John Vought and the Preservation Paradox


  • Donald Sherblom



The War for Independence was both an intercontinental war and a civil war between Patriot rebels and Loyalists. Some colonists, “disaffected” with the war, sought to remain neutral. Especially in the middle colonies of New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, the tripartite division of the population meant Patriot rebels were often an embattled minority. About two-thirds of New Jersey’s population did not support the rebellion. This raises a preservation paradox. Today, almost all preserved sites are Patriot rebel sites, which promotes a popular, simplistic narrative. The dominant story of the American Revolution overlooks both the fact that Patriot rebels were often in the minority and that most Loyalists were people of integrity, no less than their opponents. The complexity of the revolutionary experience is swept from memory. The story of America’s first civil war can best be told where Loyalists are interpreted as protagonists and as actual people not misguided cyphers. Yet today in all of New Jersey, only two homes, Marlpit Hall in Monmouth County and the Vought House in Hunterdon, are interpreted as Loyalist sites. Tracing the experiences of the Vought family broadens our perspective and complicates our understanding of this crucial time and place. As we approach the 250th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, we are challenged to present a fuller, more nuanced account of those who were disaffected, remained loyal, or took up arms, often alongside British and Hessians troops as uniformed New Jersey Volunteers. A more balanced account may also increase appreciation of the hardships faced by Patriot rebels and New Jersey’s distinctive place at the crossroads of continental war and the epicenter of civil conflict.