Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Chief Justice John Marshall as historian

Follow this link to read a post on the Journal of the American Revolution about America's third chief justice John Marshall and his crucial role as a biographer of George Washington.

This post is by Morristown NHP chief of cultural resources Dr. Jude Pfister. 


         Title page of volume 1 (1804) of Marshall's Life of Washington 

from the park collection

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Christmas 1783


George Washington arrived at his Mount Vernon home two hundred and forty (240) years ago this week, on Christmas Eve 1783. Resigning his commission to the Confederation Congress in Annapolis the day before, he told the assembled legislators there in the Maryland State House that he was Happy in the confirmation of our Independence and Sovereignty, and pleased with the opportunity afforded the United States of becoming a respectable Nation, I resign with satisfaction the Appointment I accepted with diffidence.”

George Washington was a civilian once again.

Throughout his adult life Washington—and his family—had grown accustomed to his long absences from home, including during the holidays. At no time was this truer than during the Revolution. General Washington and his men famously crossed the Delaware on Christmas Night 1776 to surprise the Hessians at Trenton the following day. He and the 11,000 exhausted, ill-clad men under his command spent Christmas 1777 just trying to survive the elements at Valley Forge. One of the most difficult Christmases came two years later here at Morristown, where Washington and his men faced not just the cold but the threat of British attack. General Washington wrote to New Jersey Governor William Livingston on December 21 seeking help should the Redcoats strike. General Washington explained to Governor Livingston that “The situation of our army at this time compared with that of the enemy makes it necessary we should be very much upon our guard. They have more than double our force collected at New York and we are mouldering away dayly.”

When the war finally did end in 1783 Washington and others celebrated in New York City for a few weeks in late November and early December before they began heading home. Washington was determined to get back to his Virginia farm and family in time for Christmas. That was easier said than done on the muddy roads of the era, Nonetheless Washington managed to get home in time to celebrate that Christmas 240 years ago.

All of us here at Morristown National Historical Park wish you a happy holiday season.


Image credit: Mount Vernon as it was in the early decades of the twentieth century / Library of Congress

Keith J. Muchowski, a librarian and professor at New York City College of Technology (CUNY) in Brooklyn, volunteers at Morristown National Historical Park.

Monday, December 11, 2023

Remembering the Boston Tea Party


The Dye is cast: The People have passed the River and cutt away the Bridge: last Night Three Cargoes of Tea, were emptied into the Harbour. This is the grandest, Event, which has ever yet happened Since, the Controversy, with Britain, opened!

The Sublimity of it, charms me!”  

Those were the words of John Adams writing to friend James Warren on December 17, 1773. The evening prior nearly one hundred Bostonians, thinly disguised as Native-Americans, had boarded three ships docked at Griffins Wharf and tossed at least 340 chests of tea weighing upwards of forty-five tons into the water below. This was of course the Boston Tea Party, the 250th anniversary of which is this Saturday, December 16.

                                        Silver teapot made in New York by Jacob Boelen, circa 1690–1700

Americans—or colonists as they still were when Adams wrote the above lines—had long protested British efforts at taxation without representation.” Just eight years previously in 1765 colonists had vehemently, even violently, opposed the Stamp Act, which was quickly rescinded in March 1766. After its repeal however came the equally-loathed Townshend Revenue Acts, most of which were  themselves revoked in 1770. Parliament passed a Tea Act on May 10, 1773, granting the financially strapped British East India Company a monopoly in the American colonies. Grown overseas and introduced by traders in the seventeenth century, tea by this time had long been part of American culture. Silversmiths like Paul Revere had been crafting beautiful tea pots and services for decades by this time. British officials thought there would be little outcry; the tax after all was nominal, designed more to combat the smuggling of contraband Dutch tea” and to shore up the ledger books of the floundering East India Company than to generate revenue per se. The British plan back-fired. Now the question on everyones mind was how King George III and Parliament would respond once news reached London regarding the Boston protest. The punishment came that winter and spring in the form of the so-called Intolerable Acts, a set of punitive measures demanding payment for the tossed tea and tightening British political and military control in Massachusetts. These measures led the colonists to resistance, revolution, and eventually independence.

Protests against the tea tax were hardly unique to Boston. Less than two weeks prior to the Boston Tea Party leaders in South Carolina had decided they too would not allow an East India Company shipment that had just arrived in Charleston to be sold, eventually impounding the tea and keeping it under lock-and-key to make certain the tax would not be paid. Nor would Griffin’s Wharf be the last place of protest; well over a dozen tea demonstrations of various forms took place throughout the colonies in 1773 and 1774. Still colonists grasped—as John Adams had just hours after the fact—that Boston was, in Adams’s words, the cutting away of the bridge. The rest of the world understood too. Here we see a remarkable political cartoon by the Dublin-born artist and engraver John Dixon entitled The Tea-Tax-Tempest (The Oracle)” from 1774. 

Dixon, who by the 1760s had relocated to London, created this rendering just months after the Boston Tea Party, and a year before the firing at Lexington and Concord. The mezzotint shows Father Time using an early type of visual projection called a magic lantern to show the fighting soon to come. Through the depiction of the various figures representing individuals of different backgrounds, Dixon also captures the global implications of what would very much become a world war. The five varieties of tea dumped into Boston Harbor—Bohea, Congou, Hyson Singlo, and Souchong—were themselves the products of international trade and interaction. Dixons allegorical cartoon became iconic and was imitated and satirized several times throughout the Revolution.

What came to be known as the Boston Tea Party thus was part of American and world iconography from the outset. One hundred and fifty years ago this week people turned out at numerous functions in Boston for several days of celebration marking the centennial. The New England Woman Suffrage Association hosted an event at Faneuil Hall on December 15. Speakers at the “Woman’s Tea Party” included, among others: “Battle Hymn of the Republic” author Julia Ward Howe, Mary A. Livermore, Lucy Stone, William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips and Frederick Douglass, who like many of the others in attendance had long supported women's suffrage in addition to abolitionism and civil rights.

In the twentieth century the Boston Tea Party grew even larger in the public imagination. Esther Forbes won the Pulitzer Prize in 1943 for her non-fiction “Paul Revere and the World He Lived In” and a Newbery Medal in 1944 for “Johnny Tremain: A Novel for Old & Young,” her coming-of-age story whose protagonist witnesses the Boston Tea Party and events that came after it. Ironically, Forbes downplayed tensions between Colonists and Redcoats in “Johnny Tremain” because she wrote the novel during the Second World War—by which time the United States and Great Britain were no longer enemies but allies. On the Fourth of July in 1973 the United States Postal Service issued this set of se-tenant stamps, among the first in what would eventually be more than one hundred commemorative issues in the Bicentennial Series.

This week in 2023 there are again services and commemorations across the country marking this major anniversary in American history.


Image credits:

The Tea-Tax-Tempest (The Oracle), by John Dixon, 1774

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Silver teapot made in New York by Jacob Boelen, circa 1690–1700

The piece was owned at different times by the Philipse and Jay families.

Metropolitan Museum of Art

New England Woman’s Tea Party ticket, 1873

Boston Athenaeum

The Boston Tea Party Bicentennial Era stamp series, 1973

United States Postal Service


Keith J. Muchowski, a librarian and professor at New York City College of Technology (CUNY) in Brooklyn, writes occasionally for the Morristown National Historical Park Museum & Library blog.

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Did People Celebrate Halloween in Early America? A Brief History of the Holiday

 Did People Celebrate Halloween in Early America?

Modern Halloween, as we know it today, is a deeply engrained American tradition, elements of which have since dispersed all over the globe. However, that was not always so. The cheerful celebration we have today has origins in the ancient festival of Samhain celebrated on November 1st by the Celts in ancient Britain, Scotland, Ireland, and Northern France. Samhain was a festival that marked the end of the summer and harvest-time, and a beginning of the cold, dark, winter ahead – and the beginning of a new year. It was supposed by many that the eve of this new year was a time of liminality and that the lines between the living and the dead were blurred, with otherworldly spirits finding their way to the material realm. When ancient Rome conquered the Celtic lands, Roman and Celtic traditions became intertwined. The Romans celebrated Feralia, a holiday for the dead, in mid-October and the Roman goddess Pomona was also celebrated on November 1st. These two holidays would eventually converge with Samhain and the traditions mingled for many centuries. Ancient celebrations of Samhain and the hybrid Roman holidays included feasting, merry-making, sacred rituals, and communing with the dead.[i] [ii]

Victorian Depiction of "Souling," 1882. Credit: Wikipedia
In the early Catholic church, many were concerned about the ongoing celebration of ancient pagan traditions in addition to saints’ days. By the 8th century, however, Pope Gregory III determined that combining Catholic holidays with the traditional pagan holidays could bring people closer the Christian faith. The Church moved All Saints’ Day, a holiday that venerated Christian saints and martyrs, from May 13th to November 1st and All Souls’ Day, during which prayers were said for those in purgatory, to November 2nd. The night before November 1st became All Hallows' Eve – Hallowe’en. Christian pieties were migrated to the holidays, but many traditions remained similar, often including bonfires, parades, and disguises.[iii] It is said that during these festivities, the poor would go from house to house to beg for food, and that morsels called “soul cakes” would be given to them in exchange for prayers for the family’s dead. This activity, called "Souling," displaced the pre-Christian tradition of leaving offerings for the souls of the dead, and was eventually taken up by children, who were given food, drink, and coins – a precursor to modern trick-or-treating.[iv] Celebrations of this holiday were once more transformed in the 14th century when the Protestant Reformation lead many to eschew Catholic traditions like All Saints’ Day. In Protestant countries, the feast days were displaced by new events that often assumed the trappings of the old All Hallows' Eve – such as Guy Fawkes Day, which celebrated the defeat of a Catholic plot to overthrow the government of England.[v] 

Historic Depiction of Guy Fawkes Night, Credit: TorontoPast.com
The American colonies were founded on a variety of different religious and political traditions, meaning that All Hallows' Eve could have been celebrated in certain places but not others. In New England, for example, strict Protestant outlooks forbade the celebration of any holiday that alluded to Catholicism. Like many at home in England, Puritans in New England preferred Guy Fawkes Day. In the 17th century, this celebration included the community gathering around a bonfire, and in the 18th century it was quite a party. John Adams wrote: “Punch, wine, bread and cheese, apples, pipes, tobacco and Popes [referring to effigies] and bonfires this evening at Salem, and a swarm of tumultuous people attending.”[vi] 

Majority Anglican colonies, however, had a much more relaxed approach. All Saints’ Day and All Hallows’ Eve were often found on Anglican calendars.[vii] The colony of Maryland, which was the only Catholic colony, also permitted these celebrations. New Jersey, as a middle colony that practiced religious toleration, represented a convergence of many different religious faiths. It is possible that early New Jerseyans would have understood the significance of All Hallows’ Eve or, alternatively, celebrated Guy Fawkes Day. Indeed, the popular “mischief night” (considered by many to be a New Jersey tradition) is associated with the importation of the Fawkes celebrations.[viii] Presbyterians like the Ford family probably did not celebrate All Hallows' Eve or All Saints' Day, as many holidays traditionally associated with Catholicism were banned in the 18th century Presbyterian church. Despite a wide variety of approaches, the first generations of American citizens, including the Founders, were still likely familiar with the holidays. However, their understandings would have been influenced by the legacy of ancient celebrations (like bonfires and feasting), as well as the displacement of Catholicism by Protestant traditions in Britain and North America. It is very unlikely that they would recognize the Halloween traditions that many Americans enjoy today.

Ford Mansion in the Fall, Credit: Amy Hester
Halloween as we know it in the 21st century did not begin to be celebrated in a widespread fashion until the mid-19th century. In the wake of the revolution and rapid westward expansion, Fawkes celebrations and other old revelries fell out of fashion. However, activities such like bonfires, dancing, gossiping, and fortune-telling, were preserved in the context of other kinds of community celebrations, including rural harvests.[ix] The arrival of many Irish Catholic immigrants in the 1820s and 1840s, however, brought a resurgence of participation in All Hallows’ Eve and All Saints’ Day. Irish immigrant traditions carried traces of ancient Samhain, as well as their traditional Catholicism, and though All Saints’ Day was a relatively somber event, the evening before was one of merriment and mischief. Fortune telling was a popular All Hallows Eve activity, particularly for young women, as well as the creation of jack-o-lanterns. The Irish immigrants innovated the holiday in North America as well, with such changes as the use of pumpkins to replace turnips for jack-o-lanterns and recreating the soul cake tradition. Instead of dressing as saints in church parades or begging for soul cakes, revelers dressed in secular outfits and solicited treats from neighbors.[x]

Romantic Halloween Fortune-Telling on postcard,
Credit: marklawsonantiques.com
Transportation and communication innovations like the railroad, telegraph, and magazines brought Halloween traditions to the whole country, where they slowly underwent a secular transformation until, ultimately, Halloween was divested of religious significance in the 20th century. Through the turn of the century, Halloween was increasingly imagined as a romantic event for young lovers and a community event that could foster cohesion, particularly among communities with immigrant populations. It was in the 1920s that many of the first citywide Halloween events took place and when American children took up the time-honored amusement of going door-to-door for candy.[xi] By the 1990s, about 92% of children in the United States participated in trick-or-treating. Today, Americans spend more than $6 billion a year on Halloween, designating it the largest commercial holiday besides Christmas.[xii]

Halloween has transformed over the centuries from a deeply spiritual ritual to a commercialized, secular event. Our forebears would not recognize the event as we celebrate it today - and they might be dismayed by the celebrated presence of witches and ghouls. Although Halloween changes generationally, some important qualities are enduring: the gathering of a community for fellowship and the opportunity for frivolity as winter looms. We at Morristown National Historical Park hope you have enjoyed the Halloween season in 2023!

[i] Ellen Feldman, “The History of Halloween,” American Heritage 52.7 (October 2001), The History of Halloween (October 2001)

[ii] Norfolk Towne Assembly, “Halloween – Its Origins and History in Colonial and Early America” (2023), Halloween – Its Origins and History in Colonial and Early America  

[iii] Feldman, “The History of Halloween.”

[iv] Norfolk, “Halloween – Its Origins and History in Colonial and Early America.”

[v] Feldman, “The History of Halloween.”

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] Dan Nosowitz, “Why is Mischief Night Different From All Other Nights?,” Atlas Obscura (Oct 2021), Why Is Mischief Night Different From All Other Nights? - Atlas Obscura

[ix] Feldman, “The History of Halloween.”

[x] Ibid.

[xi] Ibid.

[xii] Editors, “Halloween 2023: Origins, Meaning & Traditions,” History.com (2023), Halloween 2023: Origins, Meaning & Traditions | HISTORY.

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Queen Charlotte in the Morristown Collection

Queen Charlotte in the Morristown Collection [MORR 9303]

The collection object highlighted in this post is MORR 9303, an album that contains twenty portrait engravings of King George III’s family, who have recently enjoyed a resurgence of public interest. Although King George is more famous for his associations with the American Revolution – indeed, a portrait of him is posted in our own galleries – his wife, Queen Charlotte, has become recently popular due to the regency-era romantic fantasies portrayed in the TV series Bridgerton and Queen Charlotte.

Portrait, Queen Charlotte, MORR 9303

The engraved, water-color portraits show the King, Queen, and children at various stages of life, as each portrait was copied from paintings completed at different times. The portrait in this album shows a middle-aged Queen Charlotte, gazing pensively back at the viewer in addition to a signed, hand-written note (added much later by a collector). Besides being featured in the album, Queen Charlotte was instrumental in its creation: it was commissioned by the Queen and produced by her private librarian, publicist, and engraver Edward Harding. In addition to being a fine example of turn of the century portraiture, it is an interesting articulation of Georgian consumer culture and reading habits that were engaged by people of all stations of life. Keep reading below for more information about Queen Charlotte, Edward Harding, and the portrait book!

Who was Queen Charlotte, Consort of George III of England?

Born to Duke Charles Louis of Mecklenburg and Princess Elisabeth Albertine of Saxe-Hildburghhousen in 1744 , Charlotte Sophia of Mecklenberg-Stelitz was a princess of a small principality of the Holy Roman Empire in what is now Germany. She lived a secluded childhood on countryside estate in Mirow and her upbringing was comparable to that of a member of the English gentry. Charlotte was described as short, slender, and plain according to the beauty standards of her time. Her education was typical for a well-to-do countrywoman (though perhaps considered “mediocre” for a member of the nobility), focusing mainly on religion and household management. She was, however, also an enthusiastic botanist, fluent in French, and was a competent musician. [i] [ii]

Portrait, Queen Charlotte, MORR 478

At age 17, in July 1761, Princess Charlotte was selected to be the bride of King George III of England. George III had recently ascended to the throne unmarried, and the government was keen for him to settle down. Charlotte was chosen from a list of potential candidates and her obscure German origins, lady’s education, protestant religious background, and “agreeable temper” were her prime credentials. It was thought that her modest education and background would make her a more compliant wife to the king and keep her out of politics. By September 7th, Charlotte arrived in England, and she was wed to King George a day later at St. James’s Palace. The wedding was a small, with only the royal family and a small group of guests in attendance. Although the wedding was rushed affair, the coronation of the new Queen was carried out with full ceremony. Her “unfailing good humor,” animated presence, intelligence, and unpretentiousness made her popular amidst her introduction to the English court.[iii] [iv]

Queen Charlotte’s court was filled with art and intellectuals. She and her husband were both connoisseurs of music and Charlotte had a particular preference for German composers, making Johann Christian Bach, the 11th son of Johann Sebastian Bach her personal music-master. The Queen even hosted a performance by a young Mozart, who eventually dedicated his Opus 3 to her in 1765. Her interests in botany and natural history also spilled over onto the grounds of her home at Kew Palace, where she spent many hours cataloging plants in the gardens and tending to a menagerie that famously housed kangaroos – the first of their kind in Britain. Members of the Bluestockings, an 18th century women’s intellectual movement, were also known to be part of her inner circle. She was interested in education, particularly the education of women, and ensured that her children undertook coursework that reflected the scientific enterprises of the Enlightenment. The early period of their marriage was purportedly happy, and the first of 15 children was born within a year of their wedding.[v] [vi]

Portrait, King George III, MORR 9303 

However, life was not always happy or simple for the royal couple, and their domestic life was frequently interrupted by the interference of George III’s mother and the politics of the nobles and courtiers surrounding them. Their tenure as sovereigns was also marked by major disruptive events, both personal and political. America’s revolution against Great Britain was particularly notable. Although Queen Charlotte largely eschewed politics, she took a special interest in the events of the war – perhaps because of the deployment of German troops to aid the British war effort. Their lives were also interrupted by King George’s bouts of illness, speculated by some medical historians to be a hereditary condition called porphyria. The King’s illness significantly impacted his mental health and ability to rule and, after a particularly severe episode in 1788, his faculties began to decline. In 1811, George III was determined to be unfit to rule and his eldest son acted as Prince Regent from 1811 through his death in 1820. Queen Charlotte was appointed the legal guardian of the King, his court, and his underaged children, a role that she held until her own passing. [vii] [viii] [ix]

Edward Harding: Engraver, Printer, and Publicist of Queen Charlotte

Born in 1755, Edward Harding was the younger brother of popular miniature painter Silvester Harding. After receiving an education at the Royal Academy, Edward joined his brother in opening a very successful print and bookseller business. Silvester was particularly notable for his skill at copying portraits, a reputation that became an asset for the shop during a period of public interest in engravings and small portraiture. This fad gained traction after the publication of Rvd James Grangers illustrated Biographical History of England (1769), which featured portraits with the text. Including these types of portraits and illustrations came to be known as “Grangerising,” and the Harding brothers, along with their employees and other family members, took up the business of creating these portraits for book

King George in the Gallery, MORR 3262

printers and the public.[x]

When the Harding brothers broke up their business, Edward Harding went on to be librarian to Queen Charlotte, who had begun her own personal collection of papers and books beyond the royal library – many of these were self-bound books in which she had collected prints and her own manuscripts. Most of these were stored at Windsor, a favored place of the royal family in their later years. Harding helped the Queen create and catalogue these unique volumes. In the early 1790s, Frogmore House was acquired for the personal use of Queen Charlotte, who used it as a place of respite. She also moved her vast collection of books – more than 4,500 titles – to Frogmore, where whole new wings were built to accommodate them. Eventually, it also housed Frogmore Press, which was founded as a private printing press in 1809.[xi]

Letter, Queen Charlotte, MORR 2303
One of the many projects Harding worked on under this employment was an illustrated copy of royal family portraits – the very same volume in Morristown’s collection. Entitled, Portraits of the whole Royal Family, with engravings by Bourlier, Cheesman, and others, in the Royal Collection, the book had a special dedication to the Queen from Harding. Harding obtained permission from the Queen to reproduce the images from his expert engravings and sell a limited batch of books to the nobility, with plan books listed at £5 and colored selections for £10. The original version of the book, presented to the Queen in 1806, contained twenty portraits. Every portrait in the book is accompanied by a letter signed by the family member depicted. These letters, however, were added after publication of the book by an autograph collector, making our edition quite unique. Queen Charlotte’s letter is a thank-you note directed to Lord Sudley, dated 25th January 1807.[xii]

Harding also worked with other members of the royal family, particularly Princess Elizabeth, who designed and produced her own etched plates. He continued to publish projects at the behest of the Queen, which included prayer and hymn books, poetry collections, theatrical prints, botanical guides and illustrations, and national histories of Europe. Many of these publications were given out as gifts from the Queen, although it is uncertain how many she authored herself. After Queen Charlotte’s death , Harding remained employed by the royal family, working for both George IV and Prince Ernest. [xiii]

Written by: Amy Hester, Museum Technician

[i] “Queen Charlotte,” Historic Royal Palaces, Queen Charlotte | Kew Palace | Historic Royal Palaces (hrp.org.uk).
[ii] “Queen Charlotte (19 May 1744 – 17 November 1818),” The Royal Family | Encyclopedia, Queen Charlotte (19 May 1744 - 17 November 1818) | The Royal Family.
[iii] “Queen Charlotte,” Historic Royal Palaces.
[iv] Percy Hetherington Fitzgerald, The Good Queen Charlotte (London: Downey & Co. 1899), 1- 36.
[v] “Queen Charlotte,” Historic Royal Palaces.
[vi] Queen Charlotte (19 May 1744 – 17 November 1818),” The Royal Family.
[vii] Percy Hetherington Fitzgerald, The Good Queen Charlotte, 43-52.
[viii] Julie Miller, “Bridgerton and the Real Queen Charlotte,” Library of Congress, “Bridgerton” and the Real Queen Charlotte (loc.gov).
[ix] “Queen Charlotte (19 May 1744 – 17 November 1818),” The Royal Family
[x] Jane Roberts, “Edward Harding and Queen Charlotte,” Burning Bright: Essays in Honor of David Blindman (UCL Press, 2015), 146 – 147.
[xi] Jane Roberts, “Edward Harding and Queen Charlotte,” 147 – 152.
[xii] Jane Roberts, “Edward Harding and Queen Charlotte,” 151.
[xiii] Jane Roberts, “Edward Harding and Queen Charlotte,” 151 – 159.

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Algonkian Living History


Drew Shuptar-Rayvis will present an immersive program designed to educate those attending in the ways of life of Native Americans living in what is today southwest Connecticut, with trade routes extending to modern day southern New York and northern New Jersey. This program will cover the approximate time period of 1700 to the 1763, the period includes the French and Indian War (Seven Years’ War) which would ultimately lead to the American War for independence.

Glimpse the seismic changes in Algonkian life (daily living, customs of war, adoption/captivity, alliances, friendships and marriages between Natives, Europeans and Africans) during the first half of the 18th century as the consequences of contact with new European neighbors in the Northeast rippled outward. The rising fur trade, persistent conversion efforts from Christian missionaries, epidemic disease and forced removal from tribal lands changed the balance of Algonkian life forever even as further colonial wars raged on, including Queen Anne’s, King William’s and the Seven Years’ War. Compare and examine traditional items such as pelts and daily objects made of stone, bone, wood and shell with those items acquired through trade: a set of trade axes, a flintlock musket, metal knives, blankets, jewelry (such as glass beads and earrings), clay pipes and entirely different pelts.

This was a period intense rivalry between England and France for dominance on the North American continent and collaboration with Native American tribes was seen as crucial for both England and France. This struggle for allies led to the French and Indian War which ended in the Treaty of Paris of 1763 with England in near complete control of America. Twenty years later, France, America, and their Native allies would be victorious, ensuring American independence.

When: Saturday October 7, 2023 at 1:00

Where: Morristown National Historical Park Museum Auditorium, 30 Washington Place, Morristown.

Monday, September 18, 2023




 The descriptions of General William Winds[1] are extraordinary.  He was described as “a natural force of character,” “chivalric in his bravery,” and “the bravest of the brave.”  He was considered “a leader of the people” with “natural gifts” who served with “great influence in the community.”  He was quick to act with boldness, though sometimes hot-tempered and mercurial.  His personality was described as a “warm imperious temper,” “warm-blooded,” or a somewhat less flattering description, “imperious and petulant.”  Physically, he was described as a “large and powerful man” of “gigantic frame and strength,” with “great physical powers.”  Some even went so far as to call him “a giant, with a giant’s strength.”

But the most remarkable thing about William Winds was his voice.  Rev. Ashbel Green[2] called his voice “stentorophonic,” (definition:  loud, powerful, booming) and said that it “exceeded in part and efficiency (for it was articulate as well as loud) every other human voice I ever heard.”  A neighbor who lived more than a half mile away said that often she could hear him talking to the laborers in his fields.  There is a story that he frightened off a detachment of British soldiers by calling at the top of his voice, “open to the right and left and let the artillery through.”  But his voice was most notable when he sang in church, and parishioners would say that he drowned the voices of the whole congregation and would make the very building itself shake.  Church members would say that when Winds led in prayer, his voice was gentle and low until he began to pray for the cause of American freedom, when his excitement became explosive and his voice was raised until it sounded like “heavenly thunder.”  One time, a messenger interrupted a church service with news that the enemy was marching towards Morristown.  Winds, who never went to church without his arms, exhibited angry impatience because the minute men had come to church without their guns.  On this alarm he was so provoked that one witness said “he spoke, or rather bawled, so loud that I should think he might have been heard to the Short Hills.”

William Winds was born in Southold, Long Island in 1727 or 1728 and moved to Morris County as a young man, investing successfully in real estate.  He lived in what was then considered Rockaway, near the boundaries with Dover and Denville.

During the French & Indian War he received a royal commission as a captain and went on an expedition to Canada in 1758.  His troops fell under attack on their march in upstate New York (most likely related to the Battle of Carillon/Ticonderoga) and were forbidden by their commander to fire or offer any resistance.  Even though Winds was a subordinate, he challenged his senior officer, who then drew his sword at Winds.  Winds did not back down, and the commander fled for his life, leaving Winds to assume command.

 After the F&I war, he received a commission as one of the King’s Justices of the Peace for Morris County.  Soon after, the British imposed the Stamp Act of 1765 on the American colonies, which taxed paper used for legal documents and newspapers.  Winds found this to be intolerable oppression and resisted its enforcement.  To avoid the use of stamped paper, Justice Winds substituted birch bark for all his warrants, writs, bonds, and other legal documents.  As the situation became more tense, Winds served as a chairman of the Freeholders, who were responsible for selecting delegates to the First and Second Continental Congress.

When the Revolution broke out, Winds was commissioned a Lieutenant Colonel in the 1st New Jersey Battalion of the Continental Army in November 1775.  While serving under Lord Stirling at Perth Amboy in January 1776, Winds was given the task to arrest New Jersey Governor William Franklin, son of Benjamin Franklin and staunch loyalist.  After receiving a letter from Franklin saying that he had no intention to “quit the Province,” Winds stationed sentries outside of Franklin’s home, greatly annoying Franklin.  In an interesting exchange of testy letters between Winds and Franklin, Winds said “As you in a former letter wrote noting but what was your duty to do as a faithful officer of the Crown; so I say, touching the sentinels placed at your gate, I have done nothing but what was my duty to do as a faithful officer of the Congress.”  A few days later, Winds was responsible for arresting Franklin and delivering him to Lord Stirling at Elizabethtown.

When Lord Stirling was promoted to Brigadier General, Winds took Stirling’s place and was promoted Colonel of the 1st New Jersey Battalion on 7 Mar 1776.  Soon after, his unit marched north to protect the army’s retreat from Canada and defend the area of upstate New York. 

 Many enlistments of the Jerseymen expired in November 1776, and Winds pressed for the regiment to leave Fort Ticonderoga to return home to honor his promise to the soldiers.  In a very public humiliation, General Sullivan wrote a general order expressing his hearty thanks to the officers and soldiers of the 1st Jersey Battalion who remained with the army “for the honor and public spirit they shew in distaining to follow the infamous example of their Colonel and the deluded soldiers who followed him.  The General would inform them that the drums were beat by his order in derision of the few who had the baseness to quite their posts in this time of danger.” 

This episode instigated the end of Winds’ service in the Continental Army, though it did nothing to diminish his passion for the Revolutionary cause, nor the confidence of the solders and citizens of New Jersey.  On 3 February 1777 he was elected Colonel of the Western Battalion of the Morris County Militia, and only weeks later in March he was elected Brigadier General of the New Jersey State Militia.  He continued to serve bravely during the Forage Wars of the winter of 1777, at battles and skirmishes at Bound Brook, Elizabethtown, Woodbridge, Quibbletown, and Strawberry Hill.  In 1778 he fought several skirmishes in the areas of Elizabethtown and Hackensack, served at the Battle of Monmouth, and led an expedition to Minisink on the Delaware against the Native Americans. 

He demonstrated his boldness regularly.  In one of many British attempts to attack Morristown, they reached as far as the Passaic at Chatham.  The British officer sent word to Gen. Winds that he would take dinner at Morristown the next day.  The General sent word back, “If you dine in Morristown to-morrow noon, you will sup in hell to-morrow night.”

General Winds resigned his commission on 10 June 1779, yet he still supported the Revolutionary cause actively.  He participated in the Battle of Springfield in 1780.  In 1781 he commanded a detachment of men who supported Lafayette’s efforts to distract the British as Rochambeau’s troops passed through on their way to Yorktown.  In 1788, General Winds was one of those elected by Morris County to the New Jersey State Convention to ratify the new Constitution of the United States.

On 12 October 1789, General Winds died of “dropsy of the chest” on his farm at the corner of today’s Cooper Road and Franklin Road in Denville.  Deeply supportive of the Presbyterian Church in Rockaway and contributing liberally to the church’s expenses and funding its first meeting house, he continued to offer financial support even in his death.  In his will signed the day before he passed, he gave a portion of his estate to the church to build a parsonage.  He was buried at the church’s burying yard with the honors of war.  His gravestone reads,

Under this monument lies buried the body of Wm. Winds, Esq., who departed this life, Oct 12th, 1789, in the 62d year of his age.


His natural abilities were considerable, which he improved for the good of his fellow-men.  Whenever the cause of his country and liberty called, he ventured his life on the field of battle.  As a civil magistrate he acted with integrity, and also sustained the office of Captain, Major, Colonel, and General, with great honor.


He was a provident husband, a kind neighbor, a friend to the poor, and a good Christian.  Blessed are the dead that die on the Lord.



Find-a-Grave Memorial #15970710



Crayon, J. Percy, Rockaway Records of Morris County, N.J. Families, Rockaway NJ:  Rockaway Publishing Company, 1902

Munsell, W.W. & Co., History of Morris County, New Jersey, 1882, pp. 299-301

Tuttle, Rev. Joseph F., “Biographical Sketch of General William Winds,” Proceedings of the New Jersey Historical Society, Vol. VII No. 1, May 1853, pp. 14-37

_____, 1st New Jersey Regiment, wikipedia.com

_____, “William Winds:  A Revolutionary General,” Researching New Jersey History:  A Companion Site to WPU Digital History, newjerseyhistory.wordpress.com

[1] A natural assumption is that his last name is pronounced with a short “i,” like the word “wind” as in a breeze.  However, in the phonetic spelling of the day, many soldiers who served under General Winds spelled his name “Wines.”  This suggests that his name might have been pronounced with a long “i,” like the word for winding a clock.

[2] Rev. Ashbel Green was a local Presbyterian minister, son of the well-known Rev. Jacob Green of the Presbyterian Church of Hanover, president of The College of New Jersey (now Princeton University), and chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives.