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Reverend James Caldwell

JAMES CALDWELL was born on April 14, 1734.  As a child, he spent much of his time helping out on his family’s farm— clearing land, feeding livestock, harvesting crops, cutting wood, hunting game, and fishing.  At an early age, James felt the desire to become a minister, so he prepared by learning to read and write.  In 1755, he entered the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University).  After graduating and being ordained a minister, James was hired as the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethtown.  One year later, in 1763, he married Hannah Ogden.  In the next sixteen years, they had ten children.  One of the schools in Union is named after Hannah.

IN THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION (1775-1783), the thirteen colonies won their independence from Great Britain. Because so many battles of that war were fought in New Jersey, our state became known as the Crossroads of the Revolution. 

Rev. James Caldwell - Battle of Springfield

The Battle of Connecticut Farms, for example, took place on June 7, 1780, in present-day Union—mostly around Chestnut Street and Stuyvesant Avenue, when British forces turned from where Colonial Avenue is today. 

 

When British and Hessian troops retreated from that battle, Hannah Caldwell was shot and killed through her bedroom window by a British soldier.  When James learned what had happened, he was saddened and angry.  From his pulpit and on horseback, he spread the word of her death.  Hannah's sacrifice increased the determination of the Patriots to fight on for independence.

On June 23, 1780, Rev. Caldwell helped the Patriot troops defeat the British at the Battle of Springfield, near the border between Union and Springfield, which prevented the enemy from getting to Morristown and capturing Gen. George Washington.

Grave Marker of James and Hannah Caldwell at the First Presbyterian Church - Elizabeth, NJ

The names of some of those families were:  Headley, Lyons, Burnet, Lum, Bonnell, Meeker, Crane, Wade, Dayton, Townley, and Sayre.  Local streets and schools bear some of those names.

Rev. James Caldwell Preaching a Fiery Sermon

ON NOVEMBER 24, 1781, Rev. Caldwell was shot and killed by James Morgan, an American sentry at the port of Elizabethtown.  Caldwell had gone there to escort Beulah Murray, who came from New York to visit relatives.  Because Caldwell was carrying a bag, Morgan ordered him to stop since Americans were worried about illegal British goods coming into New Jersey.  

Rev.James Caldwell helping Patriot troops - Battle of Springfield

Caldwell stopped, but Morgan shot him anyway. Morgan was arrested, put on trial for murder, and found guilty.  Rev. Caldwell’s children were left orphans—the oldest was seventeen-years-old, and the youngest was barely two.  But, because of their love for Rev. Caldwell, caring relatives and friends took care of all the children.  Even George Washington donated $100 for their support.

IT WAS COMMON, before and during the American Revolution, for Presbyterian (and other) ministers to give sermons about the cause of liberty.  James Caldwell did that and much more.  When the fighting broke out in 1775, Caldwell became a chaplain of the Third New Jersey Brigade (commanded by Colonel Elias Dayton) and traveled with those troops. 

Caldwell Parsonage - Union, NJ

He preached and performed other duties for them, including funerals. In 1777, Caldwell was made Deputy Quarter Master--meaning his job was to find food, supplies, clothing, and weapons for the soldiers.  Doing so at that time was extremely difficult because of slow transportation and communication, as well as a shortage of money.  One of Caldwell's biggest challenges was getting shoes for his men.

BEFORE COLONISTS CAME to this area, the land had been inhabited by the Lenni Lenape— part of the Algonquin nation, later known as the Delaware.  The tribe was divided into three clans—the one that lived here was Pokekooungo (the Crawling Turtle Clan). Union did not become a township until 1808.  Before that, its name was Connecticut Farms—a part of Elizabethtown (now Elizabeth)— because it had been settled by farm families from Connecticut in 1667. 

The Caldwell Parsonage was rebuilt in 1782 after being burned down by the British in 1780.