4 - Let the Red Flow Freely
The problem Hillfieldologists face when studying the chapter of the town's history involving the Loyalist-killer Joshua Murray is a paucity of primary sources. Very little exists pertaining to Murray's life whatsoever. He was born in Derry, Ireland in the mid-eighteenth century and immigrated to the American colonies with his mother when he was still a young boy. They settled in Monmouth County, New Jersey where Murray grew to become a stonemason, married, and had four children. Murray was a staunch Patriot and when the Revolution erupted, he immediately enrolled in the First Regiment Monmouth Militia. There is no evidence that Joshua Murray ever rose to a rank higher than Private, but by 1778 he had earned himself an indelible reputation that persists to the present day.
As a member of the Militia, his official enemy was the Royal Army and its allies. But Murray made a name for himself by killing Americans still loyal to the English crown, and he did so with an idiosyncratic savagery that quickly made him a hero among Patriots and a virtual bogeyman to Loyalists. Allegedly the Monmouth Militia, recognizing the psychological value of Murray's wave of terror, encouraged and even covertly funded his bloodletting activities. We have no idea when he started targeting Loyalists or what the ultimate motive behind his violent distaste for them was. For many years the popular theory was that Murray, being a native Irishman, had been brought up with a particularly venomous loathing for all things British. In recent years however, this theory, being based solely on an ethnic stereotype, has lost traction. It also fails to explain Murray's single-minded hatred for Loyalists. There is no record of him attacking the Royal Army with any more vigor than every other man in his outfit. To date, however, no historian or Hillfieldologist has posited a viable alternative (Mark Krasker's "Defense-in-Girth" theory is not viable).
Complicating matters further is the lack of consensus amongst historians as to how much of Murray's terror is apocryphal and how much is to be believed. Hillfieldologists are lucky that the only surviving primary source attesting to his butchery is Filman Hazelworth's diary. It gives a detailed account of Joshua Murray's brief stay in Hillfield and the horror he brought with him. Hazelworth writes, "Less than one hour passed between Murray's ingress into the environs of the town and the occasion on which he claimed his first victim… He was retribution made manifest, invoked from Providence by Edwards himself." Debate still rages amongst Hillfieldologists as whether or not Hazelworth's word should be accepted at face value -- a debate that has triggered mutual recriminations across the internet and at least one visit to their clubhouse from Hillfield's finest.
Joshua Murray entered Hillfield on August 28, 1779, riding a massive ink-black donkey. His head was entirely hairless save for the wide bushy mustache that hung down past his mouth. Every stitch of clothing he wore was a deep burgundy, and the cross that hung from his neck was carved, likely by his own hand, from stark black-and-white stone. The Town Fathers immediately ran out to greet him with the rest of the populace looking on. The town's leaders invited him to speak with them regarding Colonel Tye in private, and Murray silently followed them into the meetinghouse. Approximately forty minutes passed before the pillars of the community emerged into the street. There is no record of what transpired or what words were exchanged in the meetinghouse, but we are able to make reasonably educated guesses in the hindsight of the following events.
Emerging from their parley with Murray the Town Fathers assembled the entirety of Hillfield's citizenry along Main Street. A few minutes later the Loyalist-killer emerged from the meetinghouse. Standing in the center of Main Street he announced in a guttural brogue that he was willing to protect the town from, as Hazelworth reports, "the darkies swinging from King George's teat." Before he would assent to do so, however, he insisted that Hillfield had to be cleansed of its Loyalist taint. He wheeled around and pointed to a one Mr. Lemuel Truburgh, owner of Hillfield's first bank (and ancestor to Elihu Truburgh, who would transform Madsen, New Jersey from a redheaded stepchild of a city in Philadelphia's shadow to one of the major metropolitan centers of the Twentieth Century). Murray had Truburgh brought forth and accused him of not only harboring Loyalist sympathies but of directly colluding with the British. Shocked by the accusation, the people looked to their civic leaders for their opinion. The leaders watched silently, so the people followed their lead and bore witness to the bloody spectacle that unfolded.
Filman Hazelworth writes,
The dreaded archangel tied M. Truburgh's hands to a nearby hitching post. He drew from inside his great coat a nightmarish blade the full length of a man's forearm. He quoted from Scripture -- Exodus I believe, "If they cry out to me, I will hear their cry. My anger will be aroused and I will kill you with the sword." I'm sickened to even commit what followed to paper. M. Murray cut into M. Truburgh's leg and the poor banker screamed like a dying pig. M. Murray cleaved away the meat from his bone, which he finally tore out with his bare hands. He held aloft the bone from M. Truburgh's body and again quoted from The Book, "The cook took up the leg with what was on it and set it before Saul. Samuel said, 'Here is what has been kept for you. Eat.' " Poor M. Truburgh was killed with his own bone through his mouth and the back of his skull.
Whether this horrific scene happened precisely as described by Hazelworth, if at all, Joshua Murray managed to convince Hillfield that he was the man to protect them from the wrath of Colonel Tye.
Red, White, and Black & Blue