29 June 2009

The Asgill Affair

After news of Joshua Huddy’s murderous execution reached General George Washington, Washington demanded that the alleged murderer, Captain Richard Lippencott, be given up to the Patriots to face execution. Sir Henry Clinton, who did not approve of the hanging of Huddy, had Lippencott arrested, and ordered him to be tried for murder. General Washington wrote an unkindly letter to Clinton expressing the wishes of himself and the people to have Lippencott turned over to them. Washington’s letter included depositions proving that Huddy was not concerned in the murder of Phillip White. Huddy had confessed, however, that he had killed other Loyalists. Clinton was not moved. Lippencott was tried by court-martial. He argued that he was not subject to court-martial, but instead should be tried by common law, in which case, he could not be tried in New York for a crime committed in New Jersey. Lippencott’s objections were overruled, but as it appeared that he acted under orders of the Board of Associated Loyalists of New York, of which he was bound to obey, he was acquitted. (1)

The people of Monmouth County, New Jersey immediately voiced their displeasure to General Washington. On 4 May 1782, Washington directed Brigadier-General James Hogan to designate by lot a British Captain from among the prisoners who had unconditionally surrendered. Hogan could find no such officer, and Washington asked him to find men made prisoners by convention or capitulation. The British Captains who had surrendered at Yorktown and were quartered in Lancaster, Pennsylvania fell under Hogan’s command. (2)

On 26 May 1782, at nine in the morning, thirteen prisoners were assembled at an inn called the Black Bear. The names of these men are as follows: Eld, Perryn, Charles Asgill, Ludlow, Greville, Lawford Mills, Saumarez (later Sir Thomas), Ingram, Samuel Graham, Barclay, Arbuthnot, Hathorn and Whitelocke. They were accompanied by Major Gordon. (3) The men were asked to decide amongst themselves who should be executed in retaliation for Joshua Huddy’s murder. Samuel Graham wrote that the men “unanimously declined, protesting against this breach of a solemn treaty, by which we had come into their power.” (4) The aide-de-camp and the commissary to the Brigadier General left the room and in a short time returned with a drum-boy. The aide-de-camp and the commissary each had a hat in their hand. It was explained to the British prisoners that in one hat were written, on separate pieces of paper, the names of the thirteen captains; in the other hat were also thirteen pieces of paper, one being marked with the word ‘unfortunate,’ while the other 12 pieces were blank. The drum-boy drew a name, while one of the other men drew the other paper. The paper marked ‘unfortunate’ was drawn on the eleventh pick, along with the name of Captain Asgill, who was immediately turned over to a dragoon officer. (5)

On 27 May, Asgill, with Major Gordon, left Lancaster, escorted by a party of dragoons. In a few days time, they arrived in Philadelphia. From there, Asgill was sent to Chatham, New Jersey, and placed under the charge of Colonel Elias Dayton. On 25 August he was paroled to Morristown, New Jersey. (6) During this time, Major Gordon appealed to the French Minister in Philadelphia, the Comte de Rochambeau and numerous influential men in the Colonies. Asgill’s mother, Sarah, wrote to the French Court, asking that they please save her son’s life. The Comte de Vergennes (the French Foreign Minister at the time) was ordered by King Louis XVI to communicate with General Washington that it was his wish that Asgill be spared, under the 14th Article of Capitulation, safeguarding prisoners of war. For about seven months, Asgill’s fate remained in the air. In December, 1782, Congress agreed to allow Asgill to be released to England. He was sent to New York, and embarked for England on the first oppurtunity, ending the new nation’s first international crisis.

Asgill traveled to France to personally thank King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette. A decade later, he fought under the Duke of York in Europe, and later became a Major General. Asgill died in London 23 July 1823 and was buried in the vault at St. James's Church Piccadilly.

(1) Memoir of General Graham with notices of the campaigns in which he was engaged from 1779 to 1801. ed. by his son Col. James J. Graham. R&R Clark, Edinburgh, 1862, p. 84.

(2) A History of Monmouth and Ocean Counties. By Edwin Salter. E. Gardner & Son, Bayonne, NJ, 1890, p. 188.

(3) Graham, 82.

(4) Graham, 86.

(5) Graham, 87.

(6) Graham, 91, 96.

1 comment:

  1. This article might be of interest to you?