Oliver Cromwell

Washington-crosing-the-delawareOliver Cromwell was born in the colony of New Jersey, near Burlington. There seems to be some confusion on his birth date. One source has it as May 24, 1753, while another puts it in 1752. He lived to be 100 years old. Cromwell was a soldier in the American Revolution. He was an African-American war hero. In fact his discharge papers were signed by George Washington. Oliver Cromwell was a free black, that participated in nearly every major battle of the war. He participated in the crossing of the famous crossing of the Delaware with General George Washington and fought in the battle of Trenton and Princeton.  In the famous painting of General Washington crossing the Delaware River, Cromwell is said to be the person near the front of the boat behind the man (Prince Whipple) that has his leg hanging over the side of the boat, at the bow (front) as per the artist, Emmauel Leutze.

He served in the second New Jersey regiment under Captain Lowery and and Colonel Israel Shreve. He served in the battles of Trenton, Princeton, Brandywine, Monmouth, and Yorktown. He made the famous crossing of the Delaware on December 25, 1776. Washington also designed a medal which was presented to Cromwell. He later applied for a pension as a veteran. He could not read or write, but he was very well liked in the community of Burlington. Local lawyers, judges, and politicians helped him to get the pension of $96 a year. Cromwell purchased a 100 acre farm, fathered 14 children, and moved into Burlington in his later years. He outlived 8 of his children, and died when he was 100 years old. He is buried in the Methodist churchyard in Burlington, where some of his descendants still live.

The Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey) printed on April 1905 an interview with Cromwell that was done 50 years earlier. He spoke of General Washington and the Battle of Trenton. A few days after his death, on the editorial pages of the Burlington Gazette, the following was noted:

“And thus, one by one, the men who purchased with their blood the liberty we now enjoy, are going off stage.  Although Oliver was a colored man, he was always respected by our citizens, and we suggest whether it would not be proper to erect some suitable monument over his grave. The scanty pittance of ninety-six dollars a year, allowed him by the government was barley enough to give him scanty support, and it will be pleasant to know that the people of Burlington felt sufficient interest in him, to mark the spot where his ashes are buried”.

Since 1984, the Oliver Cromwell Black History Society has given out over $20,000 in awards for students participating in the Black History Month Art and Essay Contests.   The Society also recognizes local residents by awarding the “Oliver Cromwell Living Heritage Award” every year.


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