John Bacon Full Biography
My origins are a mystery and I first appear in the records of New Jersey in 1775 when I was sued for debt in Monmouth County. I was a shingle maker and sometime farm laborer; probably one of the many transient rural laborers who sought work in the forests and swamps of southeastern New Jersey. In 1779 I had not yet overtly declared my stance on the Revolution and the New Jersey admiralty court of the rebel government listed me among the claimants for a prize vessel that ran aground on Island Beach.
In July 1780, however, a presentment in Monmouth County described me as a yeoman farmer and accused me of the then common offense of “voluntarily and unlawfully” going into New York, presumably to carry out contraband trade with the British who occupied it. This was something that people of all political persuasions were doing to obtain money in an economy disrupted by years of war. Clamtown (Tuckerton), the chief village in Little Egg Harbor Township, was the center of this illicit trade. Some people believed I was involved with several incidents that took place in the area. For instance, I may have been one of “a party from the pines” that intended to free prisoners from both the Burlington County and the Monmouth County jails. I also may have been in a party of armed men that robbed several prominent Whigs in western Burlington County. Some suspected I was involved when Lt. Joshua Studson was shot and killed at Cranberry Inlet in December 1780 as he was trying to interdict a boat involved in the illegal trade with New York.
The same month as Studson’s killing, the Monmouth County grand jury accused me and others of waging war against the state, abetting enemy troops, and firing upon citizens of the state. In Burlington County in the spring of 1781, the victims of a home-invasion and a highway robbery both named me as the robber. My “Infernal Gang” (as the rebels called it) and I were not intimidated by the local militia, who in the coastal and pineland townships were scattered, few in number, difficult to muster in an emergency, and frequently outnumbered by us. In late December 1781 we attacked Monmouth militiamen posted at the village of Manahawkin and in another incident in September 1782, my gang “fell on the Milisha at Wading-river bridge.”
The early 1780s were a bleak period in the coastal and pinelands townships. War-weariness was pervasive, inflation was rampant, taxes were burdensome or not even being collected, illicit trade was common, and roving gangs of Loyalists, like mine, plundered, kidnapped, and killed Patriots. In December 1781, I was indicted for high treason in Monmouth County. One year later a proclamation offered a reward for me and two of my accomplices for robbing the Burlington County collector of a large sum of public money. I was also a key link in a system organized to convey fugitive Loyalists and escaped British prisoners to New York.
In late October 1782 a British prize vessel ran aground off the northern end of Long Beach (present Barnegat Light) and was recaptured by patriot militia. After unloading the valuable cargo, the militiamen camped on the beach overnight. When I learned of this my gang ambushed the militiamen as they slept, killing and wounding many. Militia units from western Burlington County, who frequently pursued us, finally caught up with us on December 27 at Cedar Creek Bridge (present Lanoka Harbor) along the ‘Main Shore Road’ (present Route 9). My gang got the best of them, but in the process several men on both sides were killed and several wounded, including me. In the aftermath of the skirmish, Patriot militia rounded up several of my gang members, along with other men and women involved in the illicit trade. The skirmish at Cedar Creek Bridge was the last recorded engagement of the Revolutionary war.
I was a major Loyalist partisan judging by my effect on the civilian population, the number of incidents in which I was involved, and the wide area over which I ranged, from Toms River to Little Egg Harbor and into the adjoining hinterland. People informally called me “captain” because I headed a whaleboat crew. But, I was also a sort of Loyalist bogeyman who was blamed for depredations that I did not commit. Like other Loyalists, I viewed myself as an avenger, not an outlaw. Although the war was obviously winding down to a Patriot victory, I did not seek refuge in New York. On April 3, 1783, Burlington County militiamen ambushed and killed me in a cabin at West Creek. I may have been the last recorded casualty of the Revolutionary war. My body was taken back toward Jacobstown to be buried ignominiously at a crossroads. However, my brother prevailed upon the soldiers and they released my body to him. I was buried in the Quaker cemetery at Arneytown.
Fort, George F. “An Account of the Capture and Death of the Refugee John Bacon,”Proceedings of the New Jersey Historical Society, (Newark, NJ: New Jersey Historical Society, 1847), pages 151-152
Fowler, David J. “Egregious Villains, Wood Rangers, and London Traders: The Pine Robber Phenomenon in New Jersey During the Revolutionary War.” (Ph.D. thesis), Rutgers the State University of New Jersey, New Brunswick, 1987.
Fowler, David J. “Loyalty Is Now Bleeding in New Jersey”: Motivations and Mentalities of the Disaffected.” In Joseph S. Tiedemann, Eugene R. Fingerhutt, and Robert W. Venables, eds. The Other Loyalists: Ordinary People, Royalism, and the Revolution in the Middle Colonies, 1763-1787. (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2009).
Newspaper articles describing his activities include:
The New Jersey Gazette, January 1, 1783, page 3.
The New Jersey Gazette, January 8, 1783, page 3.
The New Jersey Gazette, April 9, 1783, page 2.
The Pennsylvania Packet or the General Advertiser, November 7, 1782, page 3.
Short biographical sketches on the internet include:
Two local histories containing information on Bacon should be used with caution because information is not documented.
Salter, Edwin. A History of Monmouth and Ocean Counties (Toms River, N.J.: Ocean County Historical Society, 1980 reprint of 1890 ed.)