons.
The Ogdens were members of Elizabethtown's 1st Presbyterian Church, a hotbed of independent spirit since the Great Awakening. This church claimed at least 39 parishioners who served as patriot officers during the revolution, including both Ogdens and their kinsmen through marriage Lt. Col. Francis Barber, Col. Oliver Spenser, and Colonel Elias Dayton and his son Jonathan Dayton (who was later the youngest Signer of the Constitution). Together these men either held top command of three of the five continental regiments raised in New Jersey during the war or would hold important staff positions at the Division level under General Sullivan. Governor Livingston was also a fellow parishioner, yet in 1779 there was only one other officer from the Parrish in the 1st New Jersey besides the Ogdens (Cyrus D'Hart).
The Ogdens, Daytons and their allies represented a powerful block within the command structure of the New Jersey Brigade, but at the outset there were other officers with other backgrounds besides the Elizabethans who were eventually supplanted by the upstart Matthias Ogden. In September of 1775, while Matthias was trudging through the Maine wilderness toward Quebec with Benedict Arnold, Morris County New Jersey nominated officers for its quota of six companies of minutemen. A meeting moderated by William D'Hart of Morristown recommended William Winds as Colonel and D'Hart as Lt. Colonel. Upon the call by Congress the following month for two battalions of Continental troops from New Jersey, the eastern battalion drew heavily from these minute companies and retained Winds as Lt. Colonel and D'Hart as its Major. William Alexander (Lord Sterling) was its first commander.
On March, 7th 1776, Congress promoted Winds to Colonel of the regiment and appointed Matthias Ogden, just returned from Quebec, as Lt. Colonel. Winds protested Ogden's appointment as his second in command on behalf of the regiment in a letter to John Hancock the following week, adding he hoped "this young gentleman's merits might be rewarded in some other way." Winds had further difficulties with his officers that year in the Northern Department, and the young and ambitious Ogden was himself critical of the way things were being managed by his Colonel. Nor did Col. Dayton of the 3rd NJ have much use for Colonel Winds, and he was forced out in the 2nd establishment of the regiment in favor of Silas Newcomb and went on to serve in the militia. Newcomb was promoted to general a few weeks later, leaving Matthias Ogden as Colonel by January 1, 1777. Maj. D'Hart quickly found a post as Lt. Colonel in the 2nd New Jersey and the transfer of power in the 1st Battalion from Morris County to Elizabethtown was complete/
Aside from generational and patronage issues, the social hierarchy within the officer corps of the 1st New Jersey is worth close examination as we consider the charges brought by some of his subordinates against Colonel Ogden at his court martial in March, 1779. Of those named as witnesses in support of the charges, Captain Isaac Morrison's conflicts with the social elite of Elizabethtown has already been established. What other the others?
- John Conway was a member of the Woodbridge Township Committee of Inspection at the outset of hostilities. A copy of a letter he wrote to Congress in July, 1775 seeking an officer's commission is preserved in the New Jersey Archives:
"...I therefore presume ('tho undistinguished and unknown to your Board) to offer myself a candidate, earnestly entreating your favour & encouragement. Being bred to the Sea almost from my Infancy, I confess I am ignorant and inexperienced in the Art of War, having never been in actual service, but as I fear that is too generally the case with the Inhabitants of this Province, I hope that consideration alone, will not exclude me from your notice."
Patriotic zeal and initiative were enough to secure him his Captaincy, and after being wounded at Germantown Conway found further advancement in other New Jersey battalions. Conway was not finished with the 1st New Jersey, however, and would serve under Ogden again. At the time of the trial, though, he had recently transferred from the disbanded 4th Battalion to Col. Dayton's 3rd NJ as its Major.
- John Van Anglen (or Van Angeln, or Van Hengelen) was Jersey Dutch. There were Van Anglens in Somerset County but I am not certain of his precise origins. Nor do I know which of the the two, feuding branches of Dutch Reformed Church he may have attended,though in the northern Jersey counties this more than any other factor predicts whether one fought as a patriot or loyalist. He was a hard fighter, and received two promotions from Ensign to Captain between 1775 and 1778, but he was also volatile and hot tempered, and this was to get him in serious trouble in the aftermath of the court martial.
- John Polhemus was also of Dutch extraction. His ancestor Rev. Johannes Theodorus Polhemus was a Dutch reformed minister who emigrated to New Amsterdam in 1655 and resided in Flatbush on Long Island. His father Hendrick Polhemus moved the family to New Jersey, and John was born at Hopewell in Mercer County. He was well connected through his father-in-law John Hart, a Signer of the Declaration, and had served during the French and Indian War. As the Captain of a company of the 1st New Jersey in which Ogden's accuser, Isaac Morrison, had served as 1st Lieutenant, he is likely to have been a close confidant and supporter of of Morrison at the court martial. If, in fact, he was even available to testify, but that will be the subject of another post.
- Mr. Matthias Williamson was another Elizabethtown resident and while a prominent member of its Anglican Church was nonetheless a staunch Whig. One of his daughters married Jonathan Dayton, and their granddaughter married the son of Aaron Ogden and I descend from them. Williamson was a prosperous harness and saddlemaker who held numerous public offices and a commission as militia Colonel of the Elizabethtown troop of Light Horse. He succeeded to command as Brigadier General of militia when William Livingston left the post to become revolutionary governor in 1776, but resigned in poor health the following year. It is unlikely that he would have been part of the intrigue within the 1st New Jersey, but he may have been called as a witness to one of the four charges brought against Colonel Ogden.
- I believe the same can be said for Assistant Quartermaster Robert Kelso, based in Elizabethtown but not a person with the same social standing and wealth as the saddler Williamson, who had a large mansion in town.
- Finally, there is Ensign Asher Levy, the only Jewish officer known to have served in the New Jersey Continentals. An outsider and latecomer to the regiment, he like Polhemus will merit further exploration in a subsequent post.