Updated: Oct 28, 2021
By Muriel J Smith Freehold Transcript, August 2018
Even before the American Revolution, the name Scudder was highly revered and respected throughout the eastern part of the continent that would become the United States of America, though there are varying accounts of when the Scudders first arrived and from which part of the British Isles they emigrated.
What is certain is that two Scudder brothers arrived on these shores in the 17th century, landing in Massachusetts, where one settled, while the other moved on to Long Island and was well established there by 1630.
That brother, Thomas, was a miller in Huntington, Long Island, married and had a son named Jacob. Jacob grew up on the Island until he moved to what became known as Scudder’s Mills, just southeast of Princeton, NJ. He and his wife, Abia, later settled near Monmouth Court House, a name used to describe the county seat at Freehold, where they raised their three sons and three daughters.
Nathaniel was the eldest of the half dozen and was born May 10, 1733, most likely at Freehold, although historians disagree on whether there or on Long Island. Nathaniel was in the fourth graduating class of the College of New Jersey, now known as Princeton, in 1751, and immediately launched into the study of medicine.
During his years as a physician, Nathaniel was highly regarded and respected, and had an extensive practice through the Monmouth County area. Early accounts describe him as enjoying “the respect and confidence of the people of that part of the State on account of his varied learning, strong powers of mind, genial disposition and purity of life.”
Nathaniel married Isabella Anderson, the only daughter of Colonel Kenneth Anderson, the year after his college graduation, and following a charming and whirlwind romance. The History of NJ Medicine records the courtship and romance as told a century later by Dr. Scudder’s granddaughter, Maria.
Seems the beautiful Isabella, a member of an old Scottish family that came to the colonies during the Scottish troubles of 1715, came to church services on horseback, and was quickly seen and appreciated by a young college graduate, Nathaniel Scudder. She alighted from her horse and fastened him to a tree before walking into the church. The daring young medical student went up to the horse, disarranged the equipment and entangled the bridle before he, too, went into church. When service was over, and young Isabella went back to her horse, only to be chagrined by the entanglement, Nathaniel suddenly appeared, quite dignified and graceful, and offered to come to her assistance. He righted all the reins he had entangled, then assisted the young lady into the saddle. He mentioned to her that since they were both traveling in the same direction, a distance of some four miles or more, he felt the need to travel with her and offer her protection. She acquiesced to his gallantry, Nathaniel mounted his own horse, and the two rode off together, the beginning of a courtship that culminated in a marriage in 1752 and ultimately the birth of three sons and two daughters.
The young Dr Scudder had a lucrative and popular medical practice in Monmouth County, but also displayed his strong belief in a free nation separated from ties to England, as well as his belief in a strong religious foundation. He was a member of old Tennent Church where he apparently challenged Thomas Paine of Common Sense fame on a religious matter. Scudder bested the gifted New Englander in the verbal controversy.
But as the colonies grew closer to war and New Jerseyans heard reports of the British soldiers taking over and burning Boston, Dr. Scudder was among the first to become involved. At a meeting of citizens held in Freehold on June 6, 1774, a full two years before the Declaration of Independence, Dr Scudder took a leading role and drafted resolutions of sympathy for Boston and support for the cause of freedom.
His involvement in the freedom cause came quickly after that, and he was named to numerous positions of authority and leadership. He became a member of the local committee of public safety, then a delegate to New Jersey’s first provincial congress which met in New Brunswick. He became speaker of the legislature within two years, and when the first Monmouth County regiment of militia needed more men, Nathaniel hung up his stethoscope and signed on. He became a lieutenant-colonel in the First Regiment of Monmouth militia under Col. George Taylor, whose father, Edward Taylor, owned Marlpit Hall.
By November 1776, five months after the Declaration was signed, Lt Col. Scudder was promoted to colonel and took charge of the regiment whose soldiers came from the Freehold and Middletown area. Taylor had resigned his post to join the Loyalists.
It was neither glorious nor safe to be a rebel anywhere on the continent, but particularly in New Jersey, where lived the highest concentration of Loyalists among all the colonies. Families were torn apart by the differences of opinion on whether this far flung child of England should remain loyal to the King, albeit laden with heavy taxes and no representation in British government or take on the world’s strongest nation and fight for independence.
Loyalists, some of whom remained soldiers simply to act as spies and report troop movements to the British generals, burned or otherwise destroyed the homes of their rebellious neighbors and former friends, took their cattle and destroyed their crops.
Nor could the rebels honorably call themselves an army. They had no uniforms, received little or no pay, left their own families and farms to take up the cause, and were often armed only with make shift weapons. But Scudder, as others like him, saw it as a worthy and honorable cause and bore all the burdens of leading an upheaval never before known, all for the cause of freedom from British rule. There followed a period known as the Tory Ascendancy, and unfortunately, Scudder, in command of Monmouth Militia troops, had little success. The militia dissolved.
With no troops to command, Scudder attached himself to a Pennsylvania Continental regiment; some other troops also followed. Thus, began a month long, but highly successful action to put down the Ascendancy. Within a few weeks, the Monmouth militia was reconstituted and spent the next month encamped on the hills of Highlands, with a mission to guard Monmouth County against a British invasion by their troops stationed at Sandy Hook. But by February, Scudder’s militia was involved in the Battle of Navesink, surprised by the British and falling to them with the loss of more than two dozen militiamen killed and another 70 captured.
Dr Scudder resigned from the militia to devote more time to rising in the political field, where he felt he could do better as a legislator. In 1777, he was elected a delegate to the Continental Congress, but did not attend a session for nearly a year because of his militia obligations.
Throughout his two one-year terms in Congress, Congressman Scudder also missed a number of other meetings because his duties; he was a member of the committee dealing with the quartermaster service, a position which required a considerable amount of personal travel time. He declined to accept a third term, indicating the heavy burden his time away from home placed on his modest estate in Freehold made the obligation too demanding.
Records show that in actuality, Col Scudder was not even in the militia in June of 1778. At the time of his 1777 resignation to focus on politics, he relinquished his post as colonel of the first regiment to Asher Holmes. As it happened, he was at home enjoying a Congressional recess in the summer of ’78 when British General Charles Lee began his march through Monmouth County.
Scudder decided to join the fray so close to home, an encounter which became known as the Battle of Monmouth, the battle historians later called a turning point of the war. While it was never seen as a clear-cut victory, the British fled Freehold under dark of night while General George Washington was preparing an early morning attack. Routing the British after Washington’s stunning losses in New York gave those who yearned for freedom the boost in morale they needed to continue waging the war.
With his retirement from Congress in 1779, Scudder devoted full time to his military duties. He also served on the NJ Council of Safety, where part of his obligations included fining or jailing captured Loyalists in areas, Monmouth among them, where there were no courts. He also served as the county's representative to the Privy Council, the Upper House of the NJ Legislature.
That he knew his life was constantly in danger as a soldier was best evidenced in a letter he wrote his son, Joseph in 1780. Joseph was a law student in Philadelphia and the worried father expressed concern for his son’s future. He signed it “with every sincere wish and prayer for happiness both here and hereafter, your most affectionate and careful Father..”.
Ironically, Nathaniel Scudder, doctor, Congressman, New Jersey Assemblyman, local leader, soldier, patriot, came through the war years unscathed... Until 1781.
Still affiliated with his old friend from the Monmouth Militia, General David Forman, he was assisting the general in repelling Loyalist raids on bayshore lands. The pair had formed the Retaliators, a vigilante group of patriots viewed as both illegal and dangerous, known for taking strong actions against Loyalists and suspected Loyalists.
When a party of refugees landed at Sandy Hook and made their way undiscovered to Colts Neck, where they took six prisoners, the alarm was sounded at Freehold, and Dr. Scudder responded. Knowing the direction, the refugees would head, he told his family that a battle was “expected at Long Branch. I will go down and bind the wounds of the poor fellows.” With other patriots from Freehold, Dr Scudder took off in pursuit of the Loyalists, in an effort to rescue the prisoners. Near Black’s Point, now Rumson, Dr. Scudder and General Forman were standing on the river bank talking when a shot was fired aimed at Forman. But, as the general told it later, he had taken an involuntary step backward, describing it as “the most fortunate step of my life.” The bullet that missed him, struck and fatally injured Dr. Nathaniel Scudder. It was four days before the Battle of Yorktown and the surrender of the British to their American foes.
Colonial Scudder thus became a casualty of the war, the only member of the Continental Congress to serve with the militia and be killed by the enemy. He is buried in Old Tennent Church cemetery, Manalapan. At the Freehold Borough Hall, the second- floor meeting room is dedicated as the Scudder Room and a glass wall, designed by local designer Nelson Kuperberg, depicts Scudder’s writings, a scene from the Battle of Monmouth and the map of the area.