Slike strani


About this time there was occurrence which caused great excitement in the arinies. A woman, coming from the camp at Cambridge, applied to a Mr. Wainwood of Newport, Rhode Island, to aid her in gaining access to Captain Wallace, or Mr. Dudley, the collector. Wainwood, who was a patriot, drew from her the object of her errand. She was the bearer of a letter from some one in camp, directed to Major Kane in Boston : but which she was to deliver either to the captain or the collector. Suspecting something wrong, he prevailed upon her to leave it with him for delivery. After her departure he opened the letter. It was written in cipher, which he could not read. He took it to Mr. Henry Ward, secretary of the colony. The latter, apprehending it might contain treasonable information to the enemy, transmitted it to General Greene, who laid it before Washington.

A letter in cipher, to a person in Boston hostile to the cause, and to be delivered into the hands of Captain Wallace the nautical marauder! there evidently was treason in the camp; but how was the traitor to be detected ? The first step was to secure the woman, the bearer of the letter, who had returned to Cambridge. Tradition gives us a graphic scene connected with her arrest. Washington was in his chamber at headquarters, when he beheld from his window, General Putnam approaching on horseback, with a Btout woman en croupe behind him. He had pounced upon the culprit. The group presented by the old general and his prize, overpowered



even Washington's gravity. It was the only oce casion throughout the whole campaign, on which he was known to laugh heartily. He bad recovered his gravity by the time the delinquent was brought to the foot of the broad staircase in head-quarters, and assured her in a severe tone from the bead of it, that, unless she confessed everything before the next morning, a halter would be in readiness for her.

So far the tradition ;- his own letter to the President of Congress states that, for a long time, the woman was proof against every threat and persuasion to discover the author, but at length named Dr. Benjamin Church. It seemed incredible. He had borne the character of a distinguished patriot; he was the author of various patriotic writings; a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives; one of the committee deputed to conduct Washington to the army, and at present he discharged the functions of surgeon-general and director of the hospitals. That such a man should be in traitorous correspondence with the enemy, was a thunderstroke. Orders were given to secure him and his papers. On his arrest he was extremely agitated, but acknowledged the letter, and said it would be found, when deciphered, to contain nothing criminal. His papers were searched, but nothing of treasonable nature discovered. “ It appeared, however, on inquiry,” says Washington, “ that a confidant had been among


my messenger arrived."

The letter was deciphered. It gave a descrip

a 66

tion of the army.

The doctor made an awkward defense, protesting that he had given an exaggerated account of the American force, for the purpose of deterring the enemy from attacking the American lines in their present defenseless condition from the want of powder. His explanations were not satisfactory. The army and coun. try were exceedingly irritated. In a council of war he was convicted of criminal correspondence; he was expelled from the Massachusetts House of Representatives, and the Continental Congress ultimately resolved that he should be confined in some secure jail in Connecticut, without the use of pen, ink, or paper ; "and that no person be allowed to converse with him, except in the presence and hearing of a magistrate or the sheriff of the county.”

His sentence was afterwards mitigated on account of his health, and he was permitted to leave the country. He embarked for the West Indies, and is supposed to have perished at sea.

What had caused especial irritation in the case of Dr. Church, was the kind of warfare already inentioned, carried on along the coast by British cruisers, and notoriously by Captain Wallace. To check these maraudings, and to capture the eneiny's transports laden with supplies, the provinces of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut, fitted out two armed vessels each, at their own expense, without seeking the sanction or aid of Congress. Washington, also, on his own responsibility, ordered several to be equipped for like purpose, which were to be manned by



bardy mariners, and commanded by able sea captains, actually serving in the army. One of these

. vessels was dispatched as soon as ready, to cruise between Cape Ann and Cape Cod. Two others were fitted out with all haste, and sent to cruise in the waters of the St. Lawrence, to intercept two unarmed brigantines which Congress had been informed had sailed from England for Quebec, with ammunition and military stores. Among the sturdy little New England seaports, which had become obnoxious to punishment by resistprice to nautical exactions, was Falmouth (now Portland), in Maine.

On the evening of the 11th of October, Lieutenant Mowat, of the royal navy, appeared before it with several armed vessels, and sent a letter on shore, apprising the inhabitants that he was come to execute a just punishment on them for their

premeditated attacks on the legal prerogatives of the best of sovereigns.” Two hours were given them, “ to remove the human species out of the town,” at the period of which, a red pendant hoisted at the main-top-gallant masthead and a gun, would be the signal for destruction.

The letter brought a deputation of three persons on board. The lieutenant informed them verbally, that he had orders from Admiral Graves to set fire to all the seaport towns between Boston and Halifax; and he expected New York, at the present moment, was in ashes.

With much difficulty, and on the surrendering of some arms, the committee obtained a respite until nine o'clock the next morning, and the in




habitants employed the interval in removing their families and effects. The next morning the committee returned on board before nine o'clock. The lieutenant now offered to spare the town on certain conditions, which were refused. About half past nine o'clock the red pendant was run up to the masthead, and the signal gun fired. Within five minutes several houses were su flames, from a discharge of carcasses and bombshells, which continued throughout the day. The inhabitants, "standing on the heights, were spectators of the conflagration; which reduced many of them to penury and despair." One hundred and thirtynine dwelling houses, and two hundred and twentyeight stores, are said to have been burnt.1 All the vessels in the harbor, likewise, were destroyed or carried away as prizes.

Having satisfied his sense of justice with respect to Falmouth, the gallant lieutenant left it a smoking ruin, and made sail, as was said, for Boston, to supply himself with more ammunition, having the intention to destroy Portsmouth also.2

The conflagration of Falmouth was as a bale fire throughout the country. Lieutenant Mowat was said to have informed the committee at that place, that orders had come from England to burn all the seaport towns that would not lay down and deliver up their arms, and give hostages for their good behavior.3 Washington himself supposed such to be the

1 Holmes' Annals, ii. 220. 2 Letter of P. Jones. 8 Letter from Gen. Greene to Gov. Cooke.

« PrejšnjaNaprej »