Mary Henry Honeyman
Patron Saint of the Revolutionary Period
Mary Henry was an Irish lass of quick wit and ready tongue who married John Honeyman shortly after the French and Indian War during which he served in the British army, a part of the time under Washington for whom he formed a great attachment. At the breaking out of the revolution he left his wife and several small children at their home in Griggstown, N.J., near Philadelphia and entered the British army, greatly to the astonishment of his neighbours [sic] who knew that both he and his wife had been patriots. Only General Washington and Mrs. Honeyman knew that he was a secret spy of Washington.
Most of the wives and mothers of the Revolution, while they suffered from the separation and the anxiety over the fate of their loved ones, had the consolation of a neighbourly [sic] sympathy and understanding—a friendly word from other women whose men folk were fighting for their country. All this was denied to the wife of the supposed deserter.
John Honeyman was in the employ of the British as a butcher. When he had any information which he wished to convey to Washington, it was his custom to leave the British camp in search of cattle and then manage to have himself captured by the Americans. Washington in such cases always managed in some way to have him escape.
It was John Honeyman who gave Washington the information that led him to the capture of Trenton. In this case as was his custom, after securing all the information that he could, regarding the number and disposition of troops and such other matters as might be of value he went out in search of cattle and was captured, after a great show of resistance. He was taken to Washington who, after interviewing him privately, ordered him locked up in an old cabin and safely guarded.
That night a small fire broke out and while his guards were extinguishing the fire, the prisoner escaped. This caused a commotion in camp and Washington appeared very angry; three days later, however, occurred the memorable crossing of the Delaware and the Christmas attack upon Trenton. The news of John Honeyman’s capture and subsequent escape reached is home at Griggstown and indignation against him ran high. Already he was known as a “Tory Honeyman” and now harsher terms were heard of which “spy” and “traitor” were the most complimentary.
Finally, the feeling against Honeyman grew so strong that a band of patriots surrounded his house at midnight. Mrs. Honeyman appeared at a window and asked what was wanted. The leader told her that her husband was a British spy and a traitor, that they thought that he was concealed in the house and that unless she surrendered him they would burn the house over her head. Mrs. Honeyman appeared greatly grieved at her husband’s misconduct but said that she knew nothing of his whereabouts. This only increased the violence of the mob and at last she opened the door and waving her hand for silence asked for the name of their leader. “Abraham Baird,” was the reply.
She knew him well as a neighbour [sic] and an honourable [sic] man. Calling him inside she handed him a paper and asked him to read it to his followers, which he did, as follows:
“New Jersey, Nov., A.D., 1776.
“To the good people of New Jersey and all others whom it may concern. It is hereby ordered that the wife and children of John Honeyman of Griggstown the notorious Tory, now within the British lines and probably acting the part of a spy, shall be and hereby are protected from all harm and annoyance from every quarter, until further orders. But this furnishes no protection to Honeyman himself.”
“Geo. Washington, Com. in Chief.”
After reading this the mob dispersed, but while Mrs. Honeyman suffered no more active harassment she had to continually bear the abuse that was heaped on her husband’s name. It was a happy day for Mary Honeyman, when after the close of the war General Washington himself raised the veil and thoroughly established the standing of John Honeyman as a patriot who had never wavered in his loyalty to the American cause and had done valuable service for that cause.
Then and ever after, John Honeyman was a hero in Griggstown and all the surrounding country. He died in Somerset County in 1812 and was buried with his wife at Lanington, N.J.
Reference: The Pioneer Mothers of America: A Record of the More Notable Women of the Early Days of the Country, and Particularly of the Colonial and Revolutionary Periods by Harry Clinton Green and Mary Wolcott Green, A.B. Third Volume, Published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons.