By Assemblyman Alex Sauickie
In two short months, the National Society of the Cincinnati will host a two-day tour of the Monmouth Battlefield in Freehold. The society is well known in Revolutionary War circles for its excellent educational programming and tours of battlefields. The fact that a national group is touring one of New Jersey’s many battlefields is testament to the importance of our state in the upcoming 250th anniversary of our nation’s independence and to the possibilities of historic tourism.
New Jersey is known as the “Crossroads of the Revolution” not merely because of its location between British-held New York City and the patriot capital of Philadelphia, but also because 296 engagements occurred within our borders – the most of any of the thirteen colonies. It was also the home of two winter encampments of the Continental Army and many privateer forces off our coast.
As a member of the New Jersey General Assembly who has voiced increasing concerns over the actual and potential effects of irresponsible planning policy, I have become aware of the possibility that several warehouses might be built on the location of a British encampment in the Allentown-Upper Freehold area.
British forces used this location as they evacuated Philadelphia for New York City in 1778. The actions taken on this property and in this area ultimately led to the Battle of Monmouth, a fight that was sure to be lost but for the valiant and able leadership of General George Washington. The army, under Washington’s command, used the training they had recently received at Valley Forge to fight the largest artillery battle of the war. The Battle of Monmouth ended in a draw – a first constructive victory for the Continental Army.
We in New Jersey must take a leading role in protecting our historical sites from loss due to unchecked development. This loss or threat of loss is happening all over the state, as seen with the recent issues surrounding the expansion of the Princeton Battlefield.
That is why I have introduced A5677, a bill that would provide $50 million in grants to local governments and non-profit organizations to support the preservation, extension, and management of Revolutionary War battlefields, encampments and skirmish sites that are endangered by development.
The program would be housed in the New Jersey Department of State, where successful historical and cultural programs already work to support New Jersey’s heritage. The department will use its expertise to develop criteria for evaluating applications and award grants to the best applicants.
By creating this program, New Jersey – like our predecessors – can win on many fronts. New and expanded sites will encourage more historic tourism and bring with it an expanded need for overnight lodging, food, other economic development. This program will also educate the public on the founding of our nation and the role various men and women played in that endeavor.
This sort of civic education has been sorely lacking over the last several decades. A pre-COVID study done by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, found that only one in three Americans can pass the United States citizenship exam. That fact is appalling.
As recently as this Fourth of July, I had the honor and pleasure of going to Allentown to read aloud the Declaration of Independence. The respect I saw for the historical significance of this document, not only as a symbol but for its substance, was encouraging. More such events must be held, and other founding documents remembered – like the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to our Constitution, which was first ratified by the Garden State.
New Jersey has a rich history that must be preserved and shared with our fellow citizens. But in accomplishing that inspiring task, our state’s important, historical sites and locations must be protected from destruction. With other leaders across the state joining me on this legislation, we can save our state’s rich heritage. I urge each of you to get involved and do your part to preserve our legacy in time for celebrating America’s 250th anniversary.
Alex Sauickie is a life-long Jackson resident who represents his home town and 13 other towns in the State Assembly. Follow him on Facebook (AssemblymanAlex) and on Instagram (@ AssemblymanAlex), or visit his website at AssemblymanAlex.com.
Note: This opinion piece originally appeared in The Jackson Times by Jersey Shore Online in its publication dated July 29, 2023.