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Sketch of Connecticut, Forty Years Since/Chapter XV

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CHAPTER XV.

Mid thy full wreath no bosona d worm shall feed, Nor envy shame it with one mingling weed, This to thy deeds doth public Justice give, That with thy country shall thy glory live."

Mrs. Morion.

( THE sergeant-major of dragoons," continued General T - ," was kindly received on board the British gallies, and sent to New- York. After passing the usual interro gations before the adjutant-general, he was taken into the presence of Sir Henry Clinton. Not doubting the sin cerity of a man who had encountered such dangers in order to join his standard, he inquired with great emphasis

" How may this spirit of defection among the American trGG?S be be?t excited 1 Are any general officers sus


pected of being concerned in the conspiracy of Arnold ? What is the prevailing opinion respecting the doom of \ndre ? Is not the popularity of Washington with the army declining ?

" To these insidious questions Champ returned wary answers. The haughty features of Clinton relaxed into a sarcastic smile, and putting gold into his hand, he direct ed him to wait on General Arnold.

" He is forming," said he, " an American legion for the service of his Majesty. You must have a command in it since you so well understand how to baffle the rebels."


214 SKETCH OF CONNECTICUT,

" Champe was presented to Arnold by an officer. He found him in one of those elegant mansions, which suffer ed so much from the wantonness of abuse by the British soldiery. Fond of pomp, and elated by it, he regarded the dragoon with an arrogant, inquisitorial look. The Virginia cavalry had borne such high reputation for intre pidity in their country s cause, that he could scarcely be lieve that one of them stood before him in the character of a deserter. Yet, amid the assumed haughtiness of hie manner, it seemed as if the consciousness of his crime came suddenly over him, and callous as was his heart, he dared not offer the Virginian the hand of a traitor.

" A letter from the commander of the gallies, who had witnessed the circumstances of the escape, was enclosed to him by one of the aids of Sir Henry Clinton. He pe rused it, and his doubts vanished. Hurrying toward Cliaulp^ with his quick, limping gait, he said

" I am glad to see that you are so wise a man. You shall have the same station in my legion, which you have held in that of the rebels."

" This was a fiery ordeal to Champd. He had submit ted to the exposure of his escape, and to the ignominy re* suiting from imputed treachery, without repining, con sidering them as the sacrifice necessary to be made for the attainment of that great good which Hope was offering. But to bear arms against that country, for which he had fought, spent watchful nights upon the cold ground, arid sent his midnight prayer to heaven, was more than he


FORTY YEARS SINCE. 215

could sustain. Scarcely could he withhold his hand from plunging a sword into the heart of the traitor. Scarcely, with all his characteristic calmness, could he command utterance to say, that he wished to retire from war, for he was aware that

if, in its various" vicissitudes, he should fall 

into the hands of the Americans, a gibbet, at which his soul revolted, would be his inevitable doom. The blood mounted to the forehead of the traitor, at this refusal. Champe marked the rising storm of passion, and hasten ing to quell it, said

" " Nevertheless, I have a martial disposition. It may be that my mind cannot rest, to see the glory of war, and not partake it. If it prove so, I will avail myself of your offer."

" Arnold was satisfied, and appointed him quarters near himself. The dragoon, sensible that the greatest circum spection was necessary, endeavoured so to conduct as to lull suspicion. His first object was to convey letters to Lee. But to so dangerous an attempt many obstacles were interposed. In his private instructions, he had been di rected to a person on whose aid he might rely ; one of that class of adventurous and patriotic spirits, who submitted to the most humiliating disguises, to obtain intelligence for their country s good. Their dangers were more affecting than those incurred upon the field of battle ; for with them, the punishment of defeat was ignominious death, and the reward of victory inglorious concealment. Females fre quently dared the perils connected with a system of es-


216 SKETCH OF CONNECTICUT,

pionage, and like the Saxon king amusing himself with his harp in the camp of the foe, secretly unstrung the sinews of the enemy s strength.

" A delay of several days intervened, ere Champe found it practicable to elude his attendants, and go in search of this unknown coadjutor. It was beneath the cover of a gloomy evening, when rain fell in torrents, that he ven tured cautiously to open the door of a small dwelling in the suburbs of the city. A man was there, hovering over a miserable fire, and hastily stripping the feathers from some dead poultry. A basket of eggs, as if for the market of the next day, stood near him on a bench. He started at the British uniform, and playing with the long hair which hung over his eyes, said in the tone of an idiot

" Here s fine fowls, your honour, fine for the spit, Sir. Will, you buy some fresh eggs ? three for sixpence."

" Then lifting the basket, he ran with childish haste to exhibit it to the stranger. Champe fixed upon him his keen black eye, and repeated with deep intonation the watch-word which had been given him by Lee. Instan taneously the half bent form became erect, and the fidget ing, wandering movements of idiocy were exchanged for the light of an intelligent countenance. Securely bolting- the door, he drew a chair for Champe , and listened to his brief conversation with deep emotion. As he gave him, at parting, the letter to be conveyed to the American camp, he would fain have put into his hand a piece of gold. But the spy, as if touched by the spear of Ithuriel,


FORTY YEARS SINGE. 217

rose to the full height of six feet, and extending his arm in an attitude of native majesty, and uncovering his head, where a deep scar severed the thick locks, said

" You mistake me. Suppose ye that gold is payment for these scars this disgrace this wretchedness ? Ought you not better to read the heart, where the love of its country lies so deep, that many waters cannot quench it, neither the floods drown it ? Here, a miserable outcast, I think of my desolate country, and my heart bleeds, not for itself, but for her."

i4 Half-abashed at the lofty demeanour of the spy, Champe" pressed his hand, and departed. The next day, Major Lee communicated to Washington, in his marquee, the following letter in cypher.

"NEW-YORK, OCTOBER 10th, 1781. " With the circumstances of my escape you were un doubtedly made acquainted, at the return of my pursuers. The bearer will inform you that my reception on board the gallies, and at this place, has been favourable to our wishes. I am able confidently to assure you, that the sus picions excited by Arnold are false as himself. Not one of our officers is supposed by the British to be otherwise than inimical to their cause. Only one has fallen, owe son of per dition. To have the pleasure of doing this justice to fideli ty, balances the evils of my situation. I was yesterday com- pelled to a most afflicting step, but one indispensable to the completion of our plan. It was necessary for me to accept a commission in the traitor s legion, that I might 19


218 SKETCH OF CONNECTICUT,

have uninterrupted access to his house. Thither he usu ally returns at midnight, and previously to retiring, walks a short time in his garden. There I am to seize, and gag him, and with the assistance of this trusty spy, bear him to a boat, which will be in readiness. In case of inter rogation, we shall say, that we are carrying an intoxicated soldier to the guard-house. Some of the pale? from the garden fence are to be previously removed, that our silent passage to the alley may be facilitated. On the night, which the bearer is commissioned to appoint, meet me at Hoboken, with twenty of the Virginia cavalry, those brothers of my soul, and there, God willing, 1 will deliver to your hand, the troubler of Israel.

JOHN CHAMPE."

" Unforeseen circumstances occurred to protract thr- enterprise. Lee longed for the appointed day with impatience of a lover. At length it arrived, and with a party of dragoons he repaired to Hoboken. Three led- horses, completely accoutred, accompanied the train. The beautiful steed of Champe was one of the number, and Lee could scarcely restrain his joy, as he saw hiag proudly champing his bit, and anticipated the pleasure with which his faithful officer would again remount him. He concealed himself with his party in a thick vrpod. Evening drew on, it seemed, more slowly than ever. Dark clouds partially enveloped the atmosphere. A few faint stars were occasionally visible. The eye of Lee was continually upon the waters, and before the appoint-


FORTY YEARS SINCE. 219

ed hour, he fancied that he heard the dash of oars, and the watch-word in the voice of Champt:. Midnight passed, the dawn gleamed, the morning opened, but no boat ap peared.

" Disappointed, and full of apprehension for the safety of his faithful emissary, Lee collected his party, and re turned to consult with Washington. Several days of anx iety intervened, ere the arrival of the trusty spy, from whom he learned that a sudden movement of Arnold discon- .certed their plan, but a few hours before the t ; me appoint ed for its execution. He changed his quarters to superin tend the embarkation of his troops, who were transferred from their barracks to ships, destinied for some secret expe-

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x.v, iirt&ieiicu. i- iUajur juee, and threw him?elt at his feet, a broken-hearted man. His commander rais ed him in his arms, and tears flowed over his manly cheeks. Addressing himself to an officer of a noble countenance, who stood intently viewing the scene, he said

  • General Greene, the worth of this manls incalculable.


220 SKETCH OF CONNECTICUT,

You know something of his virtues, but the half of his sufferings has not been told you."

" The veteran received him as a brother. There is nothing like a participation in common danger to cement the hearts of men together. Friendships formed in pros perity may be sincere ; but those, tried by adversity, are like gold from the furnace.

" Lee directed the disconsolate Charnpe to Washing ton, and ordered his servant to bring him the horse, and cloak, which were brought back by Cornet Middleton, It was an affecting sight to see the soldier meet his favour ite animal. Till that moment he had preserved his man hood. But, when he saw that mute companion of his dan -

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rt* In the failure of your design-, you deserve more I praise, than many victors wnoiu iuc *> oriel have appi. ed. I cannot again risk you in this war. Your life is too raluabie tome, and to your country, to be again exposed to the dangers of battle, or to the hazard of that vengeance, which the enemy would inflict, if you became their pris. oner." " Champe* received his discharge, and retired to private


FORTY YEARS SINCE. ^21

life, embellishing it with his virtues, and carrying with him, what was to him above all price, the friendship of Washington."

"How," inquired Colonel , " had this enterprise

reference to the liberation of Andr ?"

" It was ardently hoped by Washington," replied his brother, " that the capture of Arnold might develop some circumstance of palliation, which would permit us to re store the amiable Andre to his friends. This was, how ever, the dictate of compassionate feelings, rather than of sober judgment. But long ere CHSTnpe could bring his designs to their termination, the unfortunate and noble- minded Andre had confessed the character in which he came, and by the sentence of the court-martial had been led to execution."

" That interesting man," said the Lady, " and the firm ness with which he suffered, made a deep impression upon all classes of persons in our community. In this instance, and in the imprisonment of young Asgill, in retaliation for the unprincipled murder of Huddy by Lippincut, Wash ington subjected his washes to the controul of policy."

" But he could not suppress his sympathies," said Col onel . " They were visible in his changed counte nance, when he spoke of their misfortunes. You have justly admired, Madam, the firmness of Andr ; yet there is a circumstance respecting one of our own Connecticut men, which, though less applauded, is worthy of equal honour. When the retreat of vVashington

left the British 

iy*


222 SKETCH OF CONNECTICUT.

in possession of Long-Island, it became exceedingly im portant to know their plan of operations. Application for that purpose, was made to Captain Knowlton, whose name will remind Anderson of the rail- fence, and of the terrible carnage at Bunker-hill. Nathan Hale, a native of Con necticut, a young man with the rank of captain, urged earnestly for the hazardous service. He passed in dis guise to the island, obtained the most important informa tion, and was on the point of departure. At that moment he was suddenly apprehended , and carried before Sir William Howe. Sctfrhing dissimulation, he frankly ac knowledged for what purpose he came. He was ordered for execution the next morning, and treated in the most unfeeling manner. It was in vain that he requested the attendance of a clergyman, or even the favour of a bible for one moment. Letters written to a mother, and the dearest friends of his heart, were destroyed. The reason given by the provost- marshall for this singular cruelty, was

" The rebels shall never know that they have in their army, a man capable of dying with such firmness."

" A stranger, exposed to the bitterness of insult, without a glance of pity, or a tear of sympathy, he approached the gallows with an undaunted air, uttering the heroic senti ment

" I lament that I have only one life to lose in the service of my country." "Neither hope of promotion, nor pecuniary re ward, had


FORTY YEARS SINCE. 223

incited him to this enterprise. His sole motive was patri otism ; yet he sleeps without a stone, almost without a record. How different was his treatment, so disgraceful to humanity, from the tender attentions bestowed on An dre by Washington ! How different the barbarity of his murder from the poignant regret with which Washington signed the warrant for the execution of Andre* !"

" It can never be necessary," said the Lady, " to add bitterness to the severity of the law. Justice, and cruelty haveuo affinity ; it is the depravity of man which blends them. In the character of Washington, sympathies and energies are finely mingled. We are always glad to find that a hero does not forfeit the sensibilities of a man."

" It is easy," said Colonel , " to pass encomiums on the virtues of Washington, for it is always safe to do so. But we, who saw him without restraint, who knew the secret trials which he endured, are most sensible how far

beneath his merits is the meed of fame. While to a dis-


tant observer he might seem the most fortunate of men, hidden darts were piercing him. His disinterested labours were not always correctly estimated, Congress some times blamed, often opposed his wisest measures. It con cealed within its bosom a faction, anxious to supplant him. Instigated by the malicious calumniator, Conway, and the vindictive, and unprincipled Charles Lee, their object was to supersede him, and elevate Gates upon the ruin of hi* reputation. His perplexities were greatly increased, by the brief, and inadequate periods of the enlistment ofhi*


224 SKETCH OF CONNECTICUT,

soldiers ; so that often, on the eve of some important ac tion, when all his effective strength was required, his army would be disbanding, and vanishing like a shadow."

" The wants of the soldiers," said Gen. - , " were also to him a source of continual sorrow. Ill-clothed, ill- led, and scantily provided with ammunition, he was com pelled to struggle with his pity, and enforce that rigid dis cipline and subordination, without which an army is an unmixed evil. In their winter-quarters, particularly at Valley-Forge, and Morristown, where, through the crevi ces of the miserable log-huts which they had themselves constructed, they were heard complaining for food, for want of wh ch their half-naked, emaciated forms were famishing ; when the traces of their feet upon the snow and ice, were red with their own blood, how did Washing ton strive to relieve their comfortless condition. With what fatherly compassion would he listen to their com plaints ; yet with what firmness decree justice to their offences. How would he sooth them into patience, while his own heart was bleeding. Yet, in the midst of his sor rows, with what dignity and serenity of soul, would he meet the darkest vicissitudes, and be prepared for the most unforeseen exigencies. It was to his officers a source of wonder, as well as of admiration, that when the most important transactions were committed to his guidance, he never neglected the most minute attentions."

" I have been surprised" said the Lady " at his power of uniting calm and deliberative wisdom, with promptness arfd energy of execution. I have supposed


FORTY YEARS SINCE. 225

that the structure of mind, which enables a man to phi losophize, did not naturally dispose him to the per formance of difficult and daring deeds. But he, whom Heaven raised up for its own great purpose, seemed to combine, without contradiction, opposing qualities."

" I shall never forget," said Colonel , " that

mixture of noble feeling with urbanity, with which, in the early stage of the contest, he refused to treat with the commissioners from Lord and Admiral Howe, because they studiously avoided the acknowledgment of those titles, which the independence of his country demanded. To his expanded mind, those titles were less than nothing and vanity. But he would not dispense with the respect, which was due to his nation through her representa tive. How firm and dignified was his demeanour when, in the winter of 1776, the despondence of the people ap peared in every imaginable form, when the enlistments of his insufficent army were expiring every month, and they could be induced neither to remain, nor to contend. How bright was the glance of his eye when, after performing prodigies of valour at Monmouth, and enduring without complaint the excessive heat of that terrible day, he lay down upon the earth in his cloak for a short repose that night, expecting to renew the battle ere the dawn of morn ing. But his countenance has, at no period, made a more indelible impression upon my mind, than at the passage of the Delaware; when by a brilliant stratagem, he re vived the hopes of a dejected nation. I think I again see the banks covered with snow, as they were during the in-


226 SKETCH OF CONNECTICUT,

tense cold of that Christmas night. Seated upon his noble horse, and attended by General Greene, he superintended the hazardous embarkation, with the serenity of a superi- our being. In retracing this group, the athletic form and open countenance of his black servant Bill always recurs to my memory, with his upturned eye fixed affectionately upon his master, as if he were the arbiter of his fate. On a slippery and steep eminence at some distance,Hhe intrepid Knox directed the passage of the artillery. His steed seemed to tread in air, and he displayed the same firmness, with which he continued to stand, as one of the pillars of the temple of Liberty, until the storm which rocked her foundations had past. The soldiers forced the horses, with their baggage, down the slippery banks, and the slight

boats, in which they encountered the masses of ice borne

down by the river, seemed emblematical of the strug gles of an infant nation with one, whose armour, and whose tone threatened destruction."

Could Colonel have anticipated the events of

forty years, he might have seen the magnificent pencil of Sully forcibly illustrating his own description of the me morable " Passage of the Delaware."

Madam L , always moved by the praises of Wash*

ington, replied

" Such an union of goodness with greatness, of deliber ative wisdom with energy of execution, of attention to the most minute concerns amid the transaction of the greatest., rank our Washington, not only among the first of heroes but the best of men."