Beauty, Humanity Of NJ's Revolutionary War History Captured In New Book

NORTH JERSEY — Among the famous figures who lived and fought in New Jersey during the American Revolutionary War, such as General George Washington, were everyday people – families and communities whose lives were uprooted by the war going on all around them.

Highlighting these human experiences, and documenting the tangible connections to our country’s history all around New Jersey, are two things that Little Falls native Al Frazza mentioned as he talked to Patch about his new self-published book “The Past Still Present.”

“You have, famous people like Washington, Franklin, Hamilton, and Madison – everybody knows their names, even if they don’t know much about them,” he said. “And then there were the private soldiers and what they experienced. It’s also very important to me to recognize the men and women that were then living in New Jersey, who were just all of a sudden caught up in a war zone. So I wanted to have all of that, and in the book, they are all represented.”

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Over the course of seven years, Frazza visited close to 650 historic sites as he compiled detailed notes, photos, and research for the website Revolutionary War New Jersey.

“The Past Still Present: Revolutionary War New Jersey in Photos” is a coffee table book that features some never-before-seen photos of that Revolutionary road trip, and is available now on Amazon.

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From fading graves to grand monuments, streetside plaques to historic buildings, and even including the natural world, the chosen photographs provide a window to the past throughout all 21 counties.

‘A very Dieing time’

As stated above, Frazza emphasized that he wanted to convey the experiences and the significance of ordinary New Jerseyans, as well as humanizing those better-known figures, like George Washington.

“I just wanted to represent that history is not only the people who were famous, but all the other people at that time who were living through it,” he said. “They were all affected by what happened, most of them in ways we can never know, because the decisions that affected their community could have affected the war in ways that are totally lost to time.”

And in our 21st century world, where things like air conditioning and hot water are accessible to many of us, it can sometimes be difficult to connect to that period of history, and those people, who lived in a difficult time even without the ongoing war.

“None of these people were perfect,” Frazza reflected. “They were living through a tumultuous time. And it affected different people in different ways. But throughout New Jersey, they were living in a war zone.”

One of the everyday citizens he mentions in the book is Jemima Condict, a young woman who is mentioned on a plaque which marks where an Essex County militia company fought with British soldiers in 1777.

Condict, who died at 25, kept a diary of her experiences, detailing both the hardships of living in war and the daily struggles of life in the 1700s – which included a deadly epidemic of dysentery.

“What a time this is!” she wrote, as quoted on page 137 of “The Past Still Present.” Condit’s quote continues, with the original spelling and capitalization: “A Sickly time & a very Dieing time & the People fleeing before there enemies.”

But there were also moments of joy and peace in this turbulent time, even for those with a heavy weight on their shoulders.

General Washington’s picnic by the Falls

In the book, along with a two-page photo of Paterson Great Falls National Historic Park, is an account of a picnic that George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, the Marquis de Lafayette, and aide-de-camp James McHenry had after visiting the Falls on July 10, 1778.

McHenry wrote that the group sat under a “friendly oak” with a nearby spring and enjoyed cold ham, tongue, and some biscuit – with “the assistance of a little spirit” to complement the lunch. Then, they chatted for half an hour before taking their leave.

A statue of Hamilton also now looks over the Falls.

“It’s an iconic spot in New Jersey, but it’s not just this natural beauty,” Frazza said. “It connects us to what happened at that time.”

The entry from McHenry’s diary also mentioned that when they were at the Falls, the sun hitting the spray of the water created a rainbow.

“I have to say that the Great Falls in Paterson are probably the most spectacular site in New Jersey,” Frazza said. “And when you read the account of the picnic, you realize Washington and his officers were there, and they experienced the same thing.”

History amid a changing landscape

Frazza also mentioned how big of a role the natural world played in the war – how mountains and rivers fit in to military strategy, for example.

He said some of the nature photos and outdoor photos in the book are among his favorites, including one of the 600-year-old tree in Basking Ridge that was cut down in 2017.

As Frazza’s website notes, the tree was already 350 years old at the time of the Revolutionary War, and would have likely been a place that soldiers passed by many times.

The book has two photos of the tree, one in summer and one in winter.

“I loved that tree,” he said. “And there are people now who will never get to see it in person. But they will get to see it in the book.”

Some other photos show historical markers against the backdrop of modern society – including a historic sign in front of the Polo Ralph Lauren Factory Store in Atlantic City.

Frazza said he took a close-up of the marker there, which pays tribute to Revolutionary War veteran Jeremiah Leeds, but it took several rounds of him standing in the street (when traffic was stopped for red lights, with the camera held over his head) to capture the perfect angle of the entire scene.

And a bust of Alexander Hamilton in Weehawken is framed by the New York City skyline, which of course looked much different at the time of Hamilton’s duel with Aaron Burr in 1804.

Connecting with humanity

The book also includes historic buildings, such as churches and taverns, and also one of Washington’s final headquarters — Rockingham Historic Site in Kingston.

A black-and-white photo on page 69 depicts the front of the former home in Franklin Township. Washington was here – with the Continental Congress in Princeton – when they got word from overseas that the Treaty of Paris had been signed.

Given the Garden State’s significant role in the war, Frazza said, it is also significant that both Washington and the Continental Congress were in New Jersey when they heard the news on Oct. 31, 1783 that the Revolutionary War was officially over. He reflected on what America’s then-future first president may have been thinking and feeling at the time.

“While at Rockingham, Washington could look back all that he had experienced throughout the war, much of which had occurred in New Jersey.” Frazza said. “There had been moments of triumph, or moments of victory, and there must also have been moments where it all seemed hopeless. …Rockingham is a really great place to take that in and say, ‘What was he feeling at this moment?’”

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Frazza noted that sometimes, if history is presented as a “dry recitation of facts,” it’s hard for modern people to connect with the people of that time – and to remember that they were human, too.

“They had the same human emotional and physical frailties and limitations that we have,” he said. “Washington had this enormous weight and responsibility on him throughout the war, to put it mildly. But from day to day, he was not only the head of the Continental Army, he was also a human being. And when we keep that in mind, we realize that he had to deal with the same things we all do. On any given day, did he have a headache? Did he have a cold? These are the type of things that most of us go through and think, ‘I don’t feel like doing my work today, or I’m just going to do the bare minimum.’ But given his position and responsibilities, he didn’t have that option.”

“I do want people to feel that humanity, and I hope that I chose photos and described them in ways that make that point.”

Patch talked to Frazza when published his first book, “State of Revolution: My Seven and a Half Year Journey Through Revolutionary War New Jersey,” back in 2022. That work is a more informal look at the significant places and people who are part of the fabric of the Revolution, interspersed with some funny anecdotes from that long project.

A web designer by trade, Frazza was not trained specifically as a historical researcher, but told Patch he read some books on different aspects of American history in his 20s, which got him “hooked.”

“In the beginning, I really was just looking to put up a simple website that just listed the various locations,” he told Patch in an earlier interview. “And then I decided to put pictures of them all, which meant I had to go take the photographs of them.”

Frazza said one of his goals with this latest book was to “combine the historically significant with the visually interesting.” The book features 180 photos, taken in all seasons, and he said he wanted to show “as much variety as possible” in the images. Some are also in black and white.

“I’ve dreamed of seeing these photos in book form for years,” he said of publishing “The Past Still Present,” which he dedicated to his mother.

Frazza also said he hopes to inspire some excitement about New Jersey’s role in the Revolution as America’s upcoming 250th anniversary approaches, and encourage people to find their own local connection to the past.

He said some of the greatest feedback he’s gotten from people who’ve visited his website or read his book is when they tell him they discovered a historical connection in a familiar place, one they might walk or drive by all the time, without knowing its significance.

“They might not become a history buff, and they may or may not decide to study what happened, but now there’s a connection that, ‘Where I live now, this happened then.’”

You may check out both of Frazza’s published books on his Amazon author page, and visit his Revolutionary War New Jersey website here.

Editor’s note: Frazza’s first name is capitalized in photo captions because that font makes “Al” look like “AI.”

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