Joe Mulliner: South Jersey’s Robin Hood

by Max Cohler; Editorial Staff | Jul 28, 2014
Joe Mulliner: South Jersey’s Robin Hood The folkloric character of Robin Hood indeed existed, but who knew he was from the Pinelands of New Jersey? South Jersey has never been known for many riveting tales of history, unless you count the typically unknown story of Joe Mulliner, frequently referred to as the "Robin Hood of the Pine Barrens." Mulliner’s legend may have been stretched over the years, but it is nonetheless enticing. What we do know for sure is that Joe Mulliner was real, and his adventures during the Revolutionary War were renowned. The following stories have been passed down from generation to generation, and deciphering the myth from reality lies in the hands of the reader.

Although little is known about his early years, it is speculated that Joe Mulliner was born near South Jersey in the 1740s. When the Revolutionary War broke out, he was the only one of his brothers to not join the American army. Instead, Mulliner's loyalty remained with the King of England, as did many other residents in New Jersey. His detested beliefs forced him to flee his home to avoid arrest in 1779, while his wife tended to their farm for the remainder of the war.

Despite the threat of being captured, Mulliner hid close to his home, and banded together with about 40 other renegades. The group of fugitives camped on an island in the Mullica River, which was only a short distance from Mulliner’s dwelling. Mulliner’s popularity quickly made him the leader of the gang, which terrorized the surrounding area, robbing the people who had run them out.

Similar to Robin Hood, Joe Mulliner was a thief and a robber—but one with class. In all their misdeeds, he and his gang never killed or seriously injured anyone. In fact, his reputation grew fast, and many looked upon it as an honor to be robbed by the famous Joe Mulliner. On one occasion, some members of Mulliner’s gang were robbing the house of a widow named Bates while she attended church. Their timing, however, was off, and Bates arrived home amidst the break-in. No amount of words or threats would quiet her frenzy, and in an attempt to stop her, the gang tied her to a tree, and burned her house to the ground. A few weeks later, a $300 donation arrived anonymously for the widow. Many agreed that the money had to have come from Mulliner, as an apology for the immorality of his men.

In another stirring tale, Mulliner was making his way through a tavern when he passed a young woman crying in the backyard. When he inquired as to the cause of her troubles, he soon discovered that her grief was the upshot of a forced marriage. Mulliner later crashed the ceremony, armed with guns, and gave the groom the choice to either leave or die. The groom fled and was never seen again; Mulliner stayed until every woman had a dance with him.

Unfortunately, Joe Mulliner's love of festivities would ultimately be his downfall. In the early summer of 1781, he crashed his final party in Nesco. In his usual manner, he picked the prettiest woman to dance with, pushing her partner away. This time, however, the furious man left the party and made his way to the home of the leader of the local militia, who vowed to hunt down the notorious Joe Mulliner. They quickly raised a mob that surrounded Mulliner, where he surrendered for the first time in his life. He was then taken to Burlington, where he was imprisoned, tried and sentenced to be hanged.

Sadly, there is no “happy ending” for our antihero. Mulliner was taken from his jail cell and hung that very day. His body was sent home to his wife and buried on the family farm. Strangely enough, the saga of Joe Mulliner continued even after his ill-fated death. Travelers would report hearing laughter in the woods, or seeing a man resembling the famous outlaw standing in the roadway with guns drawn. Like many historical artifacts that once existed, Joe Mulliner's grave has now disappeared. There is little physical evidence remaining of the famous leader of the bandits, but his legend lives on.

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Author: Max Cohler; Editorial Staff

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