Fighting for Independence in South JerseyLast Edited: Jul 04, 2018 9:40 AM
In local author J.P. Hand’s new book, he details stories from the American Revolution that happened in Cumberland County and regionally.
During the afternoon of July 4th, you can find Cumberland County residents flipping burgers on the grill while decked out in red, white, and blue clothing, awaiting fireworks shows at night. Within these celebrations of independence, people may not even realize that they are celebrating on historic ground, as Cumberland County is home to many historic elements of the Revolutionary War.
The book, The Cape May Navy: Delaware Bay Privateers in the American Revolution by J.P. Hand and Daniel P. Stiles, tells the untold story of South Jersey—including Cumberland and Cape May counties—and its relation to the American Revolution.
“It just shows what people can do when they come together,” said co-author and lifelong Cape May native J.P. Hand. “This is the greatest country in the world. We’re so spoiled we forget it sometimes, but this is a story that’s never been told and people in this area across all socio-economic groups came together to accomplish something great to help get our independence.”
Cumberland County was once very divided with people’s opinions differing like night and day. Some residents were abiding by the rules while those known as the Patriots wanted to start a revolution. Many of these residents were charged with acts of disloyalty, such as disaffection to the government, piloting the enemy, and treason.
“It’s one of those stories that people can’t even imagine the type of impact they had. We were taking on the greatest navy in the world, the British Navy,” said Hand. “These differing opinions throughout Cumberland County and the people that got involved all had a cumulative effect over the course of the war, which helped us gain our independence.”
Five years of research went into Hand’s book, highlighting important people from the Cumberland County area who are responsible for our independence, such as Colonel Elijah Hand of the Cumberland Militia and General Silas Newcomb, a former sheriff of Cumberland County.
“The war was a sacrifice where people had a lot to lose and little to gain. Without these people, we may not have lost the war, but it would have gone on a lot longer than it did,” said Hand.
Hand was previously the editor of the Cape May County Historical Society’s annual Journal of History, which gave him the inspiration to write his book. Hand and his co-author and distant cousin, Stiles, realized after a few years of research that they had enough information to write a book and not just an article in the annual journal.
According to Hand, after all the years of research, the most surprising things he learned came from how people in this county used to settle their arguments.
“I was really surprised how the elite society—like the prominent merchants, farmers, and business owners—would settle their arguments with their fists,” said Hand. “Large numbers of captains from this area were charged with assault and battery. It could have been just petty disagreements, but it also could have been from political disagreements, since this area was so polarized.”
Although the area’s opinions used to be divided, it is hard to imagine a war going on in our own backyards.
“People don’t really think about it. Today, we send men and women off to fight in foreign lands while some come home and others don’t. But, we can’t imagine a war going on in our backyards. This was a war on our own soil,” said Hand.
Throughout Cumberland County there are historical sites of the American Revolution, such as Potter’s Tavern, a tavern that provided lodging to travelers and was home to the first newspaper in New Jersey; the Cumberland County Courthouse, where the Declaration of Independence was read to the public just a month after it was ratified; and the Historic Broad Street Cemetery.
“If you’re looking at articles on the history of South Jersey, you may find one or two paragraphs about the history of the American Revolution, but that’s it. This is a big story that after five years of extensive research we are finally able to tell,” said Hand.
To purchase The Cape May Navy: Delaware Bay Privateers in the American Revolution, visit amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com.
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