Wednesday, May 23, 2012


5 - Red, White, and Black & Blue

            When the sun broke over Hillfield on the morning of September 1, 1779, the town was prepared to greet Colonel Tye and the Black Brigade. Joshua Murray, fermenting in Old Testament zealotry, had press-ganged Hillfield's younger, sprier boys into serving as lookouts, shaming them for their masturbatory decadences. He proceeded to plant various weapons on the premises and outfit the town with all manner of makeshift booby traps. Murray spoke little, contenting himself to quietly singing Irish folk songs with hostile lyrics lifted from the Bible. Allegedly he slept with his eyes open.
            At 8:47 AM on September 5, the thirteen-year old son of a weaver ran into town, crying that the Black Brigade was less than a mile away. Murray ordered the townsfolk to go about their normal activities until Tye arrived, but according to Filman Hazelworth's diary, Murray's shrill barking emphasized his brogue, and someone had to ask him to repeat himself. He did and promptly disappeared into the nearby Meeker's Inn.
            Tye and the Black Brigade rode into town just after 9:00 AM, and the entirety of Hillfield's citizen body gathered in the town square to present themselves to Tye. Included in the assembly were Hillfield's slaves. Tye took one look and started shaking his head with insincere disappointment. He ordered a gallows constructed and a man identified as Amos Longtickle strung up. As his men made quick time of the gallows' construction, the Hillfieldians looked on, unsure of how to proceed without Murray's instruction.
            With the gallows erected and the noose around Amos Longtickle's neck, Tye addressed the petrified townsfolk. "This is why your nation will prove stillborn," he proclaimed. "A whipped animal will work for so long before baring its teeth." Tye raised his hand, ready to order Longtickle's hanging, when a dagger whistled through the rope. It landed in the mud as Longtickle dropped to the ground. The Black Brigade immediately drew their muskets, their heads turning every which way, their horses excited and ready to take off. Only Colonel Tye maintained his poise.
            Joshua Murray's voice rang from the second-story balcony of Meeker's Inn. "Colonel Tye! I defy you, you traitorous namesake of a pagan despot!"
            Tye remained still and unimpressed. "Does the innocent betray the penitentiary when he escapes, Mr. Murray?"
            " 'The wise store up knowledge, but the mouth of a fool invites ruin.' Proverbs 10:14."
            "Please interpret, pastor."
            "It means, 'Fuck your twisted darkie logic.' "
            Murray drew two muskets, fired, and threw himself backwards through the balcony's glass doors.
            Hazelworth described what followed in his diary:

We ran for sanctuary as the negro brigade reared their horses and gave chase. Tye directed two of his mercenaries to dismount and pursue Murray into the inn while another guarded the exit to the back. Shots rang from inside the inn, followed by another and the neighing of a horse from behind the inn. A moment later the Irishman sprinted from behind the inn, whooping like an Indian and confusing both us and the negros. Murray proceeded to lead Tye and his barbarians throughout the town, killing them one at a time with musket, saber, pitchfork, or improvised cudgel. When trapped Murray displayed no fear at diving through glass, wood, or thicket in escape. Even when a black succeeded in wounding the Irishman with a musket shot or saber slash, Murray exacted judgment on the animal and continued to his next target. He succeeded in scalding one of the Brigade with hot stew and bludgeoned another with a slaughtered pig.

            Eventually only Colonel Tye remained alive, but when Murray dropped from a tree, Tye crippled him with a well-placed shot to the right leg. He netted Murray from atop his horse, but as he rode toward his hobbled quarry, Murray produced another musket and fired into the knee of Tye's horse. Tye fell and Murray, drawing a dagger, rushed to cut the Colonel's throat. Tye was quick to draw his own musket and pressed it to Murray's head just as the Irishman's blade met the black commander's Adam's Apple.
              What followed can only be surmised through speculation. Tye and Murray spoke to one another, but their words have not been recorded. The witnesses were likely too far away to hear, but we know that they did watch several minutes of conversation followed by a period that saw Tye and Murray each mutilate himself in turn. It is believed that, however the issue was arrived at, each man sought to prove to the other that he was more willing to endure pain and eventual death for his respective cause, for the stand-off climaxed with Murray holding Tye's musket to his own head and Tye holding Murray's dagger to his own throat.
            We don't know how the two settled the conflict, but both exchanged their weapons and walked away from one another, leaving the town in peace but perplexed. Admittedly this makes for an enigmatic and unsatisfying end to the episode, at least as it pertains to Hillfieldology. Tye would eventually prove the victor, killing Murray the following year in Monmouth County. But the two combatants engendered a distrust of both blacks and Irish that resulted in the immediate abolition of slavery in Hillfield and a great deal of strife-ridden absurdity in the years to come.

Hillfield & the New Constitution