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This is the site of the founding of Elizabethtown and the State of New Jersey in 1664. The First Presbyterian Church was built in 1668 and was the site of an important battleground during the Revolutionary War. The church was the first house of worship in the settlement of Elizabethtown. Burned by British and Loyalist forces in 1780 during a devastating attack by raiding British forces during the American Revolution, the church was rebuilt in 1786. Reverend James Caldwell was the pastor at this church. Caldwell had an interesting Revolutionary War history, with connections to a number of historic sites throughout Union and Essex County. When the Elizabethtown church building was burned by British troops on January 25, 1780, the house where the Caldwells lived was burned as well.
With their home and church burned, James, his wife Hannah, and their nine children moved to a parsonage in Connecticut Farms (now Union), and James preached at the church there. Sadly, Hannah was killed when she was struck by a bullet fired by a British soldier on June 7, 1780, during the Battle of Connecticut Farms. The same day, the British burned the Connecticut Farms church and the parsonage. Sixteen days later, James took part in the fighting at the Battle of Springfield. On November 24, 1781, just a year and a half after Hannah's death, James Caldwell himself was killed by an American sentry named James Morgan. Both James and Hannah are buried here in the Elizabeth Presbyterian Church cemetery.
Along with the graves of James and Hannah Caldwell, the Elizabeth Presbyterian Church cemetery is the resting place of many soldiers that fought for our independence during the Revolutionary War. The Old Academy School building, that was also burned by the raiding British when the First Presybertian Church was burned, now rebuilt and renovated and open as The Snyder Academy, has created a mobile app to take visitors on a walking tour of the cemetery. This app is able to tell you who is laid to rest in this cemetery as well as when they were buried.
The Old Academy School was attended by Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. Burr attended the school several years before Hamilton. However, Burr spent time in Elizabethtown during 1773 while Hamilton was a student here, so it is possible, but uncertain, that they may have met at that time. Both men would go on to important military and political roles in the Revolutionary War era: Hamilton served as a colonel and aide-de-camp to General Washington in the War, and he later served as the country's first secretary of treasury. Burr also served as a colonel in the War, and he later was the country's third Vice President. In 1804, the two men would meet in Weehawken for the famous duel that ended the life of Alexander Hamilton.
The Academy's principal at the beginning of the Revolution was Francis Barber. Barber served as a lieutenant colonel in the Revolutionary War. Barber lost his life in an unusual accident that occurred in 1783. He was riding on horseback to dine with General Washington, who was headquartered in Newburgh, New York. He passed by some men who were cutting down trees, and he was hit and killed by one of the trees. Upon receiving the news of Barber's death, Washington is reported to have said, "Men of higher rank and more wealth may die, but there is but one Francis Barber."
Francis Barber lived in the Bonnell House in Elizabeth.
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