“In the fall and winter of 1776,” began Mr. Harmar, “the people of New Jersey experienced their full share of the miseries of civil war. During no period of the Revolutionary contest did the enemy’s troops act more cruelly or more unlike civilized men. As they marched through the Jerseys, driving our poor ‘rebel’ army before them, they committed all kinds of outrages on helpless women and old men; but this conduct was destined to recoil upon the heads of the foe. The people were roused to resist the invaders, and the militia was organised throughout the State—silently but surely. Our victories at Trenton and Princeton were received as the signals for action. As the enemy retired on Brunswick, they were followed by the exasperated farmers, and harassed terribly. But, at the time when my story commences, the red-coats were in quiet possession of New Jersey, from Burlington to New York. General Washington had come over on this side of the Delaware.
“It was late in December. The weather was bitter cold, and the enemy seldom stirred from their quarters to visit the interior of the State. This respite would have been refreshing to the harassed farmer, if the withdrawal of the regular troops had not left free play for the more desperate servants of King George, or others who pretended to be such. One of these pretenders was named Fagan. He was the leader of about twenty ruffians as free from any particle of human feeling as himself. There was no romance about the black character of Fagan; he was a perfect wretch; he robbed for gain, and murdered to conceal the robbery. The hiding-place of the band was in the pine barrens of New Jersey, and they thence received the name of ‘the pine robbers’ from the people of the country. Their violence and cruelty towards women and even children had made them the terror of all classes. The whigs charged their doings on the tories and refugees; but the robbers were against both parties. They plundered a tory in the name of the continentals, and were true to the Crown when a whig chanced to be in their power.
“Well, I’m going to tell you about one of their exploits. Not many miles from Trenton, on the road to Bordentown, was the farm-house of Nathaniel Collins, a Quaker, but who was not strict enough for his sect. He was disowned by them on account of encouraging his two sons to join the continental army, and for showing a disposition to do the same himself. He was about sixty years old at the time of which I speak, but still a large, powerful man, with the glow of health on his cheek and intelligence in his eye. Though disowned by the Quaker sect, Nathaniel Collins retained their dress, manners, and habits, and always defended them from the attacks of their enemies.
“One night, the old Quaker, his wife Hannah, cousin Rachel, and daughter Amy, were sitting up till a very late hour. They expected Nathan’s sons home from the Continental army. These sons had chosen the night to cross the river, to avoid the notice of the Hessians at Trenton. Well, the family waited till the clock struck one, but the sons did not appear, and Nathan was getting impatient. At last footsteps were heard on the road.