The Baron of the Pines

Folks:

Here is Everett Tomlinson’s account of Fenton the Outlaw, a Pine Barren Robber known as the Baron of the Pines (not to be confused with John!) active during the American War for Independence. Enjoy!

Excerpted from Everett Titsworth Tomlinson, Stories of the American Revolution, Part 1, 1898, pp. 63-70.

Chapter VIII
THE BARON OF THE PINES

JAMES WELLS was almost a mass of bruises. His eyes were discolored, patches were on his cheeks, and he was carrying one arm in a sling. And yet, bruised as he was, he was seated on a board thrown across the box of a lumber wagon, and, behind a smart team of horses, was driving through that portion of New Jersey which, a hundred and twenty years ago, was known as “The Pines.”

On the seat beside him, in that morning late in June, 1778, was Sergeant Brown of the Continental army, and both young men were glancing keenly about them as they rode on.

Many invalids seek that same region to-day, and find in the soft air, tempered as it is by the breath of the pines and the salt of the sea, a tonic for tired nerves and worn bodies; but neither Wells nor his companion was searching for anything of that kind.

With them were two soldiers, but their presence could not easily have been detected. If, however, you had stirred the straw that covered the bottom of the wagon, you might have found them beneath it, and their muskets there also. A strange load; and yet they had been carrying it since the preceding day, when they had left the camp of General Lee at Monmouth Court-House, and at the command of the general himself.

“It’s a desperate chase,” said the sergeant. “The chances are all against us.”

“Nay, not so,” replied his companion; “and if we succeed, just think of the good done.”

“You don't look as though you could do much,” said the young soldier, with a sympathetic glance at his friend.

“I’m not the only man who has received the attentions of this outlaw. You see, I was on my way home from the mill with a load of meal. The first I knew, this Fenton and his gang were right in front of me in the road. I knew I couldn’t do anything, so I gave in at once. They thought I had some money; but when they couldn't find it, Fenton turned on me, and I thought my last hour had come. Oh, he’s a powerful man! You know he was a blacksmith at Freehold before the war, and I presume his work made him all the stronger. I don’t know another man his equal anywhere.”

“But General Lee is going to put a stop to his tricks. That story of yours, and the one about his treatment of old man Farr up at Imlaystown, were too much. You know, I suppose, how he and his gang behaved there. The old man barricaded the door, and kept the scoundrels back for a time; but Fenton smashed a piece of the door, and broke the old man’s thigh. Finally they got into the house, and murdered the old man and his wife; but his daughter, for all that she was fearfully wounded, managed to get away.”

“Yes, I know about that; but it’s only a sample of what’s been going on for two years.”

“I never saw General Lee so stirred,” said the sergeant, “as he was by your story. And now that he’s sent us after this outlaw, we'll hope the end has come, if we can only find him.”

This, then, was the expedition on which our little party had been sent. No one can picture the sufferings of the Whigs of New Jersey during the early years of the Revolution. The British and Hessians pillaged and burned until every family lived in a state of constant terror. The people barred their windows and double-locked their doors at night, but even such precautions were frequently of no avail.

But there were others besides the soldiers who were engaged in the vile work. In this region through which our party was passing, and which was known then as “The Pine Barrens,” six bands of outlaws had made their homes. They were desperate men, and loyal to neither side, though the Whigs were the chief sufferers at their hands. By night they started on their raids, and murder and fire almost always followed them. They had dug, or burrowed, under the sand-hills; and there made their homes, and stored their plunder.

The most desperate and feared of all these men were Fenton and his gang of twenty ruffians. Of late, in his recklessness, he had taken to himself the name of the “Baron of the Pines.” Whether this was designed as a play upon the name of the region where he had his headquarters, “The Pine Barrens,” I cannot say; but the title he had assumed was now familiar to all, and whenever “The Baron of the Pines” was mentioned, all knew that it referred to Fenton, the powerful outlaw blacksmith of Freehold.

Two or three days before this time he had fallen upon young James Wells, as he has already described, and had left him dead, as he thought, by the roadside; but the young man had recovered, and made his way to the quarters of General Lee.

There he had related his story; and the general had promptly dispatched our little party, with instructions to shoot the outlaw at sight if they could not take him prisoner. The task was no slight one, as it was more than likely that they would not find Fenton alone; and if his comrades were with him, there was no doubt on which side the victory would fall.
The party had started promptly at General Lee’s command, with the soldiers concealed beneath the straw, and the sergeant and James Wells disguised as countrymen, and seated on a board placed across the rough wagon-box.

They now had been among the pines several hours. Occasionally they passed a rude log hut, from which a crowd of filthy children would rush forth and greet them. But no signs of the “baron” or his men had appeared as yet.

Both men were watchful; but if either felt alarmed, he concealed his feeling from his companion. The only sounds that broke in upon the silence were the murmurings of the pines and the occasional roar of the ocean not far away.

“What's that shanty ahead there?” said the sergeant at last, pointing to a low house of logs in the distance.

“I know the place,” replied his companion after a brief silence; “it’s a low groggery. I’ve been by it a good many times. We'll be likely to hear something of Fenton there, I think.”

The sergeant drew the reins a little more tightly, and whispered a warning word to the soldiers. Perhaps Fenton’s entire band might be near, or some of the followers of Fagan or Carter, “barons” feared almost as much as Fenton himself. If so, the chances were desperate and the moment critical; but still there was no appearance of fear in the young sergeant's manner. The horses were toiling through the heavy sand; and as they drew near the house some one opened the door, and approaching the road, stopped and waited for the wagon to come nearer.

“That’s Fenton! That’s Fenton himself,” said Wells excitedly, in a low voice to his companion.

The sergeant was undecided. Should he order the man to be shot without a word of warning? He knew he would be justified in doing so; but he did not know how many of his followers might be near, or what danger he might bring upon himself and his companions.

“Hold on a bit!” called out Fenton as they approached. “Hold on, I say. I want to talk a bit with ye.”

The sergeant halted, and curiously observed the “baron.” What a magnificent specimen of a man he was physically! Tall and broad-shouldered, he looked the very embodiment of strength. His arms were bare, and the muscles stood out on them in great bunches. His flannel shirt was open at the throat, displaying the knotted muscles of his chest. “Whew!” said the sergeant to himself, “if I met him on a street in a dark night, I’d give him all the road.” But he had no time for further reflection, as the “baron” at once entered into conversation, “Where ye goin’?” he growled.

“Oh, we’re driving through the pines.”



THE SOLDIERS ROSE FROM THE STRAW AND FIRED.

“Oh, that's it, is it? Well, if I had my men with me ye wouldn't drive very fur. Got any brandy with ye? If ye have, hand it over. I want it bad.”

The sergeant handed him a bottle he had brought, and the outlaw quickly lifted it to his lips. As he did so, his glance fell upon young Wells, and he at once recognized him. With an expression of rage on his face, he stopped and shouted, “Oh, it's you, is it ? I thought I left ye dead up, on the road the other day. Ye must have as many lives as a cat, but I'll take another of ’em now;” and he started for his gun, which he had leaned against the side of the house.

The crisis had come. It was either their lives or the outlaw’s; and with a quick word the sergeant called the waiting soldiers, who immediately arose from the straw and fired.

With a yell which sounded in their ears for many days the outlaw fell. A groan, a struggle or two, and then he was still. The men quickly placed his body in the wagon, and started to return. There was no walking for the weary horses now. Every bush might conceal an outlaw. Every moment they fancied they could hear the sound of pursuers. But on and on they went, never halting for a moment. The children rushed from the huts as they passed, and called and shouted, but received no response. On and on, till the border of the pines was reached, and even then they did not halt. Nor did they rest till at last the returning party was safe in the camp of General Lee.

The Baron of the Pines was dead, and the Pine Barrens and the State of New Jersey at last had found relief.


Best regards,
Jerseyman
 
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Thanks for another good read. I had not heard of this outlaw, but had read of a Joe Mulliner, aka "The Robin Hood of the Pine Barrens" who apparently was not as bad a character as Fenton was.
http://www.njhm.com/mulliner.htm

Kevin:

Yes, Joe Mulliner was a fairly well known highwayman of the Pines and there are several books and articles containing information concerning him. Fenton was a real person who hailed from Monmouth County. Historians really do not know that much about him, but there is a very rare book about him and the ambush perpetrated on him as described in Tomlinson’s story. Obviously, the author of the piece I posted created a fictionalized account of the facts, even down to composing faux dialogue. However, I suspect Tomlinson had access to that rare book and used it in part to create his story.

Glad you enjoyed the read! There are more such postings coming in the near future.

Best regards,
Jerseyman
 

LARGO

Piney
Sep 7, 2005
1,541
114
51
Pestletown
Highly entertaining.
I am sure a little drama was tossed amidst the facts but what a story. The way folks thought back then though, in an almost superstitious fashion to the slightest of matters, the tension of the ride is not so far fetched. My mind the whole time played out this bit as a Pine Barrens version of any given page of "Treasure Island". A fitting end to a bad character it seems. Thanks again for the read. The description of the man though, having him a little larger than life, does make me smile when thinking of our "Baron".
John is not what one would call a smallish fellow. Kinda funny.
His demeanor however, is a far cry from the villain in this tale.

The boundaries of justice and how it was dealt out by simple pragmatics were interesting then. A fine read all in.

g.
 

imkms

Explorer
Feb 18, 2008
510
130
SJ and SW FL
Glad you enjoyed the read! There are more such postings coming in the near future.

Best regards,
Jerseyman

Thanks, I thoroughly enjoyed these tales. Stories of real people, who made their living, honestly or not, in the wilds are always entertaining to me. I look forward to future postings.
 

Pine Baron

Explorer
Feb 23, 2008
480
25
Sandy Run
a Pine Barren Robber known as the Baron of the Pines (not to be confused with John!)

This was a fantastic read, Jerseyman, thank you. And thanx for clearing this up! :) Some of my earliest readings of the pines, years ago, were about the pine robbers. The likes of "Fast Billy" Giberson, Joe Mulliner and Fagan have always intrigued me. I first read about Fenton in Reverend Beck's "More Forgotten Towns". It's nice to have a more detailed, if not dramatized, story about him. I've recently discovered that John Bacon of "the Affair at Cedar Bridge" fame was quite possibly one of these pine robbers, as well. If you have additional stories of any of these fellas, please feel free to post them!

The description of the man though, having him a little larger than life, does make me smile when thinking of our "Baron".
John is not what one would call a smallish fellow. Kinda funny.
His demeanor however, is a far cry from the villain in this tale.
Thank You, George... here's to 'ya :guinness:

John-
 

glowordz

Explorer
Jan 19, 2009
585
8
SC
www.gloriarepp.com
"Many invalids seek that same region to-day, and find in the soft air, tempered as it is by the breath of the pines and the salt of the sea, a tonic for tired nerves and worn bodies; but neither Wells nor his companion was searching for anything of that kind."

A great story, fun to read, and well-written. Thanks, Jerseyman. Are there other Pines-based chapters in the book? I might have to look for it. :)

Glo
 

JerseyG

New Member
Nov 18, 2010
27
3
Fast Billy

Interesting article. Amongst the comments I noticed William Giberson referred to as 'fast Billy'. I have never heard this appellation before.

As all Gibersons are related, I must claim William as kin, a nephew of my 5th great grandfather; although 'my' branch of the Giberson family, living south of the Mullica, were all staunch patriots.

Funny how the American war of Independence echoes the Civil war. Brother against brother, cousin against cousin.

All of William the Tory's descendants are Canadians, so his side of the family has been punished enough for their treachery I suppose...lol

BK
 
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