Joseph Mulliner Full Biography
My family emigrated from England to Little Egg Harbor Township in Burlington County sometime prior to the outbreak of the Revolutionary war. Several Mulliners appear as householders on the 1773 township tax list. Little Egg Harbor was a sparsely settled, mostly Quaker, township which was a hotbed of disaffection during the war. Because I do not appear in many surviving documents, much of what people think they know about me is the subject of legend and folklore, even if sometimes based on a kernel of truth. I became a leader among the so-called Pine Robbers and was the only leader captured, tried, and executed. Because of the sparse and confusing record it is difficult to tell whether I was a true Loyalist or was simply an outlaw who took on Loyalist identification to justify my actions.
Whatever I did during the earliest years of the war did not leave any record, but because I was known to be a mariner I may have been at sea in some capacity. I first appear in public records in November 1779 when a man I had left a cow with several months earlier placed an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette trying to locate me. On a more serious note, in November 1780 I was indicted for assaulting a man in Burlington, but it is not clear just what happened or why. Neither of these records indicate which side of the war I supported.
Then, in March 1781, I was charged, along with some other men, with waging war against the rebel state, capturing and holding citizens as prisoners of war, and other “acts of Hostility.” Governor Livingston also alleged that I committed “several Robberies and other capital felonies” on land as well as “many depredations at Sea.” There is sketchy evidence that I was commissioned as a Loyalist privateer and I was mentioned by the British as “Captain of a Whaleboat.” According to local folklore my headquarters was near the headwaters of the Mullica (Little Egg Harbor) River.
I was captured in June or July 1781, although the details are unknown, and sent to jail at Burlington. On July 25 I was indicted for “High Treason” and several very prominent men were involved in my subsequent trial. Chief Justice David Brearley and three associate justices presided, while Attorney General William Paterson served as prosecutor and Joseph Read of Burlington served as my defense counsel. The jury found me guilty and I was sentenced to be hanged. I was executed at Burlington on August 8 in a grim public spectacle that usually drew hundreds of spectators. Some sources say I underwent an eleventh-hour conversion experience at the gallows, but that type of story was very common. The account of my execution in Patriot-controlled newspapers reported that I was “the terror of the country” and had indiscriminately plundered both Whigs and Tories. But, this charge was commonly made about Loyalist raiders whether true or not.
After my death questions arose in the spring of 1782 about my execution. As part of the document exchange during the sensational Joshua Huddy incident, the British included me in a list of “Acts of Cruelty and Barbarity” inflicted by the rebels on Loyalists. William Franklin, the former royal governor of New Jersey, designated me an “Associated Loyalist.” This indicated I was a member of this organization established in December 1780 by Franklin and was fighting for a cause. The British alleged that the rebels executed me even though I produced my commission as a privateer captain at my trial. However, there is no record in the surviving court records that I used that defense. My case contributed to the complaints made by Loyalist soldiers and seamen that when captured they were treated as criminals, and tried in criminal court, instead of receiving the rights of prisoners of war. Loyalists came to feel that if they took a rebel prisoner he was usually exchanged, but if a rebel took a Loyalist prisoner his life was taken “as a Rebel to a Rebel state.” There were questions about the fairness of these trials and whether evidence supporting the Loyalist was suppressed, so that the legal system essentially committed judicial murder.
I was one of those people historians call “the inarticulate” because we left behind no correspondence or diaries revealing things about ourselves. Therefore, much of what people know about me comes from biased sources and from the folklore that was generated about the pinelands outlaws and Refugees. Tradition says I was a large, handsome man who liked to play pranks and crash dances. I also developed a reputation for generosity toward my victims and I became a Robin Hood-type character. I was also the model for a stock villain in the historical novel Kate Aylsford published in 1855. What is known or believed about me shows how Loyalist raiders operated and how Patriots reacted to them.
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, 213-237.
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).
Ward, Harry M. Between the Lines: Banditti of the American Revolution (Westport, CN: Praeger, 2002), 111-115
Burlington County Indictments, November 1780, New Jersey State Archives
Burlington County Presentment, N.D. (c1781), Morristown National Historic Park Collection, Reel 37.
Minutes of the Burlington County Court of Oyer and Terminer, July 25-August 1, 1781, New Jersey State Archives
William Franklin to Henry Clinton, April 25, 1782, British Headquarters Papers (Microfilm), No. 4475. Also enclosure from Clinton to Washington, Papers of the Continental Congress, Reel 171, Item 152, v10.
William Livingston to Thomas Sim Lee, October 29, 1781, in The Papers of William Livingston, Carl E. Prince, et. Al., eds, 5 vols. (Trenton: New Jersey Historical Commission, 1979-1988), 4:323.
Pennsylvania Gazette, November 3, 1779; also in New Jersey Archives, 2nd Series (Newspaper Extracts), 5:265. For the cow advertisement.
New Jersey Gazette, August 8, 1781, page 3; also: Pennsylvania Packet, August 16, 1781, page 2 – account of his execution.