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Former Rep. Robert W. Kean (R-Livingston). Fabian Bacharach Studio Photo from the Collection of David Wildstein.

Veterans: Frelinghuysen and Kean families

By David Wildstein, May 25 2020 12:10 am

When you trace the roots of the Frelinghuysen family back to the American Revolution, you can start with Frederick Frelinghuysen, who was the very model of a modern Major-General.

Frelinghuysen was a colonel in the Continental Army before his election to the Continental Congress and the New Jersey State Assembly.  President George Washington appointed him as a brigadier general for the campaign against the western Indians in 1790 and had been commissioned as a major general during the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794.

The New Jersey Legislature elected Frelinghuysen to the U.S. Senate in 1793. He spent four years as a senator.

His son, Theodore Frelinghuysen, was a captain in the Volunteer Militia in the War of 1812.  He served at New Jersey attorney general and as a state Supreme Court Justice before winning a seat in the U.S. Senate in 1826.  He later served as mayor of Newark and was the Whig nominee for Vice President on a ticket with Henry Clay in 1844.  Frelinghuysen ended his career as president of Rutgers University.

Another Frederick Frelinghuysen, was a Newark city councilman and served as a member of the 1861 Peace Convention that sought to prevent the Civil War.  He did not serve in the Union Army, but instead spent the war as the attorney general of New Jersey.  He later served as a U.S. Senator and U.S. Secretary of State. He was the son of the first Frederick Frelinghuysen and was raised by his uncle, Theodore.

Joseph Frelinghuysen, the great-grandson of Major General Frelinghuysen, was a U.S. Army lieutenant in the Spanish American War.  He served in the New Jersey State Senate and as Senate President before winning election to the U.S. Senate in 1916.  He was defeated in his bid for re-election in 1922; he tried to regain his seat in 1928, but lost the Republican primary to Hamilton Fish Kean.

Peter H.B. Frelinghuysen, the great-great-great grandson of Major General Frelinghuysen and the cousin of Joseph Frelinghuysen, served in the Office of Navy Intelligence from 1942 to 1945 and held the rank of lieutenant.  He served in Congress from 1953 to 1975.

His son, Rodney Frelinghuysen, served in Congress from 1995 to 2019.

As class president at Hobart College, he read a letter at commencement urging President Richard Nixon to immediately end the war in Vietnam. His father, a ranking member of the House Foreign Relations Committee at the time, was sitting in front of him.

Rodney Frelinghuysen was drafted and went off to Southeast Asia, working in a U.S. Army engineering battalion that handled infrastructure issues.

The Kean Family

The roots of the Kean family go back to John Kean, the great-grandfather of New Jersey Senate Minority Leader Thomas Kean, Jr.’s great-grandfather.

He who was taken prisoner by General Henry Clinton, the British Commander in Chief of North America, upon the capture of Charleston in 1780.  He spent several months aboard a prison ship. General George Washington later appointed him to a commission to audit the accounts of the Continental Army.

Kean later served as a delegate to the Continental Congress and was named by President Washington as the cashier of the Bank of the United States in Philadelphia.

Robert Winthrop Kean, the grandfather of the Senate Minority Leader and father of the former governor, served in the New Jersey National Guard and was assigned to protect the Mexican border.

He served in the U.S. Army during World War II, where was deployed overseas as a first lieutenant and was awarded the Silver Star Medal and the Distinguished Service Cross.

In 1938, Kean became a candidate for Congress.  He won the Republican primary by 713 votes against Montclair Commissioner Dallas Townsend.  In the general election, he defeated freshman Democratic Rep. Frank Towey Jr. (D-Caldwell) in 1938 by 12,118 votes, 55%-41%.

Kean was re-elected nine times before giving up his seat to run for an open U.S. Senate seat in 1958.  He later served as the Essex County Republican Chairman.

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