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A Troublesome Tory

Here is a special posting in honor of Independence Day.

British Loyalist Flag

There have been many times throughout our history when families have been divided due to their beliefs. Perhaps the earliest was during the American Revolution. Families chose sides, favoring either the Patriots or the Crown. My family experienced this rift in the person of Richard Lippincott. The actions he would take would lead to an international incident, reaching as far as France and King Louis XVI.

Richard Lippincott was born 2 January 1744 in Shrewsbury, NJ to Quaker parents, Wilbur and Frances (nee Stout) Lippincott. On 4 March 1770 he married Esther Borden, the daughter of Jeremiah and Esther Borden, of Bordentown, NJ.

When the American Revolution started, he became a Tory, siding with the British Crown. He was taken prisoner in October 1776 “for trying to conceal a person sent from New York to New Jersey by General Sir William Howe to distribute proclamations.” He would later escape from prison and join the British in New York. There he was commissioned as an Ensign in the 1st New Jersey Volunteers, the largest of the Loyalist troops that served during the American Revolution. He resigned his commission in 1777.

Royal Governor William Franklin

William Franklin, the illegitimate son of Benjamin Franklin, had been serving as the royal governor of New Jersey since 1763. When Benjamin took up the Patriot cause, he tried to convince his son to join him, but William refused. He remained as governor until January 1776 when colonial militiamen placed him under house arrest. Following the signing of the Declaration of Independence, he was formally taken into custody by order of the Provincial Congress of New Jersey, an entity which he refused to recognize, regarding it as an "illegal assembly." He was finally released in 1778 as part of a prisoner exchange. Like Richard Lippincott, he would move to British occupied New York. There William set up Loyalist military units and coordinated a multi-colony group known as the Associated Loyalists.

In 1780, Richard recruited a company of Loyalists and on 17 February 1781, he was appointed as a Captain in Franklin's Associated Loyalist troops in New York.

Joshua “Jack” Huddy had a background similar to Lippincott’s. He was born in Salem County, NJ on 8 November 1735 to a wealthy Quaker family who had arrived in the New World in the 17th century. He was considered a troublemaker and expelled from the Quakers. He sold his 300-acre farm to pay off debts and moved to Monmouth County in the 1770’s.

Huddy gained notoriety as a militia officer and privateer. He mounted various guerrilla raids in the area before being caught in 1780. While being transported to the British in New York, his comrades fired on the boat, causing it to capsize and allowing Huddy to escape.

On 19 October 1781, General Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown, VA. However, the hostilities did not end at that point.

Huddy being led to his hanging - Library of Congress

Huddy was placed in command of the Toms River blockhouse on 1 February 1782. A blockhouse is a small defensive fort; the blockhouse at Toms River had been built to protect the local salt works.

On 24 March 1782, a raiding party of about 100 Tories attacked the blockhouse. Huddy and his men surrendered when they ran out of ammunition. The Tory raiding party then burnt the village of Toms River; only two houses survived. Huddy and several of his men were taken prisoner. This time, Huddy's captors succeeded in taking him to New York where he was imprisoned. General Henry Clinton's headquarters had given the Associated Loyalists permission to take Huddy and two others for purposes of a prisoner exchange.

However, the Associated Loyalists, apparently acting on orders from William Franklin, had other plans. They were seeking to avenge the death of Philip White, a Monmouth County Loyalist who had been brutally murdered by New Jersey militia (they claimed he was shot while attempting to escape). Although Huddy had no connection to White's death, he was led by a guard commanded by Captain Richard Lippincott to the heights of Middletown and hanged from a tree on 12 April. A note was pinned to Huddy’s body stating that they would “hang man for man" and "Up goes Huddy for Philip White."

Two days later, on April 14, 1782, General Washington received a letter from the citizens of Monmouth County while at Newburgh, NY. It described the "horrid and almost unparalleled murder" of Huddy. The letter implied that if Washington did not act, the citizens of Monmouth would seek revenge on their own. He convened a meeting of his officers at West Point where they unanimously agreed that an officer of equal rank had to be hanged in retribution. Washington wrote to General Moses Hazen, the commander of the prisoner-of-war camp at Lancaster, PA ordering him to select a British captain or lieutenant to be hanged.

Washington also wrote to the British Commander, General Henry Clinton, on 21 April 1782. He demanded that Captain Lippincott, under whose direction Huddy had been hanged, be turned over to the Americans. Testimonials of Monmouth County residents regarding the facts of Huddy's execution were also included in the letter. General Clinton, who was infuriated by the execution, refused, promising Washington that Lippincott would face British justice. He underwent a general court-martial in New York from 3 May to 22 June 1782. He was acquitted because "altho' Joshua Huddy was executed without proper Authority," Lippincott  believed that he was acting under proper orders since Franklin was still officially New Jersey's royal governor. Richard Lippincott went free.

Captain Charles Asgill

The frustrated Americans proceeded to select a British officer captured at Yorktown by lot as a reprisal for Huddy’s execution. The drawing took place at the Black Bear Tavern in downtown Lancaster with thirteen pirsoners drawing papers from a hat. The lottery was “won” by a 19-year-old officer, Captain Charles Asgill when he selected the piece of paper on which was written "unfortunate." He was sent to another prisoner-of-war camp in Chatham, NJ via Philadelphia while his fate was decided.

In England, his mother, Lady Theresa Pratviel Asgill, wrote many letters on her son's behalf. One of them went to the French Foreign Minister comte de Vergennes, Charles Gravier. He wrote to General Washington who then conveyed the contents to Congress, asking them to decide the matter. It was implied by Vergennes that setting Asgill free would greatly please King Louis XVI. This solution appealed to both Washington and Congress. On 7 November 1782, Congress voted to release Asgill. Six days later, Washington wrote and informed him that he was being set free. Asgill returned safely to England in December, much to the delight and relief of his mother.

Thus ended a potentially awkward international incident for George Washington and the young country that was set into motion by the actions of Richard Lippincott.

After the war, Richard Lippincott lived in Pennfield, Charlotte County, New Brunswick until 1787. He then spent a brief period in England before eventually settling in Upper Canada on a United Empire Loyalist land grant of 3,000 acres near York (Toronto), Ontario. He died on 14 May 1826 at the age of eighty-one. A street in Toronto was named for him.


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