The Last Invasion History Trail marks the events of June, 1780. While few realized it at the time, these battles would ultimately lead to the American victory over the British at Yorktown the following year.
Had the American militia failed to hold the line here, and protect the Washington’s forces in Morristown, to the north, the Revolutionary War would have taken a dramatic turn. For had the British been successful in finally crushing Washington–already dealing with mutinies within his ranks after a grueling winter in Jockey Hollow far worse than Valley Forge—there would have been no American army to greet French General Jean Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur.
Count Rochambeau, as he was more commonly known, would arrive in Rhode Island in mid-July with an army of 450 officers and 5,300 men.
Rochambeau’s forces finally gave Washington the critical mass needed for a fighting force capable of defeating the British. Together, they would march south to Virginia the following year. But what would have happened if Rochambeau had arrived, only to discover Washington’s forces were decimated by the British? In all likelihood, they would have returned to France and the American story would be a very different tale.
By June, 1780, the Revolutionary War had dragged on for four long years, with the vast majority of the battles and skirmishes fought in New Jersey. The British, their Hessian mercenaries and the colonial forces were at stalemate. While there were the pitched battles often cited in the history books, from Washington’s Christmas crossing of the Delaware that stunned the sleeping Crown forces, to the Battle of Monmouth, for long periods of time Washington used the Watchung Mountains to protect his army, venturing down to the lowlands to attack, and then retreat to the safety of Morristown.
ELIZABETHTOWN: A No Man’s Land
By 1780, five long years have passed since shots were fired at Lexington and Concord. The Revolution is teetering, if not on the brink of disaster. Continental currency is so worthless that the phrase, “Not worth a Continental” enters the English language. The winter of 1780 is the coldest of the entire 18th century The New York harbor was frozen solid, so much so that the British were able to move cannons on sleds from Manhattan to Staten Island. That winter, Washington’s Army nearly starved to death a Jockey Hollow in Morristown, suffering more than anything seen at Valley Forge. Conditions are so bad the mutinies break out and continue throughout the spring.
With the British forces based on Staten Island, Elizabethtown was a very easy target, with the city enduring an estimated seventy-five raids, skirmishes, and battles during the early years of the war. It was a discouraging time for the supporters of the Revolution. With crushing American defeats on Long Island and then Fort Lee, the situation was so dire that some revolutionaries began to question whether the war was winnable. The story is told that a group of men met at the Elizabethtown home of Isaac Arnett to consider their fate. But when the men agreed to side with the Crown, Isaac’s wife, Hannah, arose and castigated them—Isaac included—as traitors:
“Isaac,” she said, “we have lived together for twenty years, and through all of them I have been a true and loving wife; but… if you do this shameful thing, I will never own you again as my husband.” When she was done, the men reconsidered and vowed to continue their fight for Independence.
While the Arnetts might have settled their differences, there were many families who remained divided over the colonies should declare Independence. During a raid on January 25, 1780, the First Presbyterian Church was burned, a fairly standard tactic for the British forces. But perhaps the more startling aspect of this latest plunder was that the raid was led by Cornelius Hetfield, a Staten Island Tory originally from Elizabethtown, whose father was an Elder of the church.
But events would turn far darker come the spring. On the night of June 7, 1780, Hessian Brigadier General Wilhelm Von Knyphausen settled into a defensive position at Elizabethtown Point, (where The Last Invasion Historic Trail trail begins) while his advance forces carried on the fight.
For two weeks in that June of 1780, Elizabeth was a virtual no-man’s-land, the scene of almost daily skirmishes. While the British and Hessians indulged themselves in an orgy of looting. Knyphausen burned neighboring Connecticut Farms and Springfield, withdrew to the Point, and crossed to Staten Island on a pontoon bridge.
But repeated forays into Elizabethtown were not going to win the war and the British military leaders were growing tired of this long-running cat-and mouse game across New Jersey. They had to crush Washington once and for all and the only way to do it was to capture to his encampment in Morristown.
It may be hard for us to imagine today, given the fact that modern cars easily navigate the most challenging terrain, but for an 18th century army pulling cannons and supplies, going over the Watchung Mountains was not an option—but going through the Hobart Gap was. (So the next time you are driving on Route 78/Route 24 in the Summit area, look to either side of the highway and you will see why the British needed to use this “gap” in the mountain range to get to Morristown.
But to get through the Hobart Gap, the British had to get through what is now Elizabeth, Kenilworth, Roselle Park, Union and Springfield.
Battle of Connecticut Farms
On June 7, 1780, Hessian General Knyphausen’s force of 5,000 landed at De Hart’s Point, near Elizabethtown, and marched toward Morristown. The soldiers met resistance from regulars and militia under Colonel Elias Dayton and General Maxwell at Connecticut Farms, which included parts of current-day Union and Kenilworth.
Dayton’s 3rd NJ Regiment was joined by the rest of the New Jersey Brigade and General William Maxwell. Behind a deep ravine, just southeast of the Presbyterian meetinghouse, Maxwell deployed his troops. As militiamen continued to pour in individually and in small groups, Maxwell assigned Brigade Major Aaron Ogden to organize them into an effective unit.
Maxwell’s men, reinforced by the militia, made a stand, beating back repeated assaults. As the main body of Knyphausen’s army joined the advance column, more and more men were thrown against the Americans. For nearly three hours, the men of the New Jersey Brigade stood firm against the onslaught; but finally, in danger of being outflanked, Maxwell was forced to withdraw.
The settlement was pillaged and burned. Dwellings, barns, and even the Presbyterian Church, were left in ashes. Knyphausen withdrew to De Hart’s Point on the night of June 7th to entrench. American losses totaled 15 killed and 40 wounded.
During the fighting, Hannah Caldwell was slain. Caldwell was married to the minister of the Presbyterian Church in Elizabethtown, the Rev. James Caldwell, who fought fervently with the patriots against the British in the Revolutionary War. Hannah was in the parsonage at the Connecticut Farms Church when she was fatally shot, although it has been long debated whether the British had targeted the Caldwells or Hannah was the victim of “friendly fire.” Whatever the cause, her death became a rallying cry for the militia. (Today, her death is depicted on the Seal of Union County.)
Battle of Springfield
Two weeks later, on June 23, the 6,000 British troops again crossed the water, marched through the ruins of Connecticut Farms, and faced the 1,500 Americans waiting on the Springfield side of the Rahway River. Confrontations occurred along the Rahway, from the bridge at Morris Avenue to Vauxhall. During several hours of intense fighting, the British and Hessians pushed into the village of Springfield, and north into the center of Millburn, before being forced to retreat.
During the battle, the Americans were running out of wadding to load their muskets. Gunpowder and a lead ball would be wrapped in paper and then rammed down the barrel, with paper wadding holding everything tightly in place. On hearing the need for paper, the Rev. James Caldwell rode to his church, grabbed a stack of hymnals written by Isaac Watts, and took the books to the soldiers to use the pages for wadding. As he did, he shouted, “Give ’em Watts, Boys!,” a battle cry that “went viral,” as it might be described today..
As the British retreated, they again burned buildings in the village, including the church. One house (now the Cannon Ball House), struck by an American cannonball, was among the few left standing. The little-known Battle of Springfield turned out to be the final major confrontation between the American and Crown forces in the North. It would be the Last Invasion in the northern colonies, one that left an indelible impression on the British General Henry Clinton..
The mauling he Crown Forces took at Connecticut Farms and Springfield that June was well remembered by Clinton, who opted not to attack Washington’s and Rochambeau’s forces as they marched unchallenged through New Jersey the following year on their way to Yorktown, for what would be final showdown of the American Revolution.
Washington-Rochambeau National Historic Trail
The Last Invasion Historic Trail intersects the Washington-Rochambeau National Historic Trail in Springfield. Created by an act of Congress in 2009, the Trail marks the contribution made by the French that enabled the American army to finally defeat the British, winning independence for the America. The Trail runs from Rhode Island to Virginia, passing through Union County from Summit to Scotch Plains.
When Rochambeau arrived in America, the Continental Army was running on faith, hope, and promises — short of men, weapons, food, clothing, and money. The combination of Rochambeau’s and Washington’s forces culminated 15 months later in victory at Yorktown.
This historic trail marks the 680-mile route taken by Washington and Rochambeau to and from the siege of Yorktown. In New Jersey, this historic route follows roads that have existed since the 1700s. In Union County, the first New Jersey county to mark this trail, the route includes: Raritan Rd. and Lamberts Mill Rd. in Scotch Plains; W. Broad St. in Westfield; Mountain Ave. in Westfield, Mountainside and Springfield; Morris Ave. in Springfield; and Morris Turnpike in Summit. Learn more at http://www.nps.gov/waro/index.htm.
Historic Sites Along The Last Invasion Historic Trail
The Last Invasion Historic Trail begins at the Elizabeth waterfront, where British and Hessian troops crossed over from their base on Staten Island. The sites that follow are in the order they are passed along this historic trail, which stretches 9.2 miles from the Arthur Kill to Springfield.
There are three major historic sites of interest related to the events of June, 1780, which while not on the trail route, are worth visiting: Liberty Hall in Union, along with Washington’s Headquarters and Jockey Hollow, both in Morristown.
For even more details on many of these sites, go to: https://www.revolutionarywarnewjersey.com/new_jersey_revolutionary_war_sites/towns/elizabeth_nj_revolutionary_war_sites.htm
Nathaniel Bonnell Homestead & Belcher-Ogden Mansion
1045 & 1046 East Jersey Street in Elizabeth
The Nathaniel Bonnell Homestead (1682) and the Belcher-Ogden Mansion anchor “the corner that history made.” The Belcher Ogden Mansion originally housed the family of John Ogden in the mid-18th century. About 1751, the royal Governor of New Jersey, Jonathan Belcher, relocated the center of colonial government from Burlington on the Delaware to Elizabeth. He bought the Ogden residence and lived there until his death in 1757. During that time, Belcher strongly supported the creation of a school that would become Princeton University. The school’s first president, Rev. Jonathan Dickinson and his successor, the distinguished Protestant minister, Rev. Jonathan Edwards, both visited Belcher at his residence. In 1758 William Peartree Smith, a close friend of New Jersey’s first governor, William Livingston — and himself a member of NJ’s Committee of Correspondence — took ownership of the house. In 1778 his daughter Catherine married Elisha Boudinot, sister of Elias Boudinot, President of the Continental Congress. Alexander Hamilton served as Master of Ceremonies on that occasion and welcomed distinguished guests including George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette.
- Hand-cut post-and-beam construction with unusual Flemish bond brick style, the result of expansions made by its first three owners
- Listed on the National and State Registers of Historic Places,
- National Historic Landmark
- Daytime: 908-581-7555
- Evening: 908-591-1893
Boxwood Hall – State Historic Site / Boudinot Mansion
1073 East Jersey Street in Elizabeth
Elias Boudinot, a prominent American statesman of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, purchased this handsome Georgian house in 1772. Boudinot served briefly as President of the United States under the Articles of Confederation. During Boudinot’s residency, young Alexander Hamilton lived at Boxwood Hall for several months while attending school in Elizabethtown. In 1789, George Washington dined here with Boudinot and a committee of Congressmen while en route to his inauguration in New York City. In 1795, the house was sold to Jonathan Dayton, a signer of the Constitution. He also served as Speaker of the House of Representatives and then as a member of the US Senate. In 1824, Dayton hosted the Marquis de Lafayette, a French aristocrat who served with distinction in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. The house would witness several more chapters in its storied history, for a time serving as a girls’ school, then as a retirement home for women. Listed on the National and State Registers of Historic Places, National Historic Landmark. Operated as Boxwood Hall State Historic Site, NJ DEP, Division of Parks and Forestry
- Take a “trip through time” with Boxwood Hall’s 250-year history
- Small exhibit about local history
St. John’s Parsonage – The Andrew Hampton Homestead
633 Pearl Street in Elizabeth
Edwin F. Hatfield and Samuel A. Clark, traditionally recognized in the 1800s as authorities on the early history of the Elizabeth area, both credit Andrew Hampton (Hamton) as the original ownerbuilder of this building. The earliest house on this site on the banks of the Elizabeth River was built in 1696 or 1697, probably by Andrew Hampton. The present- day structure of the Homestead-Parsonage is a well restored example of a Federal-style building. Portions of this house served as the parsonage to St. John’s Episcopal Church, in Elizabeth, from 1750 to 1875. The Andrew Hampton Homestead – St. John’s Parsonage is an invaluable reminder of an earlier time. It is a significant part of the religious and secular history of Elizabeth and, indeed, in the history of Union County and New Jersey. The St. John’s Parsonage building is now occupied by the Union County Office of Cultural and Heritage Affairs, Department of Parks and Recreation. It is a prime example of adaptive reuse of a historic structure.
Listed on the National and State Registers of Historic Places.
- 908-558-2550 weekdays
Elizabeth Public Library
11 South Broad Street in Elizabeth
Elizabeth’s Main Library was built during the “free library movement,” at the turn of the 20th century. It is one of New Jersey’s original 36 Carnegie libraries. In 1910, Andrew Carnegie granted funds to build this main library. Designed by Edward Lippincott Tilton, who had designed many other Carnegie libraries as well as the immigration station at Ellis Island, this library opened in 1912. The building is reminiscent of an Italian palazzo and resembles Boston Public Library. By the 1940s, this had become one of the busiest libraries of its size in the United States. It is a contributing property to the Midtown Elizabeth Historic District, established in 1994–1995. This library is also the Federal Depository Library for Union County.
For hours and further info
- call 908-354-6060
First Presbyterian Church of Elizabeth & Snyder Academy
42 Broad Street in Elizabeth
“Old First” dates back to Elizabethtown’s beginnings. The original building was the meeting house for public affairs on weekdays and a house of worship on Sundays. The first colonial Governor, Phillip Carteret, maintained his office there, and the first meeting of the New Jersey legislature was held there in 1668. The British burned the early buildings in 1780. The present-day sanctuary opened a decade later, with a new steeple installed in 2008. Snyder Academy is adjacent to the First Presbyterian Church. The original building here opened in 1767 as a classical school known as The Academy, at which Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton were students. Burned during a 1779 British raid, The Academy was rebuilt and reopened in 1787 and closed in 1834. Rebuilt again in 1863 and in 1917, it has been used for a parish house, offices and Sunday school. A substantial donation from the Harold B. and Dorothy A. Snyder Foundation funded a major renovation, complete with a 250-seat theater, commercial kitchen and art studio.
Listed on the National and State Registers of Historic Places
Operated by the Old First Historic Trust
- New Jersey’s most historic burial ground, with more than 2,100 gravesites spanning four centuries, including those of Jonathan Dickinson (founder of Princeton University), the “Fighting Parson,” Rev. James Caldwell, and his wife Hannah (both killed during the Revolutionary War)
The Connecticut Farms Church
888 Stuyvesant Avenue in Union Township
The First Presbyterian Congregation of Connecticut Farms was established in 1730, when the townspeople built “the little church on the hill,” and named it after the town. The original building was the weekday meeting house for public affairs, and a house of worship on Sundays. The British burned the church down in 1780, during the Battle of Connecticut Farms. Rev. Caldwell moved his family into the Connecticut Farms manse, empty at that time, for greater safety. This is where his wife, Hannah Caldwell, was shot through a window in the manse, during the battle, in June 1780. The rebuilding of the “Meeting House of Connecticut Farms” began in 1783. The church roof was raised on October 11, 1784. Work was completed by 1788 in the same location as the first church, with the new building built in stone. The Presbyterian Church of Connecticut Farms has been and continues to be a strong presence in the Township of Union, and is home to a vibrant congregation. Listed on the National and State Registers of Historic Places
- Historic building dating from 1780
- Historic cemetery dating to 1732 (final resting place of Elizabeth’s first mayor and several Revolutionary War soldiers)
909 Caldwell Avenue in Union Township
On June 7, 1780, after the Battle of Connecticut Farms, retreating British and Hessian Troops passed this parsonage. A shot was fired through a bedroom window, and Hannah Caldwell, the wife of Rev. James Caldwell, fell dead. Was it a mistake? Or, was it murder — an attempt to punish “the Fighting Parson” of the NJ militia and the Continental Army? The British burned the parsonage, the Connecticut Farms Presbyterian Church, and other buildings in the area. The parsonage was rebuilt two years later on its original foundation. An artist’s interpretation of Mrs. Caldwell’s death appears on the official Seal of Union County. Today, the Parsonage displays furniture, clothing, personal belongings and other items relating to the families who established Connecticut Farms (incorporated as the Township of Union in 1808). Artifacts on display date from the 18th century to the early 20th century. Listed on the National and State Registers of Historic Places Operated by the Union Township Historical Society
- Painting of the June 7, 1780 Battle of Connecticut Farms
- Exhibit: “The American Revolution as a Presbyterian Revolution”
Cannon Ball House
126 Morris Avenue in Springfield
On June 23, 1780, the British mounted yet another major offensive to break through the American defenses. Their goal: Morristown, to crush Gen. Washington’s army once and for all. Headquartered on Staten Island, the British and Hessian troops ferried across the Arthur Kill to Elizabethtown and made their way west. But the resistance they met in Springfield proved too great. They turned back but were so furious with their failure, they pillaged and burned whatever they could. During the Battle of Springfield the house was used as a field hospital, which likely saved it from being burned by the retreating British. The Cannon Ball House, now home to the Springfield Historical Society, is one of only four houses in Springfield not destroyed that day. Seven of the eight rooms in this house are open to the public. The first documented owner of the house was Dr. Jonathan Dayton, uncle to the signer of the U.S. Constitution, for whom the township’s high school is named. Dayton died in 1778, leaving his wife and children to run the household. It’s believed his widow, Keturah Dayton, then established a tavern in the home to support the family.
Listed on the National and State Registers of Historic Places
Operated by the Springfield Historical Society
- An exhibit of furniture and artifacts including 18th- and 19th-century household items
- Relics of the Battle of Springfield including the cannonball that lodged in the wall of the house on June 23, 1780
Liberty Hall Museum
1003 Morris Avenue in Union Township
In 1760, when lawyer William Livingston was planning to build a country home, he bought 120 acres in what was then sleepy bucolic Elizabethtown, just across the river from his New York home. For the next 12 years, Livingston developed the extensive grounds, gardens and orchards and oversaw the building of a beautiful fourteenroom Georgian-style home known as Liberty Hall. Liberty Hall Museum at Kean University chronicles more than 240 years of American history at this former residence of William Livingston, New Jersey’s first elected governor and a signer of the Constitution. Eventually expanded into the exquisite 50-room Victorian mansion you see today, the museum houses extensive collections of furniture, ceramics, textiles, toys and tools owned by seven generations of the Livingston and Kean families. Descendants resided here at Liberty Hall until 1995.
Listed on the National and State Registers of Historic Places
Operated by the Liberty Hall Museum, Inc.
- Beautiful furnishings and fashions from nearly every period in American history
- 23 acres of formal gardens, beautiful grounds and farmland
- Fire House Museum
30 Washington Place in Morristown
The American Style Gallery
Home to an original Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington, this gallery highlights the material culture of eighteenth century America. From fine clothes and jewelry to eating utensils and musical instruments, the American Style Gallery brings to life the world in which George Washington lived.
The Military Gallery
America’s independence was ensured through the bravery of its soldiers during the Revolutionary War. The Military Gallery preserves the memory of the war through its collection of muskets, pistols, and cannon, as well as portraits, maps, and other artwork. Of particular interest is the Ferguson Rifle, a highly advanced and exceedingly rare eighteenth century firearm. Also of note is the sword worn by George Washington during his first Presidential inauguration.
The Loyld W. Smith Gallery
Named in honor of one of the principal private contributors to the park’s collection, the Smith gallery houses as number of pamphlets and other documents from the Revolutionary era. These original documents are evidence of the rich political culture flourishing in colonial America, and highlight the controversy over British taxation, the mobilization for the war, and early debates about slavery.
The Ford Mansion
An original eighteenth-centry structure completed in 1774, the Ford Mansion is the centerpiece of Morristown National Historical Park. Originally owned by Jacob Ford Jr., a prominent Morristown businessman, the mansion served as George Washington’s military headquarters from December 1779 to June 1780. Today, the mansion is fully furnished in eighteenth-century style, including several original pieces. Tours of the mansion are conducted hourly.
Jockey Hollow: Where America Survived
Morristown National Historical Park commemorates the sites of General Washington and the Continental army’s winter encampment of December 1779 to June 1780, where they survived through what would be the coldest winter on record. The park also maintains a museum & library collection related to the encampments & George Washington, as well as items relating to pre- and post-Revolutionary America.
- 973-539-2016 x210