Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Moving On Again, or Learning That There Were Safe Houses for British Troops in Middletown and How That Led Me to a Plot for a Novel Based Loosely on Phebe's Life

Hello!  I need to move past the all over the place nature of the last few posts and write something relevant to Phebe.  Like, super relevant, in my opinion.  I would bet hard money that her house would've been the safe house in Middletown, as Phebe's husband John was the local big Tory (it's a wonder he kept his property) and Ruckman Hill (the location of their house) is written on a Tory/British spy map of the area.

Anyway, I'm getting ahead of myself.  Apparently, there were Tory safehouses all along the mid-Atlantic states so that British soldiers could escape Rebel/Patriot prisons and make their way to New York (under British control until the very end) and on a ship to Britain, if need be.  I'll transcribe the interesting bits of this book on espionage in the American Revolution, but first, I just want to say (to readers or to future me), that I have now come up with a major plot point in my fictional recreation of Phebe's life.  I have her being the wife of a Tory/Loyalist (as she was, but I have her and her husband being much younger than they actually were), but in my version, she's sympathetic to the Patriot cause.  Mostly because she hates her husband, natch.  (My husband always says, when I start talking about a historical romance in book form or in movie form, "So...trapped in a loveless marriage, huh?")  I have cast her love interest as Captain Andrew Lee from this true account I'm about to transcribe.  Only, I think I'll call him George.  Or Charles.  Although, Andrew's not bad.  It's a work in progress, don't you know.

So, without further ado, I'll transcribe a few key passages from the book "Turncoats, Traitors & Heroes:  Espionage in the American Revolution" by John Bakeless.  It's a good book, very educational, and somewhat riveting, really.  The chapter I'm transcribing parts of is "The Exploits of Ann Bates."  Ann Bates was a spy for the British and she was quite successful and she actually made it out of the war alive, which, you know, good job by her, I guess.  I don't know.  Am I not a true American if I think that?  I don't think, at the time, that things were as black and white as the Tea Partiers and Glenn Beck would have you believe.

I'll try to explain things that don't make sense, but, really just focus on the existence of a safe house (or houses) in Middletown.  And then, of course, on the story of the dreamy Captain Lee.  Well, in my mind he's dreamy.  Again, natch.

OK then!  Let's begin!

"When next he met Ann Bates, ..., Drummond asked her to go to a place "about Forty Seven miles from Philadelphia" -perhaps Easton, Allentown or Bethlehem.  Here she was to meet a "Friend that was in Connection with General Arnold."  The friend turned out to be a woman secret agent, of whom nothing else is known.  The incident seems to indicate that Arnold was already in touch with the British in 1778, six months earlier than is usually supposed.

Ann was given a list of safe houses, "where I might be accommodated through the Jerseys," then dropped on the Jersey shore.  Through Middletown and Bordentown, she reached Philadelphia, and went on to her destination, the British spy nest, next day.  Here she met with suspicion, because she had brought no token.  Glibly she explained that the only officer who knew about the tokens was in London.  When she had quieted the other woman spy's suspicions, Ann gave her directions for "the proper Houses of Reception she was to call at," and herself went back alone as far as Middletown.  When the mysterious woman joined her-it was safer to travel separately as long as possible-they went on to "the Horse Shoe," where a boat took them to New York.  Presently the other woman went back to Pennsylvania, doubtless to see what could be done with Arnold."

And then on the next page, (so skipping a bit more of Ann's story):

"By this time, Ann Bates might not have found secret journeys through Pennsylvania quite so safe; for in 1781 Clinton's chain of safe houses was partly broken by the daring exploit of Captain Andrew Lee, of Paxtang, Pennsylvania, serving temporarily as an American counterintelligence agent.  General Washington had been annoyed by the constant escape of prisoners from Lancaster.  After getting out of their prison, the men utterly vanished, though the nearest British post was a hundred miles distant, and they were clad in the brilliant British uniform.  It was evident that they were traveling by night and hiding by day in the houses of royalist sympathizers, who might also be concealing British spies.

General Washington turned the problem over to General Moses Hazen, who sent for Captain Lee.  Lee suddenly disappeared, while his brother officers were allowed to understand that he was either on leave or "on command," about which it was better not to ask questions.  Actually, he had been thrust into prison, so completely disguised in British uniform that the American "intendant" in charge, though an acquaintance, did not recognize him.

The new "prisoner" soon had his eye on an old woman, deaf and half-witted-or supposed to be so- who sold fruit to the genuine prisoners.  Lee rather thought he saw "signs" exchanged between the crone and the captives.  He knew that her son had been thrown out of the American Army in disgrace, after punishment of some kind.

One rainy, windy night when a careless or bribed sentry had taken refuge from the rain, a mysterious figure slipped into the prisoners' barracks and began waking some of them.  Casually the disguised American joined the group.

"Not the man-but come," said the stranger.

The door of the prison barracks was unbarred.  Outside, where a section of the stockade had been taken down, the old woman who had been selling fruit joined them; and presently, from a neighboring thicket, a male companion emerged.

The two guided the escaping prisoners to the woman's house, a mile away, where they were given food and took an oath not to try to move farther, except with the group.  Lee was disturbed to find that among the escaping prisoners was one he had himself punished; but, to his relief, the man gave no sign of recognition.  Just as an alarm gun sounded from the American camp, the fugitives started out through the night and were soon hidden in one of the large stone barns common in southeastern Pennsylvania.  Night after night the group trudged along, making only a few miles from one haven to another, finding shelter in barns, cellars and caves when daylight came.  Once they were hidden in a "tomb."

Although he had shrewdly given no sign, the British prisoner, whom Lee had earlier punished, had, in reality, long since recognized him as an American officer and guessed what he was doing.  On the twelfth night, perhaps by this man's secret connivance, Lee was hidden alone with him in a barn, while underneath a stone church.  Now, for the first time, the Tory guide learned Lee's identity, a discovery which he insisted on keeping secret for the time being.  If Lee really was a spy trying to slip into the British lines with the escaping prisoners, the safest thing was to keep him with the party till he had been lured to a place where the British themselves could seize him.

When at length the escaping prisoners reached the bank of the Delaware, no one could find a boat.  Handing his pistol to the man who had identified the American captain, the guide went off with the others, to look for some means of crossing the river.

The American had by this time accomplished his mission; he knew how the escapes were being managed; knew the route; knew the Tories who were helping.  It was time to break away.  Once beyond the Delaware, he would soon be in British-held territory, illegally in British uniform and subject to execution by all the rules of land warfare.

Captain Lee may, by this time, have guessed that he had been detected.  If not, he soon found out; for, when he tried to leave, the man hiding with him fired-harmlessly, since, strange to say, the guide's pistol had been loaded with powder only.  There was a knife fight-vigorous enough, since Lee, though small, was agile-which lasted until an American patrol arrived, attracted by the noise, and arrested Lee, his assailant, and most (if not all) of the others.

The Americans took their catch before a magistrate, who merely laughed at Lee's claim to be an American officer, and had the whole group marched off to Philadelphia in irons.  Lee was released only after he had managed to send a note to General Benjamin Lincoln, whose aide promptly arrived to take him to the general.  Lincoln burst into roars of laughter when he beheld the forlorn figure of his brother officer, who had not shaved for a week and whose British uniform was by this time in tatters.

Returning to Lancaster, Lee retraced the route of the prisoners, exposing the Tories who had sheltered them.  Fifteen arrests closed the escape line.  In January, a Philadelphia grand jury found true bills against the guilty Tories."

That's it then.  tl;dr, I know.  Totally.  Thanks for reading, if, in fact, you made it through.  I myself love history told by anecdotes.  So much better than history by dates, right?

And also, you know, in transcribing this, I noticed that they called Captain Lee small and now I'm picturing him less as Robert Pattinson and more like James McAvoy.  Huh.  This whole thing is really evolving.  Also, I of course have a happy ending planned for Phebe and Captain Lee (a fictional version), do not fret.  Man, this is diverting.

Until next time...

1 comment:

  1. Uh ma Gah!!! I want to make that story in to a screen play!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Why has that not been done yet?