General Joseph Martin Chapter

Cumberland Gap, TN


Cumberland Gap Patriot

James Caldwell

When America was engaged in winning her freedom from the most powerful nation on earth Great Britain, great numbers of America’s finest men and women rallied to the cause.  Among these brave men were ministers of the Gospel.  From their pulpit, they encouraged their parishioners to take up arms and help win America’s freedom.  Many of these same men enlisted to encourage their flocks to do likewise.  History records there were as many as 170 Pastors who volunteered for service.  They were immediately commissioned as officers.  Their salary was $20.00 per month, plus a monthly grant of 40 shillings for a supply Pastor to cover their home churches.

     These Chaplains labored to win the souls of the colonial soldiers for Jesus Christ.  The Chaplains held services, distributed over 20,000 bibles that Congress purchased, visited the sick, buried the dead, and took up arms and fought bravely; some of these brave men gave their lives in America’s fight for independence and freedom that we enjoy today.

      The following is a story of one of America’s little-known heroes:

        Rev. James Caldwell    1734-1781

       James Caldwell, the pistol toting Chaplain of the American Revolution who served the Continental Army, was born in 1734 in Elizabethton New jersey. He was a Chaplain in the American Revolutionary army between the years 1776 and 1781.

      He was called “The Rebel Priest”  “High Priest” of the rebellion, and the pistol packing preacher of the rebellion by the British. Most chaplains in the American Continental army only carried a sword. Caldwell was unique. He carried two flintlock pistols on his side everywhere he went. Because of his role in causing insurrection against the British Government while in the pulpit, a reward was offered for his capture.

      The most important thing for which Caldwell was remembered was the time when his company ran out of musket wadding at the Battle of Springfield, New Jersey. Musket wadding was paper used to wrap gun powder cartridges in, necessary for the musket to fire.

 The Battle of Springfield is one of the least known battles fought in New Jersey.  On June 23, 1780, the British and Hessian troops came into Springfield, attacked the American Continental line, and burnt the town to the ground when they left. The smell of burning corpses of dead civilians killed during the battle could be smelled for miles away    

      During this battle, Caldwell ran to a nearby Presbyterian church and carried several Isaac Watts hymnals to the troops, shouting, and “Now let’s put some Watts into them boys.”   The Church in which Caldwell pastured was also burnt to the ground in the fire. 

      Following the Battle of Springfield, while journeying on a mission trip, a British company was sent to Caldwell’s house to arrest him. When Caldwell’s wife refused to tell the British soldiers where he had gone, the British Commander had her shot to death in front of her children.  The British Commander then ordered his house burned to the ground.

      In 1781, Caldwell also met his death at the hands of the Tories.  Caldwell was a great hero, who paid with his precious life for privileges for which he would never be permitted to enjoy.  His contributions to unborn generations help pay the price of liberty and independence for our new nation, called America.


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