The Story of Jane Honeyman

This is an amazing story by Leonard Falkner that I found in the August 1957 of American Heritage. For my money, there is no better bang for the buck than old editions of American Heritage. I get them free or for a quarter, but they’re worth a buck or more.

This story is about Jane Honeyman, born around 1766 in Philadelphia. Her mother was Irish and her father was a Scot, a veteran of the French and Indian War. She was upset when, at the age of eight, the family moved from Philadelphia, where her father had worked as a weaver, to Griggstown, New Jersey, where her father became a procurer of cattle for the British Army, or rather, for the German mercenaries, hired by the Birtish Army, who were occupying Trenton.

Jane Honeyman had a club foot; that was bad enough, but soon everyone in the town began to torment and terrify her and her family. And on top of all this, Jane had begun to believe that her father was a traitor to his adopted country, and to all the values he had spoken of when she was little.

When they first moved to Griggstown in 1775, there were lots of other families who were loyal to the British king, but after General Washington won his great victory at Trenton, in Christmas 1776, they were all gone. And Jane had never heard her father or her mother talk about loyalty to the British king before.

Poor Jane could only conclude that her dad had betrayed the cause of liberty for the money. And her mother could say nothing to dissuade her.

Her father, John Honeyman, was captured by Continental Army troops on December 22, 1776, when he ventured out to procure a cow for the Hessians back in Trenton for their Charistmas celebration. He had been interrogated by General Washington and later escaped when a haystack near the house in which he was confined caught fire and the guard went off to help put it out. Honeyman broke out through the window and went immediately to report to the Hessian commander.

Then, in 1777, when Jane was ten years old, came a night she would remember all her life, the most terrifying event in the family’s history. After the American victory at Trenton, her father had fled to loyalist friends in Brunswick, New Jersey.

A group of patriotic citizens with torches surrounded the Honeymans’ home and threatened to burn it down unless the traitor John Honeyman surrendered.

On that day her mother, Mary Honeyman, walked out the front door and asked to speak to the leader of this hostile mob. A Continental officer was pushed forward to act in this capacity, and Mary Honeyman presented him with a letter dated November, 1776, signed by George Washington, which read, “The wife and children of John Honeyman, the notorious Tory, now within the British lines and probably acting the part of a spy, are to be protected from harm.”

Fortunately the Continental officer recognized Washington’s signature and persuaded the crowd to go home. Her father returned home later and was tried twice for treason — a hanging offense — but each time he managed to get off on a technicality.

In 1779 an advertisement appeared in the New Jersey Gazette that John Honeyman’s farm would be auctioned off along with the property of other known loyalists on April 8, but for some unknown reason the sale never took place.

Then, four years later, came one of the greatest days in American history.

On that day in 1783 Jane Honeyman, then 16, was sitting on the front porch when she saw a troop of Continental cavalary approaching, along with an enormous contingent of curious neighbors.

A famous personage dismounted, walked up the steps, and knocked on the Honeymans’ door. You’d recognize him; he’s on the money. On that day George Washington shook hands with John Honeyman and thanked him for his service to his country.

From that day forward, Jane Honeyman had no trouble holding her head high when she went into town. But more than that, she knew her dad was really a hero. And he was.

For the story behind this story, you’ll have to check out my blog tomorrow.