Saturday, June 16, 2012

Oliver Cromwell in Burlington - fighting the patriot cause

After finding the Bonapartes in Bordentown, I guess it wasn't all that surprising that I'd locate Oliver Cromwell just down the road a piece, in Burlington. And while the South Jersey version wasn't the Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, he too fought for freedom from the British Crown.

Oliver Cromwell Burlington NJ
Oliver Cromwell's late-in-life home.
Burlington's Oliver Cromwell was born in 1752 in nearby Columbus, and he was among several free black men who served in New Jersey regiments during the Revolutionary War. In the earliest days of the conflict, blacks were barred from enlisting on the patriot side, but that rule was changed in late 1775, after the British promised freedom to enslaved Americans in return for military service against the colonies.

Cromwell got into the action as things were heating up in New Jersey. He was among the soldiers who crossed the Delaware with Washington on Christmas 1776, and he fought in the battles that turned the tide of the war: Trenton and Princeton. He may have been a battlefield drummer, relaying orders from officers to soldiers in the field of conflict. Serving a total of six years in the military, Cromwell also saw action at Monmouth, Germantown, Brandywine and Yorktown, ultimately leaving the army with a badge of merit and honorable discharge papers that were signed by General Washington himself.

According to some sources, Cromwell's overall likeability came to his benefit several years later. When he applied for a veterans pension, several notable Burlington residents helped him secure a $96 per year payment from the government. It was with that money that he bought a 100 acre farm just outside town. Much later, he moved into the house that now bears his name, ultimately outliving eight of his 14 children before dying at the age of 100. It's said that several of his descendants still live in town, no doubt proud of their ancestor's contribution to the cause of American independence.

Local residents organized the Oliver Cromwell Black History Society in 1984 to advance public understanding of African American history. Through their efforts, the name of this notable New Jerseyan lives on.

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