Thursday, May 31, 2012

Letters from the Front: Loyalist Spies in Eastern Massachusetts

"tis likely you have heard of the one Legged Spy taken up At Harwich he attempted to burn Barnstable Jail &c"

Despite the relative lowness of British fortunes in the spring of 1778, Loyalist agitation behind the lines continued. In his letter to Dr. Samuel Adams (whose letters to his wife have been featured previously), Thomas Paine of Eastham, Massachusetts (not to be confused with the famous writer) describes on-going Continental Army recruiting efforts alongside the activities of a Loyalist spy. His account, presented in full below, details the travails of a one-legged man believed to be a Loyalist agent and the reception (or lack thereof) he received from the local tory population. Eastham, located in eastern Massachusetts, retained a sizeable Loyalist population, though these dissidents from the Revolution were obviously well-intimidated by their whig neighbors, as seen by their unwillingness to harbor a spy. Our thanks go to Library Research Assistant David Swain for the following transcript.


Sol Feinstone Collection No. 1052
Thomas Paine to Dr. [Samuel] Adams, Eastham, [MA], 23-26 March 1778
Transcribed by David Swain October 2011

N. 3                 Eastham March 23 1778
Dear Sir
            This comes to enform you that I have long wished for answer to my other two I sometimes almost fear I shall never receive another line from your celebrated Pen, but I will not despair not totally despair of yet receiving one Line more & I hope its delay (this quite mortifying at present to me) will increase its Length when it does come
            Something hath happened in Eastham very agreable for me to tell and I dare say will not be disagreeable to you when you hear it This People have shown great Spirit in raising men to fill the Continental Army and all the Companies (one only excepted) I am told have completed their Quotas for 8 months—The deficient one is Capt. Joshua Higgins’s–he hath raisd one man or another there so as one man in his company would go—had he exerted himself as the others did I make no doubt he would have got the men—North End have shewed great Spirit on this Occasion—Tis worthy of Notice and altho’ I am not much given to Superstition I think this is a good Omen, tis likely you have heard of the one Legged Spy taken up At Harwich he attempted to burn Barnstable Jail &c. as they were moving him to Plymouth Goal I am told he made his escape got as far as Docter Fessendens last Saturday Night 12 of the Clock The docter it seems would not or dare not entertain him the 2nd Time but advised him to go to Friend Baly’s & directed him the Way, (how easily he might have taken him up) when he was gone the Docter sends Information to Esqr. Ny’s of Harwich great Search was made—a Watch Set last night at Josiah Nyricks &c. &c. I just now hear the Fellow was taken by Mr. Hall in Yarmouth Woods Yesterday—one thing something remarkable Doc Fessenden could not tell wch. Way he went from his House whether East or West. What do you think of such a Docter?—We have had a remarkable Winter for Snow and it went off the finest that Ever saw so great a Quantity—I have been quite unwell the last Week but am this Day pretty Comfortable I hear the Spy fears since the Tories would not secrete him he fears he will bring them out. Dear Sir I subscribe myself your sincere Friend.
Thomas Paine
please to turn over~

[pg 1]

You will please to remember all I have written concerning the Spy is from common Rumour I have not vouchers for the Truth & such I have said or shall say upon the Subject but is a very great curiosity and the one Legged Man is now said to be sent out by some Jenuine Whig in order to lift the Tories you may remember Docr. Fessenden had once a turn of a fever at his brothers in Sandwich—Tis now Said he has got the Jaundice Upon the whole this seems to me at least to represent a Play—Whether it will end in a tragical or comical Manner is yet uncertain to me and you may perhaps know more of the Affair than your old feble confirmd Friend—To Doc. Adams—
                        March 26 1778

[pg 2]

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