Sussex County History Today: Declaration of Independence

| 30 Jun 2023 | 05:59

A bright day in the year for all of us is the Fourth of July. Fireworks, parades, picnics, family and friends!

But all this joyousness we have today came at a price. In the past, those people who have been coined our Founding Fathers and Mothers took great risk. A risk of losing their livelihood, risk of having their home confiscated or burned, and risk of losing their life. Many indeed did lose their lives to fight for the cause they believed in.

Breaking the bonds with the mother country of Great Britain required much resolve and effort. The whole thought of becoming free was a long shot and involved great uncertainty.

But the colonists, our forebears in this country, did make the leap of faith in vision and fought for that freedom. One of the most outstanding documents I can speak of in the world is the American Declaration of Independence, a tall purpose that they defined and a broad explanation to make clear the meaning and intent. This was done for the king and the Parliament. It certainly brought retribution.

Brave men signed the Declaration of Independence. There were 56 signers; they represented the 13 colonies. It is said that New York’s representative was the last to sign, having waited for permission.

It is also said that Lewis Morris was the last to sign. Having been warned by his brother Staats, who was a general in the British army, that there would be severe consequences, he said, “Damn the consequences. Give me the pen.”

Morris’ home in the Bronx, an estate called Morrisania, was bombed by the British fleet from the waters just offshore. It was then looted and burned and his cattle were driven off and slaughtered. His family escaped, and his life was in danger.

Lewis Morris retreated to the safe confines of our own Sussex County. He had built a working farm near where Wallkill Valley High School is today. He called it Morrisvale.

While perhaps a safe haven of sorts, Sussex County was witness to a number of accounts attributed to the Revolutionary War: Noted patriot New Jersey legislator Robert Ogden II moved here from Elizabethtown for security and was a leader in our county’s Committee of Safety. He was robbed and his life threatened. Newton’s jail was attacked and breeched by the Loyalist James Moody, George Washington’s Continental Army was said to have camped for a season on Lewis Morris’ property, Lafayette was said to have come to the Sparta area to find forage for troops at Morristown.

British Gen. John Burgoyne’s defeated army was marched through Hamburg, and assaults to the west of the county and along the Delaware River frightened many people. But the fortitude of our ancestors here held, and they succeeded in gaining our independence.

Ogden’s son brought news of the Treaty of Paris back from Europe on a sailing ship.

We have so much to be thankful for in our lives in the greatest nation on earth.

Have fun on Independence Day and realize all that we have here, in the land of plenty. History tells us that we have bled and prospered and endured as a nation. Please appreciate all that we can enjoy.

Bill Truran, the Sussex County historian, may be reached at