Although the majority of New Jerseyans, from royal governor William Franklin to small farmers, were opposed to taxes imposed by the British parliament, many were reluctant to engage in armed rebellion and remained loyal to Britain during the Revolutionary War. New Jersey’s Loyalists came from all levels of society, from large landowners to farmers, artisans and slaves; their loyalty was based on a variety of economic, political, religious and personal reasons. British sympathy in the New Jersey became starkly apparent as the enemy drove George Washington’s army across the state in 1776. Many Jerseymen signed oaths of loyalty to the invaders and Loyalist counter-revolutionaries rose up to take over Upper Freehold Township.
The New Jersey Loyalist leadership included Governor Franklin, son of Patriot leader Benjamin Franklin, Attorney General Cortlandt Skinner and other prominent prewar political figures, who raised loyalist soldiers to fight alongside the British. The New Jersey Volunteers, a noted Loyalist regiment, was organized and commanded by Skinner. One estimate is that 3,500 New Jersey men served in Loyalist units during the Revolution.
While some New Jerseyans, like the men of the New Jersey Volunteers, fought alongside the British army in formal campaigns, others engaged in attacking their former neighbors along the coast and the New York border from bases in New York City, Staten Island and Sandy Hook. Still others took to the wilds of the Pine Barrens, where they hid between raids on Patriot farms. Loyalist troops pushed into Monmouth County and fought patriot militia and Continental troops in Shrewsbury, Middletown and Colts Neck. Some raiding parties were led by “Colonel Tye,” an African American guerilla leader formerly enslaved in Monmouth County.
In New Jersey, the Revolution became a civil war, pitting neighbor against neighbor. Patriot Captain Joshua Huddy was hanged at Highlands in retribution for the shooting death of Loyalist Philip White, and vigilante activity was common to both sides. Patriots confiscated Loyalist property and jailed or tarred and feathered British sympathizers, and the war produced a good deal of residual bitterness. At the close of the conflict most New Jersey loyalists fled to Britain or Canada.