For those of us who love a good story, especially one of which we’re a part, join me in reliving this story first printed in the Loyalist Trails magazine that lands in my InBox every Sunday. Thanks, Loyalist Trails and UELAC!
The “Very Clever” Loyalist Wife:
reprinted with the permission of author and copyright holder Stephen Davidson UE
Piecing together the story of a loyalist woman is not an easy task. Too often she is simply a checkmark on a ship’s manifest, an irrelevant detail in a claim for compensation, or merely a name cut into her husband’s tombstone. Typically, more of her life is revealed if she became a widow during the American Revolution, able to tell her story in her own words in a petition or a will. Margaret Hutchinson, a woman described as “very clever…sensible and…prudent in the management of family affairs”, left enough of a paper trail in the records of the loyalist era for us to make her acquaintance. This is her story.
Margaret Jefferson was born about 1737 in Yorkshire, England. At eighteen, she married John Hutchinson on September 22, 1755 in Wensley. Two children were born over the next two years. In 1758, William joined them. A son named Major was born, followed by Francis in 1763, Margaret in 1764, Ralph in 1767, and Ann in 1772.
Just two years before the Continental Congress issued the Declaration of Independence, the Hutchinsons and five of their children were passengers on the York Packet, sailing from Liverpool to New York City. William, the oldest, was 16 and Ann, the youngest, was just two. (Family lore suggests that the two adult first-born Hutchinson children remained in England.)
John Hutchinson acquired 200 acres in Hanover Township in New Jersey’s Morris County where he planned to raise the “remarkable fine horses and some stallions he brought from England”. Given the importance of horses for transportation in the 18th century, John was his era’s equivalent of an imported automobile dealer—offering the best in British horses to a colonial clientele. Upon buying his American property, John drained and fenced the land, and built stables for his livestock.
There are no details of the Hutchinsons’ new home outside of the fact that its furnishings, provisions and farming utensils were valued at just over £563. Clearly, the Hutchinsons were a prosperous family. They could pay for an Atlantic crossing that involved transporting horses and then buy enough land to support their livestock. The Hutchinsons also had at least two servants to manage the household, the stables, and grazing fields. Some of these may have come with the family from England. Given that slavery was prevalent in New Jersey, these “servants” could have, in fact, been African slaves.
It did not take long for the Hutchinson horses to come to the attention of New Jersey’s gentlemen. Just a year after John and Margaret’s arrival, a May 1775 edition of the New York Gazette reported that the “last famous bay stallion imported by Mr. Hutchinson, called Bold Forrester” would be in Troy, New Jersey. No doubt Margaret was pleased with the early success of her husband’s business.
But her happiness would not last long. Revolution was in the air. Both patriot and loyalist neighbours courted the newly arrived Hutchinsons, trying to persuade them to choose sides in the war. However, John Hutchinson remained “uniform in his attachment to Great Britain” and “conducted himself always as a loyal man”.
Although the specifics of John’s personal service to the crown are not given, he is known to have sent two of his male servants into the British army. Enlisting one’s servants or slaves to bear arms in one’s stead was a common practice for both loyalists and patriots. About one sixth of the total rebel army was comprised of soldiers who were considered the property of white colonists.
But the loyalist family also made a far greater sacrifice than contributing two servants to the war effort. In 1786 — ten years after the Declaration of Independence– Margaret Hutchinson testified before a British commission that her husband had “sent” William, Major and Ralph, the couple’s oldest sons, to serve in the loyalist militia. How Margaret Hutchinson felt about sending her sons to war goes unrecorded. Francis –just 13 years old—stayed in Hanover Township with his sisters, Ann and Margaret, and his parents as the war’s events unfolded.
The older Hutchinson boys served with the New Jersey Volunteers, a loyalist (or “provincial”) regiment. General Cortlandt Skinner and Major Thomas Millidge, both officers with the Volunteers, would later lend their support to Margaret at the end of the revolution.
Following the patriot victory at the Battle of Springfield on June 23, 1780, rebels captured William Hutchinson at a “Mr. Veal’s barn” and took him to General Washington’s headquarters at Morristown, New Jersey where he was charged with spying for the enemy. Rivington’s Royal Gazette reported that “Mr. Hutchinson” was “lately executed at Washington’s camp”. The family remembers this incident in the words that William was “done to death in public without trial”.
The patriot victory at Springfield and William’s execution may have emboldened Margaret’s neighbours to threaten her family with violence as 1780 is the year given when John Hutchinson (and presumably the rest of his family) “came into” British lines. In other words, Margaret and her three youngest children sought out sanctuary in New York City, the headquarters for the British army during the American Revolution.
The story of Margaret Hutchinson’s wartime experiences as a loyalist wife concludes in the next edition of Loyalist Trails.
To secure permission to reprint this article contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks to Stephen for allowing me to reprint his excellent story. We had a great flurry of emails back and forth when I contacted him. Seems we have a lot in common!
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