J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Richard Stockton’s Release Date

Back when I was writing about Richard Stockton, the Continental Congress delegate from New Jersey who signed the Declaration of Independence, was captured in late 1776, and then signed a commitment of loyalty to the Crown, I couldn’t figure out exactly how long he had been in captivity. Documents showed that he was captured about 30 Nov–1 Dec 1776, and he was back home by 8 Feb 1777.

Todd W. Braisted, who maintains the stellar Institute for Advanced Loyalist Studies website, had a better answer in his files, so he’s today’s Boston 1775 guest blogger. In response to a comment from me about this question on the Revlist, Todd wrote:


This document may shed some light on the subject:

Lord [Richard] and General [William] Howe having granted a full pardon to Richard Stockton, Esq, by which he is Intitled to all his property, and he having informed that his horse Bridle & Saddle was taken from the ferry by some of the people under your command, you will upon receipt of this restore the said Horse &c and such other of his Effects as shall come within your department to the said Mr. Stockton at the house of John Covenhoven in Monmouth I am Sir yours &c.

James Webster
Lt. Col. 33d Regt.

Perth Amboy
Decemr. 29, 1776

To Coll. Elisha Lawrence
Of the Loyall Jersey Volunteers
(Source: New Jersey State Archives, Dept. of Defense Manuscripts, Loyalist Mss, No. 192-L.)

Occasionally there is confusion when the name Richard Stockton is discussed, as there was a New Jersey Loyalist by the name of Richard Witham Stockton.

This man was a Loyalist from the start, joining the British on Staten Island on 3 August 1776 and initially being commissioned captain in the New Jersey Volunteers. By early December he was promoted to major in the 6th Battalion of the corps.

Taken prisoner at Bennett’s Neck, near New Brunswick, on 18 February 1777, Stockton was marched in irons to Philadelphia and paraded through the streets to “The Rogue’s March.” There was discussion of putting him and the other officers captured at the same time on trial for their lives, until Washington put a stop to it, fearing retaliation.

Stockton and his officers were confined in Philadelphia Jail, until moved to York and then by October 1777 the jail at Carlisle, where they complained of close confinement, where they complained the air was “affecting the body with strange sensations and destroying of our healths...” Stockton and his officers, along with the remaining rank & file still alive, were exchanged between August and October 1778.

The battalions of New Jersey Volunteers being reduced from six to four, Stockton had no command to return to and was reduced upon half pay. In early 1780 he and Captain Robert Richard Crowe, a New Jersey Loyalist & half-pay officer in the Black Pioneers, were involved in an incident that resulted in the death of a miller named Amberman on Long Island. Stockton was court-martialed, found guilty and sentenced to death. He spent months in the provost in New York City until eventually pardoned by the King himself.

One could make the argument that his wartime experience was rather more severe than his more famous namesake.

So the signer Richard Stockton was in British custody slightly less than one month. On 30 December his son-in-law, Dr. Benjamin Rush, still believed him to be “a prisoner with Gen Howe,” but by then he had actually been pardoned. Thanks, Todd!

(I’m especially tickled by the fact that New Jersey has papers for a Department of Defense.)

1 comment:

Mr Punch said...

"Occasionally there is confusion when the name Richard Stockton is discussed, as there was a New Jersey Loyalist by the name of Richard Witham Stockton."

The captivity experience of RWS, in fact, sounds suspiciously like the legend that grew up around the Signer.