Shrewsbury Township Resists Continental Movement
Shrewsbury Township Resists Continental Movement
In most ways, Shrewsbury was Monmouth County’s most important township—the first settled, the most populous, the wealthiest, and the most directly tied into the larger Atlantic trade. It also had the county’s largest Anglican congregation (at Christ Church) and most prominent Loyalist, the Reverend Samuel Cooke of the Christ Church. In 1774, the people of Shrewsbury did not join neighboring townships of Middletown, Freehold and Dover in forming a township committee to lead anti-British dissent—but the pressure to do so would build.
On January 2, 1775 an anonymous advertisement went up in Shrewsbury village. It began: "The inhabitants of the town of Shrewsbury are hereby to meet at the house of Josiah Halstead in said Shrewsbury, the 17th of this instant, January, at noon, in order to choose a Committee." The advertisement said that “confirmed slavery or civil war” would result if the people of Shrewsbury did not join the Continental movement.
The meeting at Halstead’s tavern (the present-day Allen House) occurred but the attendees chose not to establish a committee. Reverend Cooke recalled that “he prevented any committee from being chosen in Shrewsbury where he lived, by using his influence.” An anonymous account of the meeting further noted:
Between thirty and forty of the most respectable freeholders met, and after a few debates on the business of the day, which were carried on with great decency and moderation, it was generally agreed that the appointment of Committees was not only useless, but they would prove disturbing to the peace and quietness which hitherto existed in this township.
The decision to not form a committee was noticed in Freehold. On March 6, the Freehold Committee took up the matter and determined to “cut the sacred ties of friendship” with Shrewsbury. The Freehold Committee called for the people of Shrewsbury to vote to form a committee at the town’s annual meeting in May. Shortly after that, a delegation of Freehold citizens went to Shrewsbury, “earnestly requesting they comply with the instructions of the late American Congress in constituting themselves a Committee of Observation.”
On March 14, the Freehold Committee formalized the isolation of Shrewsbury from the rest of the county:
We esteem to treat them, the said inhabitants of Shrewsbury, as enemies to their King and Country, and deserters from the common cause of true freedom; we will hereafter break off all dealings and communications with them while they continue their opposition.
However, the Freehold Committee hoped the isolation would be temporary. “We shall always be pleased to receive them as returning prodigals."
The resistance in Shrewsbury soon crumbled. On May 10, a meeting of several township committees in Freehold was also attended by “a number of Gentlemen from the township of Shrewsbury, under the character of Deputies of the Shrewsbury Association, declaring themselves and their constituents desirous of adopting measures of the Continental Congress.” Six days later, this Shrewsbury Association declared:
We are desirous to comply with the directions of the County Committee as far the Congress' Association will warrant, and to join the rest of our townships in uniting our force for our just defense and protection, if need be, and it is so required by the Provincial Congress.
Finally, on May 27, at the Shrewsbury Township annual meeting (again at Halstead’s tavern), the citizens of Shrewsbury voted to establish a committee “by a great majority.” The Committee would hold its first meeting on June 17.
At about this same time, Reverend Samuel Cooke left Shrewsbury. After twenty years as Shrewsbury’s most influential leader, he returned to England. He recorded that “he rec'd several threats before he came away; this hastened his departure.”
Sources: Hugh Edward Egerton, The Royal Commission on The Losses And Services Of American Loyalists, 1783-1785 (London: Kessinger, 2010) pp. 35-7. See also Rutgers University Special Collection, Loyalist Compensation of Application of Samuel Cooke, D96, AO 13/108, reel 8; Franklin Ellis, The History of Monmouth County (R.T. Peck: Philadelphia, 1885), p123; Peter Force, American Archives: Consisting of a Collection of Authentick Records, State Papers, Debates, and Letters and Other Notices of Publick Affairs (Washington, DC: U.S. Congress Clerk's Office, 1853), 5th Series, vol. 1, p 1165; Edwin Salter, History of Monmouth and Ocean Counties (Bayonne, NJ: E. Gardner and Sons, 1890) p57; "Proceedings of the Committees of Freehold and Shrewsbury," Proceedings of the New Jersey Historical Society. 1 st Series, vol. 1 , pp. 189; McMurray Hyde, "James Rivington," Spirit of '76, March 1899, vol. 5, n. 7, p 132; Franklin Ellis, The History of Monmouth County (R.T. Peck: Philadelphia, 1885), p123; Gaillard Hunt, Fragments of Revolutionary History (Brooklyn: Historical Publishing Club, 1892) pp. 110-2; Nathaniel Scudder Manuscript, New York Public Library, Myers Collection, #551; New Jersey Historical Society, Holmes Family Papers, box 5, folder 6; Proceedings of the Committees of Freehold and Shrewsbury, Proceedings of the New Jersey Historical Society, First Series, 1846, pp. 190-1; Shrewsbury Township Committee, Monmouth County Historical Association, Collections Alphabetical, Revolution folder 1.