On this date in 1782, Captain Joshua Huddy of the revolutionary New Jersey patriot militia was summarily (and extrajudicially) hanged on the New Jersey coast by the British Tories.
Huddy was a troublesome rascal in civilian life, a regular denizen of courts in his native Salem, Mass., and (upon transplant in 1778) Monmouth County, N.J.
Tory British Loyalists found him troublesome in the bare-knuckled revolutionary conflict in Monmouth, “often engaged in raids and revenge executions, which continued even after the war’s end.”
Huddy mounted various guerrilla raids in the area from 1779; his Loyalist opposite number actually captured him in 1780, but Huddy was freed by his comrades before he could be taken to the British.
Not so lucky this time.
On March 24, 1782, Loyalists overwhelmed Huddy’s fort at Toms River, N.J..
This was, de facto if not de jure, within the compass of those raids occurring after the war’s end, since at five months after Yorktown, the American Revolution was settled in all but name.
Huddy figured to be exchanged for Loyalist prisoners, but word came that a Monmouth County Tory named Philip White had been killed.
The last English royal governor of New Jersey, William Franklin,* ordered Huddy’s execution in retaliation-slash-punishment without any form of court-martial. (It seems the Loyalist position was that Huddy had himself been involved in White’s death; the Patriots insisted that Huddy was already in British hands when White was killed.)
A note was found pinned to Huddy’s body, reading,
We the refugees, having with grief long beheld the cruel murders of our brethern, and finding nothing but such measures daily carrying into execution — we, therefore, determine not to suffer without taking vengeance for the numerous cruelties; and thus begin, and, I say, may those lose their liberty who do not follow on, and have made use of Captain Huddy as the first object to present to your view; and further determine to hang man for man while there is a refugee existing. Up goes Huddy for Philip White.
(Two other prisoners taken with Huddy were exchanged, and had the story to tell — including Huddy’s remark that he would “dye innocent and in a good cause.”)
This, of course, caused quite a hue and cry for vengeance on the Patriot side.
George Washington demanded Huddy’s executioner for a bit of tit-for-tat, but although the British repudiated the lawless hanging, they refused to give Washington his man. Richard Lippencott (or Lippincott) instead got a British trial in New York, skated on an only-following-orders defense, and subsequently retired to Canada to live to the ripe old age of 81.
The frustrated proto-Americans resorted to selecting a captured Yorktown officer by lot for a reprisal execution.
This lottery was “won” by the young British officer Charles Asgill, who stood for some months in danger of a politically awkward hanging even as the sides maneuvered towards the official end of the war.
Since Asgill turned out to be a charismatic, youthful officer of unblemished honor, nobody felt good about the situation; even Huddy’s widow asked for Asgill’s life to be spared. (Though that might also be because Huddy stiffed her in the will he scribbled out moments before death, written on the head of the barrel they used to hang him.)
Eventually, pressure from the Revolution’s French patrons — the hostage had a Huguenot mother — helped Asgill avoid hanging.**
Returned to the British, Asgill went on to become a very prominent general.
Nobody ever expiated Captain Joshua Huddy’s hanging.
Memorial for Joshua Huddy at Huddy Park in Highlands, N.J. Image (c) Sheena Chi and used with permission.
* Son of American patriotic luminary Benjamin Franklin. This is why you don’t talk politics with family.
** Upon his release from American custody, Asgill traveled to France to thank personally his royal saviors. Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette could hardly have imagined that they would one day soon stand in Huddy’s shoes.