Unlike Massachusetts, New Jersey was a relatively quiet colony in the decade before the war, although the majority of Jerseyans sympathized with what they saw as excessive British limitations on colonial liberties. New Jersey militiamen flocked to the flag following the battles of Lexington and Concord, and a 1775 law called for every township to enroll men between the ages of 16 and 50 in the active militia. Quakers (20% of the population) and those in certain occupations were exempted.
In 1776, the New Jersey militia helped defend New York under General George Washington. When the Americans were defeated and retreated across the state, the Jersey militiamen melted away, and, much to Washington’s dismay, a number of Jerseymen signed loyalty oaths to the British. The New Jersey militia redeemed itself, however, in succeeding months, providing vital assistance to the American commander in his counterattacks at Trenton and Princeton, and in keeping the British bottled up in a few towns during the “forage war” that lasted into the spring of 1777.
For the rest of the Revolution, militia and “state troops” drawn from the militia disarmed local Tories and battled Loyalist and British raiders along the coast, at the New York border, and deep into the South Jersey Pine Barrens. New Jersey militiamen also conducted amphibious raids and attacks on British coastal enclaves and shipping. The militia also assisted regular American forces in large battles like Monmouth Court House. Many battles and skirmishes were fought in New Jersey, which gained the state the nickname “cockpit of the Revolution.”
New Jersey volunteers and draftees from the militia, a new generation of “Jersey Blues,” manned the state’s “Continental Line” regular army regiments. Two regiments of “Blues” joined the 1775 invasion of Canada and suffered casualties from both combat and smallpox. These units were discharged in 1776, and four new ones, mustering 1,408 men, were raised in 1777. These regiments served together in the “New Jersey Brigade” commanded by Brigadier General William Maxwell of Sussex County, which earned an excellent combat record. By the end of the war in 1783, two New Jersey Continental regiments, mustering 676 men, were still in service. Approximately 2% of the men serving in the New Jersey Continentals were African American or Native American.