James Francis Armstrong, Revolutionary War Soldier, Chaplain

Ledger marking the grave of
James Francis Armstrong (1750-1816)

James Francis Armstrong was born on April 3, 1750, in West Nottingham, Maryland. His father, an elder in the Presbyterian church, sent him to the academy of Rev. John Blair at Fagg's Manor near New Londonderry, Pennsylvania, for his preparatory education. He subsequently entered the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) from which he graduated in 1773, then pursued theological study under the college's president, Rev. Dr. John Witherspoon.

He was accepted as a candidate for the ministry by the Presbytery of New Brunswick at the beginning of the American Revolution, but the presence of British troops near the town necessitated his examination being transferred to the Presbytery of New Castle. Even so, he took up a musket and joined as a private in the First Regiment, Hunterdon County, New Jersey Militia, but was shortly thereafter ordained a minister and appointed a chaplain assigned to the Continental Army's Second Brigade, Maryland. He served to the end of the war.

Armstrong was minister to the church at Elizabethtown in 1782 and 1783, and it was there that he met and married Susannah Livingston, the service being conducted by Witherspoon. He became pastor for thirty years of the First Presbyterian Church in Trenton in 1786.

In 1787, the Constitutional Convention completed its work on the Constitution of the United States and the document was submitted to the states for ratification. The New Jersey legislature authorized a convention of 39 delegates, three chosen from each of its 13 counties, for the purpose of ratifying the Constitution, and Armstrong was again called upon, opening each of the convention's sessions with a prayer.

Upon his death on January 19, 1816, Armstrong was interred in the churchyard but many years later he was re-interred at Riverview Cemetery. Though the ledger stone (originally a table) marking his grave is badly weathered, the lengthy inscription reads:

"Sacred to the memory of the Rev. James Francis Armstrong, thirty years pastor of the church at Trenton, in union with the church of Maidenhead. Born in Maryland, of pious parents, he received the elements of his classical education under the Rev. John Blair, finished his collegiate studies in the College of New Jersey, under the Rev. Dr. Witherspoon, and was licensed to preach the Gospel in the year 1777. An ardent patriot, he served through the War of Independence as chaplain. In 1790 he was chosen a trustee of the College of New Jersey. A warm and constant friend, a devout Christian, a tender husband and parent, steady in his attentions of the judicatories of the Church, throughout life he was distinguished as a fervent and affectionate minister of the Gospel, and resigned his soul to his Creator and Redeemer on the 19th of January, 1816. 'Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.' Amen! Even so come, Lord Jesus."

Armstrong is interred in Section D, Lot 34.

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