In March, 1782 a group of Loyalist captured Captain Joshua
Huddy of Toms River. Captain Huddy was commanding a company of
New Jersey State troops, at a blockhouse in Toms River. The Loyalist
captured him, and turned him over to General Carleton commanding
in New York. Carleton in turn turned him over to the Associated
Loyalists- a Loyalist council set up to manage Loyalist affairs
in New York City- at their request. The President of the Associated
Loyalist was the bitter ex-governor of N.J, William Franklin.
The Loyalist were outraged at the death of a man which they called
murder. They had Huddy transported back to Toms River, where he
was promptly hung in retaliation. This notice was pinned to his
We the Refugees, having long with grief beheld the cruel murders of our brethren, and finding nothing but such measures daily carried into execution, therefore determined not to suffer without taking vengeance for the numerous cruelties; and thus begin, having made use of Captain Huddy as the fist object to present to your view; and we further determine to hang man for man while there is a Refugee existing.
This outrage of murdering, without even the excuse of hot blood, but with consideration, caused an uproar and demands that Washington bring pressure on the British to halt such actions. Previously, in Charlestown, South Carolina, the British had hanged Colonel Issac Hayne for the technical charge of breaking his parole after the surrender of that town. There had been calls for reprisal then, and General Greene had declared he would, but never did. Now Washington determined that there should be retaliation unless Carleton turned over the officer commanding at the execution.
Carleton claimed the Loyalist Association acted on its own authority, not his, and further, that the officer had acted under orders, and could not be given over.
Washington, reluctantly, then commanded that a lottery be held to pick a British officer for execution. The picked officer was Captain Charles Asgill, captured at Yorktown.
Asgill was exempt from such actions by the terms of the surrender, and he was the only son of Sir Charles Asgill, a friend of the American cause, with a French wife. Captain Asgill had attended Westminster school and made American friends, and was only twenty years old. He instantly was a international figure of compassion.
Congress approved Washington's action. Pressure however was placed on Washington from many sources not to execute Asgill. Washington stayed the execution while he tried to pressure Carleton to hand over a guilty officer. Carleton began to ship the Loyalists overseas, out of reach. From May to October, Asgill awaited his execution or release.
Lady Asgill, appealed to the French court for assistance. Vergennes presented the case to the King and Queen, and received their sympathy. Under their orders, he appealed for mercy directly to General Washington.
Elias Boudinot of New Jersey, soon after elected President of Congress, recalled the scene in Congress:
A very large majority of Congress were determined on his execution, and a motion was made for a resolution positively ordering the immediate execution. Mr. Duane and myself, considering the reasons assigned by the Commander in Chief conclusive, made all the opposition in our power. We urged evry argument that the peculiarity of the case suggested, and spent three days in warm debate, during which more ill blood appeared in the House than I had seen. Near the close of the third day, when every argument was exhausted, without any appearance of success, the matter was brought to a close by the question being ordered to be taken.
The next morning as soon as the minutes were read, the President announced a letter from the Commander in Chief. On its being read, he stated the receipt of a letter from the King and Queen of France, inclosing one from Mrs. Asgill, the mother of Capt. Asgill, to the Queen, that on the whole was enough to move the heart of a savage. The substance was asking the life of young Asgill.
This operated like an electrical shock- each member looking on his neighbor in surprise, as if saying "here is unfair play". It was suspected to be some scheme of the minority. The President was interrogated. The cover of the letter was called for. The General's signature was examined. In short, it looked so much like something supernatural that even the minority, who were so much pleased with it, could scarcely think it real.
After being fully convinced of the integrity of the transaction a motion was made that the life of Capt. Asgill should be given as a compliment to the King of France. This was unanimously carried, on which it was moved that the Commander in Chief should remand Capt. Asgill to his quarters at Lancaster. To this I objected that as we considered Capt. Asgill life as forfeited, and we had given him to the King of France, he was now a free man, and therefore I moved that he should be immediately returned to New York, without exchange. This also unanimously adopted, and thus we got clear of shedding innocent blood by a wonderful interposition of Providence.
With the war almost over, treaty negations in progress, and the Loyalist Association broken up and sent overseas, the need to threaten the British with retaliation was greatly reduced.
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