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Designs of the Enemy against New York and the Hudson. Plot of Tryon and the Tories. - Arrival of a Fleet. - Alarm Posts. Treachery up the Hudson. - Fresh Arrivals. General Howe at Staten Island. Washington's Preparations.
HE great aim of the British, at present, was to get possession of New York and the Hudson, and make them the basis of military operations. This they hoped to effect on the arrival of a powerful armament, hourly expected, and designed for operations on the sea. board.
At this critical juncture there was an alarm of a conspiracy among the tories in the city and on Long Island, suddenly to take up arms and cooperate with the British troops on their arrival. The wildest reports were in circulation concerning it. Some of the tories were to break down King's Bridge, others were to blow up the mag. azines, spike the guns, and massacre all the fieldofficers. Washington was to be killed or delivered up to the enemy. Some of his own bodyguard were said to be in the plot.
Several publicans of the city were pointed out, as naving aided or abetted the plot. One was landlord of the "Highlander," at the corner of
THE TORY CONSPIRACY.
Beaver Street and Broadway. Another dispensed liquor under the sign of "Robin Hood." Another named Lowry, described as a "fat man in a blue coat," kept tavern in a low house opposite the Oswego market. Another, James Houlding, kept a beer-house in Tryon Row, opposite the gates of the upper barracks. It would seem as
if a net-work of corruption and treachery had been woven throughout the city by means of these liquor dealers. One of the most noted, however, was Corbie, whose tavern was said to be " to the southeast of General Washington's house, to the westward of Bayard's Woods, and north of Lispenard's Meadows," from which it would appear that, at that time, the general was quartered at what was formerly called Richmond Hill; a mansion surrounded by trees, at a short distance from the city, in rather an isolated situation.
A committee of the New York Congress, of which John Jay was chairman, traced the plot up to Governor Tryon, who, from his safe retreat on shipboard, acted through agents on shore. The most important of these was David Matthews, the tory mayor of the city. He was accused of disbursing money to enlist men, purchase arms, and corrupt the soldiery.
Washington was authorized and requested by the committee, to cause the mayor to be apprehended, and all his papers secured. Matthews was at that time residing at Flatbush on Long Island, at no great distance from General Greene's encampment. Washington transmitted the warrant of the committee to the general on the 21st,
with directions that it should "be executed with precision, and exactly by one o'clock of the ensuing morning, by a careful officer."
Precisely at the hour of one, a detachment from Greene's brigade surrounded the house of the mayor, and secured his person; but no papers were found, though diligent search was made.
Numerous other arrests took place, and among the number, some, of Washington's body-guard. A great dismay fell upon the tories.. Some of those on Long Island who had proceeded to arm themselves, finding the plot discovered, sought refuge in woods and morasses. Washington directed that those arrested, who belonged to the army, should be tried by a court-martial, and the rest handed over to the secular power.
According to statements made before the committee, five guineas bounty was offered by Governor Tryon to each man who should enter the king's service; with a promise of two hundred acres of land for himself, one hundred for his wife, and fifty for each child. The men thus recruited were set to act on shore, in coöperation with the king's troops when they came.
Corbie's tavern, near Washington's quarters, was a kind of rendezvous of the conspirators. There one Gilbert Forbes, a gunsmith, "a short, thick man, with a white coat," enlisted men, gave them money, and “ swore them on the book to secrecy." From this house a correspondence was kept up with Governor Tryon on shipboard, through a "mulatto-colored negro, dressed in
THE TORY CONSPIRACY.
blue clothes." At this tavern it was supposed Washington's body-guards were tampered with. Thomas Hickey, one of the guards, a dark-complexioned man, five feet six inches high, and well set, was said not only to be enlisted, but to have aided in corrupting his comrades; among others, Greene the drummer, and Johnson the fifer.
It was further testified before the committee, that one Sergeant Graham, an old soldier, formerly of the royal artillery, had been employed by Governor Tryon to prowl round and survey the grounds and works about the city, and on Long Island, and that, on information thus procured, a plan of operations had been concerted. On the arrival of the fleet, a man-of-war should cannonade the battery at Red Hook; while that was doing, a detachment of the army should land below with cannon, and by a circuitous march surprise and storm the works on Long Island. The shipping then, with the remainder of the army, were to divide, one part to run up the Hudson, the other up the East River; troops were to land above New York, secure the pass at King's Bridge, and cut off all communication between the city and country.1
Much of the evidence given was of a dubious kind. It was certain that persons had secretly been enlisted, and sworn to hostile operations, but Washington did not think that any regular plan had been digested by the conspirators. "The matter," writes he, "I am in hopes, by a timely discovery, will be suppressed." 2
1 Am. Archives, 5th Series, vi. 1177.
Washington to the President of Congress. June 28.
According to the mayor's own admission before the committee, he had been cognizant of attempts to enlist tories and corrupt Washington's guards, though he declared he had discountenanced them. He had on one occasion, also, at the request of Governor Tryon, paid money for him to Gilbert Forbes, the gunsmith, for rifles and round-bored guns which he had already furnished and for others which he was to make. He had done so, however (according to his account), with great reluctance, and after much hesitation and delay, warning the gunsmith that he would be hanged if found out. The mayor, with a number of others, were detained in prison to await a trial.
Thomas Hickey, the individual of Washington's guard, was tried before a court-martial. He was an Irishman, and had been a deserter from the British army. The court-martial found him guilty of mutiny and sedition, and treacherous correspondence with the enemy, and sentenced him to be hanged.
The sentence was approved by Washington, and was carried promptly into effect, in the most. solemn and impressive manner, to serve as a warning and example in this time of treachery and danger. On the morning of the 28th, all the officers and men off duty, belonging to the brigades of Heath, Spencer, Stirling, and Scott, assembled under arms at their respective parades at ten o'clock, and marched thence to the ground. Twenty men from each brigade, with bayonets fixed, guarded the prisoner to the place of execution, which was a field near the Bowery Lane.