Thomas Clarke


I was a Quaker opposed to war, but war came right through my property.

My family came to America after converting to the Quaker faith, seeking a welcoming community on lands owned by William Penn. We settled near Princeton, and I was born on September 29, 1742. After my father died in 1768, my older brother William inherited most of the estate, so he sold me a farm next to his. I never married, but I shared my house with my sister Sarah.

My siblings and I owned a slave named Susannah, but we Quakers were becoming opposed to slavery and so in 1779 we granted her freedom, when she was about thirty years old.

But first we had to endure something terrible. As Quakers, we did not believe in swearing oaths or taking part in any kind of warlike activities. This meant that during the struggle for independence, both sides looked down on us for not supporting either cause. In December 1776, the British army occupied Princeton as winter quarters, after chasing General Washington across the Delaware River to Pennsylvania. Washington and his men removed all the boats from the river, so the British couldn’t follow after them.

Everyone settled in for the winter. The British troops needed many things, including firewood and food for the men and horses, so we farmers suffered the loss of food supplies, farm animals, fences, trees and other things.

On January 2, 1777, General Cornwallis marched the British out of Princeton when he learned Washington’s troops were in Trenton. But then, the next day, American troops appeared on the back of our land, having circled around the British. Over the next hour, the Battle of Princeton took place on our lands, and General Mercer was injured on my property before Washington arrived and captured Princeton.

Although we were opposed to the war, we tended to General Mercer in my house until he died on January 12, as well as other soldiers wounded in the fight. It was very hard to have our lives disrupted by the battle and the horror of human suffering.

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