THE MAN IN THE "AUGER HOLE."
By Frank R. Stockton
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.
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.
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
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.
"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,
"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
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.
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 alarums. 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
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.
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.