HUDDY-ASGILL AFFAIR. April-October 1782. On 24 March 1782, Loyalist irregulars captured Captain Joshua Huddy of the New Jersey militia in a surprise attack at Toms River, New Jersey, confining him on a prison ship near New York City. General Henry Clinton's headquarters had given the Associated Loyalists permission to take Huddy and two others for purposes of a prisoner exchange. The Associated Loyalists, apparently acting on orders from William Franklin, had different plans. They were seeking to avenge the death of Philip White, a Loyalist who had been shot while attempting to escape from the New Jersey militia. Though 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 placard pinned to his breast read:
We the refugees having long with grief beheld the cruel murders of our brethren,… determine not to suffer without taking vengeance, for the numerous cruelties, and thus begin, and have made use of captain Huddy as the first object to present to your view, and further determine to hang man for man, while there is a refugee existing. Up goes Huddy for Philip White. (Smith, 2, p. 1750.)
Huddy's execution became an immediate sensation, infuriating General Clinton, who ordered Lippincott court-martialed, and evoking a rare outburst of ill temper from Washington, who demanded that Clinton deliver the guilty officer. Clinton, of course, refused, promising Washington that Lippincott would face British justice. But the court-martial ruled that Lippincott had acted on orders from a civil officer, since Franklin was still officially New Jersey's royal governor, and set him free.
Washington insisted on retribution, ordering Colonel Moses Hazen to select a British prisoner by lot for execution. Thirteen British captains picked straws, with the one marked "unfortunate" being pulled by Captain Charles Asgill, who was seventeen years old. Almost immediately, Washington regretted the whole affair and tried to get out of executing Asgill. Congress became involved, launching into a bitter debate in which the majority wanted to mete out "an eye-for-an eye" justice. Elias Boudinot, arguing for clemency, persuaded his colleagues to postpone the vote for a day. The next morning a special courier arrived from the king and queen of France, who had been petitioned by Asgill's family, requesting Asgill's pardon as a personal favor. Much to Washington's, and Asgill's, relief, Congress complied and the affair ended with the full pardon of the young British captain.
Mayo, Katherine. General Washington's Dilemma. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1938.
Smith, Page. A New Age Now Begins. 2 vols. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1976.
Tebbenhoff, Edward H. "The Associated Loyalists: An Aspect of Militant Loyalism." New York Historical Society Quarterly 63 (1979): 115-144.
revised by Michael Bellesiles