With soured dispositions spelled across their weathered faces and inadequate food supplies to sustain them, citizens-turned-soldiers trudged along the muddy, rain-soaked road – now, more than two centuries later, known as Lawrence Road or Route 206 – as they went to face what was then the greatest fighting force on the planet.
They were ordinary men – farmers, blacksmiths and tavern owners, many from Maidenhead, as Lawrence Township was then known – who set aside their families, shops and harvests to defend our developing nation against the British army during the Revolutionary War.
The stories of these men and their sacrifices were highlighted during the Lawrence Historical Society's annual Mary Tanner Lecture presented by historian Larry Kidder at Rider University on Sunday (Oct. 14).
"This area is so deeply interested and involved in the Revolution," Kidder said. "I think it's a story about real people at the ground level...who lived out their lives here."
Kidder compiled his data through an almost three-year study of the pension records filed by soldiers who served during the Revolutionary War. To receive a pension, the militiamen had to recount the stories of their duties in battles, describing the location and officers under whom they served.
He admits interpretation of the records faced some issues. Soldiers did not apply for pensions until 1832, some 50 years after the war had ended. That's because there was no legislation offering pension benefits to soldiers before then. Kidder was able to cross-reference some questionable information with other documents.
“You have to suspect that some may exaggerate since they were applying for a pension," said Kidder. “Instead, it was touching how truthful they were."
Kidder's depiction of the First Hunterdon Militia Regiment during 1775 through 1783 illustrates the struggle to survive in New Jersey during the Revolutionary War and offers new insight into the life of citizen-soldiers from Maidenhead, Ewing, Hopewell and Trenton.
The Revolutionary War was not a remote war, according to Kidder. Many fellow militiamen in the four regiments from Hunterdon County – to which Lawrence Township and neighboring towns then belonged – were friends and family.
“Imagine ordering into combat friends, relatives. Often sons would serve under their fathers in the same regiment," said Kidder.
Many points made by Kidder during his presentation were to correct inaccuracies purported by other historians.
During the Battle of Trenton, the guides were referred to as local farmers; however, Kidder's research found these men, Elias and Joseph Phillips, both from Maidenhead, were members of the militia out on duty.
Elias Hunt of Maidenhead is also named as a local farmer, according to Kidder, but he says Hunt was responsible for the infamous "death of a jager at Maidenhead," the killing of a Hessian soldier who was buried on Col. Joseph Phillips’ farm – which today is Howell Living Historical Farm in Hopewell Township.
"I thought it was a really powerful story for this community because many of [the soldiers] have descendents that still live here," Kidder said.
Lawrence Township resident Sherry Heffern came to the event hoping to hear some information about her ancestors.
Although, she was unsuccessful, Heffern still enjoyed the presentation.
"I just love listening to all the history of Maidenhead because it's my history," Heffern said.
Family names that were mentioned included Anderson, Bainbridge, Phillips and Brearly.
Heffern was surprised at the lack of previously-available information considering Maidenhead's important location half-way between New York City and Philadelphia.
Two dirt roads – Old York Road and the Kings Highway – passed directly through Maidenhead and were used extensively during the war for transport of soldiers and goods.
"As much as [the soldiers] came through here you would think that Maidenhead was neglected," Heffern said.
Kidder hopes to fix that. A majority of his work involving the pension records and other documentation is complete, and he is finishing up his work with local history suppositories.
"I think I’ve got the bulk of it done, but I do have to do some fine tuning. It'll be a book within a year I hope."
an event sponsored by the historical society and the Lawrence Township Community Foundation that will take place from noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 27, at Lawrence High School.