Who is Honeyman?

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    Robert Jenner

    Hello Everyone, I wanted to start a topic on a subject that I have been researching for over a year now. Due to AMC’s new Revolutionary series Turn, people have gone crazy over Washington’s spies! However, I have been researching a little known hero of the the Revolution and someone I truly feel was a savior, John Honeyman. Honeyman was a Irishman who joined the British Army and was sent to fight in the colonies during the French and Indian Wars (or Seven Years war as it was known in Europe). While crossing the Atlantic Ocean Honeyman was standing watch when Colonel James Wolfe came on deck. Wolfe tripped on some stairs and according to legend would have gone overboard if Honeyman did not save him. Wolfe repaid Honeyman by making him one of his bodyguards.

    Honeyman was with Wolfe on the Plains of Abraham just outside of Quebec City when Wolfe was shot, Honeyman was one of the men to carry him off of the field, however Wolfe died not long after this. After the war, Honeyman did not return to Ireland and instead he got married and settled in Pennsylvania and took up his former trades of weaver and butcher. This all sets the scene for Honeyman and the Revolution. Honeyman had moved with his family to Griggstown, NJ, it is not known when he first met George Washington, however, Honeyman is believed to have made his services available early in the war. After the Battle of Long Island and then the lost of New York, Washington was forced across New Jersey with what was left of the Continental Army. Washington wanted to have people everywhere to keep an eye on the British and the Hessians, and Honeyman was sent to Trenton posing as a Loyalist butcher. After Washington was forced across the Delaware into PA, he was relying on Honeyman to keep him aprised of the Hessian situation. Honeyman used all his former military training to note troop and defensive layouts throughout Trenton, then conveniently had himself captured by a Continental patrol while he was out foraging.

    He was taken to Washington’s Headquarters at the Keith House and presented as a British spy, Washington dismissed his staff and the two men spent a couple of hours talking. Washington had this ‘spy’ locked up in the Spring House on the property, and when a fire broke out that night, Honeyman managed to escape and cross back across the Delaware, rushing back to Trenton. Here is where he truly earned his pay, he went straight to the Hessian commander in the town Colonel Johann Rall and reported that he had just escaped from the Continental Camp, however, he reported that Washington’s Army was in poor shape, and that moral was so low that there was no way that Washington could plan any sort of attach on Trenton. This is not the only reason that Rall let his guard down over Christmas in 1776, however it is certainly one of the most important reasons, that night Washington made his famous crossing of the Delaware and march on Trenton, with Rall spending the night at a party at Abraham Hunt’s house he was not prepared for the battle and the Continental Army won a much needed victory the next day, Rall paid the ultimate price for ignoring Washington and was killed in the battle.

    Honeyman faded into the woodwork, and so did his story. Legend again states that Washington even visited Honeyman at his home in Griggstown after the war to thank him for his service! So where is the Honeyman statue, or promenade part in our history books for this forgotten hero, after all look at all the press Nathan Hale has received and he really hadn’t done anything yet! On the New Jersey side of Washington’s Crossing State Park, hidden close to the D and R Canal is a fountain and a small plaque donated by the Daughters of the American Revolution, this is the only known monument to this forgotten and often over looked hero. Many historians make note of the importance of Honeyman, such as William Stryker, and Richard Ketchum, and some don’t believe their is enough source material to prove the claims such as David Hackett-Fischer or Alexander Rose. I myself believe that Honeyman was real, and that his daring help saved the Revolution!

    Additional Reading




    Wow, this is really cool! Do you think Abraham Woodhull in the Turn TV series is based in part on Honeyman (pork trader for the British, loyal to the colonists, gets “captured” by Colonial forces, gained info on the hessians, Washington knows of him…)

    I imagine during the time there were many people whom played crucial, if not history-changing roles that we might never know about or hear of. Especially is they were in the business of gathering information it would be prudent that especially at the time no one know who they really are. And in the eye of history it would likely be difficult to establish a significant basis of fact to support such a claim. However, likely there were many such “Honeymen” during the war.

    I started reading the linked PDF you shared and will have to spend some time reading learning from it. At first look it seems to present a well-structured position. Do you know if Alexander Rose, author of Washington’s Spies (on which the TV show Turn is based) has ever mentioned anything about Honeyman?

    Also thinking, is it possible that Honeyman is not really his true name (hence records thin)? Maybe it was intended as a deep cover if needed in the event he ever needed to return to his original identity (this concept might be way off and maybe the idea of it addressed in the PDF, so forgive if it’s a silly thought! 🙂

    Awesome story, more reading to come…


    Ahh, so much more information from reading that article, and from it some of my questions answered already.

    First, Alexander Rose was the author of the article, which also give me some more insight into his knowledge that might influence the tv series Turn. Also, Woodhull is his own man with lineage, so no based-on there. And, it appears there was a family history of the Honeyman name, so no need for it to be a cover. Whew, glad all my initial questions are now dispelled.

    From reading, some interesting perspectives. It is not uncommon in history for stories to be created or embellished over time. This reminds me of a book that goes into that concept, titled Founding Myths (http://www.amazon.com/Founding-Myths-Stories-That-Patriotic/dp/1595580735/) that goes into the details of such classics as Patrick Henry’s speech, Paul Revere’s ride, Molly Pitcher).

    Not unlike today, individuals might find some gain or benefit in creating or “spinning” history in such a way as to garner attention or sell a story. So, on to Honeyman:

    Do you think his daughter, Jane, might have made up the story? Was she was influenced by James Fenimore Cooper’s novel: The Spy: A Tale of the Neutral Ground? Would George Washington have written a letter for Honeyman’s family to protect them?

    From the relatively small amount of information I have about it, I would have some suspicions about the full story. However, with as much research as you have done, hopefully you might have some great insights. Now I’m curious 🙂

    Robert Jenner

    Is Honeyman real? So many different sources differ on this, Dywer’s ‘The Day is Ours!’ Does not mention Honeyman at all, and this book is an amazing narrative about the Crossing of the Delaware and the Battles of Trenton and Princeton. Stryker’s ‘The Battles of Trenton and Princeton’ was written about 100 year after the battles and he does mention Honeyman, this was not long after Honeyman’s grandson publish the story. Fisher’s ‘Washington’s Crossing’ mentions Honeyman in the appendix, explaining that there is not enough source material to be able to verify the story, and Ketchum’s ‘Winter Soldiers’ however, talks a lot about Honeyman.

    Two other books, Bakeless’s ‘Turncoats, Traitors and Heroes’ dedicated almost four pages to Honeyman and ‘Best Little Stories from the American Revolution’ by Kelly has almost two pages. In almost all the books that include the story of Honeyman the story does not change, which I would think would be a sign of people trying to make the story fit into the period, so to me Honeyman is real! Secondly, if Honeyman was not real, why would the Daughters of the American Revolution dedicated the fountain to a myth. However, if Honeyman is not real his story is just one of the many myths of the revolution, after all, there is no proof that Nathan Hale ever muttered the words he is most famous for ‘I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country’ before he was hung as a spy, yet monuments to this man including numerous statues exist today!


    It would be great if some more came to light about his story. I found, not sure if it can be classified as a memorial, the location of a plaque on the Honeyman house in New Jersey, it was placed there by a Daughters of the American Revolution chapter:


    If I had to wager a guess, I would think likely some parts of his story are true and some possibly exaggerated, which of course might add to both the intrigue and the mystery. I also found this interesting summarization of this story:


    I have no idea how accurate or thorough it is, though it had some good parts, and some photos of Honeyman’s grave stone. Also has an image of a painting of Honeyman.

    Robert Jenner

    I don’t think we will ever get a answer to the is Honeyman real question. I think he was real, but did he do all of the things his story talks about I don’t think so, after all if he was so important why was he never used again, after all he could have been valuable as a spy when the British took Philadelphia and Washington was a Valley Forge, and even useful to get troop numbers and direction of the British movement before the Battle of Monmouth!

    However, how did this man become so rich after the war if he wasn’t compensated for something, especially if many thought he was a Tory?


    Agreed, I feel like if someone like that was successful they would be leveraged more and be a huge resource.

    I hope more information comes to light one day, in the mean time it is a fun part reality/part mystery to to think about

    P Gwiazdowski

    Hello, captain Pete here, super cool honeyman story. Will check it out next time I visit Washington crossing. Several years ago I visited a cemetery in Sunderland Mass. With several rev war gravestones. if interested I could send a few.


    Hi Captain Pete, if you have any photos available it would be great to see! Always enjoyable to see pieces of history from different parts of the country


    let me know about honey man.
    can you please.
    sophie smith
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