On March 21, 1778, just three days after British Loyalists and Hessian mercenary forces assault the local New Jersey militia at Quinton’s Bridge, three miles from Salem, New Jersey, the same contingent surprises the colonial militia at Hancock’s Bridge, five miles from Salem. During the battle, the Loyalists not only kill several members of the Salem militia, but also two known Loyalists.
In what amounted to a civil war for New Jersey, Colonel Charles Mawhood led the attack on Quinton’s Bridge, and then threatened to burn the town of Salem and subject its women and children to the horrors of the Loyalist militia if the Patriot militia failed to lay down its arms. Colonel Asher Holmes of the Patriot militia promised retribution on Loyalist civilians if Mawhood made good his threats and Mawhood appeared to concede. Three days later, however, Colonel John Simcoe, leader of the Queen’s Rangers, unleashed the Loyalists’ fury on the sleeping men at Hancock’s Bridge.
In what became known as the Massacre at Hancock’s Bridge, at least 20 members of the Salem militia lost their lives, some after attempting to surrender. The Loyalists reputedly exclaimed, Spare no one! Give no quarter! as they stormed the house of Judge William Hancock, a Loyalist whose house the Patriots had commandeered, while the Patriot militia slept. Judge Hancock and his brother were bayoneted in the melee, although both were known to be staunch supporters of the crown and were themselves non-violent Quakers.