“Loyalist Trails” 2012-43: October 28, 2012

In this issue:
The Pine Barrens: Jacob Fagan’s Gang (1 of 4) — by Stephen Davidson
First Generation in America: Robert Dibblee (1587-1666) by George McNeillie
Branch Projects: Edmonton Parades
Book: Just a larger family: Letters of Marie Williamson
Book: Whispers in the Dark — Meet the Author Nov 10
From the Twittersphere and Beyond
Additions to the Loyalist Directory
Last Post: Benjamin Arthur Miller, UE
      + Meaning of W.A.D. in Old UE List


The Pine Barrens: Jacob Fagan’s Gang (1 of 4) – by Stephen Davidson

If you had to hide from your patriot neighbours during the American Revoluton, where would you go? If you lived in New Jersey, you might have sought refuge in the pine barrens.

Covering almost 2,000 square miles, the barrens were as threatening to 18th century colonists as the Congo jungle or the German black forest were to those who lived on their peripheries. Located in south-eastern New Jersey, the pine barrens are a mass of swamps, acidic sands, pitch pine and white cedar. Terrain that was feared and avoided by early colonists was an ideal hiding place for runaway slaves, moonshiners, bandits, and loyalists.

Only a handful of stories regarding loyalists and the pine barrens have survived. They deal chiefly with “pine robbers” — marauders who lurked in the forest and preyed upon patriot victims. Like Robin Hood’s merry men in Sherwood Forest, these loyalists were not appreciated by local authorities. They were described as “living in caves dug in the sand, while others found safety in dense swamps and in the pine tree thickets”. These robber gangs also included enslaved Africans who were fleeing their masters. Consequently, the revolutionary era’s politics and racism have left us with very biased accounts of pine robber activity. A case in point would be the robber gang of the loyalist, Jake Fagan.

Lorenzo Sabine described Jacob Fagan as a miscreant who plundered whenever he could and changed sides as often as interest dictated. After deserting from the rebel army, he joined the Second Battalion of the New Jersey Volunteers. Given freedom to recruit other loyalists, Fagan also robbed travellers on New Jersey’s roads and plundered from homesteads. More than 100 people died during his reign of terror.

Fagan’s gang had a state-of-the-art hideout in the pine barrens. Trap doors hidden under leaves and branches in steep hillsides admitted the pine robbers into 30 foot tunnels. These ended in storerooms that were large enough to hold six men. Buried beneath their floors was thousands of dollars worth of patriot loot.

Fagan’s career as a pine robber ended abruptly in 1778. After botching an attempted robbery at the home of Benjamin Dennis, a patriot officer, Fagan vowed to return. Tipped off that the dreaded pine robber would be back, Dennis and some of his men hid within the house, waiting to fire their muskets at the first robber to enter the doorway.

As soon as Fagan kicked in the door, Dennis’s men fired their guns. Three robbers were instantly killed; Fagan was wounded and carried away. Three days later patriots discovered the robber’s hastily dug grave. The next day (Sunday), victims of the robber’s crimes took his body out of the grave. They wrapped it in a cloth covered it in tar, and hung it from chains in a tree near a public highway. This was all part of what was commonly called a “degradation ceremony”. The local carrion birds “picked the flesh from its bones and the skeleton fell to the ground in pieces.” Local legend claims that Fagan’s skull was put up in a tree with a pipe stuck between its jaws.

In January of the following year, three other members of Fagan’s gang were ambushed. Once again, the patriot in charge was Benjamin Dennis. Despite their cries for mercy, Stephen Emmons, Stephen West and Ezekiel Williams were shot and then bayonetted on the spot. Days later, two of the robbers’ corpses were hung in chains near the Monmouth Court House. All three had been part of the New Jersey Volunteers at the time of their deaths. Their military commander, Lieutenant Colonel John Morris survived the war and settled with other loyalists in Canada.

Sabine mentions another member of Fagan’s gang in his record of loyalist biographies. In an “affray” in Monmouth County, patriots wounded a pine robber named Jonathan West. His arm was so badly mangled that the local officials had it amputed after they incarcerated West in the local jail. Their prisoner escaped and returned to the pine barrens. Vowing vengence on those who had taken his arm, West “became more desperate than before”. After learning how to shoot his musket with only one arm, the loyalist fired upon his enemies “with great dexterity”. His patriot enemies eventually tracked West down. When he refused to surrender, they killed him.

Another “Tory robber “who “infested the pine barrens of New Jersey” was Lewis Fenton A native of Freehold, Fenton had been a blacksmith before 1775. When he robbed a tailor’s shop, he was warned to return the plunder or be hunted and shot down. He opted to hide in the pine barrens where, in time, Fenton joined Jacob Fagan’s gang.

On June 5, 1779, Fenton and fellow robber, Thomas Emmons, had their revenge on Benjamin Dennis, the man responsible for the deaths of at least seven Fagan gang members. They ambushed him on the road to his property in Shewsbury. It was inevitable, however, that Fenton would share the same fate as his fellow bandits. According to one account, Major Lee’s Light Dragoons finally tracked down the last member of Fagan’s gang in the wilds of Monmouth County, captured him and took him to Farmingdale.

On September 23, 1779, Lewis Fenton breathed his last at the end of a hangman’s noose. Patriots executed the loyalist bandit in front of the Marriner’s Tavern, a favourite gathering place for Fagan’s gang. The tavern, now known as Our House Restaurant, still serves customers in Farmingdale, New Jersey to this day.

Historical records sometimes have two versions of events. A completely different story says that Fenton was killed while in the midst of a highway robbery. The bandit stopped a farmer’s hay wagon on the road outside of Freehold. Unbeknownst to Fagan, the wagon was a “Trojan horse” ploy that had been devised to capture him. Two patriot soldiers lay hidden under the hay. On a signal, they sprang up and shot Fenton in the head. After taking his corpse into town, the soldiers “jerked out the corpse by the feet as if it had been a wild animal” and threw it on the ground. “Here is a cordial” they said, addressing the gathering crowd, “for you tories and wood robbers.”

Despite so many public displays of dead pine barren robbers, the loyalists of New Jersey did not stop their resistance to their patriot foes. To learn about other loyalists who found refuge in the pine barrens of New Jersey (and the fate of Fagan’s treasure), see part two of this series in next week’s Loyalist Trails.

To secure permission to reprint this article, email Stephen Davidson.

First Generation in America: Robert Dibblee (1587-1666) © George McNeillie

I am satisfied that the line of our Dibblee ancestry might be worked out with more fullness and accuracy than it seems yet to have been. The earlier links in America are somewhat obscure. It would seem, however, that about the year 1633 one Robert Dibblee, with his sons Francis and Thomas, settled in Dorchester, Massachusetts. They afterwards removed Windsor, in Connecticut.

Thomas Dibblee is believed to have married Jane Filer and to have had several sons, one of whom, named Ebenezer, was born about the year 1644. the names Ebenezer and Filer seem henceforth to have lingered in the family. The name “Fyler”, which is uncommon, has been found in the Dibblee family for generations.

A distant cousin in Woodstock, N.B. who was a great personal friend of my father, Mr. William F. Dibblee, chanced a good many years ago, when in New York, to notice over a shop the sign, “William F. Dibblee”. He at once entered, and asked to see the proprietor. He was conducted to the office and presented to that gentleman. “I observe,” he said, presenting his card, “that you have my name over your door.” The gentleman looked at the card and said, “Well, it seems that we have.” An idea occurred to him, and he said, “May I ask what the F stands for in your name?”

Mr. Dibblee from Woodstock promptly replied, “My second name is Fyler.” The man from New York seemed much surprised, and said, “Well that is astonishing, my second name is Fyler also.”

They proceeded to discuss their family pedigree and found that they were of the same stock.

Mr. Dibblee of Woodstock said that his newly discovered kinsman took him home to dinner, gave him a very pleasant drive around the city and showed him a good deal of attention.

I am pretty well satisfied that the progenitor of the Dibblee family in America was Robert but the links in the chain down to the Reverend Dr. Ebenezer Dibblee, who was born in Connecticut in 1715, are rather obscure. But beginning with the good old divine the data is quite full, so much so that it will be necessary to condense considerably the material available in order to keep the story within bounds.

Excerpt from Book of Family History, by The Ven. William Odber Raymond, LL.D, FRSC. © 2009 George McNeillie – all rights reserved [published here with permission; see footnote].

George McNeillie

Branch Projects: Edmonton Parades

Edmonton Branch completed its 2012 Annual Community Parades project on July 28.

Check out more of the current and completed branch projects.

Book: Just a larger family: Letters of Marie Williamson

Just a larger family: Letters of Marie Williamson from the Canadian home front, 1940-1944, ed. Mary F. Williamson & Tom Sharp (Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2011). Heritage Toronto citation: Award of Excellence in book category. “Just a Larger Family provides a very personal look at life in Toronto during the Second World War. At risk in England, three boys were sent to Toronto by their mother Margaret Sharp, to live with her cousin, Marie Williamson. The story of this expanded Toronto family is told through the letters Marie wrote to Margaret, trying to ease the pain at being separated from her sons. Edited by Marie’s daughter and one of the boys, the letters reflect the lives and concerns of a Toronto family as well as reveal a portrait of the city during wartime.”

Mary: “I can only imagine the discussions that led our family to welcome the Sharp boys for who knew how long. While Margaret Sharp in England carefully kept my mother’s letters after they had been circulated to members of the family, the collection as it has survived begins only when her sons were already on their way to Canada. From 1940 to 1944 over 165 letters were mailed from Canada to England, and rather fewer from England to Canada. Margaret’s letters were not kept by Marie, but Margaret made copies of a few that she knew might be needed as a record of what she had written. There were stacks of letters written by Douglas Sharp, the boys’ father, whose divorce from Margaret was official in 1937 although this did not deter him from writing regular missives on his current preoccupations. Included in the trove are Marie’s letters to “Cousin Mary,” Margaret’s mother, which tend to be less restrained and franker about problems that had arisen. Out of this mountain of correspondence a continuous narrative has been constructed, focussing on lives lived in Toronto during the war years, with Marie’s letters shorn of much of the minutiae of illnesses, school reports, lists of Christmas presents, and individuals who are not part of the central story.”

The letters have been edited by Marie’s daughter Mary, and Margaret Sharp’ son Tom. The Introduction is by military historian Jonathan Vance, and Tom Sharp’s wife Margaret, Baroness of Guildford, has contributed an Epilogue.

…Mary Williamson UE is a member of the Toronto Branches

Book: Whispers in the Dark — Meet the Author Nov 10

This 520-page self-published reference book, was a labor of love for Mr. Bilow.

It covers only the militia from the states of New York, Vermont and Pennsylvania, with most serving and dying along the border of Canada and the U.S. The book has a special section on the Battle of Plattsburgh, which occurred Sept. 11, 1814, when a strike force of British ships and troops from Canada was defeated by U.S. forces under the command of Brig. Gen. Alexander Macomb. Bigger description.

The next Jefferson County Genealogical Society program will be Saturday, Nov. 10th at 1:00 at the LDS Church on Ives Street in Watertown, NY. The presenter will be Jack Bilow who has written “Whispers in the Dark, A War of 1812 Death Register.”

Mr. Bilow will talk about his years of research and the surprising information that he gleaned for the book. He has included thousands of militia and sailor names, their rank, place of birth and death, how they died, next of kin, heirs and who they served under. Most of this information has never been published before.

Mr. Bilow will have copies of his book available for sale. The event is free and open to the public.

Phyllis Putnam

From the Twittersphere and Beyond

Additions to the Loyalist Directory

As time permits, we add information to the Loyalist Directory. The latest additions and updates are as follows:
– Hennigar, Christian – from Harcus Hennigar
– Noble, John – from Karen Owen
– Sharp, Henry – from Howard Ray Lawrence

Last Post: Benjamin Arthur Miller, UE

December 17, 1945 – October 19, 2012. Ben passed away peacefully after a long illness at Gilmore Lodge, Fort Erie, ON.

Born in Fort Erie, Ben was the cherished son of Marguerite (Miller) Hanratty UE and Arthur Andrew Miller, veteran of WW ll. He is survived by his mother and sisters Marian Miller UE and Arlene (Albert) Barber and several nieces and nephews. Ben was a Life Member of Community Living Fort Erie and participated in Special Olympics. He enjoyed woodworking, sketching and volunteer work. He was a member of Beachcombers 50+ where he excelled in darts. Ben was also a member of the Col.John Butler Branch ( Niagara) of the United Loyalist Association of Canada.

Cremation has taken place and a celebration of Ben’s life has been held. Private interment to take place in McAffee Cemetery. If desired, memorial donations to Gilmore Lodge, Community Living Fort Erie or a charity of one’s choice would be very much appreciated by Ben’s family. “I have fought the good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.” ll Timothy 4:7. Arrangements entrusted to Niagara Funeral Alternatives. Fort Erie Times

…Lynne Cook UE


Meaning of W.A.D. in Old UE List

I am doing some research on a Scottish chap who came to America in 1773, joined the King’s Royal Regiment of New York and was cited as ” + W.A.D.” in addition to being placed on the “Provisional List (Kingston)”, 2d (2nd Battalion?), 1786 (Year of Discharge or Receiving a land grant?)

A “Copy of the “Old U.E. List” preserved in the Crown Lands Department at Toronto – Key to Abbreviations” in Appendix A is helpful, but does not have this acronym explained.

My guess is “Wounded and Discharged”, but being a professional genealogist, I don’t like to guess. Can anyone help? Thanks in advance.

Graham Evan MacDonell, Abbotsford, B.C.