1735-1782, Militiaman and Vigilante, Privateer
Contributed by Michael Adelberg
Edited by Larry Kidder
I was born November 8, 1735 into a prominent Salem County Quaker family. Our local Quaker meeting expelled me for “disorderly” conduct; just one example of my rough nature that characterized my life. In 1764, I married Widow Mary Borden, with whom we had two daughters. Several years later Mary died and I moved to Monmouth County and married Widow Catherine Hart who owned a tavern in Colts Neck. By all accounts, I was zealous, and sometimes overzealous, in my support of the Revolution. I served for a time in the State Troops and also in other militia companies, including at the Battle of Germantown. I led a group of mounted militiamen at the Battle of Monmouth. In 1780 I joined the Retaliators, a vigilante group that practiced eye-for-an-eye justice against Loyalists and suspected Loyalists. My personal life remained tumultuous during the war. Catherine and I became estranged but I continued to reside at the tavern in Colts Neck in the company of Lucretia Emmons who people saw as either my servant or mistress. I was captured in an attack on my tavern, but although wounded I was able to escape. In 1782, I was in command of the Block House at Toms River when it was attacked and I was again made prisoner. This time my Loyalist captors hanged me in retaliation for the murder of a Loyalist two weeks earlier. My hanging sparked a diplomatic bonfire when Washington threatened to hang a captured British officer, Charles Asgill, if my executioner was not turned over to him.
Learn More About Joshua Huddy…
I was born November 8, 1735 into a prominent Salem County Quaker family. I was rather rebellious as a young man and in 1757 our local Quaker meeting expelled me for “disorderly” conduct. In 1764, I married the widowed Mary Borden, with whom we had two daughters. Two years later, I fell into debt and the county sheriff seized my 300 acre estate. In 1771, I was in a tragic boat accident near the mouth of the Delaware River in which several passengers drowned. Shortly after that, Mary died and I moved to Monmouth County and married Catherine Hart in 1778. She was also a widow and owned a tavern in Colts Neck.
Early in the Revolution, I established myself as a strong supporter of the Patriot cause. In September 1777, I was commissioned to raise a company of State Troops—militia on long term service—and supplied my own horses to the effort. That same fall, I participated in the hanging of a captured Loyalist, Stephen Edwards, who was executed without a trial in court. I was also in the contingent of New Jersey militia volunteers who marched into Pennsylvania to support the Continental Army and fought at the Battle of Germantown.
By all accounts, I was zealous, sometimes overzealous, in my support of the Revolution. On the day of the Battle of Monmouth, June 28, 1778, I led a group of mounted militia in a brave, but hopeless assault on the British baggage train. In 1780, I joined the Retaliators, a vigilante group that practiced eye-for-an-eye justice against Loyalists and suspected Loyalists. I also participated in a campaign to impress livestock from shore residents on the grounds that the livestock might fall into enemy hands.
My personal life remained tumultuous during the war. I was indicted in January 1778 for assault and pled guilty to the charge. In 1779, Monmouth County Sheriff, Nicholas Van Brunt, thought I was trying to steal the tavern from Catherine and filed suit against me for “casting out” my wife and daughters. Several months later, I became involved in a lawsuit with another woman, Elizabeth Pritchard, whose goods I seized after accusing her of trading with the enemy. Despite these and other controversies, I continued to reside at the tavern in Colts Neck in the company of Lucretia Emmons who people chose to see as either my servant or mistress.
On the morning of September 1, 1780, soon after I had been issued a commission to operate as a privateer, a raiding party led by the famous black Loyalist “Colonel Tye” surrounded my tavern. Lucretia and I held off the raiders for some time by quickly firing and reloading several muskets from inside the tavern. But the raiders eventually closed in and set the tavern afire. I surrendered and the raiders extinguished the fire, but plundered the tavern. The delay gave the militia time to assemble and pursue the raiders. During a battle between the two parties on the beach, I was shot in the thigh and carried onto a barge. I jumped into the water and swam to the militia, shouting “I am Huddy, I am Huddy” to avoid being fired upon.
I was commissioned again into the State Troops in February 1782 and took command of a 30 man guard at “the Block House,” a log fort that guarded the village and port of Toms River. On March 24, the guard was overwhelmed by a larger Loyalist party that razed the village and carried off me and several others and turned us over to the British who imprisoned us. A party of Associated Loyalists—a group that practiced the same type of vigilante justice as the Retaliators—got permission to take me out of prison and brought me to Sandy Hook. They hadn’t told the British what they planned to do with me, but a few days later they hanged me on the Navesink Highlands with a note pinned to my chest proclaiming my hanging was in retaliation for the murder of the Loyalist, Philip White, two weeks earlier.
My hanging sparked a diplomatic bonfire. George Washington demanded my executioner, Richard Lippincott, be turned over and threatened to hang a captured British officer, Charles Asgill, if he wasn’t. Instead, the British court martialed Lippincott, but the court found him “not guilty” because he was following verbal orders. Several American statesmen, including James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Adams all commented on the so-called “Huddy Affair.” Ultimately, Asgill’s well-connected family convinced Count Vergennes, the French Foreign Minister, to ask Washington to relent. This appeal and the British suppression of further Loyalist raiding, led Washington to back away from hanging Asgill. The “Huddy Affair” faded away with the cessation of hostilities at the end of 1782.
In my last will and testament, I left everything to my two daughters, Martha and Elizabeth and made no mention of my estranged wife, Catherine, or of Lucretia Emmons.
delberg, Michael, The American Revolution in Monmouth County: The Theatre of Spoil and Destruction (Charleston, SC: History Press, 2010).
Monmouth County Archives, The Joshua Huddy: Documents of the American Revolution (Manalapan, NJ: Monmouth County Archives, 2004).
Bowman, Larry, “The Court Martial of Richard Lippincott,” New Jersey History, vol. 89, 1971, pp. 23-36.
Art: Joe Barsin