Newly Discovered Evidence Against a Man Who Has Long Been Suspected as Being a British Agent and America’s First Traitor
“John Nagy has devoted his astonishing research skills to unearthing the truth about the least known and most dangerous spy in American history.”Thomas Fleming, author of Liberty! The American Revolution
Dr. Benjamin Church, Jr. (1734-1778) was a respected medical man and civic leader in colonial Boston who was accused of being an agent for the British in the 1770s, providing compromising intelligence about the plans of the provincial leadership in Massachusetts as well as important information from the meetings of the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia. Despite his eminence as a surgeonhe conducted an autopsy on one of the victims of the Boston Massacreand his own correspondence and the numbers of references to him from contemporaries, no known image of him exists and many aspects of his life remain obscure. What we do know is that George Washington accused him of being a traitor to the colonial cause and had him arrested and tried; after first being jailed in Connecticut and then Massachusetts, during which he continued to profess his innocence, he was allowed to leave America on a British vessel in 1778, but it foundered in the Atlantic with all hands lost. The question of whether Dr. Benjamin Church was working for the British has never been conclusively demonstrated, and remains among the mysteries of the American Revolution.
In Dr. Benjamin Church, Spy: A Case of Espionage on the Eve of the American Revolution, noted authority John A. Nagy has scoured original documents to establish the best case against Church, identifying previously unacknowledged correspondence and reports as containing references to the doctor and his activities, and noting an incriminating letter in the possession of the Library of Congress that is a coded communication composed by Church to his British contact. Nagy shows that at the cusp of the revolution, when the possibilitylet alone the outcomeof an American colonial rebellion was far from assured, Church sought to align himself with the side he thought would emerge victoriousthe British crownand thus line his pockets with money that he desperately needed. A fascinating investigation into a centuries-old intrigue, this well-researched volume is an important contribution to American Revolution scholarship.
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About the Author
JOHN A. NAGY, scholar-in-residence at Saint Francis University, Pennsylvania, and expert on eighteenth-century espionage, is author of Invisible Ink: Spycraft of the American Revolution and Spies in the Continental Capital: Espionage Across Pennsylvania During the American Revolution, also available from Westholme Publishing.
Table of Contents
List of Illustrations ix
Abbreviations in the Notes x
1 Ancestry and Early Years 1
2 Boston Massacre 24
3 A Good Drunk for Only the Cost of a Copper 38
4 The Spy Game 57
5 The Ciphered Letter 94
6 Black Treachery 113
7 Transformed Vice into Virtue 123
8 Paying the Piper 144
A Doctor Benjamin Church Jr.'s Autopsy of Crispus Attucks 162
B Letter from John Fleeming to Dr. Benjamin Church 164
C Doctor Benjamin Church's Intercepted Letter 166
D The Mysterious Woman with the Ciphered Letter 169
E Council of War 172
F Account of the Examination of Dr. Benjamin Church Written While He Was in Prison at Cambridge 174