Stories from History: An American Robin Hood

 Pictured here - maybe the coat he wore?
Pictured here – maybe the coat he wore?

Sorry, Not Everyone was for Revolution

This isn’t the version that has been popularized in most television, books, and more. This is an American version of the old steal from the rich and give to the poor model. Joe Mulliner has become New Jersey version of the myth of Robin of Locksley, complete with the story growing and mutating as soon as it escaped into the wild. History does know that Joe Mulliner did exist, and a few other key facts. This man is so cloaked in mists that he has two separate graves that we know of.

This giant of a man (he stood 6’5″) has been reported as charming, educated, had a brute’s strength and was handsome. It feels almost like this man came from the casting of some sort of movie.

Though he had brothers who were all Revolutionaries who went off to join that side, he was a staunch loyalist. At this point, reports have him laying low and trying to avoid any real problems. All of his neighbors, though, were Revolutionaries and weren’t taking kindly to him. To avoid arrest, he ran off into the nearby wilderness. While hiding, though, he met up with somewhere between thirty and a hundred men who were everything from common criminals to people in the same situation he is in. Other sources suggest that the party was far more likely only to number at around ten given the geography and resources of the area.

A skilled boat pilot, he built himself an ad hoc canoe crossed with a raft. Though he at first used this to stealthily move information around, it was not long before he was preying on merchant ships, including taking entire crews as hostages. Before long he had enough resources and demonstrated success that he and his men began raiding the Pine Barrens. Wearing a bright red British red coat, it didn’t take long before reports of his attacks began to come from both sides.

This is where the story becomes especially difficult to separate myth from reality. Mulliner’smen at one point allegedly attacked the farmstead of a widow causing its complete destruction (complete with burning down the house) after she was tied to a tree. The story says that Mulliner was disappointed in this activity and a lump sum of money covering the lost property mysteriously delivered to her home.

Returning to his sailing roots, we begin to see some of the problems. Benjamin Franklin’s son, William (also a Loyalist) and other Brits defended Mullliner, protecting his reputation. This suggests that many of his activities had at least the general approval of the crown. Similarly, despite holding the title of Robin Hood of the Pine Barrens, there are no actual records of there being attacks on stage coaches in that region.

Another of commonly traded tales is about his activities in taverns in the area. Some of these have been thoroughly discredited, but there were a number of taverns in the area. Many taverns and bars have claimed credit for playing host to Mulliner, alleging that he would dance with the prettiest woman in the bar or righting various wrongs. One such story, though it is unverified, claims that he came to the aid of a woman who was being forced to marry a man she wasn’t interested in. The legend claims that he showed up at the wedding, fired his gun into the air, and chased off the would-be husband. After this he apparently danced with every maiden at the wedding and arranged to meet up with the rescued bride late into the night.

Apparently hanged until death in 1781, though this is also contested, Mulliner seemed like he was lined up to disappear from history. There was limited evidence that he had killed anyone, despite his raiding and pirating ways. What could have so easily have been an ignominious death instead gave rise to a mythical character for the state of New Jersey.

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