A new book edited by a University of Arkansas historian sheds light on New Jersey’s central role in the Revolutionary War.
The state was home to more sustained and intense fighting over a longer period of time than any other state during the eight-year war.
The war’s effects were seen both on the front lines and the home front, which became blurred because of the numerous battles that were fought there, said James Gigantino II, editor of The American Revolution in New Jersey: Where Battlefront Meets the Home Front.
“The war was a struggle for average people who were experiencing destruction in their towns on a daily or monthly basis,” Gigantino said. “Being close to British lines for the entire war motivated people to be more active patriots or loyalists and we see more engagements between patriot and loyalist militias as well as the armies. It became an intricate struggle between people who have known each other for decades.”
Understanding the American Revolution in New Jersey leads to a greater understanding of the war in general, Gigantino said.
“The book focuses on how average Americans experienced the Revolution and allows historians to provide a more complete picture of the impact and importance of the war,” he said.
Geography is the linchpin for New Jersey’s role in the war. In the late 18th century, the Garden State was considered a “hinterland” lying between Philadelphia and New York City.
“During the Revolution, New York is the central focus of British power in North America and Philadelphia is the central focus of patriot power,” Gigantino said. “Because of its unique location between these two places New Jersey is thrust into the revolutionary movement very early, but the revolutionary experience of the war is very different within the state. Areas that are bordering New York had a hard time during the war, whereas some areas in the south and west were not as affected.”
The first half of the book explores the interconnections between the battlefront and the home front during the war years. The chapters detail how ordinary New Jerseyans dealt with patriot, loyalist, British, Hessian and French soldiers in their backyards and show how civilians frequently became wrapped up in the larger global conflict.
The second half of the book goes beyond the war years, examining how the American Revolution made a tangible impact on American society. Included in this section is a chapter written by Gigantino that focuses on the abolition movement in the state.
Gigantino argues that pro-slavery forces in New Jersey successfully opposed any move to make the American Revolution “a beacon of hope for enslaved New Jerseyans by playing on fears of race war.”
Gigantino is an assistant professor of history in the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sceinces at the U of A. An affiliated faculty member of the African and African American Studies program in Fulbright College, Gigantino is the author of the 2014 book The Ragged Road to Abolition: Slavery and Freedom in New Jersey, 1775-1865.
The American Revolution in New Jersey is published as part of the Rivergate Regionals Collection by Rutgers University Press.
About the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences: Fulbright College is the largest and most academically diverse unit on campus with 19 departments and 43 academic programs and research centers. The college provides the core curriculum for all University of Arkansas students and is named for J. William Fulbright, former university president and longtime U.S. senator.
About the University of Arkansas: The University of Arkansas provides an internationally competitive education for undergraduate and graduate students in more than 200 academic programs. The university contributes new knowledge, economic development, basic and applied research, and creative activity while also providing service to academic and professional disciplines. The Carnegie Foundation classifies the University of Arkansas among only 2 percent of universities in America that have the highest level of research activity. U.S. News & World Report ranks the University of Arkansas among its top American public research universities. Founded in 1871, the University of Arkansas comprises 10 colleges and schools and maintains a low student-to-faculty ratio that promotes personal attention and close mentoring.