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.


" The scene of Death is closed! the mournful strains
Dissolve in dying; languor on the ear,
Yet Pity weeps, yet Sympathy complains,
And dumb Suspense awaits o'erwhelm'd with fear."-Falconer.

Immediately after the execution of Capt. Hale, a flag was sent by Gen. Howe to the American line, exultingly to proclaim the fact of his arrest and death; and if the prospect of patriots in arms looked gloomy before, this event could not fail to increase their despondency. Long and bitterly did the father of his country mourn the untimely fate of the ripe scholar-the devout Christian-the true patriot-the noble HALE. In a historical work, the writer has already contrasted the death of this hero with that of Maj. Andre, who afterwards became a victim in the same war. The character of the former did not then-nor can it ever suffer by the position, from the pen of fairness. The celebrated court which tried the British spy four years after the death of the American, if not influenced in its decision by the unfeeling treatment meted to the latter, had it most vividly in remembrance.

Wright, the waiter of Capt. Hale, communicated his tragic fate to the family, who were overwhelmed at the shock, and the father deprived of his reason in consequence. What the secret message was which he bore to the heart-stricken Lucy, we are not informed-it must have been similar, however, to the one communicated to Staudt in the city prison. The latter embraced the first opportunity to leave New York, where he had sown some of the seeds of rebellion among the Hessian troops, and gain the camp of Washington, whose surprise at receiving Halo's memorandum must have been very great. Most of the information it contained, however, was received a few weeks too late to prove serviceable. For the faithful execution of his trust, the German received the hearty thanks of the great Commander, and a suitable compensation.

Proceeding to Windham and Coventry, Staudt fulfilled the dying commands of his military friend to the letter. From that period he for several years found a home at the Hale dwelling; and often did he and Job mingle their tears, when recounting the many good deeds of our hero. In fact the honest negro more than once contemplated going to Rhode Island and enlisting in Col. Angel's regiment of blacks, for the purpose, as he expressed it, " ob 'venging de deth ob Masses Nat'n;" which he purposed to do by slaying the ingrate who betrayed him. His inability to endure the fatigues of the journey, and his aversion, as he declared, " to dem leetle cloth-housen wot let in de cold so in winter"- probably kept him in Coventry, where his bones now moulder.

It became known in the American camp by a deserter, just before Wright left it for Coventry, who had betrayed our hero. Overhearing the messenger say that Samuel Hale had been the means of his friend's death, crazy John was observed to clench his fist and walk off. The first opportunity he had to speak to Wright unobserved, he desired to go with him to the army and seek an occasion to revenge, if possible, the death of his friend, and an insult he felt had once been given by the royalist to himself. He appeared more rational than he had done in several years, and Wright, who knew little of him and desired a companion, if he was somewhat foolish, told him he could go, supposing, of course, he would get the consent of his parents to do it. It chanced also, that Zeb, who had formed an acquaintance with crazy John, had been sent on an errand the same day to Coventry. He, too, as his dear " Missus" was so wo-begone, now caught the spirit of revenge, and was easily persuaded by John to accompany him on his singular mission-singular, because they could not know at what point to seek their intended victim.

Agreeable to the arrangement of crazy John, who now, strange as it may appear, exhibited little of his idiocy, himself and Zeb were to start in the night and proceed on the road towards Hartford, to be overtaken by Wright, where they would not be likely to be known. Fitch's slave was moving betimes, and before day-light, made the signal which called out his companion. The mysterious disappearance of John, who was not in the habit of going any great distance from home, was the occasion of much distress among his friends; so much so that that part of Lake Wangombaug nearest his father's dwelling was raked for his body; somnambulism, although in its infancy at that period, being thought by some the only key to unlock the mystery of his exit.

It was several weeks before it became known in Coventry that Zeb had vanished the very same night on which crazy John had " stepped out," but when the fact was established it was readily conjectured that the strange boys had gone together; on which account the mother of the idiot concluded to defer putting on mourning" apparel for the present.

Wright, having been liberally compensated for executing the trust of his sainted master, left Coventry and overtook his companions early in the afternoon, and the trio journeyed on, sometimes by a chance ride in the ox-cart of a farmer, but usually on foot, to Hartford, and from thence accompanying, by the most eligible route, a corps of newly recruited infantry, to West Point. From the latter place the boys soon after proceeded to join the American army in New Jersey. It being understood in camp what mission crazy John and his friend had undertaken, many smiled at the idea of its accomplishment, but all pitied them, and they were allowed to follow the fortunes of their country's defenders in the capacity of waiters and hangers on, the latter being one in which they could go and come at their pleasure, or fight on their own hook or let it alone.

Lieut. Hale, whose conscience for his unfeeling conduct towards his kinsman became in his sober moments his own accuser, was engaged in the battle of Princeton. When the air was most vocal with the shrill song of war's leaden minstrel, a voice was heard almost in advance of the American lines to exclaim-" I tell you there he is, Zeb-I tell you there he is! ha, ha, ha, ha!" The sentence closed with the crack of a musket aimed by the speaker, which weapon not five minutes before had fallen from the hands of a British soldier. Just at this moment a body of the enemy rallied and made a stand, when Washington's men temporarily fell back. The fear of a bayonet-charge sent the Coventry boys, who were near together, into the rear. The battle now raged fiercely for a time, and then came a shout above the din of arms-it was LIBERTY'S voice-the British were in full retreat. Among the fallen might be seen the scullions and suttlers of the victorious army plundering the dead;-the waiters of American officers taking care of wounded friends; and two individuals, a little republic in themselves, answerable to no one, and at war on their own account, running hither and thither as if frantic in the pursuit of some object.

" I tell you here he is, Zeb! I tell you here he is! ha, ha, ha, ha!" shouted crazy John, at a little distance from where he had fired at his victim, scarcely an hour before. Sure enough, he stood gazing at the object of his search. Mortally wounded, the Tory captain had been abandoned by his friends in their flight; and to gain temporary shelter, as the weather-was piercing cold, he had crept into a pig-stye. Weak from the loss of blood, benumbed by the chilling blast, and tormented by a thousand phantoms his now dying state had aroused, he was startled by that fearful laugh he had heard at the moment he received his wound. Could it be, the laugh of the poor, unoffending lad he had once in a fit of ill-humor, so provokingly called to his face, " the biggest fool on earth?" He opened his blood-shot eyes, and lo! there stood the object of every good man's pity-now less unfortunate than himself. As Zeb came up and observed that the Tory was still alive, he claimed the satisfaction of finishing him. Seeing the gun in the idiot's hand transferred to the black, the tenant of the stye raised his hand imploringly, and said " John, my good boy, is that you? Have pity on me-don't let that fellow shoot me!"

" You didn't have no pity on the Cap'n, I tell you, and golly, you don't desarve any-ha, ha,, ha, ha."

" No, dat he don't," said Zeb, cocking the piece, "for you know he's made de old Deacon crazy's a loon-den dar's poor Lucy, she looks so kinder pale and sorryful all de time, sittin' lone and lookin' tudder way-den Dar's all de rest ob urn; how you tink dey look?" he asked, raising the gun to his shoulder.

" O! mercy, good John; O! mercy, dear Zeb; is that you? O! don't let him fire, John; O! quarters! quarters! pity! pity! don't fire-I'll give you money!" said the wounded officer, his head now sinking upon his breast.

In the midst of the Tory's appeal, Zeb snapped the gun and it missed fire; seeing which his comrade grew impatient lest they might not overtake the troops, and exclaimed-" I tell yo to fire, Zeb; I tell you to fire! for the darned Tory didn't never pity nobody; he called me a. fool, and then called the good money digger an impostor, and he killed the poor Cap'n and we'll kill him, ha, ha, ha, ha."

While the negro was repriming the musket, for the wind had blown the powder from the pan, the royalist turned his bloodshot eyes once more upon his foes, raised his hand imploringly and faintly articulated the word "mercy!" At this instant crazy John shouted-" The plaguy British wouldn't left him, Zeb, if he'd been worth savin', so fire away, I tell you-fire away; ha, ha, ha, ha."

" I'll fire," said the colored hero," gist soon's I can; cause the Cap'n was better'n a hag pen full ob gis such uns as this drunken dog." At the close of this sentence, bang! went the gun, and eternity received the Tory's spirit.

For a seeming want of pity in the two boys for thus finishing the dying ingrate, who, like thousands of his fellows, was in arms against the defenders of the soil which gave him birth, we make no apology. They had followed the fortunes of war solely to accomplish his destruction; for this had they endured fatigues, hunger and cold, and now had they consummated their purpose. Acting upon the principle that ' to the victor belong the spoils of the vanquished,' they took from their victim his sword, watch and a few shillings in money-lawful prizes in war, and hurried on to join the victorious arms of their countrymen. In camp they were treated with extreme kindness when it became known by the effects taken from (he person of Lieut. Hale, that they had not only discovered but slain him. Disposing of their sword and watch, the boys were thus furnished with the means of defraying their expenses home, whither they journeyed with a body of troops, -whose term of service had expired in January, 1777. On arriving in Coventry the runaways were treated with great benignity by the patriotic citizens, but none greeted them more joyfully than Job and his German friend, at the successful termination of their enterprise-now first disclosed to the astonishment of the neighborhood.

Mr. Fitch readily forgave Zeb for causing him so much trouble, -while the mother of crazy John, who looked upon her unfortunate son as one rising from the dead, was overjoyed, and expressed her gratitude not only at his safe return, but that she had not procured any black crape. The affection of a mother for her offspring seems greatly increased by any constitutional or early misfortune. Much of the time during his absence, crazy John had exhibited but little of the idiot excepting when under great excitement; but on arriving at home and beholding familiar objects, his idiotism to a great extent returned, with this peculiarity, however, that instead of his former expression when his mind was wandering of-"I tell you the world goes round," uttering which he never failed to swing his arm if possible; pointing directly forward be now exclaimed with marked emphasis, " I tell you there he is, Zeb; I tell you there he is!" Long did the poor fellow live to boast of his Revolutionary exploit, and fish around the shores of lake "Wangombaug, after millions who set out in life when he did, with prospects unclouded, had passed from the stage of existence ' to that bourne from whence no traveler returns.'

Copyright 1998, -- 2003. Berry Enterprises. All rights reserved. All items on the site are copyrighted. While we welcome you to use the information provided on this web site by copying it, or downloading it; this information is copyrighted and not to be reproduced for distribution, sale, or profit.

Contents Introduction Links Home