Joshua "Jack" Huddy (November 8, 1735 – April 12, 1782), the commander of a New Jersey Patriot militia unit and a privateer ship during the American Revolutionary War, was captured by Loyalist forces twice. He escaped his first capture, but following his second capture, he was summarily hanged by irregular forces of the Associated Loyalists. Huddy's death became a motive force behind one of the first international incidents of the fledgling United States when the Continental army planned to execute a young British officer in retaliation in what became known as the "Asgill Affair".
Joshua Huddy was born November 8, 1735 to a prosperous family in Salem County, New Jersey, the oldest of seven brothers. His grandfather, Hugh Huddy, was a well-known judge in Burlington. Huddy spent most of his early life in Salem, where he was considered rebellious and a troublemaker. He was disowned by Quakers in Salem in 1757 for his “disorderly” conduct. His “rough ways” continued into adulthood; he was tried and convicted several times for crimes including assault and theft, and repeatedly was in financial difficulties. He was forced to sell a 300-acre (1.2 km²) plantation in Salem to pay his debts and was forced into debtor’s prison for a time. In 1764, he married his first wife, the widowed Mary Borden, by whom he had two daughters, Elizabeth and Martha.
In the 1770s, he moved to Colts Neck in Monmouth County, where on October 27, 1778, he married his second wife, Catherine (Applegate) Hart, also a widow and owner of the Colts Neck Tavern, which she inherited from her first husband, Levy Hart. Huddy was later accused by the Monmouth County sheriff of trying to steal the tavern from his wife and force her children out onto the street. He often was in civil and criminal court, either as plaintiff or defendant.
Huddy allied himself with the American revolutionists and engaged in raids and revenge executions that characterized the intense violence between Monmouth County residents, which continued even after the war's end. He served as captain of the Monmouth Militia from March to December 1779. He led several raids in which he and his men seized materials allegedly sold illegally to the British in New York; he captured and sometimes executed Loyalists. He was accused of hanging Stephen Edwards, the first Loyalist to die in the county, and 14 others. He denied at least one of the murders.
In August 1780, Huddy was issued a commission to operate a gunboat, The Black Snake, as a privateer. One month later, he was captured in his house in Colts Neck at night by 25 Loyalist raiders led by Colonel Tye. Huddy and a servant woman held off the attackers in a two-hour-long gun battle, but after they set fire to his house he agreed to surrender to if they would extinguish the blaze. Colonel Tye marched Huddy to what is now West Park in Rumson, New Jersey, where he was put on a boat to go to New York. However, Patriots on what is now the New Jersey side of the Shrewsbury River fired on the boat, which capsized. Huddy, wounded in the thigh, managed to swim to shore and escape.
Capture and execution
On February 1, 1782, Huddy was given command of the blockhouse (a small fort) at the village of Toms River that was built to protect the local salt works. The salt was needed to cure meat destined for American troops, and the Toms River was an important launch point for Patriot privateers. On March 24, a large irregular force of the Associated Loyalists, an organization headed by William Franklin, overwhelmed Huddy's small band of defenders, taking the fort. The blockhouse, salt works, local mills, and all but two houses in the village were destroyed, leaving hundreds homeless.
As an officer, Huddy was transferred to a military prison ship at New York, then held by the British. Soon thereafter, however, Huddy was removed from British custody by a band of Associated Loyalists headed by Captain Richard Lippincott, ostensibly for the purpose of making a prisoner exchange. No such exchange was actually planned, however. Instead, Huddy was taken by boat to Middletown Point, a location on the south coast of Sandy Hook Bay, and landed on the beach at the foot of the Navesink Hills, where on April 12, 1782 he was hanged after dictating and signing his will.
Huddy's summary execution by the Loyalists came as a retribution for the death of one of their number, a Loyalist farmer named Philip White who had died under Patriot custody. The Loyalist executioners left a note on his breast, "Up Goes Huddy for Phillip White.” It was reported that Huddy died calmly and bravely, declaring that he would "die innocent and in a good cause."
Patriots found Huddy's body hanging from the gallows the next morning, cut it down and brought it to Freehold, where he was buried at Old Tennent Church. More than 400 people gathered to protest his execution and a petition was sent to General George Washington demanding retribution by the execution of a British officer of similar rank if Captain Lippincott was not surrendered. Both Washington and the commander of British forces in New York, General Sir Henry Clinton, condemned the hanging, and prompted the British to forbid the Board of Loyalists from removing any further prisoners. Sir Guy Carleton, Clinton's successor, later abolished the organization.
The "Asgill Affair"
Patriotic sentiment ran high following the killing of Huddy. In an effort to avert independent reprisals by the New Jersey militia, Washington agreed to the proposition to select a British prisoner of war for retaliatory execution. Washington issued an order to General Moses Hazen to select a British prisoner by lot to be hanged in retribution. Straws were drawn on May 26, 1782 and a young British officer, Capt. Charles Asgill, drew the short straw and was thereby selected should Capt. Lippincott not be turned over to the Patriots for trial.
The situation was further complicated by the fact that Asgill and the other British captive officers were protected under the terms of surrender agreed to between British General Charles Cornwallis and Washington following the Siege of Yorktown in October of the previous year. An execution of Asgill would have been a clear violation of the terms of the surrender and a black eye to for the rebellious colonials intent upon establishing an independent nation.
Fortunately for all concerned, the British managed to delay Asgill's retaliatory execution by holding their own court-martial of Lippincott. Lippincott was eventually found not guilty on the basis that he was just following orders.
Washington turned to an old associate, General Benjamin Lincoln, formerly the second in command of the Continental Army and the acting Secretary of War of the Americans. While he and other ranking Continental Army officers favored a retaliatory killing, they urged patience. This delay ultimately allowed sufficient time for the intercession of the Americans' French allies, who were motivated by a direct appeal to King Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette, by the mother of the condemned British Captain. French foreign minister the Comte de Vergennes, was directed to plead Asgill's case to Washington.
Catherine Hart, Huddy's widow, also stated she wished Asgill's life be spared, since he was an innocent victim of circumstances.
Backed by diplomatic pressure, the matter was turned over to the Continental Congress for decision. Asgill was freed by order of Congress passed on November 7, 1782. Asgill was issued a pass to British lines and returned to Britain, while Lippincott emigrated after the war to Canada, where he received 3,000 acres (12 km²) as a reward for his services to Britain, as was common for all Loyalist refugees.
- Virginia Watson Reeve, "The Story of Captain Joshua Huddy," Joshua Huddy Chapter, National Society Daughters of the American Revolution, Ocean County, NJ, March 30, 1950.
- Benjamin Johnson, "General Washington's Terrible Dilemma," Massachusetts Historical Society, October 2007, www.masshist.org/
- "CAPTAIN HUDDY'S STORY". ancestry.com. The National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Retrieved 31 August 2014.
- "Revolutionary War Sites in Toms River, New Jersey: Joshua Huddy Park," Revolutionary War New Jersey, www.revolutionarywarnewjersey.com/