The small town of Salem, New Jersey lies on the western edge of the state along the Delaware River and about 13 miles south southwest of Wilmington, Delaware. Just south of Salem is Alloway Creek which flows into the Delaware River. During colonial times, there were only three bridges that crossed Alloway Creek in the area near Salem, Thomson’s Bridge closest to the Delaware River, Quinton’s Bridge about five miles upstream and then Hancock’s Bridge about four more miles upstream.
In March 1787, a mixed force of 1,500 British troops, loyalists and Hessians were moving through New Jersey foraging for food and supplies north of Alloway Creek. This force was led by British Lieutenant Colonel Sir Charles Mawhood.
At the same time, a Patriot militia force of about 300 were also foraging for food and supplies south of Alloway Creek. The militia forces were led by Colonel Asher Holmes.
On March 18, Holmes learned of the British forces north of the creek so he positioned his men at Quinton’s Bridge. They removed a number of wooden planks from the bridge to make it harder for the British forces to cross which would make it easier for them to defend their position. However, a British troop was seen to the rear of the Patriot position and the Holmes ordered the planks replaced.
Once the planks were in position, Holmes took 200 of his troops across the bridge to engage the British. He left 100 militias back on high ground to help defend the bridge. Not long after the battle began, the British cut off any escape route the Patriot militia had. Facing annihilation at the hands of the British, Holmes was saved at the last minute by the arrival of Patriot Colonel Elijah Hand and his militia.
The Battle of Quinton’s Bridge resulted in the loss of 30-40 Patriot militia and only 1 member of the British forces.
Afterwards, some of the militia commandeered the home of Judge William Hancock, who was a British loyalist. The house was located near Hancock’s Bridge.
On this day, March 21, 1778, three days after the victory at Quinton’s Bridge, a contingency of the British loyalists, known as Tories, and Hessian mercenaries, raided the home of Judge Hancock very early in the morning, catching the patriot militiamen sleeping. Reportedly, the Tories and Hessians shouted ‘Spare no one! Give no Quarter!’ as they rushed into the house.
Being caught off guard, some of the militia tried to surrender, but the Tories and Hessians paid no mind to them as the enemy thrust their bayonets into everyone, including Judge Hancock, who was a non-violent Quaker. Some of the militia recognized members of the Loyalists as former neighbors and friends. They called out to them for help and mercy to no avail.
Reports vary, but it seems that somewhere between 10 to 30 militiamen were killed and wounded in that early morning raid. Hearing of the raid, other Patriots in the area referred to it as the Massacre at Hancock’s Bridge and used it as a rallying cry for revenge, much like Texans used ‘Remember the Alamo’ after the massacre there by Mexican General Santa Ana.
Sources for the above includes: Massacre at Hancock’s Bridge; Part 11: Massacre at Hancock’s Bridge; Revolutionary War Sites in Hancock’s Bridge, New Jersey; Victims of the Hancock House Massacre on 21 March 1778; Massacre at Hancock’s Bridge; The Battle of Quinton’s Bridge; Revolutionary War Sites in Quinton, New Jersey.