ELIZABETH, NJ – The time is June 1780, and 4,000 British soldiers are advancing through Union County in what will become known as the Battle of Springfield. As they approach Vauxhall Road in the vicinity of Morris Avenue, militia leader Eli Littell sets up the three-pound cannon he captured from the British. There, he held the enemy until General William Maxwell could arrive from Watchung.
It’s another win for the Americans, but one with huge consequences. The British were on a mission to capture General George Washington at Morristown. If they had been successful, they would have won the war. There would have been no United States.
It all happened here in Union County.
This is just one of the many stories told by re-enactors Chris Diamon and Frank Loria from the Third New Jersey Regiment, whose founder, Colonel Elias Dayton, is buried in the cemetery next to the First Presbyterian Church on Broad Street. They were joined by General Washington, aka David Emerson from History on the Hoff, and Eliza Vincz, who demonstrated Tarot cards and 18th Century cosmetics, plus a Fife and Drum group. It was all part of the Four Centuries in a Weekend, October 17 and 18, hosted for the eighth year by the Historic Midtown Elizabeth Special Improvement District.
“People ask me all the time, ‘Why do you do this?’” said the district’s executive director Janice de Avila. “I say, ‘We are the historic district for the city of Elizabeth. Look at what we have here.'”
For the re-actors, the event is a pure labor of love. Diamon, who was been one for six and one-half years, shares his interest with his wife, Mary, who teaches American history in Clifton. “I love history, especially the Revolutionary War period,” he said.
Added Loria, who has been a re-enactor since the 1976 bicentennial, “You have to love history to do this. I tell people things they don’t know, but should.”