A Morris County Soldier and Patriot: Dr. Jabez Campfield
As we recognize and thank all our local veterans past and present on this Veteran’s Day, it’s a good time to reflect on one of our earliest soldiers and patriots, who also left a lasting legacy in Morris County. As part of the Daughters of the American Revolution’s “Hometown Heroes” project, we are pleased to present a Revolutionary War-era veteran and hometown hero from long ago in celebration of Veteran’s Day.
Dr. Jabez Campfield was the first doctor in Morristown, moving to town in 1765 after graduating from The College of New Jersey (Princeton University) with bachelor’s and master’s degrees and studying medicine in Newark under Dr. William Burnet. He served as a surgeon in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, joining as soon as the war first arrived in New Jersey in late 1776 and continuing until the end of the war in 1783. He served in several campaigns, including the Sullivan campaign that took him through Pennsylvania and western New York, many major battles, and winter encampments including Valley Forge and both major encampments in Morristown.
During the winter encampment in Morristown in 1777, smallpox swept through the Army and the town. As a doctor on the Army’s medical team, at George Washington’s instruction, Dr. Campfield was deeply involved in inoculating the entire army against the disease during that winter encampment. Dr. Campfield’s house was used as his medical office and his extensive gardens were a source of medications for his patients and the soldiers billeted in the area. (Dr. Campfield’s medical bag below)
When the army returned to Morristown for the winter encampment of 1779-1780, Surgeon General Dr. John Cochran was billeted to stay at Dr. Campfield’s house, and he used it as the Army’s medical storehouse and meeting place for the medical corps. During this time, Dr. Cochran’s niece, Elizabeth Schuyler, joined him and was courted by her future husband, Alexander Hamilton who lived next door at the Ford Mansion that winter.
After the war, Dr. Campfield became a civic leader in Morris County. He trained many young men to become doctors, playing an important role in establishing the practice of medicine in this area. He was the first Surrogate of Morris County in the new United States (not appointed by the Crown). He served on the Town Committee, was Judge of Elections, Tax Collector, and Justice of the Peace.
He instituted an early lending library, donated his book collection and served as its librarian. His library developed into what we know today as the Morristown and Morris Township Library. Dr. Campfield also founded the Morris Academy, a well-respected school that was a fixture in town until the early 1900s, and served twice as its President.
Dr. Campfield was active in Morristown’s First Presbyterian Church, and as a member of its Building Committee was instrumental in erecting its second edifice in the 1790s. This building was so beloved by Morristown residents that when it was replaced in 1894 its steeple was placed on display in the cemetery, where it resides today behind the First Presbyterian Church of Morristown.
Dr. Campfield was a founding member of the Medical Society of New Jersey in 1766, and when it faltered in the early 1800s he was instrumental in bringing together rival factions to save it. This society continues to operate today as the oldest professional society in the United States. It’s mission is to “promote the betterment of the public health and the science and the art of medicine, to enlighten public opinion in regard to the problems of medicine, and to safeguard the rights of the practitioners of medicine.”
Queens College (now Rutgers University) recognized Dr. Campfield with an honorary doctorate in 1792. Dr. Campfield was also an original member of the Society of the Cincinnati in the State of New Jersey, the fraternal and benevolent organization formed by George Washington and officers of the Continental Army, which continues as a vibrant service organization today. His membership as a Freemason predates George Washington’s Masonic meetings in Morristown.
Dr. Campfield died in Morristown on May 20, 1821. He is buried in the churchyard of the Morristown First Presbyterian Church, off the Morristown Green. While no headstone marks his burial site today, plans are in place to honor him with a military headstone in the spring of 2023.
When Dr. Campfield’s home was on the verge of demolition in 1923, the Morristown Chapter National Society Daughters of the American Revolution purchased it and opened it to the public in 1924 to help tell the story of Morristown during the Revolutionary War. Because of its connection to the love story between Alexander Hamilton and Elizabeth Schuyler, the house, located at 5 Olyphant Place, is known popularly as the Schuyler-Hamilton House. Currently the house is closed for restoration, but will re-open in April 2022. You can read more about the Schuyler-Hamilton House at their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Schuyler-Hamilton-House-119730644741433/
The National Society Daughters of the American Revolution (NSDAR)is a volunteer women’s service organization dedicated to promoting patriotism, preserving American history, and securing America’s future through better education for children. Membership is open to any woman 18 years or older who can trace her ancestry to soldiers or supporters of the American Revolution. Members of the Morristown Chapter – NSDAR support local charities, veterans organizations, and perform community service that supports the tenets of the National Society. For more information about the Morristown Chapter NSDAR, please visit the chapter’s website at https://morristownnjdar.org/or its Facebook page at https://m.facebook.com/Morristown-Chapter-Daughters-of-the-American-Revolution-120182661325312/
—–Thank you to our guest blogger, the Morristown Chapter – NSDAR and Bobbi Bailey and Nina Hoban