The Execution of a Spy

The Execution of Stephen Edwards, Spy

One affair which caused the most intense excitement throughout old Monmouth, and elsewhere during the war of the Revolution, was the arrest, trial and execution of a young man named Stephen Edwards, on the charge of being a spy for the British. Though reference to it is rarely met with in our histories, yet there were but few events in the county during the Revolution, that created a greater sensation than did this.

One of the officers who tried Edwards, and assisted at his execution, was Captain Joshua Ruddy, and this furnished one of the excuses the refugees gave for his inhuman murder near the Highlands some three years after. On the trial of the refugee leader, Captain Richard Lippencott, by a British Court Martial at New York, in the Summer of 1782, for his participation in the hanging of Huddy, refugee witnesses testified that even while Huddy was a prisoner in their hands, and but a few days before his death, he boldly acknowledged his participation, and justified it on the ground that he was found with treasonable papers in his possession, which conclusively proved him to be a spy.

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The following account of Stephen Edwards arrest, trial and execution, from “Howe’s Collections” is believed to be substantially correct:

Stephen Edwards, a young man, in the latter part of the war, left his home in Shrewsbury and joined the loyalists (refugees) in New York. From thence he was sent by Colonel Taylor of the refugees, a former resident of Middletown, back to Monmouth county, with written instructions to ascertain the force of the Americans there. Information having been conveyed to the latter, Captain Jonathan Forman of the cavalry, was ordered to search for him. Suspecting he might be at his father’s residence half a mile below Eatontown, he entered at midnight with a party or men, and found him in bed with his wife, disguised in the night cap of a female.

“Who have you here?” said Forman.

“A laboring woman,” replied Mrs. Edwards.

The captain detected the disguise, and on looking under the bed, saw Edwards’ clothing, which he examined, and in which he found the papers given him by Colonel Taylor.

He then said, “Edwards, I am sorry to find you! You see these papers? You have brought yourself into a very disagreeable situation— you know the fate of spies!”

Edwards denied the allegation, remarking that he was not such and could not so be considered.

This occurred on Saturday night. The prisoner was taken to the Court House, tried by a Court Martial next day, and executed at 10 o’clock on Monday morning. Edwards’ father and mother had come up that morning to ascertain the fate of their son, and returned with the corpse. Edwards was an amiable young man. The Forman and Edwards families had been on terms of intimate friendship, and the agency of the members of the former in the transaction, excited their deepest sympathies for the fate of the unfortunate prisoner.

The guilt of Edwards was conclusively proven; deep sympathy was felt for his parents and wife, but the perils of the patriots at this time were so great that prompt and decisive action was necessary for their own preservation.

The foolhardiness of Edwards in keeping treasonable papers about him was remarkable. Some features of this affair will remind the reader of the unfortunate Major Andre. It is probable that Edwards was executed about September, 1778.

Source: A History of Monmouth and Ocean Counties, Embracing a Genealogical Record of Earliest Settlers in Monmouth and Ocean Counties and Their Descendants, The Indians: Their Language, Manners And Customs, Important Historical Events.

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