Do You Know About Richard Stockton?

Do you know that Richard Stockton was a New Jersey Signer of the Declaration who was captured in November of 1776?


During the invasion of New Jersey, Stockton returned home, to move his family, and he was captured on November 30, 1776, when a local loyalist informed of the British of his location.  He was treated brutally, starved and locked in a cold prison, first in Perth Amboy, and then sent to New York.  Congress was informed of his capture and treatment and demands his release ordering General Washington, on January 3, 1777, to deal with the situation. It should be noted, that on the day of his capture General Howe and his brother, Admiral Lord Howe, had issued a proclamation which allowed a colonist to not pledge allegiance to the King, but pledges peaceable obedience to the King by not taking part in war activities.  With this paper, colonists were not supposed to be harassed by British troops.  Generally, this proclamation was ignored by the British and Parliament was furious over it.  It was this proclamation, which Stockton’s enemies alleged he signed.[1]  British Provost Marshal William Cunningham offered this to Stockton who refused to sign the proclamation.  This refusal to sign was the biggest reason he was treated so brutally.  Later General Howe, himself, would offer the proclamation to Stockton, after learning about his deplorable treatment but Stockton would again refuse to sign it.  It was Stockton who told General Howe about the treatment he was receiving.

While it was alleged that he swore an allegiance to the British to get out of jail, a letter General Lord Howe wrote to Lord Germain in Parliament on March 25, 1777, refutes these assertions.  Lord Howe wrote, “at no time had a leading rebel sought pardon.”[2]  It appears the rumor of his capitulation to the British may have been spread by an enemy of Stockton’s.  Lord Germain would acknowledge receipt of this letter restating the Kings disappointment regarding the leaders of the rebellion on May 20, 1777.[3]  Many times when prisoners were given parole they were required to withdraw from the war effort.  This lack of participation may have intensified the rumors.  However, this was normal and customary behavior for both sides when released from prison.  It should be noted, Stockton would swear an oath of allegiance to the state of New Jersey and the Revolutionary cause in December of 1777, but by then his reputation was ruined.  Stockton would not respond to the rumors neither denying nor confirming them.  The rumors could well have happened because he had a cousin also named Richard Stockton, who was a loyalist, that joined the British Army about the time Stockton was released from British custody.  That cousin was known as “Double Dick” as he was often involved in shady schemes.[4]

[1] Glynn, John C., and Kathryn Glynn. His Sacred Honor: Judge Richard Stockton, a Signer of the Declaration of Independence. (Brentwood, TN, Hereditea, 2006) 32-33

[2] Glynn, John C., and Kathryn Glynn. His Sacred Honor: Judge Richard Stockton, a Signer of the Declaration of Independence. 56

[3] Report of the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts. Vol. 6. (London, Great Britain: H.M. Stationary Office, 1877) 402

[4] Hayden, Philip A. “Double Dick”: Princeton’s Other Richard Stockton” Princeton History 11, (January 1992): 22‑27