site search by freefind advanced

The Man In The 'Auger Hole'

By Frank R. Stockton

Note:  If you purchase anything from links on this site, I may make a commission.

Join our Facebook page.

When we consider the American Revolution, we are apt to think of it as a great war which all the inhabitants of the Colonies rose up against Great Britain, determined, no matter what might be the hardships and privations, no matter what the cost in blood and money, to achieve their independence and the right to govern themselves. But this was not the case. A great majority of the people of the Colonies were ardently in favor of independence; but there were also a great many people, and we have no right to say that some of them were not very good people, who were as well satisfied that their country should be a colony of Great Britain as the Canadians are now satisfied with that state of things, and who were earnestly and honestly opposed to any separation from the mother country.

Everyone Can Learn To Read

This difference of opinion was the cause of great trouble and bloodshed among the colonists themselves, and the contests between the Tories and the Whigs were nowhere more bitter than in New Jersey. In some parts of the Colony, families were divided against themselves; and not only did this result in quarrels and separations, but fathers and sons, and brothers and brothers, fought against each other. At one time the Tories, or, as they came to be called, "refugees," were in such numbers that they took possession of the town of Freehold, and held it for more than a week; and when at last the town was retaken by the patriotic forces, most of them being neighbors and friends of the refugees, several prominent Tories were hanged, and many others sent to prison.

The feeling between the Americans of the two different parties was more violent than that between the patriots and the British troops, and before long it became entirely unsafe for any Tory to remain in his own home in New Jersey. Many of them went to New York, where the patriotic feeling was not so strong at that time, and there they formed themselves into a regular military company called the "Associated Loyalists"; and this company was commanded by William Temple Franklin, son of the great Benjamin Franklin, who had been appointed Governor of New Jersey by the British Crown. He was now regarded with great hatred by the patriots of New Jersey, because he was a strong Tory. This difference of opinion between William Franklin and his father was the most noted instance of this state of feeling which occurred in those days.

It will be interesting to look upon this great contest from a different point of view than that from which we are accustomed to regard it; and some extracts from the journal of a New Jersey lady who was a decided Tory, will give us an idea of the feeling and condition of the people who were opposed to the Revolution.

Mrs. Margaret Hill Morris

British soldiers in a boat and a colonial house.

This lady was Mrs. Margaret Hill Morris, who lived in Burlington. She was a Quaker lady, and must have been a person of considerable wealth; for she had purchased the house on Green Bank, one of the prettiest parts of Burlington, overlooking the river, in which Governor Franklin had formerly resided. This was a fine house and contained the room which afterwards became celebrated under the name of the "Auger Hole." This had been built, for what reason is not known, as a place of concealment. It was a small room, entirely dark, but said to be otherwise quite comfortable, which could be approached only through a linen closet. In order to get at it, the linen had to be taken from the shelves, the shelves drawn out, and a small door opened at the back of the closet, quite low down, so that the dark room could only be entered by stooping.

In this "Auger Hole," Mrs. Morris, who was a strong Tory, but a very good woman, had concealed a refugee who at the time was sought for by the adherents of the patriotic side, and who probably would have had a hard time of it if he had been caught, for he was a person of considerable importance.

The name of the refugee was Jonathan Odell, and he was rector of St. Mary's Church in Burlington. He was a learned man, being a doctor as well as a clergyman, and a very strong Tory. He had been of much service to the people of Burlington; for when the Hessians had attacked the town, he had come forward and interceded with their commander, and had done his work so well that the soldiers were forbidden to pillage the town. But when the Hessians left, the American authorities began a vigorous search for Tories; and Parson Odell was obliged to conceal himself in good Mrs. Morris's "Auger Hole."

Mrs. Morris was apparently a widow who lived alone with her two boys, and, having this refugee in her house, she was naturally very nervous about the movements of the American troops and the actions of her neighbors of the opposite party.

She kept a journal of the things that happened about her in those eventful days, and from this we will give some extracts. It must be understood that in writing her journal, the people designated as the "enemy" were the soldiers under Washington, and that "gondolas" were American gunboats.

Innocent Spying

"From the 13th to the 16th we had various reports of the advancing and retiring of the enemy; parties of armed men rudely entered the town and diligent search was made for tories. Some of the gondola gentry broke into and pillaged Red Smith's house on the bank. About noon this day (16th) a very terrible account of thousands coming into the town, and now actually to be seen on Gallows Hill: my incautious son caught up the spyglass, and was running towards the hill to look at them. I told him it would be liable to misconstruction."

The journal states that the boy went out with the spyglass, but could get no good place from which he could see Gallows Hill, or any troops upon it, and so went down to the river, and thought he would take a view of the boats in which were the American troops. He rested his spyglass on the low limb of a tree, and with a boyish curiosity inspected the various boats of the little fleet, not suspecting that any one would object to such a harmless proceeding.

But the people on the boats saw him, and did object very much; and the consequence was, that, not long after he reached his mother's house, a small boat from one of the vessels came to shore. A party of men went to the front door of the house in which they had seen the boy enter, and began loudly to knock upon it. Poor Mrs. Morris was half frightened to death, and she made as much delay as possible in order to compose her features and act as if she had never heard of a refugee who wished to hide himself from his pursuers. In the mild manner in which Quaker women are always supposed to speak, she asked them what they wanted. They quickly told her that they had heard that there was a refugee, to whom they applied some very strong language, who was hiding somewhere about here, and that they had seen him spying at them with a glass from behind a tree, and afterwards watched him as he entered this house.

Mrs. Morris declared that they were entirely mistaken; that the person they had seen was no one but her son, who had gone out to look at them as any boy might do, and who was perfectly innocent of any designs against them. The men may have been satisfied with this explanation with regard to her son; but they asserted that they knew that there was a refugee concealed somewhere in that neighborhood, and they believed that he was in an empty house near by, of which they were told she had the key. Mrs. Morris, who had given a signal, previously agreed upon, to the man in the "Auger Hole," to keep very quiet, wished to gain as much time as possible, and exclaimed:

"Bless me! I hope you are not Hessians."

"Do we look like Hessians?" asked one of them rudely.

"Indeed, I don't know."

"Did you ever see a Hessian?"

"No, never in my life; but they are men, and you are men, and may be Hessians, for anything I know. But I will go with you into Colonel Cox's house, though indeed it was my son at the mill; he is but a boy, and meant no harm; he wanted to see the troops."

So she took the key of the empty house referred to, and went in ahead of the men, who searched the place thoroughly, and, after finding no place where anybody could be, they searched one or two of the houses adjoining; but for some reason they did not think it worth while to go through Mrs. Morris's own house. Had they done so, it, is not probable that the good lady could have retained her composure, especially if they had entered the room in which was the linen closet; for, even had they been completely deceived by the piles of sheets and pillowcases, there is no knowing but that the unfortunate man in the "Auger Hole" might have been inclined to sneeze.

But although she was a brave woman and very humanely inclined, Mrs. Morris felt she could not any longer take the risk of a refugee in her house. And so that night, after dark, she went up to the parson in the "Auger Hole," and made him come out; and she took him into the town, where he was concealed by some of the Tory citizens, who were better adapted to take care of the refugee than this lone Quaker woman with her two inquisitive boys. It is believed that soon after this he took refuge in New York, which was then in the hands of the British.

Thoughts On The American War For Independence

Further on in the journal Mrs. Morris indulges in some moral reflections in regard to the war in which her countrymen were engaged, and no one of right feeling will object to her sentiments.

"Jan. 14. I hear Gen. Howe sent a request to Washington desiring three days' cessation of arms to take care of the wounded and bury the dead, which was refused; what a woeful tendency war has to harden the human heart against the tender feelings of humanity. Well may it be called a horrid art thus to change the nature of man. I thought that even barbarous nations had a sort of religious regard for their dead."

After this the journal contains many references to warlike scenes on the river and warlike sounds from the country around. Numbers of gondolas filled with soldiers went up and down the river, at times cannon from distant points firing alarms. At other times the roaring of great guns from a distance, showing that a battle was going on, kept the people of Burlington in a continual excitement; and Mrs. Morris, who was entirely cut off from her relatives and friends, several of whom were living in Philadelphia, was naturally very anxious and disturbed in regard to events, of which she heard but little, and perhaps understood less.

One day she saw a number of gunboats, with flags flying and drums beating, that were going, she was told, to attend a court-martial at which a number of refugees, men of her party, were to be tried by General Putnam; and it was believed that if they were found guilty they would be executed.

After a time, Mrs. Morris found an opportunity of showing, that, although in principle she might be a Tory, she was at heart a good, kind Quaker lady ready to give help to suffering people, no matter whether they belonged to the side she favored or to that which she opposed.

Some of the people who came up the river in the gunboats--and in many cases the soldiers brought their wives with them, probably as cooks--were taken sick during that summer; and some of these invalids stopped at Burlington, being unable to proceed farther.

Hospital Work For The Enemy

Here, to their surprise, they found no doctors; for all the patriots of that profession had gone to the army, and the Tory physician had departed to the British lines. But, as is well known, the women in the early days of New Jersey were often obliged to be physicians; and among the good housewives of Burlington, who knew all about herb teas, homemade plasters, and potions, Mrs. Morris held a high position. The sick Continentals were told that she was just as good as a doctor, and, besides, was a very kind woman, always ready to help the sick and suffering.

So some of the sick soldiers came to her; and from what Mrs. Morris wrote, one or two of them must have been the same men who had previously come to her house and threatened the life of her boy, who had been looking at them with a spyglass. But now they very meekly and humbly asked her to come and attend their poor comrades who were unable to move. At first Mrs. Morris thought this was some sort of a trick, and that they wanted to get her on board of one of the gunboats, and carry her away. But when she found that the sick people were in a house in the town, she consented to go and do what she could. So she took her bottles with her, and her boxes and her herbs, and visited the sick people, several of whom she found were women.

They were all afflicted with some sort of a fever, probably of a malarial kind, contracted from living day and night on board of boats without proper protection; and, knowing just what to do with such cases, she, to use her own expression, "treated them according to art," and it was not long before they all recovered.

What happened in consequence of this hospital work for those whom she considered her enemies, is thus related by Mrs. Morris:

"I thought I had received all my pay when they thankfully acknowledged all my kindness, but lo! in a short time afterwards, a very rough, ill-looking man came to the door and asked for me. When I went to him, he drew me aside and asked me if I had any friends in Philadelphia. The question alarmed me, supposing that there was some mischief meditated against that poor city; however, I calmly said, 'I have an ancient father-in-law, some sisters, and other near friends there.' 'Well,' said the man, 'do you wish to hear from them, or send anything by way of refreshment to them? If you do, I will take charge of it and bring you back anything you may send for.' I was very much surprised, to be sure, and thought he only wanted to get provisions to take to the gondolas, when he told me his wife was one I had given medicine to, and this was the only thing he could do to pay me for my kindness. My heart leaped for joy, and I set about preparing something for my dear absent friends. A quarter of beef, some veal, fowls, and flour, were soon put up, and about midnight the man came and took them away in his boat."

Mrs. Morris was not mistaken in trusting to the good intentions of this grateful Continental soldier, for, as she says, two nights later there came a loud knocking at the door:

"Opening the chamber window, we heard a man's voice saying, 'Come down softly and open the door, but bring no light.' There was something mysterious in such a call, and we concluded to go down and set the candle in the kitchen. When we got to the front door we asked, 'Who are you?' The man replied, 'A friend; open quickly': so the door was opened, and who should it be but our honest gondola man with a letter, a bushel of salt, a jug of molasses, a bag of rice, some tea, coffee, and sugar, and some cloth for a coat for my poor boys--all sent by my kind sisters. How did our hearts and eyes overflow with love to them and thanks to our Heavenly Father for such seasonable supplies. May we never forget it. Being now so rich, we thought it our duty to hand out a little to the poor around us, who were mourning for want of salt, so we divided the bushel and gave a pint to every poor person who came for it, and had a great plenty for our own use."

As the war drew to its close and it became plain to every one that the cause of the patriots must triumph, the feeling between the two parties of Americans became less bitter; and the Tories, in many cases, saw that it would be wise for them to accept the situation, and become loyal citizens of the United States of America, as before they had been loyal subjects of Great Britain.

When peace was at last proclaimed, those Tories who were prisoners were released, and almost all of them who had owned farms or estates had them returned to them, and Mrs. Morris could visit her "ancient father-in-law" and her sisters in Philadelphia, or they could come up the river and visit her in her house on the beautiful Green Bank at Burlington, without fear or thought of those fellow-countrymen who had been their bitter enemies.

You might like these

Recent Articles

  1. Just The Nicest Person by Christy Barritt

    Mar 22, 24 12:59 PM

    Just The Nicest Person launches Christy Barritt’s 8-book series, True Crime Junkies. In this book, we meet Andi, who has taken a job as an ice road trucker

    Read More

  2. The War In The Shadows by Charles Whiting

    Mar 12, 24 09:22 PM

    The War In The Shadows is an exciting book about the spymasters of World War II. Enter into a devious world where you don’t know who to trust, and one

    Read More

  3. Bell Mountain by Lee Duigon

    Feb 21, 24 01:20 PM

    Bell Mountain by Lee Duigon Bell Mountain is a Christian fictional fantasy. Jack lives a a small town with his uncaring uncle. He begins to have dreams

    Read More

Solo Build It!