Backstory and Context
With more battles and skirmishes fought here than any other colony in the Revolutionary War, New Jersey has been described as “the cockpit of the Revolution.” Serving as the crossroads between the strategic centers of Philadelphia and New York City, New Jersey saw critical battles that turned the tide of the war, and harsh winter encampments that tested Washington’s troops. In July of 1778, when the war brought both armies to a head on the sloping farm fields of Monmouth County, many Freehold locals fled to safety. Ann Craig, whose husband John was off fighting on another front, fled her home with her two children when the battle of Monmouth was exploding on the Craig’s property. The Craig family’s vacant home was used as a field hospital for wounded British troops during the battle and, despite the flying cannonballs and musket fire, still stands to this day. Today, along with the rest of Monmouth Battlefield State Park, it faces the threat imposed by an ever-inadequate budget for preservation. However, visitors still come nearly every weekend to see one of Monmouth’s few remaining 18th century structures.
The Craig family originated in Scotland and settled in New Jersey in 1685. After leaving Perth Amboy and moving to Monmouth County in 1710, John Craig Sr. and his family bought the property that today encompasses a large portion of Monmouth Battlefield State Park. They constructed the original Dutch framed Craig House that year. In 1758 when John Craig Jr. came of age he inherited the farm and house, and by 1770 he had constructed the two story English style side addition that can be seen today. Just 8 years after the construction of the addition, the Revolution was in full swing, and John Craig Jr. was away fighting alongside other members of the local militia, leaving Ann and their three children home.
With the battle raging on the Craig’s property, Ann and her children fled for Upper Freehold. No actual fighting took place in the immediate vicinity of the house, though some Continentals did retreat across the farm during the day, pursued by British regulars. The extreme heat of the battle killed more men than bullets, and many wounded and sick British soldiers were cared for inside the vacant Craig House. After the chaotic early hours of the battle, Washington arrived and rallied his confused forces. Centering his line on Perrine’s hill, the now well trained and organized Continental army fought back a British advance, and a deafening three hour artillery duel ensued. The British Army retreated towards Sandy Hook the following morning. The disputed victory is considered a major turning point in the war, as Washington’s victory proved that the budding independent nation had a fighting chance. For an in depth look at the Battle of Monmouth, visit the museum and speak with the many talented historians on staff at Monmouth Battlefield State Park, or take a look at Mark Lender and Gary Wheeler Stone’s book, Fatal Sunday: George Washington, the Monmouth Campaign, and the Politics of Battle.
After the battle, the Craig family returned to their home, and lived there until John’s death in 1824. The property was willed to his children, and stayed within the Craig family through the 19th century, eventually being acquired by the State of New Jersey in 1965. Years of heavy use and occupation deteriorated the home. However, when distress about the declining state of the park’s assets mounted in 1990, the Friends of Monmouth Battlefield formed. The park’s friends group initiated the annual reenactment of the battle at Monmouth Battlefield State Park to raise awareness of the deterioration of important features of the battlefield, including the Craig House. The annual reenactment continues every summer, and is the largest living history event in the state. In 1993 the Craig House was restored to its wartime appearance thanks to the efforts of the Friends of Monmouth Battlefield. Because it is staffed by volunteers, tours of the Craig House are permitted on a limited basis. Contact the Monmouth Battlefield State Park visitor center to check availability.
"Monmouth Battlefield State Park." New Jersey Department of Environmental
Protection. Accessed March 19, 2019. https://www.state.nj.us/dep/
"Time Has Taken its Toll on Monmouth Battlefield's Craig House." The History
Girl! (blog). Accessed March 19, 2019. https://www.thehistorygirl.com/
"Friends of Monmouth Battlefield." Accessed March 19, 2019.