From the old “Allentown Messenger,” a column written by Joseph H. West of Hamilton Sq. dated December 17, 1908, about Allentown in the Revolutionary War. Articles such as these greatly aided our recent research effort of this period in American history.
“In New Jersey records of the war of the Revolution the name of Allentown appears several times in military dispatches of commanding officers. Although no engagement with the British took place in this immediate neighborhood, the citizens of our quiet little village experienced considerable of the excitement and alarms of war during the first three years of the struggle owing to the nearness of the contending armies. The place was at different times held by our own troops and by those of the enemy.
“About the time of the battle of Trenton a body of Hessian troopers from Lord Cornwallis’ army at Princeton were raiding about this section, and for a time held possession of our town.
“In the early part of 1778 the place was occupied by a force of American militia in command of Col. Benjamin Flowers, as is shown by a letter from General Washington to that officer, the original of which is still preserved. The letter is dated ‘Head Quarters, 10th, March 1778,’ and is addressed ‘Colo. Benjn. Flowers or his deputy Allen Town.’
“The most imposing military display for the villagers was when the British army under General Clinton passed through the place just before the battle of Monmouth. According to a diary found on the body of an English officer killed in that engagement, the army arrived at Allentown on June 24th and remained here until 4 o’clock in the morning of the 25th.
“An interesting incident connected with Clinton’s march through Allentown on June 24, 1778, was the stopping that night of Major Andre with a sick brother for medicinal treatment at the home of Dr. James Newell, which stood on the site of the Baptist Church [Library]. After the officers had gone the next day it was discovered that a small silver medicine spoon had been left by them, and it has been treasured by the Doctor’s descendants through four generations as a precious heirloom.
“Several men from Allentown and vicinity were members of the Monmouth Militia, a force which did noble service as an aid to Washington’s Continentals in the Jersey campaigns. Among those who held commissions in the Second Regiment were Col. David Brearley, Maj. William Montgomery, and Capt. James Bruere, all of Allentown.
“During the war the section of country known as the Pines was used as a hiding place by a gang of villains who called themselves Refugees. Their chief object was plunder, and going in bands about the country they committed all sorts of outrages – robbing, burning and even murdering to accomplish their purpose. Professing to be loyal to the English government, yet they had no scruples in attacking loyalists as well as patriot homes. One of their acts was the shooting of Richard Wilgus on August 7, 1782, while he was guarding contraband goods near Allentown to prevent their being forwarded to the British.
“One Giles Williams, who was a prominent leader among the outlaws, was captured in the edge of the Pines and brought to this place. The facts in the case are stated in a letter from Col. David Brearley to Gov. William Livingston dated Allentown, May 19, 1777.
“Jesse Woodward, another member of the gang who was secured about the same time, made a confession before Francis Wade, of Allentown, in the presence of Colonel Brearley.
“Besides those of the Refugees who were hanged or killed in various places, thirteen were hanged on one gallows near Freehold Court House.
“During the years 1778, ’79, ’81 and ’83 the Court of Admiralty sat at Allentown to adjust the claims of parties for their share of prize money received from the sales of vessels and cargoes that they had captured from the British. The Court met at the houses of Gilbert Barton and Joseph Lawrence, the last meeting being at the house of the latter in the early part of 1783, Joseph Lawrence was judge.
“The old-fashioned houses of the Revolution times in Allentown have long since disappeared and have been replaced with some of the town’s most prominent buildings. A noticeable structure in those days was a market house that our old residents in bygone years used to say stood in the center of Main street near where Waker Avenue now is, but which at that time was not yet laid out. The building was probably taken down about the beginning of the last century. [The old market house’s ‘stepping stone,’ used to alight from a horse, is presently located in front of Borough Hall] At the time of its removal a cannon ball was found there which came into possession of the late William Imlay of this town, and is still preserved with the other relics in the old Imlay mansion.
“During the early part of the war, while military operations were in progress hereabouts, the original frame gristmill on Doctors creek was operated by [Burlington militia Colonel] Joseph Haight, who came into possession in November, 1776. On many occasion, doubtless, the products of this old structure helped to swell the amount of food supplies necessary for the use of both of the contending forces while in this neighborhood. [Colonel Haight or Height was also Assistant Commissary of Purchases and signed certificates in the Quartermaster General’s Department]
“ Communication in those time with the outside world was by stage coaches, one of which passed through Allentown twice a week on its trip from Burlington to South Amboy, and this was the only route for passenger travel between Philadelphia and New York. The balance of the trip to each end was by sailing vessels to the two cities. During the war this business was much interrupted, but by 1790 it was estimated that about 2,000 passengers were carried that year each way.”