The American Revolution in New Jersey: Where the Battlefront Meets the Home Front ed. by James J. Gigantino II
When generals Howe and Washington settled into winter quarters in New York City and Morristown, New Jersey, in 1777, the Revolutionary War was a year and a half old, but the main battle lines for the remainder of conflict had been established. Howe, and subsequent British commanders, held New York City until the conclusion of the war in 1783, utilizing it as their premier base of operations in America. Despite never attacking, Washington predicated his entire strategy on one day driving his foes from the city. This situation ensured that New Jersey became prey to both armies. Called the "Garden State" for a reason, the state's abundant agricultural products proved critical to the subsistence of the neighboring armies. Foraging parties clashed with one another and militia units, while Patriot and Tory vigilantes alike terrorized the populace, making New Jersey one of the bloodiest and nastiest theaters of the war. Few recognize the critical importance, outside of the battles of Trenton and Princeton, played by the state in the conflict. James J. Gigantino II attempts to rectify this oversight in The American Revolution in New Jersey: Where the Battlefront Meets the Home Front. Coverage of New Jersey's role as broad and rich as that contained in Gigantino's edited volume is consequently a valuable addition to the scholarly record. The editor divides this collection into two parts. The first deals with the military experience of New Jerseyites whereas the second engages a range of social experiences during wartime.
Part 1, "A Revolutionary Experience," begins with William L. Kidder's "A Disproportionate Burden on the Willing," an exploration of the New Jersey militia. The author contends that New Jersey militiamen "served in a state that required militiamen to endure higher levels of activity than did other states, which taxed their ability to carry on any semblance of a normal life" (28). Kidder concludes by calling on scholars to continue to examine and study the broad militia experience during the American Revolution. Gregory F. Walsh follows with an entry entitled "'Most Boundless Avarice': Illegal Trade in Revolutionary Essex." He explores the blurred lines between patriotism and trading with the British in New York, arguing that for many Americans such trade was a survival strategy and did not exclude them from the ranks of the patriots. Eleanor H. McConnell next examines economic developments in "Blasting, Scraping, and Scavenging: Iron and Salt Production [End Page 432] in Revolutionary New Jersey." The author suggests that the American Revolution exacerbated pre-existing conditions that made industrial development in New Jersey difficult. "A Nest of Tories: The American-versus-American Battle of Fort Lee, 1781" by Todd W. Braisted more directly engages military history and reminds readers the American Revolution represented, in fact, America's first civil war. Robert A. Selig completes part 1 by studying the French presence in the state. His "Rochambeau in New Jersey: The Good French Ally" describes the interactions between the local populace and French troops, concluding that familiarity did not, in fact, breed contempt but instead resulted in favorable impressions on both sides.
Part 2, "The Impact of the Revolutionary Experience," opens with "Destitute of Almost Everything to Support Life: The Acquisition and Loss of Wealth in Revolutionary Monmouth County, New Jersey." Here Michael S. Adelberg engages an old debate about the extent of the Revolution, concluding that wealth was not meaningfully redistributed and that therefore the movement was not particularly revolutionary. Bruce A. Bendler follows with "Discharging Their Duty: Salem Quakers and Slavery, 1730–1789," in which he demonstrates the leading role Quakers played in questioning the institution. The editor's contribution, entitled "Slavery, Abolition, and African Americans in New Jersey's American Revolution," continues the discussion. In a similar conclusion to that of Adelberg, Gigantino suggests that the Revolution was not particularly revolutionary for African Americans in New Jersey and that the conflict resulted only in gradual abolition. Finally, Donald Sherblom closes out the anthology with "A Loyalist Homestead in a World Turned Upside Down." The author traces the experience of the Vought family which, as the title suggests, retained Tory sympathies in a region dominated by Patriots.
With such a long and varied wartime experience in New Jersey, no anthology could claim comprehensiveness and Gigantino makes no such claim in this collection. Instead, the two parts produce a glimpse into the complexities of an eighteenth-century conflict waged among a civilian population. The picture proves ugly, with abundant atrocities and the perpetuation of economic and other inequities taking center stage. These are thought-provoking articles, even if the anthology suffers (as so many do) from the absence of core connections outside of the New Jersey backdrop. The reader gets little sense of a comprehensive message outside of the reality that it was very bad to be in New Jersey during the conflict. [End Page 433] Still, the articles themselves prove useful to scholars of New Jersey and may provide avenues for broader conversations about the Revolutionary War at home.