Between 1737 and 1800, the slave population of New Jersey expanded from just under 4,000 to well over 12,000 souls. The highest concentration of enslaved persons was in Bergen, Monmouth, and Somerset counties, and many of those slaves entered New Jersey at Perth Amboy.
In 1775, the British military offered to liberate slaves who escaped from their Patriot masters and joined British forces. The lure of freedom, and the opportunities presented by the chaos of the war, led about 10 percent of the total slave population in the 1770s to flee their Patriot masters. An estimated 100,000 African Americans escaped, died, or were killed during the American Revolution. British military camps were a magnet for slave refugees. Unsurprisingly, escaped slaves were most numerous in areas under direct control of the British Army or in close proximity to British military forces. Such was the situation at Sandy Hook, NJ.
At the Sandy Hook British encampment, Escaped slaves and colonial loyalists formed what the British referred to as “Refugeetown” southeast, they say, of the Light House. It was here that the infamous Black Brigades were formed. These bands of escaped slaves and loyalists were sent out to plunder nearby towns and farms and to gather all of the information that they could about Patriot troop movements and future movements, then report back to the encampment at Sandy Hook. It was on one of these raids, June 10, 1779, that the notorious “Colonel Tye” and one hundred loyalists attacked, looted, and burned Tinton Falls to the ground, and captured five leading Patriots.
The lure of freedom has a very strong appeal. Sam was a slave on the Wooley farm. Upon hearing of the British military’s offers to free slaves who would fight for the crown, he began to dream of his freedom. But…what if he got caught? “Mr. Wooley wasn’t mean, but he would sure be angry. What would happen to him if he got caught?” Sam thought. Finally, after much deliberation, Sam took the chance and fled the Woolley farm. He knew where he was going…to Refugeetown on Sandy Hook, and freedom.
Freedoms just another word…
It was a long trip from what is now Ocean Township to Sandy Hook on foot. Sam had to move by night to make sure nobody spotted him. Every strange sound, every rustling leaf set his heart beating faster and his breath to catch in his through. He was getting closer to Sandy Hook, and he couldn’t let himself get caught now, he had come too far. So, Sam kept moving, hunger growing in his belly and thirst drying his throat. But he kept going until he finally was at the Shrewsbury River. By 1780, Highlands, NJ, and the entire Bay Shore were Patriot strongholds. Sam had to be careful as he sought to cross the river to Sandy Hook.
He arrived at the British encampment around noon of the next day. He was taken to Refugeetown, really more of a tent city rather than a town, and given food and water. The next day he started training in how to use a musket and sword. The first time he fired he must have been startled by the noise, as a gun was not something that he would have known much about.
Death of a Legend
After several days, they were all ushered to the yard by the Lighthouse. One of the Regular British Army Officers addressed the crowd announcing that “Titus”, known by the refugees and Black Milita as Colonel Tye, was dead. Tye had been a very successful and ruthless leader of raiding parties. Most of the British Officers said that Tye was the best of the Black Brigade leaders.
However, nothing lasts forever. After dozens of raids, Tye and his band of raiders surrounded Patriot Joshua (Jack) Huddy’s tavern/home in Colts Neck. Aside from being the leader of a Patriot militia, Huddy stockpiled and supplied muskets and shot to the militia. So, when the surprise attack came, with the help of a woman of about twenty years of age, named Lucretia Emmons, Huddy was able to hold off his attackers with withering fire. Lucretia loaded muskets at lightning spreads and handed them off to Huddy, who accurately soaked the enemy with musket balls.
The fight was getting too expensive, and Tye could not afford to lose any more men. So, he ordered the Black Brigade to set fire to the house. Jack Huddy had no choice but to surrender. Lucretia Emmons was set free and Huddy, in manacles, was taken on a march to the Shrewsbury River, where they would board long boats and return to Refugeetown.
Unfortunately, as the Black Brigade and their prisoner launched their boats, they discovered that Huddy’s Patriots had caught up with them and were hitting them with unrelenting fire. Somehow, Jack managed to flip himself, while manacled, overboard and began swimming to the riverbank. As musket balls whizzed around him, he shouted expletives and kept trying to identify himself to his troops. Huddy reached the shore but was subsequently shot in the thigh by, apparently, his own men. He recovered quickly.
Colonel Tye wasn’t so lucky. He was wounded in the wrist. It became infected with tetanus, turned gangrenous, and a few days later he died. Sam paled at the news. If a great leader like Colonel Tye could get killed like that, so could Sam. However, he wasn’t fighting for revenge, or the British, or anything other than to gain his freedom. He would do whatever was necessary. When this was over, he would be a freedman.
Find the Cost of Freedom Buried in the Ground
The day came. Sam joined a group of other slaves, and they were given the order to raid towns heading south, to take everything and give nothing back. Above all else, they were to determine Patriot militia strengths and locations and they were to track their movements.
By this point, the Patriots were on edge due to the many lawless acts committed by the Black Brigades comprised of slaves and loyalists. Sam and the Brigade moved through what is modern-day Sea Bright and into Long Branch, plundering and fighting. They moved through Tinton Falls creating havoc and chaos in their wake, for the sake of their freedom. Ugly times can make desperate people do ugly things.
They were tired and used a circuitous route to head back toward Sandy Hook and Refugeetown. They had no way of knowing that they were not alone. Finally, they came upon a hill in West Long Branch, at what is now the Old First United Methodist Church (197 Locust Ave). It was here that they stopped to rest. It was quiet and peaceful. Sam must have thought about what he would do, and where he would go after he was free. He drifted off to sleep.
The small group of Patriots slowly crept up on the men of the Black Brigade, so quickly that they never stirred until it was too late. They had no chance to defend themselves as the Patriots bayonetted them all to death.
Later that day, some people who lived nearby found the corpses of the dead Brigade. It was gruesome. All that blood. But then, they saw movement. One man was still alive though gravely wounded. They took Sam to a nearby house. He had eleven bayonet wounds to his chest and hands (he had tried in vain to deflect the oncoming bayonets).
After a while, he told his rescuers that he came from the Woolley Farm. They returned him to the farm where the Woolley family nursed him back to health. He stayed on the Wooley Farm for the rest of his life, his body bearing the hideous scars from that awful day.
And that place where Sam’s comrade in arms perished… was referred to from then on as “Negro Hill”.
For more information about recent discoveries that help to clarify slavery in Monmouth
County, view: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IwYUk3jsGC8 and visit
https://www.monmouthhistory.org/ for more on the History of Monmouth County.
Do you have a historical story, legend, or mystery here at the Jersey Shore and Sandy
Hook Bay? If you do, I’d like to hear it.
Email your story to Grodeska.Writer@Gmail.com.