Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Traitor Arrested!

In September 1775, having good reason to believe that he had corresponded with the enemy, George Washington had General Gage’s spy, Benjamin Church, arrested.

Paul Revere, afterward, had a conversation with Deacon Caleb Davis, who had seen Church in Boston on that day in April when Church had agreed to deliver a message to Revere’s wife Rachel. Davis had been ordered by General Gage to report to the Province House. Revere wrote: “When he [Davis] 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 [Davis] waited near half an hour, when General Gage and Dr. Church came out of a room, discoursing together, like persons who had been long acquainted. He [Church] appeared quite surprised at seeing Deacon Davis there; that he went where he pleased, while in Boston, only a Major Craine, one of Gage's aides, went with him. I 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 got out of the chaise and went up the steps more like a man that was acquainted than a prisoner.”

Church had in fact seen Rachel Revere and taken her hurried letter to Paul and one hundred and twenty-five pounds. Her letter was discovered in General Gage's personal papers one hundred fifty years later, at Gage's home in Sussex, England. The letter read, “My dear, by Doct'r Church I send a hundred & twenty-five pounds & beg you will take the best care of yourself & not attempt coming into this towne again & if I have an opportunity of coming or sending out anything or any of the Children I shall do it. pray keep up your spirits & trust yourself & us in the Hands of a good God who will take care of us.”

Revere did know before Church’s arrest that the doctor was an adulterer, that he kept a mistress, and that he lived extravagantly. It had not occurred to him, Doctor Joseph Warren, or anybody else that Church was a traitor.

On May 16 the Provincial Congress sent Church to Philadelphia to deliver a letter to the Continental Congress. The message urged that body to assume responsibility for the province’s militia army. Upon his return Church informed General Gage that the Provincial Congress was planning to fortify Bunker Hill. The Battle of Bunker Hill (fought on Breeds Hill) took place on June 17. Shortly thereafter, the Continental Congress appointed George Washington commander of the Massachusetts army. Church and a Moses Gill were selected to greet Washington upon his arrival from Philadelphia. The Provincial Congress then appointed Church the army’s chief physician.

Church’s spying ended in September, after staff officer Nathanael Greene gave General Washington a suspicious letter taken from a woman “of ill repute,” an intermediary who had attempted to deliver it to the British. The woman admitted that Church had sent the message to her. The doctor’s papers were seized and examined. Finding no incriminating documents, the searchers concluded that Church, forewarned, had removed them. Church insisted that the ciphered letter was meant for his brother, Fleming, in Boston. Two amateur cryptologists, working independently, deciphered it. Church had written about his activities, described the strength and strategic plans of Washington's army, and mentioned the American plan for commissioning privateers. The letter ended with “Make use of every precaution or I perish.”

On October 4 a council of war found Church guilty of communicating with the enemy. The Massachusetts legislature, after hearing his case, expelled him from the colony. On November 7 the Continental Congress ordered that he be closely confined in a Connecticut jail. Because of ill health Church was allowed to return, on parole, to Boston, after the British had evacuated the city. To forestall bodily attacks upon him, he was jailed. Before the close of 1777, he was allowed to leave the colony on a schooner bound for the West Indies. The ship vanished.