Probably the first patriot organization created for counterintelligence
purposes was the Committee (later called a Commission) for Detecting and
Defeating Conspiracies. It was made up of a series of groups established
in New York between June of 1776 and January of 1778 to collect intelligence,
apprehend British spies and couriers, and examine suspected British sympathizers.
In effect, there was created a "special service" for New York
which had the power to arrest, to convict, to grant bail or parole, and
to jail or to deport. A company of militia was placed under its command
to implement its broader charter. John Jay has been called the first chief
of American counterintelligence because of his role in directing this
Nathaniel Sackett and Colonel William Duer were particularly
successful in ferreting out British agents, but found their greatest success
in the missions of one of the dozen or so agents of their own, Enoch Crosby.
Crosby, a veteran of the Continental Army, had been mistaken by a Westchester
County Tory as being someone who shared his views. He confided to Crosby
that a secret Tory military company was being formed and introduced him
to the group. Crosby reported the plot to the committee and was "captured"
with the group. He managed to "escape" and, at Committee direction,
infiltrated another secret Tory unit. This unit, including Crosby, was
also taken and he "escaped" once more. He repeated the operation
at least two more times before Tory suspicions made it necessary for him
to retire from counterintelligence work.
Another successful American agent was Captain David Gray
of Massachusetts. Posing as a deserter, Gray entered the service of Colonel
Beverly Robinson, a Tory intelligence officer, and became Robinson's courier.
As a result, the contents of each of Robinson's dispatches were read by
the Americans before their delivery. Gray eventually became the courier
for Major Oliver DeLancey, Jr., the head of the British secret service
in New York. For two years, Gray, as DeLancey's courier to Canada, successfully
penetrated the principal communications link of the British secret service.
Upon completing his assignment, Gray returned to the ranks of the Continental
Army and his name was struck from the deserter list, where George Washington
placed it at the beginning of the operation.
Colonel Benjamin Tallmadge, a senior intelligence officer
under Washington, is credited with the capture of Major John Andre, who
preceded DeLancey as chief of the British secret service in New York.
Although Tallmadge declined to discuss the episode in his memoirs, it
is said that one of his agents had reported to him that Major Andre was
in contact with a "John Anderson" who was expecting the surrender
of a major patriot installation. Learning that a "John Anderson"
had passed through the lines "en route to" General Benedict
Arnold, the commander at West Point, Tallmadge had Anderson apprehended
and returned for interrogation. "Anderson" admitted to his true
identityhe was Major Andreand was tried, convicted and executed
as a spy. Arnold, learning that Andre had been taken and that his own
traitorous role no doubt was exposed, fled West Point before he could
be captured, and joined the British forces.
General Washington demanded effective counterintelligence
work from his subordinates. On March 24, 1776, for example, he wrote:
"There is one evil I dread, and that is, their spies. I could wish,
therefore, the most attentive watch be kept ... I wish a dozen or more
of honest sensible and diligent men, were employed . . .in order to question,
cross question etc., all such persons as are unknown, and cannot give
an account of themselves in a straight and satisfactory manner ... I think
it is a matter of importance to prevent them obtaining intelligence of
Paul Revere and the
Through a number of their intelligence sources, the "mechanics"
were able to see through the cover story the British had devised to mask
their march on Lexington and Concord. Dr. Joseph Warren, chairman of the
Committee of Safety, charged Revere with the task of warning John Adams
and John Hancock at Lexington that they were the probably targets of the
enemy operation. Revere arranged for the warning lanterns to be placed
in the Old North Church to alert patriot forces at Charleston, and then
set off on his famous ride. He completed his primary mission of notifying
Adams and Hancock. Then Revere, along with Dr. Samuel Prescott and William
Dawes, rode on to alert Concord, only to be apprehended by the British
en route. Dawes got away, and Dr. Prescott managed to escape soon afterward
and to alert the patriots at Concord. Revere was interrogated and subsequently
released, after which he returned to Lexington to warn Hancock and Adams
of the proximity of British forces. Revere then turned to still another
mission, retrieving from the local tavern a trunk belonging to Hancock
and filled with incriminating papers. With John Lowell, Revere went to
the tavern and, as he put, during a "continual roar of Musquetry
. . . we made off with the Trunk."
Fortunately, when interrogated by the British, Revere did
not have his travel orders from Dr. Warren; the authorization was not
issued to him until two weeks later. And when Paul Revere filed a travel
voucher for his famous ride, it was not until August, some four months
later, that it was approvedand when it was approved, his per diem
payment was reduced from five shillings a day to four.
Paul Revere had served as a courier prior to his famous
"midnight ride," and continued to do so during the early years
of the war. One of his earlier missions was perhaps as important as the
Lexington ride. In December of 1774, Revere rode to the Oyster River with
the intelligence report that the British, under General Gage, intended
to seize Fort William and Mary. Armed with this intelligence, Major John
Sullivan of the colonial militia led a force of four hundred menall
in civilian clothing rather than militia uniformin an attack on
the fort. The one hundred barrels of gunpowder taken in the raid were
ultimately used by the patriots to cover their retreat from Bunker Hill.
Benjamin Church 1
Paul Revere's now famous engraving of the incident stirred
emotion of protest in the hearts of the colonists, and Samuel Adams' well-orchestrated
propaganda effort made the men martyrs and a symbol of the patriot cause.
In response to the growing anger, General Gage strengthened the Boston
garrison. When 1775 began, Gage had almost forty-five hundred soldiers
in the city. The patriots were not idle during this time frame. They raised
and drilled additional militia units throughout Massachusetts and continued
to gather arms, ammunition and other military supplies which they cached
at secret storehouses in the countryside.
Gage was aware that continued flare-ups between the British
and the colonists could ignite into a war and he wanted to avoid precipitating
such action. He also knew that to avoid a fight he needed military intelligence
on the militia units within Massachusetts. Gage, who also served as colonial
governor of Massachusetts, established a network of spies among the patriots.
These spies provided information, sometimes in great detail, on the military
preparations of the patriots. For example, in March 1774, one of his secret
agents reported the patriots had stockpiled weapons and ammunition at
Cambridge. On 1 September that year, the British successfully raided the
Cambridge warehouse. The patriots, knowing that they needed information
to avoid losing their munitions, created a small surveillance committee
within the Sons of Liberty in Boston. The Sons of Liberty were secret
organizations within the colonies, started in 1765, to organize opposition
to the Stamp Act.
During the winter of 1774-75, the 30 members of the surveillance
committee met regularly at the Green Dragon Tavern on Union Street in
Boston. Members of the group regularly patrolled Boston's streets at night
to detect British military preparations and other activity. They constituted
an early warning system for the patriots by identifying possible British
raids into the countryside which would allow their colleagues to move
their military stores to new secret locations before British troops arrived.
For example, in December 1774, the committee acquired intelligence that
General Gage arranged to fortify a British arsenal at Portsmouth, New
Hampshire with two regiments, intelligence that drove the Sons of Liberty
to raid the installation before the British arrived and haul off about
a hundred barrels of gunpowder and several cannons.
The leadership of the Mechanics, as the Green Dragon group
is now sometimes called, consisted of Dr. Joseph Warren, Samuel Adams,
John Hancock, Paul Revere, Dr. Benjamin Church, and one or two others.
It is believed that Warren, a prominent Boston physician and later a major
general who was killed at Bunker Hill, was leader of the group. Church,
another physician and political leader, was also a member of the Boston
Committee of Correspondence and Safety, the latter body responsible for
control of the militia. A minor poet as well as a medical man, Church
was a prolific author of Patriot propaganda and was famous for the oration
he delivered in commemoration of the Boston Massacre on the third anniversary
of that event.
Dr. Church was also one of General Gage's informers, a British
double agent and probably the most valuable spy the British had in America
at the time. Church was a native of Newport, Rhode Island. He graduated
from Harvard in 1754 and went to England to study medicine at the London
Medical College. Possibly in 1768, he returned to America with an English
wife and began practicing medicine in Raynham, Massachusetts. Still accustomed
to living a life of indulgence, which he acquired in London, Church kept
a mistress and built an elaborate summer home. His penchant for free spending
did not match his income from his medical practice. To compensate and
obtain additional money, Church added spying to his professional resume.
No one knows when Church began his double agent career.
"Whether he was driven by his debt or by doubt that the patriots
could win, Church had apparently begun spying in 1771, while Samuel Adams
was struggling to keep the cause alive. The next year, Thomas Hutchinson
had passed along gratifying news to Francis Bernard 3
in London that the man 4
who had written insultingly against Bernard had come over to the government's
side."5 Another writer states "It is
not possible to pinpoint the exact date that Church began his spying for
Gage, but a reasonable guess is 1774. In that year, Paul Revere was aware
that the activities of his secret group, of which Church was a part, were
known to General Gage. According to Dr. Savage of Barnstable, Massachusetts,
who was training with Church at the same time, the latter's finances suddenly
improved. Previously, Church had been financially pressed, built a mansion
in Raynham which appeared beyond his means and acquired a mistress; classic
indicators for counterintelligence."6
Paul Revere, who had his own spies within General Gage's
command, knew that the Mechanics had been penetrated. Revere received
information in November 1774 from his source that the proceedings of at
least one meeting at the Green Dragon were known to Gage within 24 hours
after the meeting. The only problem was the source could not provide Revere
with the identity of the traitor. "We did not then distrust Dr. Church,"
he later remembered, "but supposed it must be some one among us."
The only security measure the Mechanics adopted was to have each member
swear on a Bible at every meeting at the Green Dragon that he would not
divulge the group's secrets; an admirable procedure but hardly counterintelligence.
On April 14, 1775, Lord Dartmouth, British secretary for
the colonies, sent secret instructions to Gage pressing him to take some
forceful action against the patriots, such as arresting their leaders,
before the situation in Massachusetts reached "A riper state of Rebellion."
Gage ignored Lord Dartmouth's direction. Instead, Gage decided to capture
the patriot military stockpile that Dr. Church and several other agents
reported were located in Concord. In fact, the General's intelligence
was so comprehensive he knew the exact location of the military stockpile
within the town. Gage issued secret orders to Lt. Col. Francis Smith to
proceed with a 700-man force to destroy the patriot ammunition and supply
The surveillance committee obtained information on the destiny of the troops and sent Paul Revere and William Dawes to alert the patriots. They were later joined by Dr. Samuel Prescott. On the way to Concord, they encountered a mounted British patrol. Dawes escaped but had to return to Boston, Revere was captured and taken to Lexington where he told the British everything and then was released. Prescott managed to evade the patrol and get the message to Concord.
When Col. Smith and his troops arrived at Concord, he found
70 Minute Men waiting for him on the Common. Ordered repeatedly to leave
the Common area, the Minute Men began to leave but ignored a British order
to leave their weapons behind. A shot was fire from within the British
ranks, followed by a volley from the British platoons. The gunshots killed
eight patriots and wounded 10 others. Only one British soldier was wounded
in the return fire. Smith destroyed a few military supplies in Concord
and then began his return to Boston.
On his way back, he encountered patriot militiamen who continually
assaulted his troops. British reinforcements at Lexington saved Smith
and his troops from a complete disaster but it wasn't until all the British
troops arrived in Charlestown, where British men-of-war were in the harbor,
that Smith could feel comfortable. The British lost 73 killed, 174 wounded
and 26 were missing while the American militia suffered 93 dead, wounded
or missing. Following the battles of Lexington and Concord, the American
militia men surrounded Boston and began a siege, which lasted until March
On April 21, 1775, after the patriots had driven the British
troops back into Boston, Church crossed the patriot lines at Cambridge
and entered the besieged city to meet with Gage. It is probable that Church
ignored the security risks to his espionage role for Gage because he was
more concerned about maintaining contact and getting paid. Paul Revere
recalled 23 years after this happened that Church told the Committee of
Safety that he was going into Boston. Dr. Warren, the president of the
committee, told Church that the British would hang him if he was caught
but Church was adamant about going. Warren then told Church that he needed
to have a cover story for being in Boston and both men devised the story
that Church was there to obtain needed medicines.
According to Revere, Church returned in a few days to Cambridge.
He told the committee he had been arrested, taken before Gage, and then
held for several days for interrogation but set free. Revere said that
after Church's arrest later by Washington, Revere met with Deacon Caleb
Davis and the two of them began to discuss Church. Revere said that "He
(Davis) received a Bilet for General Gage-(he then did not know that Church
was in Town)-when he got to the General's House, he was told the General
could not be spoke with, that He was in private with a gentleman; that
He waited near half an Hour, when General Gage & Dr. Church came out
of a room, discoursing together, like persons who had been long acquainted."
Davis further added that Church "went where he pleased, while in
Boston, only a Major Caine, one of Gage's Aids, went with him." Revere
also said that he "was told by another person, whom I could depend
upon, that he saw Church go into General Gage's House, at the above time;
that He gout out of the Chaise and went up the steps more like a man that
was acquainted than a prisoner."7
On May 24, 1775, Dr. Church wrote to Gage advising him that
the Massachusetts Provincial Congress was sending him to consult with
the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. His mission was to appeal to
the Congress to embody the various New England militias, currently laying
siege to Boston, as its own army. Neither Gage nor Dr. Church saw the
opportunities presented by having a British double agent handle such an
important and sensitive assignment. Church was in a unique position to
spread havoc within the patriot ranks by feeding false or misleading information
to the Continental Congress and/or working to defeat the assignment. The
only thing Church complained about to Gage was that he would be prevented
from reporting to Gage for some time.
Church's handling of the Provincial Congress was so successful
that soon after his return to Cambridge, the Massachusetts militias laying
siege to Boston were converted into the Continental army under the command
of George Washington. So impressive was Church that the Continental Congress
appointed him director general of the army's hospital at Cambridge and
chief physician of the Continental army at a salary of four dollars per
day and granted him the authority to hire four surgeons and other medical
In espionage and counterespionage, luck plays an important
role. For Church his luck began to run out when he received a letter in
cipher from his brother-in-law, John Fleming, a Boston printer and bookseller.
In his letter, Fleming urged Church to repent his rebellion against the
British government and return to Boston, where Fleming believed Church
would be pardoned for his crime. Fleming told Church to reply no matter
what his decision and to write his response in cipher, addressing the
letter in care of Major Cane (one of General Gage's aides) and send it
via Captain Wallace8 of the H.M.S. Rose, a British
warship then stationed near Newport, Rhode Island.
Church replied, but it is not clear whether he believed
he was writing to his brother-in-law or to General Gage. Since all communications
between Church and Gage ceased when Church departed for Philadelphia,
it is possible Church saw Fleming's method of communication as a secure
means of resuming his profitable espionage role with the British commander-in
chief. In his response to Fleming, Church provided some exaggerated information
on American military strength and some inaccurate reports of military
plans, all framed within an impassioned plea to the British to adopt a
more reasonable colonial policy.
Unable to take the letter directly to Newport, Church asked
his mistress to take it there. Church told her to deliver the letter to
Captain Wallace of the H.M.S. Rose, or to the Royal Collector, Charles
Dudley. If neither of these men were available, she was instructed to
give it to George Rome, a known Tory and a rich merchant and ship owner.
Not familiar with the Newport environs, the mistress went to Godfrey Wainwood,9
a local baker, whom she had known in Boston and believed to be a Tory.
She asked Wainwood to take her to any of the three individuals
but he made an excuse not to do so. Exasperated, she then asked Wainwood
to deliver the letter for her. Wainwood agreed but deposited the letter
on a shelf and forgot about it until late September 1775, when he received
a pressing inquiry from the woman expressing her concerned that "you
never Sent wot yo promest to send." Realizing that only the British
could have known that the letter was not delivered, Wainwood became suspicious.
Some historians claimed that part of Wainwood's suspicions
is based on the fact that the letter was in cipher, but cipher was used
by many people, including Thomas Jefferson for personal letters during
the colonial days. What caused Wainwood's suspicions is the British officer
as the recipient of the letter. Instead of doing as the woman requested,
Wainwood took the letter to Henry Ward, Secretary of the Colony, who wrote
a letter of introduction and sent Wainwood with Church's letter to General
Nathaniel Green, commander of the Rhode Island contingent of the Continental
army. Greene, accompanied by Wainwood, went to see General Washington.
When Washington examined the letter he saw that it was dated
July 22, (1775) on the outside and when unfolded showed it addressed to
Major Cane in Boston. The ciphered contents were unreadable. Wainwood
explained that before the outbreak of hostilities between the British
and the Americans, he had fraternized with the woman, who was of easy
virtue. Upon Washington's orders, the woman was seized and brought to
"I immediately secured the Woman," Washington
reported in a letter to the president of the Continental Congress, "but
for a long time she was proof against every threat and persuasion to discover
the Author, however at length she was brought to a confession and named
Washington told James Warren and Major Joseph Hawley the details of the
woman's story and ordered them to go to Cambridge to arrest Church and
get his papers.
In a few hours, Church appeared under guard and submitted
to questioning. According to Washington's letter, he "readily acknowledged
the Letter. Said it was designed for his Brother Fleming and when deciphered
wou'd be found to contain nothing Criminal." Church offered no justification
why he tried to send the letter to Boston by way of a British warship
off Rhode Island when he have easily sent it under a flag of truce into
the city from Cambridge. He also could not explain why he wrote it in
cipher and refused to provide the key to decipher the message.
Washington informed the Continental Congress that a search
of Church's papers failed to find the cipher key or any other incriminating
evidence, but added that he was told that a confident of Church had been
to Church's home and probably removed all the incriminating items before
Washington's men arrived to conduct the search. Washington then turned
his attention to finding the key to the cipher letter.
An amateur cryptanalyst stepped forward in the person of
Reverend Samuel West, who happened to have been a Harvard classmate of
Church. A second person, Elbridge Gerry, a member of the Massachusetts
Provincial Congress and the Committee of Safety, who would later be the
fifth vice-president of the United States, teamed with Colonel Elisha
Porter, a colonel in the Massachusetts militia, to conduct a separate
cryptanalytic attack on the cipher.
Church had used a type of cipher known as a monoalphabetic substitution, one of the easiest ciphers to solve (Edgar Allen Poe explains the technique in his short story The Gold Bug). Both West and the Gerry-Porter team provided Washington with identical translations of the letter: (see insert entiled West and Gerry-Porter Letter Translation).
Washington confronted Church with the deciphered text. In
response, Church said he only sought to impress the British with the strength
and determination of the Patriots and wanted to discourage General Gage
from carrying on further military action. He asserted the letter was not
an intelligence report. General Washington was not persuaded by his explanation,
particularly since the last line read "Make use of every precaution,
or I perish."
Washington convened his officers to discuss what to do with
Church. They all agreed that the issue should be presented to the Continental
Congress. Washington noted in his letter that he wanted Congress to review
the 28th article of war to determine if it applied to Church."11
On orders of the Continental Congress, Church was confined at Norwich,
Connecticut.12 Within a year or two-there is some
confusion over the date in the record-he was released and permitted to
depart on a schooner for the West Indies. Neither the ship nor the doctor
was heard from again. Presumable both were lost at sea.
The full extent of Church's espionage activities on behalf of the British remained a mystery to Washington and the other patriot leaders. The only evidence they had was the intercepted letter. From the letter they could surmise that Church had previously provided intelligence to Gage but they did not know how much or on what topics. It was only when historians found Church's earlier reports among General Gage's papers did Church's double agent role become clear.
It appears Church may have been a volunteer walk-in
or a defector-in-place, not a well-planned recruitment operation by Gage.
Fortunately for the patriot's cause, Gage was mainly interested in the
military intelligence Church provided. Gage failed to see the political
importance Church offered to the British. For in Church, Gage had a penetration
of the Patriot's inner circle in Massachusetts, a spy who sat at the secret
meetings of the Committee of Correspondence and Safety, who was a trusted
member of the Mechanics, and who even served briefly as liaison with the
Continental Congress, but was never exploited for his political reporting
or used to conduct political sabotage. It was a major shortsightedness
of Gage. Church's espionage did have one positive benefit for counterintelligence,
it lead to the enactment of the first espionage law in the colonies.
The Continental Congress regularly received quantities of
intercepted British and Tory mail. On November 20, 1775, it received some
intercepted letters from Cork, Ireland, and appointed a committee made
up of John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Johnson, Robert Livingston,
Edward Rutledge, James Wilson and George Wythe "to select such parts
of them as may be proper to publish." The Congress later ordered
a thousand copies of the portions selected by the Committee to be printed
and distributed. A month later, when another batch of intercepted mail
was received, a second committee was appointed to examine it. On the basis
of its report, the Congress resolved that "the contents of the intercepted
letters this day read, and the steps which Congress may taken in consequence
of said intelligence thereby given, be kept secret until further orders..."
By early 1776, abuses were noted in the practice, and Congress resolved
that only the councils or committees of safety of each colony, and their
designees, could henceforth open the mail or detain any letters from the
James Lovell is credited with breaking British ciphers,
but perhaps the first to do so was the team of Elbridge Gerry, Elisha
Porter and the Rev. Samuel West who successfully decoded the intercepted
intelligence reports written to the British by Dr. Benjamin Church, the
Director General of Hospitals for the Continental army.
When Moses Harris reported that the British had recruited
him as a courier to carry messages for their Secret Service, General Washington
proposed that General Schuyler "contrive a means of opening them
without breaking the seals, take copies of the contents, and then let
them go on. By these means we should become masters of the whole plot..."
From that point on, Washington was privy to British intelligence pouches
between New York and Canada.
To offset British superiority in firepower and troops, General
Washington made frequent use of deception operations. He allowed fabricated
documents to fall in the hands of enemy agents or to be discussed in their
presence. He allowed his courierscarrying bogus information-to be
captured by the British, and inserted forged documents in intercepted
British pouches that were then permitted to go on to their destination.
Washington even had fake military facilities built. He managed to make
the British believe that his three thousand man army was outside Philadelphia
was 40,000 strong! With elaborate deception, Washington masked his movement
toward Chesapeake Bayand victory at Yorktownby convincing
the British that he was moving on New York.
At Yorktown , James Armistead, a slave who joined Lafayette's service with his master's permission, crossed into Cornwallis' lines in the guise of an escaped slave, and was recruited by Cornwallis to return to American lines as a spy. Lafayette gave him a fabricated order that supposedly was destined for a large number of patriot replacementsa force that did not exist. Armistead delivered the bogus order in crumpled dirty condition to Cornwallis, claiming to have found it along the road during his spy mission. Cornwallis believed him and did not want to believe he had been tricked until after the battle of Yorktown. Armistead was granted his freedom by the Virginia legislature as a result of this and other intelligence services.
Another deception operation at Yorktown found Charles
Morgan entering Cornwallis' camp as a deserter. When debriefed by the
British, he convinced them that Lafayette had sufficient boats to move
his troops against the British in one landing operation. Cornwallis was
duped by the operation and dug in rather than march out of Yorktown. Morgan
in turn escaped in a British uniform and returned to American lines with
five British deserters and a prisoner!
On 21 June 1776, General George Washington authorized and
requested the Committee to Detect Conspiracies to arrest David Matthews,
the Tory mayor of New York City, and confiscate his papers. Matthews,
accused of distributing money to enlist men and purchase arms for the
British cause and corrupting American soldiers, was residing at Flatbush,
on Long Island, near General Greene's encampment. Washington transmitted
the warrant drawn by the Committee to General Greene on the 21st with
directions that it should be executed with precision exactly at one o'clock
of the ensuing morning by a careful officer. Greene dispatched a detachment
of men who took Matthews into custody but found no incriminating papers.
Matthews' arrest was the result of hearings conducted from
19 to 21 June 1776 by the Committee to Detect Conspiracies under the able
leadership of John Jay. Until Jay was appointed to head the Committee,
it had put off real efforts to uncover any information concerning activities
or persons still loyal to the king.
During the hearings, conducted at Scott's Tavern on Wall
Street, the Committee first heard testimony from Isaac Ketchum, a counterfeiter
who had been arrested and was incarcerated in the City Hall jail. Ketchum
wanted to work a deal with the Committee; in exchange for his information
he wanted to be set free. The Committee agreed.
According to Ketchum, two prisoners by the name of Thomas
Hickey and Michael Lynch, who were in jail on suspicion of counterfeiting,
attempted to recruit him for the British. Hickey and Lynch both said they
abandoned the American cause and secretly joined the British side. They
indicated that others had also secretly agreed to serve the British. Ketchum
further told the Committee that Hickey and Lynch were recruited to the
British cause by an individual name "Horbush." The Committee
at first was unable to identify Horbush but soon realized that Ketchum
probably meant "Forbush," which is a variant of the name Forbes.
The Committee then quickly identified Forbes as Gilbert Forbes, a well-known
gunsmith who owned "The Sign of the Sportsman" shop on Broadway.
The Committee also determined that Hickey was a sergeant in Washington's
Two days after Ketchum's testimony, the Committee heard
from William Leary, a prominent local businessman. Leary told the American
authorities that he was in the city hunting for a runaway indentured worker
of his who had disappeared. Leary successfully found the worker but later
lost him. As he was walking around the city, he accidentally met another
former employee James Mason. Mason, believing that Leary had left the
company, asked Leary if he was in New York to join the other men. Leary,
not knowing what Mason was discussing, feigned agreement. Mason, joined
by several others, began to recruit Mason into a conspiracy but suddenly
stopped when they became suspicious of him.
The Committee interviewed Mason who provided additional
details about the Loyalist plot. He informed the Committee that men were
being recruited to join a special Tory corps and had received pay from
Governor Tryon. A Sergeant Graham, an old soldier, formerly of the royal
artillery, had been recruited by Tryon to prowl around and survey the
grounds and works about the city and Long Island. Based on his information,
a plan of action was conceived. Upon arrival of the fleet, a man-of-war
would cannonade the battery at Red Hook. While doing so, a detachment
of the army would land below the cannonade and by a circuitous route surprise
and storm the works on Long Island. The ships would then divide with some
sailing up the Hudson River and the others up the East River. Troops were
to land above New York, secure the pass at King's Bridge and cut off all
communications between the city and the country. Upon a signal, artillerymen
who were conspirators were to turn their cannon on the American troops,
the ammo stores were to be blown up and King's Bridge was to be cut to
prevent the Americans from escaping.
Under pressure of interrogation, Mason revealed the names
of several of Washington's guards: Hickey, William Green (drummer), James
Johnson (fifer), and a soldier named Barnes. Gilbert Forbes was the paymaster,
giving the men ten shillings a week. Mason also said New York mayor Matthews
contributed 100 British pounds to the plot. Mason also identified three
taverns as favorite hangouts of the conspirators; The Sign of the Highlander,
Lowrie's Tavern, and Corbie's Tavern. Corbie's Tavern, near Washington's
quarters, was a rendezvous site for the conspirators. Thomas Hickey was
supposedly recruited here. Hickey recruited Green the drummer and Johnson
the fifer. According to a conversation overheard at Corbie's Tavern, Washington
was to be assassinated when the British army landed, as part of a plan
for a surprise attack on the core of the Continental Army.
The Committee halted further depositions and went to notify
Washington. The information was sufficient for Washington to issue the
warrant for Matthews' arrest. Since Hickey and Lynch had already been
returned to Washington's Headquarters, they were arrested by Washington's
troops. A Court-martial was convened on 24 June 1776 and Hickey was charged
with "exciting and joining in a mutiny and sedition, and of treacherously
corresponding with, enlisting among, and receiving pay from the enemies
of the United Colonies." Hickey pleaded not guilty.
The army produced four witnesses to testify against Hickey.
Greene confirmed that Hickey had accepted funds to enlist in the Loyalist
plot. Gilbert Forbes also said that he gave Hickey money. Ketchum repeated
the hearsay evidence he presented to the Committee and a fourth person,
William Welch said that Hickey had tried to recruit him. The only defense
Hickey offered was that he was trying to cheat the Tories out of their
money. As to having his name placed on board the British warship, he said
he agreed to it as a precaution should the British defeat the Americans
and he was taken prisoner, then he would be safe.
After a short deliberation, the officers found Hickey guilty
as charged and sentenced him to death. On 27 June, Washington and his
Council of Officers met. They reviewed the transcript of the trial and
agreed with the sentence. On 28 June 1776 Hickey was hanged. He was the
only conspirator to be executed; 13 others were imprisoned. Matthews was
held as a prisoner but escaped to London. After the war he testified he
had formed a plan for taking Washington and his guard but it was never
(Fishkill), December 23rd, 1776
Present: Leonard Gansevoort Esqr. Chairman; John Jay,
Zephaniah Platt, Nathaniel Sacket, Esqrs.
Resolved that Enoch Crosby assuming the name of
do forthwith repair to Mount Ephraim and use his utmost art to discover
the designs, places of resort, and route, of certain disaffected persons
of that quarter, who have formed a design of joining the enemy, and that
for that purpose the said Enoch be made acquainted with all the Information
received by this Committee concerning this plan, and that he be furnished
with such passes as will enable him to pass there without interruption,
and with such others as will enable him to pass as an emissary of the
enemy amongst persons disaffected to the American Cause.
Resolved that Enoch Crosby be furnished with a horse and
the sum of 30 dollars in order to enable him to execute the above resolution.
Resolved that Mr. Nathaniel Sackett be requested to give
such instructions to Enoch Crosby as he shall think best calculated to
defeat the designs of the persons above mentioned.
Ordered that the Treasurer pay Enoch Crosby 30 dollars for
secret services. . .
Resolved that Nathaniel Sacket Esqr. be requested to furnish
Mr. Enoch Crosby with such clothing as he may stand in need of.
1. This article was written by Frank J. Rafalko, Chief Community Training Branch, National Counterintelligence Center.
2. Thomas Hutchinson came from a prominent New England family. In 1737, despite his family's admonishment to him about going into politics, he was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives. He later served as Chief Justice of the colony and then royal governor.
3. Francis Bernard was the nephew of Lord Barrington, the secretary of state for war in London. Barrington arranged for Bernard to be appointed as royal governor of New Jersey, but after two years Bernard moved to Massachusetts to become royal governor there. He was recalled to London in 1769.
4. Dr. Benjamin Church.
5. A.J. Langguth, Patriots The Men Who Started the American Revolution, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1988, p. 311.
6. Edmund R. Thompson, ed., Secret New England Spies of the American Revolution, The David Atlee Phillips New England Chapter, Association of Former Intelligence Officers, Kennebunk, Maine, 1991, p. 17.
7. Allen French, General Gage's Informers, Greenwood Press, New York, 1968, p. 166-167.
8. Capt. James Wallace.
9. Godfrey Wainwood or Wenwood, Letter from Washington to the President of Congress, October 5, 1775.
10. Letter from George Washington to the President of Congress, October 5, 1775.
11. The 28th article of war provided that anyone caught communicating with the enemy should suffer such punishment as a court martial might direct. Unfortunately for those who favored hanging Dr. Church, article 51 stated that such punishment was limited to thirty-nine lashes, or a fine of two months pay, and/or cashiering from the service.
12. Letter from George Washington to Governor Jonathan Trumball, November 15, 1775 in which Washington inserted the resolve of Congress he received from John Hancock regarding Church.
13. This article was written by Frank J. Rafalko, Chief Community Training Branch, National Counterintelligence Center.