University in NJ making curious discoveries into Revolutionary War history
🔵 Kean University begins research study into two key Revolutionary War battles
🔵 The two conflicts they're looking into occurred near where what is now their campus
🔵 Kean and Monmouth Universities looking into battles of Connecticut Farms and Springfield
A team of researchers at Kean University are taking a closer look at two impactful battles that took place during the Revolutionary War here in New Jersey, and, at the approximate location of what is now their campus in Union County.
Jonathan Mercantini, Acting Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and an Associate Professor of History says they want to perform a deeper investigation into the battles of Connecticut Farms and Springfield, the last major military confrontations in New Jersey that took place in June of 1780.
Their research begins with a look at some records.
"There's journals from Hessian mercenaries that were fighting on the British side, there are a bunch of damage claims and other reports as well as military documents from the American side, we have maps that are a really important part of this project," Mercantini said.
The Kean University team is working with Monmouth University students and staff including geographers and historians to pinpoint what happened and where it took place.
Once they're able to mark those spots and create some road signs, you'll be able to find and trace down those places as well via a Q-R code and learn about what happened as the country gets set to mark the 250th anniversary.
"People that are interested in this, and we know interest is going to be increasing as we get towards that anniversary, can essentially do their own driving tour of following both of these armies and see how the area was impacted by these battles," Mercantini said.
They're also looking into some of the mythology surrounding the battles of Springfield and Connecticut Farms.
"It's at the Battle of Connecticut Farms that Elizabeth Caldwell, who was the wife of the pastor at the church, is killed and all of the evidence points to the fact that she was killed by British soldiers," Mercantini. "That, of course, is commemorated on the Union County seal. That's another kind of famous story that we're looking at."
There were many homes in the battlefield areas and some reports of certain actions taking place there that this research team wants to be sure of what happened and who was allegedly involved.
"We're focusing, to a certain extent, on women's roles in these battles, and women weren't serving as soldiers, but, they were in the homes that were right in the field of fire, in many cases and they suffered tremendous damage," Mercantini said. "The British burned a number of homes in Connecticut Farms and in the second battle, they burn most of the town of Springfield as well, so, they're creating additional refugees as apart of that battle."
They're also looking to study the interactions that reportedly took place at the Liberty Hall Mansion involving Governor William Livingston's family.
"Several of Governor Livingston's daughters are in the Liberty Hall mansion, the house at the time, and are having these interactions with British soldiers particularly," Mercantini said. "There's some mythology around those interactions and so we want to study that."
In addition to what is roughly known or not known much about, the researchers will be looking for and into what they don't even know right now.
"A lot of the Hessian records -- were written in German -- some have been translated but others haven't, so historians haven't had a much access to that as would be helpful for them," Mercantini said. "Whenever you start asking questions even of existing sources -- there's letters from George Washington to William Livingston, there's letters from George Washington to some of his militia commanders that are really on the front lines of these battles."
While those letters are published and out there, Mercantini explains that it's helpful to give them a fresh set of eyes to see what else they can uncover about what happened.
The researchers will be using modern day technology and other methods to dive into what happened and where it took place.
Their plan is to unveil the findings at a public event in June and over time put up new signs, develop an audio self-driving tour, and use what they found to be shared for K-12 educational activities.
Kean University said that this historical research project was provided with an $18,550 grant from the New Jersey Historical Commission.
Mercantini is joined on this team of researchers by other staff and students at Kean and honors history alumnus Nicole Skalenko ’20, now a Rutgers-Camden graduate student.
They have been teaming up with co-project lead with Mercantini, Richard Veit, Ph.D., interim dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Monmouth University, Geoffrey Fouad, Ph.D., an associate professor of geography, Melissa Ziobrio, a specialist professor of public history, and MU student Matthew Kramer.