Three Rivers
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

The American Spy:
or Freedom's Early Sacrifice.
A Revolutionary Tale of New England,
Founded upon Fact.
by J. R Simms.
Albany: J. Munselll 78 State Street 1857.

Donated by Willis Barshied, Jr.


" There is but one philosophy though there are a thousand schools-and its name is fortitude."-Bulwer.

A few days before the Americans found it necessary to evacuate New York, Gen. Washington conceived it to be of vital importance to him in shaping future operations, to learn the numerical strength and intended movements of the enemy then in possession of Brooklyn-indeed of all Long Island. Every reliable source for such information had failed him, and yet on the acquirement of such knowledge seemed suspended the destinies of the country. A few officers in the advising confidence of the great Commander were assembled in council, at which it was resolved to send an individual competent to make the requited observations, into the heart of the British camp. Several persons were named from which to select, and among them the generous and noble hearted Hale, but at the bare suggestion of his name, the mind of Washington seemed to recoil with a shudder-" He is altogether too valuable an officer," said he " to risk in such an enterprise." It was finally left to Col. Knowlton to select a suitable person.

The Colonel soon after assembled the Captains of his regiment, and enjoining secrecy, made known the wishes of the Commander-in-Chief, and requested each of them to name the most suitable person of his own command to execute the dangerous mission.

Each named his man, but not one of the number could be persuaded to undertake it. " Do you think I wish to be hung up like a stalled ox ?" said the first; " Can you suppose I never wish to see my wife and, children again?'" asked the second; Would you subject me to the mercy of cut-throats and villains?" interrogated a third; "Pray, would you have me die before my time?" responded a fourth; and with similar objections did all excuse themselves from the unenviable task.

Dejected at not finding a person willing to undertake the duty with which he was entrusted, Colonel Knowlton sought the tent of our hero-the interview was one of thrilling interest. "I can not ask you to undertake this unenviable project," said the Colonel, " and yet, somehow or other, my mind seems to whisper me that unless you do, it will not be successfully accomplished,"

Hale had secretly resolved that if no one else in Knowlton's Infantry could be induced to, he would incur the hazard. He knew the stigma which the custom of nations cast upon the con- duct of a spy. He knew, too, how his motives might be impugned if unsuccessful, and he suffered the penalty of the law. He keenly felt how dear his Lucy was to him, as also his parents, sister, other relatives and friends. But the love of country triumphed over all other loves. " What would be wife and friends to me-what life itself," thought he, " if my country be shackled with the chains of despotism?"

After a few minutes' communion with himself, in which his face was buried in his hands, he said, with a degree of calmness which quite surprised the Colonel- " My life, sir, although peculiarly dear to me at this time from the consideration of possessing many sincere friends-and one still dearer than the rest to whom I am now plighted, our bridal-day having been delayed by the duties of this campaign, is it the service of my suffering country, in any duty our great Commander may impose. It was not a desire for personal fame which induced me to adopt the life of a soldier-no, I entered the army in the hope of being useful to my countrymen; and had la thousand lives, 1 would cheerfully give them, if necessary, to purchase liberty for my country! I will immediately prepare for this business, but must require of you a promise, my dear Colonel, that if I am unsuccessful, the motives which influenced me shall be made known to the world."

" That promise I most cheerfully make-but you do not anticipate such a result, I trust ?" said the Colonel.

"I scarcely know how I ought to answer your question," replied our hero, " but I must say that of late I seem to have a presentiment that some dread catastrophe is about to happen, either to myself or the army. But of this, enough. You have long known my respected father; you know what he now thinks of me; if on a gibbet I end my days, go to him-dry up his tears with the consolation your words will have, when you assure him that a sense of duty and devotion to country alone influenced me, and that trusting in the God of battles I undertook this perilous service.

The brave Knowlton, whose tears gushed forth unbidden at the evidence of so much disinterested benevolence-such self-sacrificing devotion to Country, communicated the specific information Washington desired; and taking the hand of our hero, as he arose to depart, he agreed, if his life was spared to do it, to execute, in case of necessity, his every wish.

Again left to himself, Hale instantly began arranging his affairs for an early start on the morrow. Several of his fellow officers, in the secret, vainly endeavored to dissuade him from his perilous engagement; and at the dawn of day, having given his lieutenant directions about his command, attended only by his own servant, he quit the American camp. He proceeded directly to Norwalk, in Connecticut, distant from New York nearly 50 miles, where he left his horse with his waiter, young Wright, to whom he confided a secret message for his intended bride, in case he did not return. He would have written to her, but for the want of ink and paper, articles often desired though seldom at hand among the American soldiers, in the early part of the war. Thrice while communicating to his faithful attendant the message for Miss Ripley, he thrust his hand into his bosom, as though he would remove some cherished object, requiring an effort of the mind, and then he said to himself, " No, no; we must not part yet."

Doffing his military garb, he assumed that of a private citizen, and with it the character of a school-master. From the vicinity of Norwalk he procured a passage across the sound in a small boat, and landing on Long Island, directed his steps, on foot, toward Brooklyn. Arriving there, Hale learned that most of the British army had passed over to New York, evacuated by the Americans the day before; and after making the requisite observations on the Island, he proceeded to the city-well sustaining the character he had chosen, and well executing the object of his disguise.

Entering New York so soon after it fell into the hands of the enemy, when most of its citizens were strangers to their officers, Hale found it not very difficult to pass for a citizen neutral in the contest. His previous stay of some weeks in the city seemed to favor such a notion, for he appeared to the officers and men with whom he conversed, to be familiar with every street, lane and avenue.

A night or two after he arrived in the city, it was visited by a destructive fire, which cousumed nearly a thousand buildings. Going to the scene of conflagration soon after the fire broke out, Hale discovered across the street his German friend, Staudt. Being at Boston when the war began, the British had taken him into their service under moderate pay, and had retained him literally to do nothing, but ostensibly to keep him from proving in any degree serviceable to the rebels, in the practice of chemistry. Watching an opportunity when unobserved in the confusion attendant upon such scenes, our hero approached the honest German and made himself known. The foreigner was about to express his surprise and joy at their cognition; but turning his head at the moment the young continental saw two British officers arm in arm coming directly towards them, placing his hand significantly on his mouth, with an inclination of his head which caused his companion to look around, be said in a low voice, " Secresy, my friend-meet me in John street;" and in the next moment he had disappeared.

As the two officers came up to Staudt, one of them who thought he " smelt a rat," in vulgar parlance, addressing- him by name, casually inquired, " Who he had just been talking with?" Surprised at hearing his own name, the German looked up and instantly recognized the speaker as Samuel Hale, to whom he respectfully raised his hat and replied:

" Yas, ow shood I no, Moosther Ale-he pees somepody vat kums to the vire."

" But you seemed to be in earnest conversation; what was it about? Be careful old fox, you don't deceive me," continued the royalist lieutenant, for such he proved.

" Ho, I ton't deseves nopoty. He vos jist telling me pout de hoose as vas plown up mit bowter, an I vas surprise,"

"What do you say, a house blown with powder?"

"Yes, yes," said his companion, pulling him by the arm, "| heard of it before I overtook you, the house chanced to contain several kegs, supposed to have been concealed by the rebels; come along, I will tell you all about it. But who," he inquired, as they moved on a few paces, and again halted within his hearing, " is this old Dutchman with whom you seem acquainted?"

" It is a pretended chemist, an old codger I met some time since in Connecticut," said Hale, " and I'll lay a dollar he is this day more of a Whig than a Tory; although he is under pay in our camp. Seeing him reminds me of a little love affair I had at the place where I met him."

" Indeed!" exclaimed the young Briton, " pray do relate it."

" It was hardly worth remembering till now," said the Tory, " I fancied a country girl to be rather pretty, because her name was Rose; but on acquaintance I changed my mind and gave her the go-by."

" O, that's all, is it? ' and thereby hangs a tale,' I suppose," said his friend, as they resumed their march.

"Ha, ha, ha! shower grape, dat Miss Rose vor you," said Staudt, as the young bloods walked on. " Val, me make von cute turn MIT de bowter; but I must look vor vind Moosther Natan Ale." So saying the German started in the direction of John street, muttering to himself sundry imprecations on the head of his loyal catechist, for sneering at his knowledge of chemistry, which, it now appeared he had also done in Coventry.

No street could be very dark in a city, the half of which, to appearance, was on fire, but in the most shaded part of John street, the German found the object of his search. Within an old building in a lane now known as Dutch street, a long and secret conference was held by the two friends. Some of the information desired by Washington, the spy was enabled to obtain from his friend, who readily promised to undertake the collection of still more. Agreeing to meet at 8 o'clock, three evenings after, near the leaden statue of King George,* the two now sought their own lodgings.

The appointed interview of our hero with Staudt took place, as did several subsequent ones, at all of which the especial business of the former went swimmingly on. At the second interview he learned, however, and to his unfeigned regret, that in a battle fought above New York soon after the Americans left it, his warm personal friend, the daring Col. Knowlton, had been slain; that the cause in which his own life was periled, had thus sustained its greatest loss since the death of Warren. Having completed his observations, all of which were carefully noted down in a small pass-book and concealed in an inner part of his vest, the spy took leave of his colleague and left the city about noon, in the direction of the American camp.

Destiny shrouds her acts in mystery
Often, lest man in horror from them shrink.

Proceeding leisurely along, our hero passed party after party of straggling troops without exciting the least suspicion. He felt

* At the beginning of the Revolution, a leaden statue of King George was standing at the foot of Broadway, where now stands a water fountain in the Bowling Green. At an early period it was taken down by the patriots and moulded into bullets. It is believed that the British restored it, on gaining possession of that city.

Next to nothing was known of the geological resources of the country, and so difficult did the Americans find it to procure lead in. the Revolution, that they were compelled to pay most extravagant prices for it; on which account many of the antique leaden window casings and sash imported by the early Dutch settlers of New York and Albany, which would now be highly valued as curiosities, were melted up by their penurious owners, and sold to the government.

how important to the American cause had been his mission, how rejoiced would be the great Washington to learn so many future plans of the enemy; and conscious that he could not be far from the American pickets, he began to breathe more freely. At length he had passed the last British outpost, and on yonder eminence saw an American fire. He entered a little coppice of wood, and on emerging from its opposite side, he observed near and directly in his course, a small company of soldiers he could not mistake for continentals, for they were clad in British uniforms. " If I go back to the wood," thought he, " I shall surely excite suspicion, if I go to " The Cedars," (a country inn a little way off,) I shall find that occupied by the enemy. I will therefore approach them. Could he have known that any of the number would recognize him, he certainly would have returned, and by a circuitous route and possibly a chase, taken the hazard if need be, of their fire. He continued to advance as if impelled by fate, and when too late to retreat if he would, discovered to his dismay that the officer commanding the corps, was, Lieutenant Hale, his Tory kinsman. The recognition was mutual, and as Samuel advanced and extended his hand, he exclaimed, '' How are you, cousin Nate ? We rebels " never lie.'"

After a few formal questions and answers about far-off friends our hero would have resumed his journey, but by a signal from the lieutenant, the bright bayonets of his followers were presented at his breast, with the imperative order from a corporal to stand. " Sir," said the lieutenant, " the appearance of a continental officer coming from the direction of our camp in a citizen's dress, and approaching that of the king's foes, look most suspicious; and although we are relatives, I should be unworthy of the trust reposed in me, did I not arrest and conduct you before Gen. Howe. You will therefore consider yourself my prisoner. And lest you should attempt to escape, I shall be constrained," added the sprig of loyalty in a most haughty and insolent manner, " to put the cords of stability upon your pretty arms, my chop-fallen cousin !" and at a given signal two of the men stepped forward to bind him.

That the countenance of our hero grew sad can not be doubted, since from the first salutation of his cousin he read his fate, knew that his days were probably numbered, and in fancy saw the gibbet; but if dejected, it was not that be feared death-for that he had long been prepared. Such cold-hearted indifference to the just claims of human nature, such base ingratitude in fact; for more than one untold act of kindness had the prisoner rendered his kinsman, aroused his spirit, and self-possession if waning; and folding his arms across his breast with dignity, and fixing his eyes calmly on the epauletted sprig of nobility, in a tone of sarcastic irony, he thus addressed him: "Call me not cousin, most valiant hero! I scorn to own a kinsman, who is either so great a coward he dares not in open day, with twenty brave men well equipped, convey one unarmed citizen into camp without "cords of stability," as he is pleased to term them; or who is so entirely dead to all the dictates of common humanity, as to treat with such cold indifference a long known and often tried personal friend. '0 shame, where is thy blush?' And believe me, sir, if my countenance indicates sadness, it is caused more by sympathy for a man void of moral principles-for one whose nightly debauches, if his looks and actions do no belie, must soon prove his ruin, than by the apprehension of any danger which awaits my own person."

" Well Nate, I don't see but you can preach morality as well as ever; and as we are in want of chaplains just now, possibly Gen. Howe will retain you in the service. But my dear coz, do tell me what you was doing here on this neutral ground, for I declare, in the midst of your sermonizing, I had forgotten to ask you." He had no doubt divined his errand.

Without deigning a reply to the insolvent servant of tyranny, the spy turned round as if ready to be bound, but the two soldiers with the cord, admiring his spirit of manly daring, had gone back to the ranks, supposing from (he tenor of his address, the order would not be enforced. Seeing the men in their places he again ordered them out, and at the end of a dozen horrid oaths, he exclaimed: " Bind the moral rascal, or yourselves shall be bound!"

Men however depraved or however dissipated, in their sober moments, unless so steeped in pollution as to become stone-dead to sensibility, seldom fail to look approvingly on those who possess virtues of a rare and ennobling quality. The cord was now fastened (evidently with an ill-grace by the soldiers,) to the arms above the elbows-the lieutenant approaching to see that it was adjusted sufficiently tight to suit him, and the party moved on towards the city. The feelings of our hero in retracing his steps maybe better imagined than described. He felt conscious from the infamous treatment of his kinsman, that he was walking on the very brink of worldly ruin; and yet his step was firm and unshaken, for he feared not to die.

Few words passed between the Hale cousins while returning to New York, and about the going down of the sun, our hero was ushered into the presence of Gen. Howe. The standing of the prisoner as a partizan officer, was known to the General from his Bunker Hill acquaintance; and the testimony of the lieutenant as to his arrest and the circumstances attending it," which evidence was corroborated by several of the soldiers present, made the case so clear against him that he confessed the object of his mission.

His confession seemed, to render the search of his person unnecessary, and so slight was it, that all the evidence of guilt upon him was not discovered: a few drawings of the camp at Brooklyn, with descriptions written out in latin, were however found between the soles of the pumps which he wore. That the memorandum should not fall into the hands of his enemies, and that possibly it might reach Gen. Washington in time to have some portions of it prove serviceable, was the reason of his frank avowal.

Without calling a court-martial-without entering into even the forms of a trial, or granting a single day's respite for the soldier to contemplate on death, Howe gave ciders for his execution upon the gallows, at the rising of the morrow's sun; and he was instantly conducted to prison. Whether Lieutenant Male took any pride in his ungrateful conduct towards his kinsman or not, we can not say. He had the satisfaction, if such it was to him, when at the prison door, of hearing him utter in a spirit of gentle reproof and triumph, his New Haven motto, as the Tory called it; and ever after did the words never lie! ring in his unwilling ear.

Staudt was allowed a peep into almost every corner of the city, he being a source of no little amusement to the British soldiers, who were pleased with his adventurous narratives and imperfect English. Learning in the street that his friend was confined under sentence of death, to the prison door he directed his steps. Under some pretext he was permitted to enter and see the prisoner. His emotions at first threatened to thwart the plans of our hero, whose only wish seemed now to be, that the present interview should not be lost.

As soon as his friend could control his feelings, our hero gave him the passbook containing the information so much desired by Gen. Washington, with instructions how to convey it to the American camp-cautioning him against danger of its being found upon his person. He communicated several brief messages to all the members of his father's family, not forgetting even Job; and told him that if he went to Coventry, he would always find at his father's, not only friends, but a home-to his class-mate, Fitch, crazy John, and Miss Rose, the condemned sent also a dying memorial. That to the latter was merely a last farewell with a congratulation that she had rejected a suitor, who had not only betrayed his country, but one of his sincerest friends. In all that he had said he betrayed no emotions, until unloosing his vest he drew from his bosom a locket-" This," said he, in a low and tremulous voice," is the last friend with whom I must part, except yourself, this side of eternity. Give it to her whose lovely image it bears, and tell her I restore to her the sunbeam of my existence-tell her, too, that I release her from our nuptial vow, and that I die cherishing her memory!"

Hale knew that the integrity and retentive memory of his friend would enable him faithfully to execute his every trust, if he but lived to revisit Coventry. The honest German was about planning an escape, but the brave man would not listen to it, and had barely time to give his visitor a few articles about his person to convey to his friends, and urge his acceptance of a small purse of money, which he said would go to that greatest of all unhung: knaves, Cunningham, the jail marshal, if he did not receive if, when the keeper returned and the interview closed. For a little time after Staudt had left his cell, the emotions of the prisoner, breathing as he was a contaminated atmosphere, had nearly suffocated him; but the consolations of religion, burst upon his soul, and calm devotion at length occupied his thoughts. Kneeling down, he prayed long and fervently; and in that petition was not only remembered the cause of his distracted country, his (soon to be) heart-broken Lucy, and other near and now doubly dear friends; but the reformation and salvation of his refugee cousin was devoutly implored.

With his mind thus fortified, the prisoner requested of the keeper, who was not devoid of all sensibility, materials for writing, which were granted and paid for. He then wrote an affectionate letter to his honored father, to his beloved sister, and still dearer Lucy; in all of which he had given evidence in the strongest terms of his willingness to die for his country; and with only a few hours between him and the invisible world, he laid down upon a scanty heap of straw and slept.

The day-king had scarcely illumined the eastern horizon, when the brutal Cunningham, with an executioner, was at the cell of the doomed; and as the latter awoke on Sabbath morning, the 22d of September, to a consciousness of his real situation-for his dreams had been blissful, there stood, impatient for his blood, the hirelings of Britain. All communications written by prisoners under sentence of death, were subjected to the perusal of the provost Marshal, who could allow them to be forwarded as directed or destroy them. With an exulting smile he took up the one nearest and read aloud its superscription: " To Deacon Richard Hale." "O, ho! to a deacon, is it? well, I'll see whether a deacon will be likely to prove more rebellious on its perusal."

He began to read, and as he advanced, the muscles of his face grew more and more rigid, and ere he had finished, a scowl rested upon his brow. Without a word of comment he took up each of the others and perused them with the same apparent look of disappointment. Seeing him about to destroy them, our hero entreated him as the request of a dying man, whom he might ere long meet in another world, to let the several letters, at least the one to Miss Ripley, go as directed. Profanity and intemperance are war's attendants, and at the end of a terrible oath he said with emphasis-" It would not do! and more than that, it shall not be.'" So saying, he spread them-tore them into threads, and cast them contemptuously beneath his feet.

Hale now requested a few moments' interview with a chaplain; this favor was coldly denied him. As a last earthly petition, he desired only for a few moments, the loan of a Bible. This little indulgence, too, was refused with an oath, and to the infamy of the British officers on that station be it said, for knowing the fiendish character of Cunningham, they retained him; indeed, for being a devil-on-foot had they given him his station.

In view of such base treatment, the prisoner exclaimed-"God of Heaven, to whose mercy I commend my foul, bear me witness, that I die lamenting that I have only one life to lose for my oppressed country!" He was then conducted in shackles to the public gallows of the enemy behind the ' Upper Bariacks,' where he suffered death unpited by any eye, save that of Deity, with such fortitude as excited the astonishment of his executioners, and possibly that of a few vagabond spectators. Thus ignobly, fell Liberty's Hero-Freedom's Early Sacrifice!

The last written letters of Hale, glowed with a lofty strain of patriotism and resignation. Could not even the one destined to serve as balm to that heart must feel his loss most keenly, be allowed to reach its destination? Alas! no. ' It would not do.' Cunningham afterwards assigned to his friends as a reason for their destruction: " That he did not wish the rebels to know that one of their kidney could die with such fortitude." In view of this patriot's death, well might the poet, Dwight inscribe-

"Thus did fond virtue wish in vain to save "
Hale, bright and generous, from a hapless grave;
With genius' living flame his bosom glow'd,'
And Science charmed him to her blest abode,-
In worth's fair path his feet had ventured far,
The pride of peare the rising grace of war,-
In duty firm, in danger calm as ev'n
To friends unchanging and sincere to Heaven,
How short his course, the prize how early won,
While weeping friendship mourns her fav'rite gone."

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