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Sunday, May 27, 2012

Aaron Burr

     In Princeton Cemetery, Aaron Burr is buried.  More famous, or infamous, for his duel with Alexander Hamilton, in which Hamilton was killed on the cliffs of Weehawken in New Jersey, Burr also served as vice-president of the United States and was tried for, and acquitted of, treason.  Born in 1756, he was 19 when war broke out at Lexington and Concord.  He fought with Benedict Arnold at Quebec, with Washington in New York, and at Monmouth.  He resigned from the army in 1779.

     In an age when everything is available every minute to everyone, it is good to consider that some things really do remain unique.  A person is buried only in one place, no matter how many memorials fill the globe.  Burr's father was a president of Princeton University and is buried in the President's Plot in the cemetery.  His son is also buried here.  I am always struck by this particular grave--the physical connection to one of the most colorful and larger than life participants in a war that had its share of such people.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Memorial Day

     In the past few days in advance of Memorial Day, I featured an unknown soldier buried at Washington's Crossing State Park in Pennsylvania, and Elijah Holcombe of the Continental Line, buried in Lambertville.

     Above is the grave of John Phillips, buried in the cemetery of the Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville.  At the time of the Revolution, this area was known as Maidenhead.  His grave indicates he served as an ensign in the Second New Jersey Regiment.  Born in 1757, he would have been 18 at the time of the Battle of Bunker Hill in 1775.  For a history of the Regiment, see the piece by John U. Rees, Second New Jersey Regimental Historian, found at



Monday, May 21, 2012

Elijah Holcombe

     In Lambertville is the grave of Elijah Holcombe, a sergeant in the New Jersey Continental Line.  The grave is in the small cemetery adjacent to the First Presbyterian Church of Lambertville, New Jersey.  We will let him tell of his Revolutionary War experience in his own words, taken from his pension application:

"that he served as a private soldier in the Revolutionary War in the continental establishment  - that he enlisted on or about the month of February 1776 in the company commanded by Capt. Beatty, in the 5th Regiment Pennsylvania Line, for the term of one year - that at the expiration of the year he returned home, having been taken prisoner by the enemy & made his escape --- the North River by swimming to a boat in the River; - that he enlisted  --- time in Capt. Anderson’s company in the 3rd Regiment, Jersey Line on or about the month of June 1778 - that he was discharged at the expiration of the nine months by Col. Thompson of the aforesaid Regiment at Newark in State of Jersey - that he is now in his 68th year of his hage - that he has no convenient evidence to offer, excepting this his own statement - and that he is now in need of his country’s assistance for support by reason of his reduced circumstances in life."

     The North River was how the Hudson River was then known.  His first application was made in Ohio in 1818, and the second one in 1820.  The source is

     It is easy to get caught up in the  rhetoric, mythology and iconography of the Revolution.  Sometimes it's good simply to listen.


Saturday, May 19, 2012

Back to Brooklyn

     In prior posts I commented on the Battle of Brooklyn.  I now made it to the Jamaica Pass area, or where Howard's Tavern was, and the sweep of the British around the American lines.  The Cemetery of the Evergreens provides, as it claims, a true oasis in the urban mesh of the area.  The British made Howard lead them along the path.  On a plaque in the cemetery, we are shown a sketch of what Howard's Tavern and the surrounding area, looked like then, at the intersection of Broadway and Jamaica:

     And here is the area today.  I included another bar in the picture.  We are looking at Broadway; to the right, Jamaica Avenue intersects.  I like this view because we can just make out the trees and hill of the Cemetery of the Evergreens in the center of the image, just over the car in the forefront and below the tracks.  In the above sketch, we also see the elevation of the area and a hill.

     The power of place: then, and now.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Veterans of the Revolution

With Memorial Day approaching, I visited some of the local spots where American Revolutionary War soldiers are buried.  At the Princeton Battlefield, there is the mass grave that includes British soldiers.  But in some of the churchyards, we find the individual graves, and at Washington's Crossing on the Pennsylvania side, there is the row of graves of "unknown soldiers."

This is the grave of an unknown soldier who died in camp, before the march on Trenton.  When I see a grave like this, and consider the individual buried here, I experience an overwhelming sadness.  Here was a man, a unique human being, born in all the pain of childbirth his mother experienced, someone who experienced infancy, a childhood.  We can know nothing of his life because we cannot know him.  Was he missed? Mourned in absentia? What made him join the Continental Army? Dead by December 1776--had he fought at the Battle of Brooklyn in August? Had he killed? What jokes did he enjoy? How did he sound when he laughed? 

Howard Peckham's study of American casualties, The Toll of Independence, estimates American camp deaths at 10,000.  Total "probable deaths in service," including the camp deaths, killed in battle, and death as prisoners of war, totals 25,324.  Here is one.