Hunterdon County, like all the other counties in New Jersey, had a state militia system in place since before the Revolution. Gen. Washington relied on these volunteers as he fought the British in New Jersey, and they did their part during the War of 1812. But after that, there was little need for them—not until the mid 1850s, when they began to reorganize.

Actual war was still several years away. Why did new companies begin to organize as early as 1855? The militia companies that formed in Hunterdon from 1855 to 1859 are a part of Hunterdon’s Civil War history that has received little attention in the past. Recently it has become relevant.

The Early Companies

The Delaware Guards

In August 1855, the Democrat took note of military parades scheduled to take place in various parts of the State in which “The Major Generals of Divisions of the New Jersey Militia, will parade their respective commands for inspection and review,” including Major General John Blane of the Fourth Division, which would parade in Belvidere, Warren County on October 19th. The Fourth Division covered all the northwestern counties of New Jersey, including Hunterdon, and Blane had had command of it ever since 1840.1

On August 1, 1855, The Hunterdon Democrat reported “that a military company is forming at Sergeantsville, in Delaware township, to be called the Delaware Guards.” There was no further mention of the Delaware Guards in any of the Hunterdon newspapers until June 11, 1856, when the Democrat published this letter to the editor:

Mr. Editor : — The Delaware Guards, now being equipped and neatly uniformed, are advancing the military cause in their vicinity. Their drills being well attended and performed to order, shows they are determined in carrying out the military discipline. Their number is continually increasing by addition of new recruits. Their first semi-annual parade will come off at Sergeantsville on the afternoon of Saturday, June 14th. [signed] H.

During the year of 1856, a second militia company was formed in Milford, under the command of Charles Bartolette (1825-1866), son of the Baptist minister Rev. Charles Bartolette, and during October of that year hosted the Delaware Guards for a visit. We know this because the following was published in the Democrat on October 22, 1856:

When Duty Calls, ‘Tis Ours to Obey.

At a special meeting of the Delaware Guards of Sergeantsville, New Jersey, held at the house of Robert E. Holcombe on Tuesday evening, October 21st, 1856, on motion, a committee consisting of the commissioned officers of the company were appointed to draft resolutions for the purpose of expressing to the citizens of Milford, N.J., our thanks for the favors extended to us during our late visit to that village on the 13th of September 1856. The following resolutions were adopted:

Resolved, That we do extend to Doctor Charles Bartolette, Joseph Scarborough and others, the Committee of Arrangements, our warmest and most ardent thanks, for the kind reception extended to us on the occasion of our late visit to that village.

Resolved, That our warmest thanks are due to the ladies of Milford, and particularly to Miss Lydia A. Purcell, for the splendid wreaths she presented to us in behalf of the ladies of Milford.

Resolved, That our sincere thanks be extended to our worthy host Wm. W. Runyon, for the beautiful medal presented to the company, as a prize for the shot at the Target on that day ; also for the kind manner in which we were entertained during our stay at his house.

Resolved, That we also extend our warmest thanks to Major General John Blane, for his presence and kindness on that day ; also for his military address delivered on that occasion – may the ideas advanced by him have a lasting impression.

[signed] Capt. John T. Sergeant, 1st Lt. Charles Denson, 2d Lt. George H. Larison, Committee.  Sergeantsville, Oct. 22, 1856.

This was the first indication of who the original officers of the Delaware Guards were: John Trimmer Sergeant (1828-1865), Charles Denson (c.1827-1899) and George H. Larison (1831-1892). Six months later, on May 20, 1857, both the Democrat and the Gazette published a notice concerning an election for commissioned officers of the Delaware Guards held on May 6, 1857. Geo. H. Larison was elected 1st Lieutenant in place of Charles Denson who had resigned and “removed from the vicinity.” Everitt Hartpence was elected 2nd Lieutenant, in place of Geo. H. Larison. Charles Denson had moved to the Ringoes area, where he later on ran as a Democrat for the First District of the NJ Assembly, and won.

May 20, 1857 seems to have been a turning point. Newspapers published on that date had a lot to say about local militias. Both the Democrat and the Gazette published notice of a military parade to take place in Ringoes on May 30, 1857. The Democrat announced that the Delaware Guards and the Milford Cadets would be present, and that Major General Blane will take the command.

The editor of the Gazette, Willard Nichols, seems to have been far more caught up in the excitement about the coming parade. In his edition of May 20, 1857 this notice was published (with caps included):

MILITARY PARADE!  THERE WILL BE A MILITARY PARADE at RINGOES, N. J., on SATURDAY, MAY 30th inst. The DELAWARE GUARDS, of Sergeantsville, N. J., under Captain John F. [sic, T.] Sergeant, and the UNION CADETS, of Milford, N. J., under Captain C. Bartolette, will be present. Major-General Blane will be in command. There will be a splendid Flag presented to the Delaware Guards from Hon. James Bishop, of New Brunswick, N. J. The PARADE will commence in the early part of the day and continue till late, as many will be dependent on the cars for conveyance.

The Union Cadets of Milford

In addition to the notices mentioned so far, the Gazette also published a long letter to the editor from someone who signed his name as “VISITOR.” (Letter writers seemed to prefer anonymity in the 19th century.) The writer had visited “the flourishing village of Milford” and was most impressed by its “new uniform Military company,” called the Union Cadets. He named Captain Charles Bartolette, Lieutenant J. R. Anderson and Sergeants Lippincott and Cooly.2 The writer described the company as

“permanently organized, having, besides its full complement of officers, a President, Vice President, Secretary and Treasurer, and a perfect organization for business purposes.”

The company consists of thirty men, made up from the most active and young men of the community, and in their neat and appropriate uniform—which in itself is a model of taste and fitness—presented an appearance of its becoming one of the finest companies in the State.

The company was reviewed by Samuel Lilly, Captain of the Lambertville Fencibles. (How did they ever come up with the name ‘Fencibles’? No one was fencing during the Civil War. Actually, this was a holdover from the 18th century, a term used by the British when it was raising temporary units. Other militia companies in other states. were also using the name in the 1850s.) Later that month, Samuel Lilly was elected Brigadier General of the Hunterdon Brigade of Militias.

Other Militias in Hunterdon County

The Guards, Cadets and Fencibles were not the only companies forming in Hunterdon. As John W. Kuhl wrote:

“As the 1850s waned, the two little hamlets of Sergeantsville and Baptistown also became improbable centers of militia activity. Flemington did have its several companies, but its military enthusiasms never rose to the level of those other towns.”3

The Sergeantsville company referred to was the Delaware Guards. Flemington also had a company of ‘Guards.’ Little attention was paid to other Flemington companies in the newspapers of the mid to late 1850s. In July 1858, the Gazette observed that “We are informed that quite an interest is manifest to form a Troop of Cavelry [sic] at Baptisttown and would be pleased to hear from them the coming week.”4

The Baptisttown Troop of Cavalry was under the command of William Eick, Esq. along with Asa Rittenhouse, 1st Lieut.; Israel Curtis, 2d Lieut.; and Asa Hockenbury, Cornet.5 The town also boasted a “Light Horse Company,” although its members were not named in the Gazette. This was not enough for residents of Baptistown. On September 14, 1859, a meeting was held at the Hotel of Jacob C. Hawk in Baptistown, with William T. Srope as Chairman and Joseph P. Dalrymple, Secretary, the purpose of which was to “take into consideration the propriety of forming a military company in this place.” It was decided to organize a Rifle Company.6 One month later, this company was listed with other members of the Hunterdon Brigade as “the Excelsior Rifles of Baptisttown.”

A list of the militia companies of Hunterdon County formed during the war can be found in John W. Kuhl’s book Hunterdon County in the Civil War (pp. 88-89). Most of them were formed in the 1860’s. The earliest was the Lambertville Kohl Infantry under Capt. Samuel Lilly in 1851. The Hunterdon Brigade was formed in early 1858 under Gen. Samuel Lilly. But the list is far from complete, as the Delaware and Flemington Guards, the Union Cadets, the Lambertville Fencibles, the Locktown Volunteers and many others are missing.

Why Were Militias Organizing?

In 1857, the Civil War was still three years away. Why were these militia groups organizing and creating new companies? As far as George H. Larison was concerned, “In Time of Peace Prepare for War” was a guiding principle.

Willard Nichols, editor of the Gazette, seems to have gotten it into his head that New Jersey was still threatened by Great Britain (as personified by John Bull). It is true that Britain gave tacit support to the Confederacy, but that was still several years away. On July 22, 1857 he wrote this item regarding the parade scheduled for the coming October:

We have been informed that it is the intention of Gov. Newell to call out the 4th Division of the New Jersey Militia, comprising the counties of Warren, Sussex and Hunterdon, to meet at Flemington in the month of October next, for the purpose of a general Military Parade and Inspection. It will be a grand and imposing display of military tactics. There is quite a revival of the old spirit about here, and if Johnny Bull should take it into his beefy head to attack us now, the chances are, that he would have exercise enough to knock higher than a kite any symptoms of dyspepsia that may be lingering in his system. In a word, there wouldn’t be a pin feather left upon his mouldy old body.

The idea that the militias participating in the October parade were prepared to knock John Bull on the head was a little ‘far out.’ The militias of New Jersey had been around since colonial days, when John Bull was a real threat. But after Napoleon was crushed in 1815 and peace was signed with Great Britain, the need for militias waned until the system was nearly defunct. The revival that came along in the mid 1850s was just getting started, so the local militias were in no position to take on the British Empire.

Nichols went on to announce some new appointments:  Capt. Geo. W. Taylor of Clinton, Assistant Quartermaster General, and Bennet Vansyckel, Esq., “of this village,” Assistant Adjutant General, with the rank of Lieutenant Colonels.

The former distinguished himself in the Mexican war, winning unfading laurels. The military history of the latter gentleman has not yet been put upon record; but his friends are confident that, should occasion offer, he will be found in the “thickest of the fray,” and compel his numerous admirers to place upon his head a chaplet of imperishable renown.

Pre-War Politics

So what was inspiring all this militia activity? John W. Kuhl wrote: “As the 1860s loomed, some of the more astute locals could sense the impending crisis.”7 Let us briefly examine the nature of this ‘impending crisis.’

Back in 1840, the campaign for president was very exciting. The Whig party led by Henry Harrison took the country by storm. But Hunterdon County was a Jackson county, so there was some disappointment when Harrison won. After that election, things calmed down somewhat, as reflected in the relatively sedate competition between Hunterdon’s two newspapers, the Gazette and the Democrat.

The Local Newspapers

It is worth looking at the local papers because they reflected the general thinking of their customers, the residents of Hunterdon County. By 1850 the Gazette and the Democrat had about the same circulation, 840 for the Gazette, a Whig paper, and 800 for the Democrat. George C. Seymour, editor of the Democrat, could get pretty carried away when attacking his rival, Willard Nichols of the Gazette, but by 1850 the two pretty much left each other alone.8

However, things started heating up in the mid 1850s, when Nichols aligned himself with the American Party, commonly called “The Know-Nothing Party.” The American Party was intensely nativist, no doubt as a reaction to the large numbers of Irish and Italian immigrants who had been arriving at the port of New York in recent years.

Recall that parade in Ringoes on May 30, 1857. The papers mentioned that the Hon. James Bishop would be presenting the Delaware Guards with “a splendid flag.” Bishop was a wealthy merchant from New Brunswick who was also a member of the American Party. He was in the last year of his term in Congress representing the 3rd Congressional District and was probably invited to the parade by Willard Nichols. (As it happens, Bishop won his seat in Congress by defeating Samuel Lilly of Lambertville.)

Meanwhile, George C. Seymour sold the Democrat to Adam Bellis who was far more passionate a Jacksonian Democrat than Seymour had been, and used his paper to inveigh against the growing Opposition Party, consisting of former Whigs, members of the new Republican Party, and non-partisans fed up with the Democrats.9

The Election of 1856

Military enthusiasm in Hunterdon seems to have taken off in 1857. A look at the presidential campaign of 1856 sheds some light on this.

The Whig Party, organized to oppose the Jackson Democrats, had had its glory days during the campaign of 1840. But by the 1850s it had fallen apart and was no longer a factor in presidential politics. So, a new political party was created in 1854 by a group of people of varying interests who were unhappy with the Democrats, and united under the title of Republicans. The campaign of 1856 was their first presidential campaign. Their candidate was John C. Frémont and the focus of their campaign was prohibiting slavery in the new states west of the Mississippi.

The Democrats chose a candidate, James Buchanan, who, unlike the incumbent, Franklin Pierce, had no involvement with the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 written by Stephen Douglas. It was a hugely controversial act that repealed the Missouri Compromise of 1820 which had limited the extension of slavery to new states. Douglas proposed to create two new states, Kansas and Nebraska, where slavery would be allowed.

There were many, like Willard Nichols, who were not satisfied with these choices. They had become obsessed with the imagined threat of Roman Catholics taking over the government and eliminating civil rights, along with the threat of European immigrants flooding the labor market. Thus, the American Party was created. Its candidate in 1856 was a former president, Millard Fillmore. Nichols used his newspaper to advocate for these extreme ideas.

Willard Nichols of the Gazette

A look through the Gazette of 1856 reveals how intense the campaign was. Local merchants were always on the alert for trends, and this usually showed up in their advertising. Here is a typical ad of the time, from “ANDERSON, NEVIUS & BOEMAN,” found in the Gazette for June 11, 1856:

THE EXCITEMENT. — Great excitement in consequence of the nomination of James Buchanan for President, but a still greater excitement exists opposite the Court House in Flemington, owing to the reduction in prices of Goods. Purchasers will find it greatly to their interest to call on us as the balance of our Spring Stock in connection with our almost every day arrivals, will be offered at greatly reduced prices.

Advertisers certainly knew how to get their readers’ attention.

Underlying the themes of the various parties was the growing strength of the abolition movement, which Republicans supported, and Democrats generally opposed. To get an idea of the principles of the Democrat Party in Hunterdon at this time, see my previous articles, “1863 Politics in Delaware Township” and “Democrats & Union Men, continued.”

Many members of the Democratic Party were convinced that Black people could never be anything other than slaves. At the same time there were passionate Republicans who demanded the end of slavery immediately, consequences be dammed. The spectrum of feeling ran between these extremes but was far from lukewarm. It was unquestionably the growing intensity of disagreement over national policies as represented by the political parties and the newspapers aligned with them that led to the growing interest by men of all persuasions to revive the old-time militias.

Perhaps “revive” is not exactly the right word. Militias had not gone away. The State Militia Law declared that “every free, able-bodied, white male inhabitant” between the ages of 18 and 45 was eligible to sign up, with the exceptions of certain occupations, like pastors, postmen, firemen and some politicians, among others. Most men did not sign up, and were considered an ‘untrained reserve.’10

The Flemington Parade, October 8, 1857

The September 9, 1857 issue of the Gazette included a long editorial by Willard Nichols that gives us a glimpse of the building enthusiasm. He anticipated that the October parade would “eclipse any pageant ever witnessed by our citizens.”

All the paraphernalia of “grim visage war” is being brushed up for this great occasion. Even little boys have become indoctrinated with the military spirit, and may be daily seen parading the streets, with coats many sizes too large for them, tall plumes displayed, wooden swords drawn, and guns

“With bayonet forever set,
And painted barrel too.”

And once again Nichols attributed this preparation to a threat from Great Britain.

. . . and if Johnny Bull could now be brought within earshot of Flemington how his old heart would “shrivel up” beneath his capacious waistcoat!

Nichols went on with great passion and an overabundance of hyperbole to describe battle scenes that would be avoided by the show of strength on display during the coming parade.

Holding parades in May and October must have been highlights of the year, when the weather was at its best. For the volunteers of these local militias, it must have been a real treat. After all, these were men who for the most part spent their days behind a plow, accustomed to grueling and tedious work. The chance to put on a nice military uniform, fire off some guns and show off to the ladies lined up to watch the parade was more than enough reason to join up.

The Ringoes parade in May was well promoted, but it was nothing compared to the parade to be held in Flemington on October 8th. On the day before, The Democrat noted that “extensive preparations are in the making by the Military men.” The parade had been ordered by the Governor himself, William A. Newell, and would include companies from Somerset, Morris and Sussex Counties, as well as Hunterdon’s six companies.11

Mr. Bellis commented:

We are glad to find that the military spirit which has lain dormant for some time is reviving under such favorable auspices. May success attend their efforts.

Among the participants in the parade was Capt. Bamford’s Company of Flemington. On the day of the parade, the Gazette reported on an earlier meeting held by the Flemington Guards at Robert Hockenbury’s Hotel, where it was:

Resolved: That the uniform of the company be of blue cloth, with white trimmings, and that the regular meetings be held on Wednesday evening of each week. The following names were noted:

Col. J. B. Mathis appointed Chairman; David K. Milliken appointed Secretary. Officers elected at this meeting: James Bamford Captain and Treasurer; Samuel Johnson, 1st Lieutenant; John S. Hockenbury, 2nd Lieutenant and Secretary; William C. Price 3rd Lieutenant; David K. Milliken, Ensign & Quarter Master; James Choyce, Orderly Sergeant; James Gordon, 2nd Sergeant; Philip Case, 3rd Sergeant. Corporals: A. P. Griggs, Thomas McConnell, Daniel Case, and William Sergeant.

Unfortunately for followers of Mr. Nichols (and for 21st century local historians), he was not around to report on the parade itself, for he had lost readership thanks to his extreme positions as a member of the Know-Nothing Party, and he was forced to sell the paper. In the edition of October 7, 1857, Nichols stated that he had “disposed of all my interest in the establishment of the HUNTERDON GAZETTE,” and attributed this to “rapidly failing health.” That may have been the case, but his unpopular views probably had much to do with his failure.

On October 14th, several days after the parade had taken place, the new owners of the Gazette, Alexander Suydam and William Abel, published this notice:

“Owing to the abrupt discontinuance of Mr. [Willard] Nichols’ connection with this paper, it is issued this week without as much care as will hereafter be given it.”

So this greatly anticipated parade did not receive the attention it would have gotten had Nichols still been in charge of the Gazette. A restrained description was published by the new owners. The Democrat did somewhat better:

The parade on last Thursday was very creditable to the Military men of the County. No companies were present except those belonging to Gen. Lilly’s Brigade, viz: 1st Troop of Hunterdon Cavalry, Major F. S. Holcombe; Lambertville Fencibles, Capt. Lilly; Delaware Guards, Capt. Larison; Union Cadets Milford, Capt. Bartolette and the Flemington Guards Col Bamford. The division line was formed in front of the Court House at 11 o’clock A.M., headed by the Flemington and Lambertville Cornet Bands, and from thence marched to the fair ground, where the review of the troops took place.

The Democrat used the word “creditable” over and over whenever describing the performance of militia companies at parades or at target shooting events. It sounds to me like damning with faint praise, but that is probably not how it was taken in the 1850s.

Captain George H. Larison

The newly elected first lieutenant of the Delaware Guards deserves some notice. He was Dr. George Holcombe Larison (1831-1892, see The Larison Tree) of Delaware Township, who was at the beginning of an eventful career. He was only 26 years old when he became 1st Lieutenant, and it was not long before he was promoted to the position of Captain of the Guards, in place of John T. Sergeant, although I cannot provide an exact date. It was probably before the end of 1857 because on Dec. 23, 1857, John T. Sergeant was identified as Colonel of the Hunterdon Brigade Board. On May 12, 1858, a notice in the Hunterdon Gazette identified Larison as Captain of the Delaware Guards.

Here is how Larison was described by Hubert G. Schmidt, in his booklet “The Press in Hunterdon County” (p.36):

“Dr. George H. Larison, lately a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, had launched at Sergeantsville “The Military Review.” Larison, later to be one of Hunterdon’s best-known men, had had a flair for military things since his teens, and had by this time become Captain of the Delaware Guards, a volunteer militia company organized under the general state militia law. Rural New Jersey had retained a taste for military uniforms and marching ever since the War of 1812, and this had been fostered by the rise of military companies.

Fortunately, several issues of “The Military Review” have been saved and donated to the Hunterdon Co. Historical Society. Unfortunately, the first issue, published on November 1, 1858, is missing. But the surviving copies have been helpful.

During the years 1857 through 1862, Larison was actively involved in the organization and support of all the Hunterdon militia companies, not just the Delaware Guards. Even so, despite significant promotions, eventually to Colonel in the State militia, he remained Captain of the Delaware Guards.

The Locktown Volunteers

On June 23, 1858, the Gazette reported that

The citizens of Locktown will celebrate the approaching Fourth, on Saturday the 3d of July, with a Military parade. Fire works, we presume, in the evening. We believe this is the first attempt this village has ever made to celebrate the 4th, and no doubt considerable pains will be taken to make an interesting time.

Afterwards, the Gazette gave the occasion this review in its July 7th edition:

The celebration of the Fourth, at Locktown, on Saturday last, was not very largely attended. ─ The Delaware Guards were present, and went thro’ with a series of exercises, much to their credit. ─ This was the only military company in attendance. The Declaration of Independence was read by Mr. John Bellis, Merchant in the village of Locktown, after which J. N. Voorhees, of the White House delivered the Oration, which was somewhat abbreviated, we learn, by the sudden rising of a shower. We left before the close of the exercises, and consequently cannot particularize.

It is my suspicion that Mr. Bellis had something to do with extending an invitation to the Delaware Guards to parade in Locktown on the 4th of July. Also involved was Ely Britton, owner of “the Locktown House,” who provided accommodations for the Guards. By July 28th, the Gazette was able to report that the citizens of Locktown were inspired by the Guards and working to organize their own military company. By the 24th they had already held their third company meeting and were being instructed in military tactics by George H. Larison.

July 28, M I L I T A R Y . The citizens of Locktown and vicinity are taking an active part in getting up a military company in that place and thus far are progressing extremely well. They held their third company meeting on Saturday evening the 24th inst., for special business and drill which was well attended and things done up in good order. Enough have already enrolled themselves to form a company, and many others will yet join to swell their number, which if continued with as much earnestness as has been manifest since their first effort, they will soon be equipped and a well drilled company. At their last drill, aid being solicited from some of the well drilled and experienced men of the companies of the 3rd Regiment to instruct them in military tactics─Capt. [George H.] Larison of the Delaware Guards was appointed by the Regimental Staff to take charge and drill them according to the tactics and regulations of military discipline. The company being in charge of Ex-Sheriff A. [Amplius] B. Chamberlain, J. Bellis and others, the command was given over to Captain Larison, on his arrival at that place which consisted of fifty-one men rank and file. He took charge of the company for over two hours, performing the drill very efficient and satisfactory and very much to the credit of so recently an organized company. The company will meet once a week, when we shall report progress of their future efforts. We are informed that quite an interest is manifest to form a Troop of Cavelry [sic] at Baptisttown, and would be pleased to hear from them the coming week.

On December 1, 1858, the Locktown Volunteers were given their due in Larison’s Military Review:

The Locktown Volunteers, of Locktown, N.J., a recently organized company, are still progressing since their last parade at Frenchtown, N.J., on the 25th of October. Their drills are well attended and executed in a creditable manner. Their first parade came off at Sergeantsville, N.J., with the Delaware Guards of that place, on the 23d of October when they made a fair appearance in their new uniform and showed considerable efficiency in drill. They also did themselves much credit at the Brigade review on the 25th of October.

The Volunteers were assigned to Company D of the Hunterdon Brigade. From this point on, whenever a military parade or target shooting event was held in Hunterdon, organizers could count on the Locktown Volunteers being there to take part and perform “creditably.”

But wait a minute—as I have written before (See Copperheadism” in Locktown) Locktown was well-known for its ‘Copperheadism.” The people in and around the village, in both Delaware and Kingwood Townships, had little use for Abe Lincoln and his polices. Why would they be signing up for a militia? I put this question to Hunterdon historian John W. Kuhl and he had this to say:

Long standing state militia mandated that every male from age 18 to 45 join the militia unless given an exemption for health reasons or for special occupations. They could serve either in a once a year annual meeting status or in the active militia in a local company (such as the Locktown Volunteers)

The war was about slavery, but the principal motive here in Hunterdon was preservation of the Union, a cause which Democrats could support as well as the Republicans. It was an individual choice. Democrats felt patriotic too.

When locals signed up for the militia, they were only following the law. Despite opinions of some, signing up for a militia unit did not obligate you to serve out of state or in the war. Those who wanted to get into the fight would enlist one of the regiments that was going to war. The only state militia unit to be federalized was Trenton’s Company A of the National Guard. Their mission was to protect the state arsenal and seat of government from any threat.

Capt. John Bellis

The Locktown Volunteers were described in James P. Snell’s History of Hunterdon County in the chapter on Kingwood, probably written by John Bellis, who happened to be the well-known Hunterdon historian who went by the name JayBee.

“Sept. 10, 1859, a splendid flag was procured, and on that day the first annual target-practice was held at Locktown. A silver medal bearing on the obverse the inscription, “Presented to the Locktown Volunteers by Eli Britton,” and on the reverse, “Sept. 10, 1859,” was given to Joel Heath for good marksmanship. At the second practice (1860) the medal was awarded to Wilson M. Rittenhouse; at the third, in 1861, to Joel Heath. In 1862, Peter W. Lair, Theodore Sutton, Uriah Sutton, Izer Rake, John R. Hardon, William Hardon, Henry Hardon, and several others of this company enlisted, and in 1864 the company was disbanded and the arms and equipments [sic] returned to the State arsenal.”

John Bellis earned the attention of another historian, Egbert T. Bush, who wrote of him:

“Of the Kingwood merchant, John Bellis, who was a brother of Sheriff Wesley Bellis, this story is told: Early in the days of the Civil War, he kept the store at Locktown. John was an ardent Republican, while his surroundings were quite as ardently something else. Things grew so warm that some of the “hot heads” thought it would benefit the country if they could “scare a little sense into the head of that radical.” So, they actually dug a grave and let it “leak out” who was to be the occupant. But John did not scare “worth a cent.” And here the story ends abruptly, just as though subsequent events had not been altogether satisfactory. Anyhow, John never occupied the place so laboriously prepared for him and, of course, nobody ever meant that he should.”

No doubt there were several Copperheads in the Locktown Volunteers. But they voted for Bellis as captain anyway, despite his being an “ardent Republican.” It is a good example of how the strong feelings of the pre-Civil War period did not prevent people from working toward a common goal, which was to preserve the Union.

There is so much more to say about the militia companies of the 1850s, but I will end it here in order to make a point about the difference between those companies who “In Time of Peace Prepared for War,” with the intention of uniting together to protect the Constitution and save the Union from the secessionists, and the paramilitary groups of today who seem to think that their destructive practices, promoting division and chaos, somehow have the same value as those earlier groups. To associate these ‘men with guns’ with the militias of the past is a disservice to those who fought to preserve the Union.


  1. For more on John Blane, see Hunterdon Historical Record, vol. 52, no. 2, “John Blane, MD, A Singular Hunterdon Personality,” by John W. Kuhl.
  2. Capt. Bartolette was Charles Bartolette, Jr., M.D., son of the Rev. Charles Bartolette of the Kingwood and Locktown Baptist Churches. J. R. Anderson was Jacob R. Anderson (1821-1895), Milford farmer and miller. Lippincott was probably William Lippincott of Alexandria Twp. who, during 1860-1863 was elected and re-elected “scribe” of the “Lilly Encampment of Patriarchs” of Milford. Cooly escapes me.
  3. John W. Kuhl, Hunterdon County in the Civil War, p.9.
  4. It was common for many years to spell the town’s name as if two words were smashed into one—hence, Baptisttown, rather than Baptistown, as we spell it now.
  5. A cornet is a small version of a trumpet, useful when militias were training.
  6. Hunterdon Gazette, Sept. 21, 1859.
  7. John W. Kuhl, Hunterdon County in the Civil War, p. 7.
  8. This information is derived from “The Press in Hunterdon County, 1825 – 1925,” by Hubert G. Schmidt, a pamphlet published probably around 1925. The copy I have is a reprint by The Democrat Press of Flemington, 1960. It is highly recommended!
  9. Adam R. Bellis (1812-1896), son of William Rockafellar Bellis and Mary Ellen Cramer, was a descendant of the original Bellis immigrant to Hunterdon County. He married in 1836, Mary Ann Corson (1815-1887), daughter of Peter Corson and Margaret Moore. They had three children, two of whom died as young adults. Adam and family are listed in the Bellis Family Tree.
  10. From Kuhl, p.7; much more on pp. 7-8 about pre-war militias and their training days.
  11. Gov. Newell was a former Whig who was nominated for Governor in 1856 by a joint convention of Republicans and the American Party.