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The Story Of Two Captains


Chapter 14
Page 141

During the Revolution, New Jersey had a very hard time, harder in some ways than many of her sister States. This may be accounted for by the fact that much of her territory lay between the two important cities of Philadelphia and New York, and that it was therefore liable to be the scene of frequent battles and marches. In fact, it often happens that the march of an enemy through a quiet country is almost as bad as a disastrous battle.

Country people and farmers, especially those of fruitful and prosperous countries, are generally much more opposed to war than people in cities; and so it happened in New Jersey. When the Revolution began, there were a good many people who did not care particularly about taxation, who had been happy and comfortable all their days, without any thought of independence, and who saw no reason why they should not continue to be so; and these did not immediately spring to arms when the first guns of the war were fired. There were no large cities in New Jersey. It was a rural community, a country of peaceable people.

When the British troops first entered New Jersey, and before any battles had been fought, the commander

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in chief took advantage of this state of feeling, and endeavored as far as possible to make the people think that the Redcoats were in reality good friends, and intended them no harm. He protested, whenever he had a chance, that when these disturbances were over, any complaints that the people had to make in regard to the laws made by their English rulers, should be carefully attended to, and their grievances redressed as soon as possible.

As has been said before, a great many of the people of the Colony were in favor of continuance of the British rule, and from these arose that Tory party which afterwards caused so much bitterness of feeling and bloody contention. But there were also others, who, although they were not Tories, were not in favor of fighting if it could be helped, and these the British commander most wished to conciliate. He issued a great many printed papers of protection, which he gave to those who had not yet taken sides against the Crown. The people who received these were assured, that, so long as they had them to show, no Redcoat soldier would in any way disturb them or their property.

But when the English army actually spread itself over the country, and the soldiers began to forage about to see what they could find to eat and drink better than their rations, the Jersey farmers frequently discovered that these papers of protection were of no use at all. If shown to one of the Hessians, who were more dreaded than the other soldiers of the British army, the German could not read a word of it,

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and paid no attention to it. He wanted ducks and geese, and took them. And after a time the English soldiers determined that the Hessians should not take all they wanted while they stood by and had nothing, and so they began to pillage, without regard to the little printed papers which the angry farmers showed them.

This state of things had a very good effect upon the rural population of New Jersey; and as the conduct of the British soldiers became more lawless, so did the determination to resist such outrageous actions become stronger and stronger in the hearts of the people of the country, and they readily listened to the calls to arms which were made by Washington and by Congress. The people who were in favor of the Revolution and independence stood together and formed themselves on one side, while those who were still loyal to the King formed themselves on the other. And thus, with both the Tories and the British against them, the citizens of New Jersey began in good earnest to fight for their liberties.

In the war which was now waged in New Jersey, it very often happened that the British soldiers had no part whatever; and although the battles and skirmishes between the Tories and the Whigs were generally small and of no great importance, they were always violent and bloody. Sometimes the forces on each side were considerable enough to entitle the affair to be called a battle. The forces of the Whigs or patriots in these encounters were almost always composed of the militiamen of the State, who had not
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joined the regular army, but who had enlisted for the purpose of defending their own homes and farms. In various parts of the country there were men who, some on one side and some on the other, had distinguished themselves as soldiers.

One of the most prominent of these was a Captain Huddy of Monmouth County. He had command of a company of militiamen, and he made himself very formidable to the bodies of Tories who had formed themselves in the country, and his name and fame as a great fighter began to spread over that part of the State. He lived in a good-sized house, for that time, in the village of Colt's Neck, and in this house he generally kept part of his command.

But one evening he happened to be at home without any one with him except a servant, a negro girl about twenty years old. His men had all gone away on some errand, and the fact that the captain was at home by himself became known to some Tories in the neighborhood. These, led by a mulatto named Tye, made an attack upon his house.

But although Captain Huddy's men were all away, they had left their guns behind; and so the brave Huddy, instead of surrendering to the force of fifty or sixty Tories who were outside, determined to fight them, with no garrison but himself and the negro girl, and he made ready to hold his house as long as he could. The girl loaded the guns; and Huddy, running from one window to another, fired at the Tories so rapidly and with such good effect, that they believed that there were a number of men in

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the house, and so did not dare to rush forward and break in the doors, as they certainly would have done if they had known that they were fighting two persons only, and one of them a girl.


Several of the attacking party were wounded, and they found at last that there was little chance of capturing this fortress, so well defended: so they concluded to burn the house, and thus force the garrison to come out. While they were at work setting fire to the wooden building, Huddy shot the mulatto in

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the arm; but, finding that he could not prevent them from carrying out their purpose, he shouted to them that if they would put out the fire, he would surrender.

When the fort had capitulated and the enemy marched in, the Tories were so angry to find that they had been fighting no one but a man and a negro girl, that many of them were inclined to fall upon these unfortunates, and butcher them on the spot; but they were restrained. As it was known that Huddy's men would probably soon return,-for the noise of the firing had aroused the neighborhood,-the enemy seized the captain and hurried him away, leaving the rest of the garrison behind.

It may be said here that this girl, whose name was Lucretia Emmons, afterwards married a man named Chambers, and, like all other Jersey women who were of benefit to their State, lived to a good old age, and had a large posterity.

Captain Huddy was hurried away to the boats in which the Tories had arrived; but the militiamen were in hot pursuit, and a running fight took place between them and the Tories, in which six of the latter were killed. The Tories, with their prisoner, got on board their boats; but they had not pushed very far from the shore, before the militiamen were firing at them again. During the hubbub which ensued, Captain Huddy made a bold dash for liberty. He sprang to his feet, plunged into the water, and began to swim to the shore. In so doing, unfortunately, he received a shot in the thigh from his own

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friends; but he raised his hands above his head and shouted, "I am Huddy, I am Huddy!" and so, with one leg and two arms, he continued to strike out for the shore, which he reached in safety. His wound could not have been very severe, for it was not long before he was again engaged in fighting the Tories.

Two years after this, Captain Huddy was once more obliged to hold a fort against a superior body of Tories,-this time a rude structure of logs, or blockhouse, near Tom's River, close to the coast. His garrison consisted of twenty-five men. Here he was attacked by a number of refugees, some of them from New York, and some from the neighborhood. They gathered from various quarters during the night, and early on a Sunday morning they made a united attack on the blockhouse. Huddy and his men fought bravely; but when their ammunition was gone, and seven or eight of them were killed, he was obliged to surrender.

Now, there was no one to rescue him, and he was marched away, put in irons, and confined in the hold of a prison ship anchored off the coast. The state of feeling at the time is shown by the way in which the commander of this expedition speaks of the village of Tom's River; for he says, "The Town, as it is called, consists of about a dozen houses, in which none but a piratical set of banditti reside."

What afterwards happened to the captain was the result of a chain of events which could only have occurred in a country where neighbors and former friends were arrayed in bloody conflict against each

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other. A prominent Tory of that neighborhood, named White, had been captured by the patriots, and it happened that the father of one of White's guards had been murdered by a party of Tories of whom White was a member. White was shot soon after his capture; and it was generally believed that he had been killed by this guard, who wished to avenge his father's death.

Thus one murder led to another, but the bloody business had not yet gone far enough. The friends of White were determined to avenge his death, and could think of no better way of doing it than by killing Captain Huddy. The Tories wished to get rid of him anyway, and here was a reason which was considered good enough in those days of furious animosity between fellow-countrymen. It was not long, therefore, before Huddy was taken from his prison, and, without even a show of a trial, was condemned to death. It was said that he assisted in the killing of White; and although he asserted boldly that this was an absurd charge, as he was in prison at the time White was shot, the Tories would not listen to any such plea. They were determined to kill him, and die he must.

He was taken on shore at Sandy Hook, and on the beach a rude gallows was constructed of three fence rails, and there he was hung. Before he died, he wrote his will, resting the paper on the top of a flour barrel; and it is said that his handwriting was as firm and legible as if he had been sitting at a table in his own house.

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This inhuman and lawless execution of a man so well known and of such good reputation as Captain Huddy, created great indignation in the patriotic party all over the country, and there was a general demand that the British army should deliver up a man named Lippencot, who had been the leader of the party which had hung Huddy; but the British did not consent to this. They did make a show of investigating the matter; and Lippencot, who was an officer of a refugee regiment regularly enlisted in the British service, was tried by court-martial. But he was acquitted; and no satisfaction was offered to the Americans for this crime, which had been committed in open defiance of the laws of war.

But the British commander in chief, who arrived about this time, was a man of honor and good sense, and he openly condemned the action of Lippencot and his men, and assured the Americans that he would do what he could to further investigate the matter.

This, however, did not satisfy the country, and from every side there came demands that some one of the officers who were then prisoners in the American lines should be executed in retaliation for Huddy's murder, unless Lippencot were delivered up to the Americans. Here, then, opened the fourth act of this bloody play of progression, and we will tell the story of the other captain.

It is a horrible thing to deliberately execute an innocent man because some one else has committed a crime; but war is horrible, and we must expect

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that horrible things will continually spring from it. As no satisfaction could be obtained from the British for this acknowledged outrage and murder,-for in acquitting Lippencot the British authorities virtually took upon themselves the responsibility of Huddy's execution,-the Americans, being at war and acting in accordance with the bloody rules of war, determined to select an officer from among the English prisoners in the American lines, who should be executed in retaliation for Huddy's death.

As soon as this order had been issued, thirteen British officers, who were at liberty on parole in the American lines, were ordered to report at Lancaster, Penn., in order that one of them might be selected to be the victim of retaliation.

These officers were assembled in a room of the Black Bear Tavern with several American officers, who conducted the proceedings, and a guard of mounted dragoons was stationed outside.

The question was to be decided by lot according to the following plan: the thirteen names of the

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officers were written each upon a little slip of paper, and these were put into a hat. Then in another hat were placed thirteen other slips of the same size, all of them blank excepting one, on which was written the word "unfortunate." Two drummer boys were called in to draw out the slips, one from one hat, the other from the other. As one boy drew out the piece of paper and read the name of the officer written upon it, the other boy at the same time drew a slip from the other hat. After several drawings, in which the slips from the second hat had all been blank, one of the boys drew, and read upon the little piece of paper the name of Captain Asgill, and at the same time the other boy drew out a slip, and read the word "unfortunate." This decided the matter; and the American officer in command turned to the leader of the dragoons and said to him, "This gentleman, sir, is your prisoner."

Now this most tragical meeting broke up, and we are told that every man in that room, except Captain Asgill himself, was in tears. The truly unfortunate man who had been chosen by this most doleful chance was a handsome young gentleman, scarcely more than a boy. He was beloved by every one who knew him, and he would have been the last man to have consented to any such deed as that for which he was to pay the penalty. When it became known that he had been selected by fate to be executed in retaliation, every one who knew anything about him, either in the British army or the American, deeply deplored the fact that the doom should

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have fallen on one who so little deserved it. Captain Asgill was taken to Philadelphia, and after a while was carried to New Jersey, where in Chatham, Morris County, he was held to await his end.

Washington himself was greatly affected by this event; and he wrote to the colonel who had charge of Captain Asgill, to treat the unfortunate young man with all tenderness and respect while he should be in his hands, and to do everything for him that was consistent with propriety under the circumstances.

Now, there came from many parts of this country, as well as from the English, all sorts of communications and memorials addressed to the government and the commander of the army, urging clemency in the case of this unfortunate young man; and it was no doubt in consequence of these, that his punishment was delayed from time to time.

Captain Asgill's mother was a lady of good position in England, and, overwhelmed with grief at the impending fate of her son, she spared no efforts to save him. She wrote to every man of influence whom she knew; and among others she wrote to the Count de Vergennes, who was in this country as the representative of the court of France.

The French, who had been the faithful friends of the Americans throughout the struggle, were as willing to assist their allies to be merciful and forgiving as they were to help them fight their battles. The ambassador addressed a strong letter to Congress, urging that young Captain Asgill might be spared,

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and sending a copy of the letter written by the heartbroken mother.

Still war is war; and one of its laws is, that, if a prisoner is unjustly killed by an enemy, one of the enemy's men held as prisoner shall be killed in retaliation, the object being, of course, to put a stop to unjust executions. With this law in view, Congress did not consent to countermand the young man's execution.

Captain Asgill had another friend, a powerful one, who did all that he could to save him from his impending fate. This was General Washington, who from the first had pitied the young man on account of his youth and general character; but he had also objected to the selection for the reason that he had been among the officers who surrendered with Lord Cornwallis, who had been promised that they should not be dealt with as hostages. There were other prisoners who might have been more justly taken as subjects of retaliation, but for some reason the thirteen officers who had been summoned to this trial by lot were not among those who were justly liable in the case. Washington felt that the selection of Asgill was a breach of good faith, and he did all that he could to induce the secretary of war to act justly and honorably in the matter. At all events, the efforts in behalf of the young officer had the effect of delaying the execution; and three months after his fatal lot had been drawn, he was allowed to go to Morristown and remain there a prisoner on parole.

Not long after this, another reason arose for the

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pardon of Captain Asgill, which was used with effect by his friends. Peace was now approaching, and there was no need of the execution of hostages in order to prevent further outrages on the part of the enemy; and so the members of Congress began to feel that after this long delay, and the approaching general rejoicing in the success of American independence, it would seem like murder to execute this young man. Therefore a law was passed by Congress, directing that Captain Asgill should be set at liberty and allowed to return to his family.

Dreadful months of suspense and fearful anticipation had darkened the souls of this young soldier, his family, and his friends; but they had probably produced a better effect upon the minds of the lawless bands of Tory refugees than would have resulted had the execution taken place; for, had Captain Asgill been hung, there is no doubt that an American prisoner would have suffered in his place; and how many more steps in the bloody business of retaliation would have taken place, no man can tell. So, if we look at the matter philosophically, it may have been a very good thing that the British officer selected to atone for the death of Captain Huddy happened to be a young man whom nobody wished to kill, for the merciful delay exercised in his case was the probable cause of the cessation of retaliation during the last months of the Revolution.

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