A small, unobtrusive monument on the roadside of Route 70, immediately north of the Manasquan River, caught the eye of a local historian, Joseph Bilby.
The waist-high stone plinth with a bronze plaque is seldom viewed, other than in passing by motorists. But the curious historian stopped and decided to research what the monument commemorated.
The story that unfolded about Monmouth County shows that during the Revolutionary War this sleepy county was a vigilante paradise. This particular monument was erected in 1927 by the governor of New Jersey and celebrates a lynching, or does it?
Bilby, a Vietnam veteran, is a highly respected historian and was a recent recipient of the Richard J. Hughes Award. This award is granted by the New Jersey Historical Commission and is in recognition of Bilby’s contribution to the state’s historical understanding.
Sara Cureton, the executive director for the Commission, lauded Bilby’s work for bringing New Jersey’s historical legacy to life through his books, speaking engagements, and as a museum director.
Bilby relates that during the War, Monmouth County was a hotbed of activity with lynchings being carried out on both sides. The plaque on the monument marks the place that “Capt. Allen executed six tories and their chief,” (translated, this means that Captain Samuel Allen executed seven British sympathizers).
However, Bilby disputes that this ever happened since he can find no evidence to support this claim. There are no newspaper reports or other documentation, so he suspects that this is a family legend that has been passed down through the generations but has very little factual basis.
Two other prominent historical authorities support Bilby’s findings: Richard Veit from Monmouth University and John Fabiano who also serves on the Monmouth County Historical Commission. Both of these men agree that they have never been able to substantiate the story of the Capt. Allen Lynch Party.
Monmouth does have a great deal of other fascinating histories that are corroborated through documented evidence.
One of the most famous incidents was when the commander of a patriot militia, Joshua Huddy, was captured by the British and hanged on a beach near Bayshore before his body was interred in Freehold.
His death caused a great deal of anger amongst the colonialists and became a rallying cry for them. The execution was widely reported in many newspapers.
Bilby has several favorite stories about the history of Monmouth County. One concerns the first presidential campaign of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1932 when over 100,000 people attended a rally in his honor.
The rally had been arranged by Frank Hague, a North Jersey power-broker who was looking to find favor with the presidential nominee after he had backed a different candidate during the primary elections.
Roosevelt wowed the crowd with his talk of ending prohibition and then went on to win the Presidential election.
Another favorite story concerns Plinky Topperwein who qualified for a marksmanship medal to the utter horror of the male participants and spectators.
The story goes that Plinky, a Texan, accompanied her husband to an exhibition of target shooting in 1906 at Sea Girt military base.
She took part in the competition and, standing tall in her skirts, she blasted 59 out of a possible 75 targets, earning her marksmanship status. While the men attending were horrified at first, they ended up cheering her success.
The last story is of Sgt. George Ashby, who died in 1946 at age 102. He was the last certified Civil War veteran living in the county and fought on the Union side in Virginia with the 45th United States Colored Troops.
Ashby was African-American. The community has a park planned in his honor that is due to be opened next year.
When the plaque to Capt. Allen was erected alongside the road over 90 years ago, it was accompanied by great fanfare.
A salute was fired by the National Guard. The Daughters of the American Revolution sent a large delegation and bands played. The commemoration was a very big deal at the time but, sadly, it was over nothing.
Without historians, more of these errors would creep into our history since human memory is fallible and verbal accounts will inevitably become more and more distanced from the truth as time goes by.