(First appeared in MxWorld, Volume
26, Number 3, pages 5-9, February 2012)
While trying to verify or refute a Branford Mx genesis for several Mx lineages in
New York state and beyond, I ran across the following Find-a-Grave entry for one
Joe Mulliner, a bigger-than-life character who ran a band of brigands called The
Refugees out of a stronghold in the New Jersey (NJ) Pine Barrens(1). I already
knew that Thomas Mx3, a grandson of Thomas Mx of Branford had migrated to NJ ca
1683, so I was on the lookout for any of his descendants. The fact that Joe spelled
his name the same way as Thomas had sparked my interest and I’d promised myself
to eventually investigate him for any connection to Thomas Mx3(2).
Figure 1: There were additional notes attached to this entry as follows: "Joe Mulliner
is the only interment at this gravesite located on Pleasant Mills-Weekstown Road,
Route 43, two miles east of Pleasant Mills, on south side of road."
Note: This grave marker is said to have been erected by local pranksters in the
1960’s(3), the original stone having disappeared at about the same time(4). It sits
on one of several grave sites reported to be Joe’s final resting place, two others
being: 1) Gallows Hill in what is today a cemetery known as Laurel Hill, located
on Jacksonville Rd. in Burlington Co. NJ, and bearing a simple small stone that
reads, "JM."(5); and 2) an unnamed location at the Forks of the Mullica River, near
Crowleytown, in Burlington Co., NJ, on land owned by his wife, who is also purported
to have been his "active and cunning assistant"(6).--wjs
In any event, I thought this entry interesting enough to pass on to Betty, who then
asked me to write Joe up for MxWorld, thus providing me the perfect excuse to follow
up on that promise. Although my inquiries into Joe’s origins were unsuccessful,
I did find more than enough material for an MxWorld article--there were history
books, blogs, genealogical queries, novels (both narrative and graphic), ghost stories,
newspaper articles, and even a ca 1974 documentary film featured on YouTube(7) --it
seems that Joe was a bona fide folk hero! The resulting narrative illustrates
some of the many sides of Joe Mulliner who in life was a human being, a political
activist, a lothario, a brigand, and a celebrity; and in death remains a legend.
Joe Mulliner, The Man:
Though there is very little genealogical information available on Joe, the majority
of sources place his birth at between 1740 and 1750, somewhere in England (a smaller
number posit NJ), and having at least one, almost certainly two, brothers. Described
as a "worthy man", Joe’s brother Moses was a veteran of the Revolutionary
War, serving in the Continental Army, and after the war went on to sire at least
three children in Little Egg Harbor Township, Burlington Co., NJ, where he lived
and died(8). One John Mulliner, almost certainly the other brother, is credited
by one source(9) as being involved in Joe’s nefarious deeds. But another(10) says
that this second brother also served in the Continental Army. Little has been written
about John. He too lived out his life in Little Egg Harbor, though it’s difficult
to say how long he lived as he had a nephew by the same name. There was also a Henry
Mulliner living in the area during that time frame.
Regarding Joe himself, its said that he: married young, to a woman he met at a party
and that he settled down on a farm on the Mullica River(11); made a legitimate living
on the water as a coastal pilot prior to the war(12); was commonly considered to
be a Tory (at least in name if not always in practice); lived life large; died young;
and left no issue. Physically, he was described as being: "of good address and attractive
personal appearance…wore an (British) officer’s uniform, with a ponderous sword
at his side and a brace of pistols in his belt.(13)"…"a swaggering giant of a man,
reputed to stand six-foot-five"(13)…"good natured…loved feasting, fun and fighting.(14)"
…"came from a good family…well educated for his time...(had a) booming voice…an
aggressive friendliness and good humor that seemed to naturally draw people to himxii"..."a
handsome fellow with charm enough to talk the bloomers off a clothesline(15)."
Joe Mulliner, Loyalist:
Accounts vary as to whether Joe was in truth a Loyalist, or simply an opportunist.
He most certainly had Tory leanings that triggered persecution by his Whig neighbors.
At least one source(5) supports this notion: "Until the time of the Revolution…the
couple lived a quiet life, but the war changed all that...he (Joe) opted to remain
loyal to the King…His decision was unpopular with his pro-independence neighbors
and, in 1779, Mulliner was forced to flee his home to avoid arrest." According
to another source(13), when "war broke out he turned pirate. His small sloop was
perfectly adapted to slip stealthily from the coves that dot the Jersey Shore around
Egg Harbor. From these lairs, he prayed [sic] upon vulnerable merchant ships as
they anchored at shore. Occasionally he took hostages among the crew and collected
ransom from their relatives on land. At some point Mulliner expanded his brigandage
from sea to land." We know that he did receive a commission from the Board
of Associated Loyalists of New York--led by William Franklin, New York’s Royal Governor
at the time, and the son of Benjamin Franklin(16). Joe is also credited with providing
information, ca 1778, to General Burgoyne, who then sent an 800-man expedition against
the once thriving trade center at Chestnut Neck in Atlantic Co., NJ(17). Most sources
agree that Joe was hung as a traitor and spy rather than as a bandit.
However, according to one source(18) he "terrorized both American Patriots and British
Loyalists." Another(15) states his gang "fought, sometimes for Tories, but often
for themselves". A third(19) states "there is ample evidence that he would steal
from anyone." Finally, an item in The New York Gazette and Weekly
Mercury, of 8 August 1871, states "He had made a practice of burning houses, robbing
and plundering all who fell in his way so that when he came to trial it appeared
that the whole country, both whigs and tories, were his enemies."
His ingenuity is as legendary as his exploits. One particular tale that appears
often in the historical annals, has it that Joe designed an ingenious dog collar
with a hidden compartment, and having trained his dog as a courier, would use it
to communicate with or through his wifexiv.(14)
Whether Loyalist, renegade or both, he was obviously very successful in his endeavors.
According to one sourcev, Joe and his gang stole assorted riches exceeding $1 million
(US). This source goes on to say that over the years, treasure hunters have recovered
at least three caches of stolen goods attributable to Joe, as follows: 1847--silver
plate worth $30,000 (US); 1906--a cache of Revolutionary War era gold coins; and
1970--a weapons cache of three swords, one with an ornate silver hilt.
Joe Mulliner, Rake:
Although Joe married young, it seems clear that matrimony didn’t temper his carnal
urges. Much of his reputation as a lothario actually seems due to his love of dancing
and partying, but human nature being what it is, there is probably at least a germ
of truth to the allegations. Stories abound regarding his romantic exploits, but
they all appear to fall into three specific categories; abduction, rescue, and disrupting
parties. Some renditions, especially the fictional works, combine aspects of all
Rather than try to paraphrase, I offer the following extracts from New Jersey History's
Abduction: "Honoria Read was the young and beautiful daughter of Charles Read, Ironmaster
of Batsto village. In the summer of 1781, she gave a party at her home in Pleasant
Mills, and Mulliner took exception to his name having been left off the guest list.
Never one to stand on ceremony, he crashed the party and left with the unwilling
hostess." He reportedly returned her that same night, but the ransom he
demanded was said to be her "wholehearted affection". I leave it to the reader
to interpret the meaning of that phrase.
Rescue: "…he passed a young woman crying in the backyard. When he inquired as to
the cause of her troubles…she ran into the inn. Mulliner followed and soon discovered
the cause of her unhappiness, a forced betrothal. He waited for the start of the
ceremony before appearing on the stairway with his guns brandished to stop the marriage.
He gave the groom one of two choices, leave or die. The groom choice [sic] the former,
and was never seen again."
Figure 2: Joe Mulliner Crashing a Wedding Party
Party crasher: "Mulliner again arrived as a party was in progress. Perhaps the music
had drawn him…he always seemed to appear whenever there were festivities. As was
(his) habit, he picked the prettiest woman to dance with first, and gradually took
a turn with all the women at the party. Normally, none…would dare challenge him,
but on this one night…a small and timid man refused to allow his date to dance with
Mulliner, and when the outlaw pushed the suitor aside and insisted, the angry man
slapped Mulliner across the face. The crowd waited for an explosion of fists (but)
instead he began to chuckle, and then his booming laughter rang out.
Declaring that, ‘So fearless a little bantam must have the best girl present,’ he
shook hands with the slapper, danced one turn with his partner, and returned her
with his compliments before disappearing into the night."
It was in this last role that he was finally apprehended. From the same source,
we learn: "Joe Mulliner's love of dance and drink would ultimately prove his undoing.
In the early summer of 1781, he crashed his final party in present-day Nesco. The
festivities were in full swing at the Indian Cabin Mill Inn when he arrived with
his usual flair. As always, he picked the prettiest woman to dance with, pushing
her partner aside. The furious man slipped out the back door and past the guard…made
his way to the nearby home of Captain Baylin, the leader of the local militia…(who)
quickly raised a posse and surrounded the inn. Mulliner surrendered."
Joe Mulliner, Folk Hero:
Regardless of who he actually was, local folklore has painted Joe bigger than life—"the
Robin Hood of the Pine Barrens"(20). As is so often the case with folk heroes,
Joe was apparently a very large man (folklore doesn’t seem to like average-sized
or diminutive heroes.) In addition, he dressed in an outrageous style—the British
uniform surely chosen to offend his Whig neighbors—and obviously had an extroverted
personality big enough to match his physical stature. Add to this his documented
exploits, as well as our all-too-human penchant for embroidering tales and you get
a legendary figure.
A number of sources are critical of this description, as witness the following:
"In fact his robberies helped impoverish an already war-scarred countryside and there
is no record of his sharing the wealth with anyone but his fellow criminals.(13)"…"Another
well-known highway man was Joe Mulliner, who terrorized both American patriots and
British Loyalists."(18) …."It was said that Mulliner never let pass an opportunity
to steal from the rich, but there is ample evidence that he would steal from anyone.(20)";
But the majority of reporters paint him in a more positive light: "Though his legend
claims he was known for ‘looting and killing almost at will,’ and that he and his
men ‘ravaged and terrorized’ the New Jersey countryside, it appears to be more myth
than fact. Mulliner was known to engage his victims in good conversation and frequently
joked with them. Some considered it an honor to have been robbed by the famous Joe
Mulliner. It was his friendliness and compassion for not robbing the poor that earned
him the Robin Hood reputation.(12)"…"In all their illegal exploits, he and his gang
never killed, or even seriously injured anyone.(8) "…"What ensured Mulliner's status
as a local celebrity was that, in spite of his large stature, he was a rather nonviolent,
and even friendly, robber…he was even known to entertain his victims with jokes
and stories while his men rifled through their belongings. He was also reputed to
have only robbed those who could afford it, leaving poorer travelers to go about
their business. One story also has him leaving an anonymous bag of cash for a woman
whose house was destroyed by his overenthusiastic henchmen, by way of apology for
their actions.(21)" My sentiments tend to favor him in this more favorable
light, if for no other reason than that, according to most sources, he was hanged
for high treason rather than for brigandage.
As if to add to Joe’s legendary status, since his death, several attempts have been
made to move or obscure the location of his remains: ca 1860, his bones were exhumed
by a bunch of drunks and taken to Batsto, but eventually returned(14); in 1960,
his grave marker, said to be located on the Pleasant Mills-Nesco Rd., disappeared(4);
also in 1960, pranksters are said to have erected a false marker in Pleasant Mills(3)
(see Figure 1).
Joe Mulliner, Ghost:
As befits such a legendary figure, Joe figures prominently in the ghostly pantheon
of the Pines. This extract from the June 13th, 1839, Oswego Observer, entitled
Mulliner's Ghost Seen in Washington, is typical, "Joe Mulliner, the infamous
‘Robin Hood of the Pines’, was hanged fifty eight years ago, from the low limb of
a buttonwood tree among the scrub cedars along the Mullica River. This fact, however,
doesn't stop people from reporting his wraith from time to time, searching the places
he haunted during his lifetime of woeful deeds for the pile of gold he buried long
ago." or, more than a century later, this one from The San Antonio Light
of 23 Jun 1946, By Henry Charlton Beck, entitled Only Memories Live in Jersey's Ghost
Towns(14), "The Mulliner ghost story, one of the oldest of the pinelands, is
still told at firesides, in the faded villages it concerned. It is years now since
the last traveler, racing a lathered mount to Pleasant Mills, told how he had plainly
seen Joe Mulliner's phantom, earnestly searching in the dark for the gold he buried
long ago." Or, more recently, from Haunted Jersey Shore: Ghosts and Strange Phenomena
of the Garden State Coast(3), "But his spirit does not rest. 'Stand and deliver!'
shouts the ghost that some claim to have met on dark nights. At other times, the
ghost of Joe Mulliner can be seen spinning his sweetheart about merrily as he dances
to ghostly music."
But to close off this tale I prefer a bit of poetry, by Henry Beck, appropriately
entitled, The Legend of Joe Mulliner(22) —
the scrub cedar that borders the river,
weird shadows move.
Lights flicker and gutter out. The eerie wraith falls, or rather
seems to float to the ground. Then it searches for something and,
disappointed, strides off down the road to a lonely grave.
1. The Pine Barrens, reputed home of the cryptozoological terror known as ‘The Jersey
Devil’, and home to ghost towns with such colorful names as Ong’s Hat, Double Trouble,
Pancake & Chicken Bone, comprise an enormous, marshy, heavily-forested, and sparsely-populated
wilderness covering a huge portion of what is arguably the most heavily populated
state in America. Its denizens, popularly & pejoratively known as Pineys, were once
widely considered to be in-bred, low-caste, bumpkins. H. H. Goddard popularized
the argument supporting this claim in 1912, in a study called The Kallikak Family:
A Study in the Heredity of Feeble-Mindedness.
2. Via some very circuitous logic and questionable reporting, a tenuous connection
can be made between Joe Mulliner and the Branford Mxes, but as is too often the
case, I’ve found nothing definitive with which to argue for this case, nor any evidence
linking him to any other Mx Line.
3. Haunted New Jersey: Ghosts and Strange Phenomena of the Garden State,
by Patricia A. Martinelli & Charles A. Stansfield, pub. Stackpole Books, 2004, pages
4. Discover the Hidden New Jersey, by Russell Roberts, pub. Rutgers University
Press, 1995, pages 312-314
5. New Jersey History’s Mysteries : Joe Mulliner – The Robin Hood of the Pine Barrens
6. ibid, Absegami Annals of Eyren Haven and Atlantic City, 1609 to 1904,
by Alfred M. Heston, Atlantic City, Vol. 1, printed for the author, by Sinnickson
Chew & Sons Co., Printers, Camden, NJ, 1904, & The San Antonio (TX) Light, Only
Memories Live in Jersey's Ghost Towns, by Henry Charlton Beck, 23 Jun 1946,
7. Ghost Towns of the Pine Barrens in New Jersey YouTube video.
8. Proceedings, By-Laws, List of Members, &c, of the Surveyors Association of West
NJ. With Historical and Biographical Sketches Relating to NJ, by the Association
of Practical Surveyors of West NJ, John Clement, pub. by order of the Society, S.
Chew, Printer, S. Chew, steam-power printer, Camden, NJ, 1880, pages 200, & 346-347
9. Bass River History : History and Early Culture of Bass River Township, Burlington
County, New Jersey, pages 1-7 (www.bassriverhistory.org/uploads/6/8/7/1/6871754/bass_river_history.pdf)
10. Forgotten Towns of Southern New Jersey, by Henry Charlton Beck, pub.
Rutgers University Press, 1983, chapter 22, pages 167-173
11. Lost Treasure OnLine : State Treasures - New Jersey, by Anthony M. Belli,
from page 18 of the March, 2011 issue of Lost Treasure (http://www.losttreasure.com/content/archives/state-treasures-new-jersey-0)
12. Notorious New Jersey: 100 True Tales of Murders and Mobsters, Scandals and Scoundrels,
Rivergate Series, by Jon Blackwell, pub. Rutgers University Press, 2007,
13. Absegami Annals of Eyren Haven and Atlantic City, 1609 to 1904, by Alfred
M. Heston, Atlantic City, Vol. 1, printed for the author, by Sinnickson Chew & Sons
Co., Printers, Camden, NJ, 1904
14. The San Antonio (TX) Light, Only Memories Live in Jersey's Ghost Towns,
by Henry Charlton Beck, 23 Jun 1946, pages 6-7
15. Stories and Novels : The Devil and the Dancing Fool, Written by Doris
Lane, 17 Feb. 2009 (http://dorislane.com/?p=8")
16. The Loyalists: Revolution, Exile, Settlement, by Christopher Moore, pub.
McClelland & Stewart, Ltd., Toronto, 1984: page 133, & So Obstinately Loyal: James
Moody, 1744-1809, by Susan Burgess Shenstone, pub. McGill-Queen's Press - MQUP,
2001, page 136,
17. The Daily Union History of Atlantic City and County, New Jersey : containing
sketches of the past and present of Atlantic City & County, New Jersey,
by John F. Hall, 1899, Daily Union Printing Co., Atlantic City, 1900, pages 91 &
18. True Crime, New Jersey: The State's Most Notorious Criminal Cases True Crime
Series, by Patricia A. Martinelli, pub. Stackpole Books, 2007
19. This is New Jersey, by John T. Cunningham, Edition 4, pub. Rutgers University
Press, 1994, page 243
20. Within my sources, I counted at least 18 instances in which this descriptive
term was used.--wjs
21. Bicycles, Books and Bowties : Awesome Historical Figures You've Never Heard Of:
Joe Mulliner, by Matt DeBlass (http://mattdeblass.blogspot.com/2010/11/awesome-historical-figures-youve-never.html)
Friday, November 19, 2010
22. Time Traveler (http://www.mapsurfer.com/boxes/box35.html),
LOCATION: Pine Barrens, NJ, DATE/NUMBER: 03-Mar-2001/35