Jersey Reflections: Fourth Governor

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Joseph Bloomfield spent part of his youth in Cumberland County and returned to start his law practice in Bridgeton.

There are very few historical figures of note who can be claimed by both northern and southern New Jersey, but Joseph Bloomfield, the fourth governor of the state, is certainly one of them.

Born on October 18, 1753, in Woodbridge, Bloomfield was the son of Moses and Sarah Ogden Bloomfield. His father, according to online sources, was a physician and abolitionist. Bloomfield spent part of his youth in Cumberland County and became a student at the Latin School established by Reverend Enoch Green in August 1867 in Deerfield. College preparatory in nature, the school set Bloomfield on a path to a law degree. He was admitted to the bar in 1775 and returned to Cumberland County to start his practice in Bridgeton.

As the first signs of the American Revolution began to appear, Bloomfield joined the Continental Army, serving as captain of the 3rd New Jersey Regiment in February 1776. The following month, he led his regiment into the Deerfield Presbyterian Church to attend a service by Green. By the fall, sources report, he would earn the rank of major and be appointed to the position of judge advocate for the northern Continental Army.

Bloomfield’s military career, however, would be short-lived. Approximately one year after he was wounded in the 1777 Battle of Brandywine, he resigned his commission, establishing a law practice in Burlington County, where he married Mary McIlvaine. He became the clerk of the New Jersey General Assembly before serving, from 1783 to 1992, as the State Attorney General.    

During his time as Attorney General, Bloomfield became one of the founders of the New Jersey chapter of the Cincinnati Society. The group, named after Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, the Roman model of selflessness on which the organization is founded, is a hereditary society consisting of descendants of Revolutionary War officers. Its original members include Alexander Hamilton and John Paul Jones. According to the Society of the Cincinnati website, the New Jersey chapter, organized in Elizabethtown on June 11, 1783, “was the third of the constituent societies formed and the first to be organized away from the main army cantonment in New York.”

Bloomfield was not the only representative of Cumberland County when the group was established. The first set of officers included Dr. Ebenezer Elmer, one of the participants of the Greenwich Tea Burning that had occurred prior to the American Revolution. Bloomfield served as the New Jersey Society’s second president from 1808 until his death. Today, the New Jersey chapter “is one of only six constituent societies to have remained in continuous operation since its founding.”

In 1794, Bloomfield was placed in charge of Federal and New Jersey troops to quell the uprising that became known as the Whiskey Rebellion, a protest over the government’s taxation of distilled beverages. The tax was imposed as a means of raising money to pay off the country’s war debts. The situation was a test of the U.S. government’s ability to enforce laws, particularly in the face of accusations from the protestors, mostly Western Pennsylvania farmers, who argued that the circumstances bore more than a resemblance to the American Revolution’s battle cry “no taxation without representation.” In the end, violence was averted, but such an issue was too soon after the Revolutionary War for a comparison not to be made. 

A year later, Bloomfield would assume the position of Mayor of Burlington, which he would hold for the next five years. He served as New Jersey’s governor from 1801 to 1802 and again from 1803 to 1812. The conclusion of his years as governor coincided with the start of the War of 1812, and Bloomfield was pressed into service once again, this time serving as a brigadier-general in the U.S. Army along the Canadian border until 1815.

Returning to politics, he was elected for two terms to the U.S. Congress. A bid for a third term was unsuccessful. After his wife Mary died during his years as a Congressman, he married Isabella Ramsey. 

By the time of Bloomfield’s death on October 3, 1823, just 15 days shy of his 70th birthday, he had achieved a wide range of accomplishments, having served his state and his country well during a long and productive life.

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