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The Battle of Toms River: 230 Years Ago

Why is there a fort along the river in downtown Toms River?

Editor's Note: As the 230th anniversary of the burning of the block house approaches, here is our previous article detailing the history of this Revolutionary War incident in Toms River.

Just about anyone who passes through downtown Toms River has seen the small waterfront Huddy Park, which, save for a few weekend events in the summer, is usually nearly empty.  The quaint riverside park comes furnished with a few gazebos, a bridge, and…..a fort?  Why is there a replica blockhouse next to the ever-clogged intersection of Water and Main Streets?

To answer this question, we need to go back over two hundred years to around the end of the American Revolution.  Back in 1782, the surrounding areas had a number of salt works, very important to American troops because it was used to preserve meat rations sent to them.  The British knew interrupting the flow of salt would be a critical blow to the local Patriot effort.

A small blockhouse (larger than the replica found in the park today) was built nearby, on the hill of current day Robbins Street.  Salt from the surrounding salt works was stored within.  At the time Toms River was a small village, so the fort was lightly guarded.  In charge of the fort was patriot Captain Joshua Huddy, and he had only a handful of men with him. The British had a history with Huddy and hated the fact that he had, among other things, escaped a prior capture.  They knew of Toms River’s light defenses and sent approximately eighty Loyalist men to attack Huddy’s small band.  Despite being badly outnumbered, Huddy fought until he was overwhelmed and captured.  The Loyalists destroyed the salt works and blockhouse but did not stop there; nearly every building, houses included, was burned to the ground.  Virtually all residents of the village wound up homeless in a matter of hours.

Captain Huddy was finally in the hands of the Loyalists again, and this time they were intent on preventing another escape.  Huddy was falsely charged with the murder of a Loyalist captured by Patriots.  Originally told he was being exchanged for a captured Loyalist, he soon found out he was instead being executed without trial.  He swore he was innocent until the end but did not contest the decision.

Huddy was hanged along a beach on Sandy Hook.  His body was buried in Old Tennent Church near Manalapan, which is still around to this day.  Because he was buried in an unmarked grave, today nobody is sure just where he is in the cemetery.  There is, however, a small headstone alongside the church bearing his name, serving more as a memorial than an actual grave.

It would later be learned that the gentleman Joshua Huddy was accused of murdering was likely killed while Huddy was captured.  How, then, could Huddy have been the murderer?  The accusation was likely fabricated just so the British had justification for getting rid of an old pest.

Although merely a small skirmish (most Toms River residents aren’t even aware a battle took place there), the battle in Toms River was significant because it made more colonists question and turn on the Loyalists, as well as giving the French more incentive to help the Patriots’ cause.  Huddy’s dedication to his cause and the bravery he displayed during his last hours transformed him into a martyr and local legend, motivating more people to stand up and fight.  The British soon learned that even in death, Joshua Huddy proved a worthy opponent.

Reenactments of the battle are sometimes performed in the park during the late spring or early summer.

BN March 19, 2011 at 12:30 PM
In 1976 they made a local movie about the battle of the blockhouse. They have many copies available at the Ocean County Library.
jennifer March 19, 2011 at 04:43 PM
wow, i had no idea, thanks so much for all the information.
. April 30, 2011 at 02:52 AM
The Pennsylvania Salt Works were at the site of the Shelter Cove Beach.
Jackie March 23, 2012 at 10:55 PM
its pretty sad i never knew this
Sara Stewart March 24, 2012 at 08:48 PM
Glad this older story was revived because it is interesting. The old First National Bank lobby, downtown, had a large mural depicting the battle. I heard it is now in High School South. I remember when the 1976 movie was made. If I remember correctly, the "town fathers" took prominent parts. The Republicans, who were in the majority, played the patriots and the Democrats got stuck with the Tory roles :-)

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