Westfield native Jim Stempel knows New Jersey better now than he did when he lived there.
However, Stempel’s New Jersey bears little resemblance to today’s Garden State, with major locales named Spunktown, Sumptown, and Quibletown.
“New Jersey was a different place back then,” he said. “It was a completely different map.”
Stempel, now a Maryland resident, recently returned to his home state in spirit to write his new book. Scheduled for release on March 21, he said it’s a story of violence, fortitude, and survival. It is also one of
Stempel said he was amazed at the number of military operations in New Jersey in 1777 and the level of violence.
“I found it really amazing that I hadn’t heard anything like this growing up,” he said. “This was the book I wanted to read.”
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To put together his account, Stempel combined historical records, contemporary accounts, war diaries, and official correspondence. First-hand accounts from Hessian Officers his Johann Ewald, his Stephen Kemble Loyalist Officers in England and others offer different perspectives.
Focusing on the less-told era after the Battle of Trenton and leading up to the Battle of Brandywine Creek, this book retells the history hidden in the hills and meadows of the state.
It begins with the Battle of Princeton on January 3, 1777. Action began when both sides essentially stumbled north of Trenton in a battle that the Americans narrowly won. It ended when George Washington led a counterattack under cover of a battery that hurled grapeshot and canisters.
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After two small skirmishes that followed, the British force assembled at New Brunswick. The Continental Army wintered in Morristown, then a town of 250 people. From his headquarters at Jacob Arnold’s Tavern in Morristown’s public green space, Washington was forced to watch most of his army disband as his enlistment expired. Stempel said he held out under the protection of a nearby hill as reinforcements trickled in.
“He was in a very vulnerable position,” Stempel said. “I think his aim was to survive, and he did.”
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Washington dispersed the remaining militia in a spider web to frustrate British efforts to forage outside New Brunswick, Stempel said. Washington routinely monitored the situation and received post-action reports from the Watching Mountains. Mr Stempel said his non-commissioned officers had undergone significant on-the-job training, which had returned to haunt the British.
From Morristown, Stempel’s book covers events such as Spunktown (Rahway), Quibbletown (Piscataway).
By the end of July 1777, Stempel said, the British were tired of having their noses cut off by the Americans. They withdrew from the shores of Sandy Hook and regrouped for their objective of marching south to Philadelphia.
“They couldn’t cross New Jersey,” Stempel said. “It was a wasp’s nest.”
A 1970 graduate of the South Carolina Citadel, Stempel holds a degree in political science. He wrote about the Eastern Campaign of the American Civil War and wrote the novel from his home in Maryland. “The Enemy Harassed: Washington’s New Jersey Campaign of 1777” is available at select retailers nationwide.