The Story of Tempe Wick
Morris Co. Up


Source: Stockton, Frank R., Stories of New Jersey, American Book Company, New York, Cincinnati, Chicago, 1896, pp155-162

There are so many curious and unexpected things which may happen in time of war, especially to people who live in parts of a country where the enemy may be expected to come, or where the friendly army is already encamped, that it is impossible to guard against unpleasant occurrences; and it often happens that the only thing to be depended upon when an emergency arises, is presence of mind, and quickness of wit.

In these qualities, New Jersey girls have never shown themselves behind their sisters of other parts of the country, and a very good proof of this is shown by an incident which took place near Morristown during the time that the American army was quartered in that neighborhood.

Not far from the town was a farm then known as Wick's farm, situated in a beautiful wooded country. The daughter of Mr. Wick, named Tempe (probably short for Temperance), was the owner of a very fine horse, and on this beautiful animal it was her delight to ride over the roads and through the woods of the surrounding country. She had been accustomed to horses since she was a child, and was not afraid to ride anywhere by herself.

When she first began to canter over these hills and dales, it had been in times of peace, when there was nothing in this quiet country of which any one might be afraid; and now, although these were days of war, she felt no fear. There were soldiers not far away, but these she looked upon as her friends and protectors; for Washington and his army had encamped in that region to defend the country against the approach of the enemy. If any straggling Redcoats should feel a desire to come along the hills, they would be very apt to restrain their inclinations so long as they knew that that brave American army was encamped near by.

So Miss Tempe Wick, fearing nothing, rode far and wide, as she had been in the habit of doing, and every day she and her good steed became better and better acquainted with each other.

One fine afternoon, as Tempe was slowly riding homeward, within a mile of her house, she met half a dozen soldiers in Continental uniform, and two of them, stepping in front of her, called upon her to stop. When she had done so, one of them seized her bridle. She did not know the men; but still, as they belonged to Washington's army, who were her countrymen and friends, she saw no reason to be afraid, and asked them what they wanted.

At first she received no answer, for they were very busily occupied in looking at her horse and expressing their satisfaction at the fine points of the animal. Tempe had had her horse praised before; but these men were looking at him, and talking about him, very much as if he were for sale and they were thinking of buying. Presently one of the men said to her that this was a very excellent horse that she was riding, and they wanted it. To this Tempe exclaimed, in great amazement, that it was her own horse, that she wanted him herself, and had no wish to dispose of him. Some of the soldiers laughed, and one of them told her that the troops were about to move, and that good horses were greatly needed, and that they had orders to levy upon the surrounding country and take horses wherever they could find them.

Now was Tempe astonished beyond measure. If half a dozen British soldiers had surrounded her, and had declared that they intended to rob her of her horse, she would not have wondered at it, for they would have taken it as the property of an enemy. But that the soldiers of her own country, the men on whom she and all her friends and neighbors depended for protection and safety, should turn on her and rob her, as if they had been a set of marauding Hessians, was something she could scarcely comprehend.

But it did not take her long to understand, that no matter who they were or what they were, —whether they thought they had a right to do what they threatened, or whether they had no regard for right and justice, —they were in earnest, and intended to take her horse. When this conviction flashed into the mind of Tempe Wick, there also flashed into it a determination to show these men that a Jersey girl had a will of her own, and that if they wanted her property, they would have to do a great deal more than simply to come to her and ask her to hand it over to them.

After a little parley, during which the man who held her bridle let go of it, supposing she was about to dismount, she suddenly gave her spirited horse a sharp cut with the whip, dashed between two of the soldiers, and, before they could comprehend what had happened, she was off and away.

As fast as they could run, the soldiers followed her, one or two of them firing their guns in the air, thinking to frighten her and make her stop; but, as though she had been a deer and her pursuers ordinary hunters, she swiftly sped away from them.

But they did not give up the chase. Some of them knew where this girl lived, and were confident that when they reached her house, they would have the horse. If they had known it was such a fine animal, they would have come after it before. According to their belief, good horses should go into the army, and people who staid at home, and expected other people to fight for them, ought to be willing to do what they could to help in the good cause, and at least give their horses to the army.

As Tempe sat upon her bounding steed, she knew very well that the soldiers could never catch her; but her heart sank within her as she thought of what would happen when they came tot he farm and demanded her horse. Running away from them was only postponing her trouble for a little while, for there was no one about the place who could prevent those men from going to the barn and taking away the animal.

It would be of no use to pass her house and ride on and on. Where should she go? She must come back sometime, and all the soldiers would have to do would be to halt at the farm, and wait until she returned. And even if she should take her horse into the wood and tie him to a tree, they would know by her coming back on foot that she had left him at no great distance, and they would be sure to follow his tracks and find him.

As Tempe rode swiftly on, her thoughts galloped as fast as her horse, and before she reached the house she had come to a conclusion as to the best thing to be done. She did not ride towards the barn, but dashed through the gateway of the large yard, and sprang from her steed. As she turned in, she looked down the road; but the men were not in sight. What she was going to do was something which people never did, but it was the only thing she could think of, and she was a girl whose actions were as quick as her ideas were original. Without stopping an instant, she took her horse to the back door, and led him boldly into the house.

This was not the sort of stable to which Tempe's horse or any other American horse was accustomed; but this animal knew his mistress, and where she led, he was willing to follow. If one of the farm hands had attempted to take the creature into the house, there would probably have been some rearing and plunging; but nothing of this kind happened as our Jersey girl, with her hand on her horse's bridle, led him quickly inside and closed the door behind him. As the story goes, she took him through the kitchen, and then into the parlor, without the slightest regard to the injury his shoes might do to the well-kept floor; and from the parlor she led him into a bedroom on the lower floor, which was usually used as a guest chamber, but which never before had such a guest as this.

This room had but a single window, the shutters of which were kept closed when it was not in use, and there was not entrance to it except through the door which opened from the parlor. The door was quickly closed, and Tempe stood with her horse in the darkness.

When the soldiers reached the farm, they went to the barn. They examined the outhouses, visited the pasture fields, and made a thorough search, high and low, near and far; but no sign of a horse could they find. Of course, the notion that the animal was concealed in the house did not enter their minds, and the only way in which they could account for the total disappearance of the horse was, that Tempe had ridden off with him — where they knew not. We do not know how long they waited for the sight of a hungry horse coming home to his supper, but we do know that while there was the slightest danger of her dear horse being taken away from her, that animal remained a carefully attended guest in the spare room of the Wick house; and the tradition is, that he staid there three weeks. There Tempe waited on him as if he had been a visitor of high degree; and if she was afraid to go to the barn to bring him hay and oats, she doubtless gave him biscuit and soft bread, — dainties of which a horse is very fond, especially when they are brought to him by such a kind mistress as Tempe.

When the cavalry moved away from their camp near Morristown, no one of them rode on that fine horse on which they had seen a girl gayly cantering, and which, when they had been about to put their hands upon it, had flown away, like a butterfly from under the straw hat of a schoolboy. When the troops were gone, the horse came out of the guest chamber and went back to his stall in the stable; and that room in which he passed so many quiet days, and the door through which the horse timidly stepped under the shadow of that hospitable roof, are still to be seen at the old Wick house, which stands now, as it stood then, with its shaded yard and the great willow tree behind it, on the pleasant country road by which we may drive from Morristown to Mendham by the way of Washington Corner.

Authorities: 
"Story of an Old Farm." A.D. Mellick
"Morris County History." W.W. Munsey
"Authors and Writers Associated with Morristown." J.K. Colles.


This page was last modified on:  01 January, 2014

Copyright ©1999-2014 by Brianne Kelly-Bly, all rights reserved.