Historical Society Reveals Roles of Black, Native American People in Westfield’s Revolutionary Past

04/03/2024

By Andrea Crowley-Hughes

Troops who marched through Westfield during the American Revolution were a more diverse group than the narrative often portrays, according to research that the Westfield Historical Society presented last week at the Reeve History & Cultural Center.

“We have to get away from the idea that the Revolution was a white man’s war,” Robert A. Selig, the historical consultant for the Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route Association said during the presentation of grant-funded research on that route.

An estimated 1,800 troops, including Alexander Hamilton’s Battalion of Light Infantry, traveled the Washington-Rochambeau route to Yorktown, Va., in 1781*.

Research uncovering lesser-known narratives about those who traversed it through Westfield, conducted from August 2023 through March 2024, was funded through a grant from the New Jersey Historical Commission.

“Some stories are really well-known with regards to the military history — Washington, Rochambeau, Cornwallis — but we wanted to focus on more of the untold stories, the voices that haven’t been centered in the same way, that have been marginalized,” said project coordinator Robert Forloney, who is a cultural institution consultant and adjunct faculty member at Johns Hopkins University.

Around 5,000 African Americans and Native Americans are estimated to have served in the Continental Army, Sean Dineen, adjunct Professor of History at Kean University, said.

Of this number, 108 non-white soldiers of the Rhode Island Regiment and four Black women are known to have marched through Westfield on their way to Philadelphia and Yorktown.

Susannah Mary Chewning, senior English professor at Union College of New Jersey, delved into church documents and other sources to confirm that there were more enslaved people in the region called the West Fields of Elizabeth than tax records show.

In addition to the 25 families in the region that listed enslaved people in the rateables census between 1779 and 1781, Chewning confirmed another nine listed as being enslaved to other families at that time.

Ceasar (Ceazar) Drake, was enslaved for many years and freed in 1769, after his owner, Isaac Drake, died. He served as a Teamster in Continental Service in 1780*.

Records from the Presbyterian Church of Westfield, which was integrated, led Chewning to other enslaved people, including two given the names of Pomp and Sambo.

Pomp, born in about 1757, was baptized and became a member of the Church in 1777. Chewning estimates Pomp was freed before 1803, when he purchased the freedom of daughter Flora.

“He was definitely a member of the community and here during the march, and raised his own family in Westfield,” Chewning said.

Sambo, who was the sexton of the Presbyterian church, had his own house listed on a map from the time period of the march.

Chewning presented a record confirming that Sambo was buried in the graveyard of the church.

“We know he was buried in the churchyard because of this record,” Chewning said. “I guess until I noticed it nobody paid attention to the fact that this was the interment date.”

Claire Garland, president of the Sand Hill Indian Historical Association, researched Native American involvement.

Although diplomats from the Cherokee nation went to London in 1762* to attempt peace negotiations with King George III, Native Americans were not included in treaty discussions or settlements at the end of the war, Garland said.

Britain ceded all lands east of Mississippi and south of Canada without any input from Native nations, whose members were seen as non-citizens until 1924.

The Westfield Historical Society plans to develop educational programs, pamphlets and publications from the research and work on exhibits, memorials, markers and signage in town.

“This is the first time, for the trail in New Jersey, such a research project has been done that ties so many elements together and gives a scholarly foundation to Westfield’s identity as a trail town,” Julie Diddell, chair of the Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route, New Jersey and member of the Westfield Historical Society said.

Those who have their own research to contribute are encouraged to email WestfieldHistoricalSociety@gmail.com.

 

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