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Plymouth Rock Foundation’s E-News – June, 2011
by Dr. Paul Jehle, Executive Director

“Give-em Watts, boys!” - James Caldwell

In 1760 a young preacher, 26 years old, became pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Elizabethtown, New Jersey. In colonial America, most people knew their ancestry. James Caldwell was no different. His ancestors were Huguenots. The Huguenots were French believers during the time of the great Reformation, and were persecuted for their faith. They fled to England, then Scotland and Ireland, with many coming to America in the early part of the 18th century. James’ father (John) and mother (Margaret) were Scotch-Irish Presbyterians who understood their inheritance of Christian liberty and the need to defend it. James was brought up with such a love of liberty.

The church was the primary repository of rhetoric for liberty during the American Revolution. The sermons articulated God’s resistance to tyranny, for only God could be Sovereign, not man. Caldwell was one of those who would be known as a leading “black-robed regiment”; a title the British called the clergy who resisted British tyranny. When New Jersey called its militia to arms, James Caldwell was elected chaplain. Colonel Dayton was chosen commander, being one of Caldwell’s parishioners.

After hearing the Declaration of Independence read on July 15, 1776, the brigade received the following toast offered by Chaplain Caldwell: “harmony, honor, and all prosperity to the free and independent United States of America: wise legislators, brave and victorious armies, both by sea and land, to the United States of America.” This toast was followed by three hearty cheers! Caldwell picked up duties far beyond the chaplaincy, encouraging those who were timid, and out-debating the Tories, so that in time his reputation and courage spread throughout New Jersey and the colonies.

What comes with successful influence is usually the rage of the opposition. Caldwell’s name was well known among the British, and the danger to his life became a cause of concern. Large rewards were offered for his capture. Since it was a time of war, precautions had to be taken. Caldwell travelled armed and before preaching, he would lay his pistols on the pulpit table. When the British possessed New York and Staten Island, he moved his family to Connecticut Farms, away from Elizabethtown.

With his influence, he supplied Washington and American Generals with critical information. When soldiers were ready to quite due to lack of food and pay, Caldwell would preach and instill inspiration, courage and fortitude that produced an unselfish devotion to their country, George Washington, and the liberty so freely given by God. His church became a hospital for the sick and wounded. The seats were so covered with food, blood and signs of war that his congregation stood for the entire service. They did so willingly, for it was known that every family in the church stood with their pastor for liberty. When the enemy approached, the church bell would ring, and led by their pastor, the church would empty with every man and boy a soldier in defense of their families and liberties.

Caldwell, in addition to pastoring, preaching and counseling soldiers as chaplain, became the Commissary General, supplying troops with food, ammunition and clothing. His prominent place in the American cause brought such hatred by the British (as they considered the church to be their enemy due to the number of such patriotic pastors), that in January of 1780 his church was burned to the ground, and the individual who did it confessed he was sorry that the “black-coated rebel” was not burned in his own pulpit!

It was on the morning of June 25, 1780, however, that danger escalated quickly. Awakened to the alarm that the enemy was near at hand, he mounted his horse, but only rode a short distance when realizing the danger his wife Hannah and their family was in should the British come to his home. He wanted Hannah and the children to go with him to camp. Smiling at his fears, and assuring him the British would never harm her or the children, she said simply that they would slow him down. He took his coffee and rode off to the conflict.

Conflict soon came to Hannah. Women and children fled their homes saying the British were on a killing spree and heading their way. Calmly, as a strong wife who had taken stock of the danger years before, she took her baby in her arms and knelt in prayer, committing herself as well as her nine children to God. When the maid screamed that a British soldier had jumped the fence, Hannah arose only to be instantly killed by two balls. The soldier knew who she was and had been sent for that purpose. Soon the home was burned to the ground, neighbors retrieving Hannah’s body.

Caldwell had no idea what had transpired. He overheard two soldiers talking about “Mrs. Caldwell” and when he heard the news, it was as if he himself had been shot. He staggered to a place to pray and grieve. Under a flag of truce the next morning he returned and saw nearly every home burned to the ground. Recovering his wife’s body, he buried it while gathering with his grieving children. After placing his children in care of church families, he rode to the battle at Springfield.

A fierce battle between the British and Americans ensued. Though the British retreated they burned most of the town to the ground. One of the buildings still standing was the Presbyterian Church, and seeing the militia short of wadding for their rifles, he ran into the building and from pew to pew gathered the Isaac Watt’s hymnals. Running back to the militia, he exclaimed “now put Watts into them, boys, give-em Watts!” With a cheer they pulled out the leaves and rammed them home in their rifles to put the British to flight!

Caldwell, while passing by an American sentinel, was ordered to stop that the package he had might be examined. Turning back to do so, he was shot in the heart, and died almost instantly. He had been shot by a drunken sentinel (James Morgan) who may have been paid by the British. He was eventually convicted of murder and hung. The legacy of the Caldwell’s, however, lived on.

Of his orphaned children, one was raised in France by Lafayette, another became a County Judge, and a third the clerk of the Supreme Court. Elias Boudinot, a member of his church, became a delegate to and President of the Continental Congress, congressman from New Jersey, designer of the Seal of the United States and director of the U.S. Mint. Boudinot wrote the book Age of Revelation to warn the nation and youth generation of Thomas Paine’s anti-Christian philosophy in his Age of Reason.

Where are the preachers of the Gospel today? We are to be preachers of peace and service, but will we also stand for liberty? Are we standing in the gap in prayer? Will we leave a legacy for future generations in America? May God help us, for it is the church and her clergy that must arise!