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The Story Of A Spy


Chapter 11
Page 102

When a nation goes to war with another, it is often necessary for the armies on each side to leave behind some of the high and noble principles which may have governed them at home. Of course, war is bloody and cruel, and it almost always happens that the officers and soldiers are obliged to descend also to meanness and duplicity in order to succeed in their campaigns.

One strong reason for this is the necessity for the employment of spies. It is always desirable for the commander of an army to know as far as possible the condition of the enemy's force, and what he is doing or intends to do. Consequently it is a common thing to send spies into the enemy's ranks; and the better those spies can deceive the soldiers of the other side, the more valuable will be their report, if they are fortunate enough to get back into their own camp.

Sometimes a spy will sneak into the enemy's lines, and make his observations in concealment and safety; but the most valuable spies are those which enter an enemy's camp pretending sympathy and friendship. A man who can do this well can find out a great deal.

In every army a spy from the other side is

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regarded as the worst of enemies, and if captured, his punishment is death. An impartial outsider might object to this severity, when it is considered that the army which punishes the spy may, at the same time, have spies of its own among the enemy. During the Revolution, Major André was executed because he came into the American lines as a spy, and at the same time General Washington was very glad to get a good spy to send into a British camp.

There was a man named John Honeyman, who acted with great success in this capacity on the patriotic side during the Revolution. Honeyman was a Scotch-Irishman, and was said to be a remarkably fine looking man. He was tall, strong, extremely active, and had a fine military bearing. He had no desire to become a soldier; but he was forced into the British army, and came to this country in 1758, when Abercrombie came over to attack the French in Canada. Young Colonel Wolfe, who was afterwards the famous General Wolfe who fell at Quebec, had command of this army, and on the ship in which he sailed was John Honeyman.

Military men are not as sure-footed as sailors on board a ship, which may be rolling and tossing on rough waters; and one day, as Colonel Wolfe was coming into the cabin, he tripped and fell when he was halfway down the companion way, and would probably have broken his neck, if it had not been that Honeyman happened to be at the bottom of the steps, and caught the colonel in his arms, thus saving him from injury.

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It is very satisfactory for a full-grown man, especially one whose profession exposes him to accidents of various kinds, to be able to take into his service another man who is tall enough and strong enough to pick him up and carry him if it is necessary, and who is also quick-witted enough to know when he should interpose himself in case of danger.

Honeyman's conduct on this occasion made an impression on Colonel Wolfe; and when afterwards he was made general, he took the tall soldier into his bodyguard, and made him understand that, in times when danger might be apprehended, he was to be as near him as his duties would permit.

When the great attack was made upon Quebec, Honeyman was one of the men who helped row the boat which carried Wolfe over the river; and during this passage a cannon ball from the enemy struck an officer sitting very near Honeyman, and took off his head. Had this happened to Honeyman, it would have been a bad thing for New Jersey.

When they reached the opposite side, Honeyman climbed the Heights of Abraham side by side with his brave commander; and when, in the battle which followed, Wolfe was killed, it was Honeyman who bore him off the field. Thus the first and the last service which this strong man rendered to his military chief were very much the same.

About a year after this the war ended, and Honeyman received an honorable discharge. He carried with him the good will and commendation of his officers, but he also took something which he valued

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more than these. While he was with General Wolfe, that officer had given him letters expressing his good opinion of him, and these afterwards proved of great service.

Honeyman went southward, and lived for some years in the American Colonies. He finally settled in Philadelphia, where he married. When the Revolution broke out, his sympathies were entirely with the American side, but he did not immediately enlist in the American army. When Washington came to Philadelphia, Honeyman was very anxious to see him and consult with him. It was difficult for a man in the ordinary walks of life to obtain an interview with the commander in chief; but Honeyman sent in the letters which General Wolfe had given him, and, after having read these, Washington was very ready to see the man of whom that general had such a high opinion. Washington soon discovered that Honeyman was a man of peculiar ability, and he had several interviews with him, although it is not known what was said at these times.

Before very long, Honeyman took his family to Griggstown, in Somerset County, New Jersey, and there he hired a house and settled. From this place he went to Fort Lee, when Washington came into New Jersey with his army, and had an interview with the general; and here, it is said, he made a regular contract with the commander in chief to become a spy on the American side.

There were a good many Tories in the State, and,

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as Honeyman had once been a British soldier, it was easy enough for him to make believe that he was a Tory, and so make friends with the Redcoats when he should have an opportunity.

The plan concocted between Washington and Honeyman was very carefully worked out in all its details. Honeyman was to let it be known that he was a Tory, and as soon as he thought it proper he was to leave his family and join the British. It was considered that the best thing he could do would be to engage in business as a butcher, and then, when he went over to the British, he could go about the country in search of cattle, and thus get a good idea of what was going on.

He was to stay with the enemy until he discovered something important, and then he was to arrange matters so that he should, apparently without knowing it, wander near the American lines, where he would be captured. It is said that Washington arranged, that, as soon as he should hear that Honeyman had gone over to the enemy, he would offer a reward for his arrest; but this reward would be paid only in case the supposed traitor should be carried alive and unhurt to him. All this planning was necessary, because there was so much communication between the Tories and Whigs at that time, that, if it had been known on the American side that Honeyman had gone over as a spy, the fact would soon have been communicated to the British.

Honeyman went over to the enemy, and started business as a butcher for the army, and, after having gone

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a good deal about the country looking for cattle, he came to New Brunswick with the British army. Nobody had suspected that he was not a perfectly honest Tory, and he had been paying great attention to the condition of the British army, and to finding out everything which might be of use if reported to Washington. Among other things, he discovered that the British forces then occupying Trenton were not under a strict state of discipline. It was winter; the weather was cold; apparently there was not much for them to do; and discipline was in a rather lax state. Honeyman well understood the habits of the Redcoats, and he knew that during the holidays the soldiers would live in even a more free and easy manner than they were living then.

Not only did he make himself well acquainted with the condition of the army, but he carefully studied the town of Trenton and its neighborhood, and, going about in every direction after cows and oxen, he learned the roads so well that he could make a very good map of them. Everything that could be of service to the American cause was jotted down in Honeyman's retentive memory; and when he had found out everything that he could find out, he thought it was fully time that he should acquaint Washington with the state of affairs in the enemy's lines.

He knew that there were American pickets on the Jersey side, some distance away; and he started out in this direction as a greasy butcher, with a rope in one hand and a long whip in the other, looking for all the world like John Honeyman the Tory cattle

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man, who, if he knew what was good for him, would better keep out of sight of the soldiers of the American army. He walked a long distance down the river, and, though he may have seen cattle, he paid no attention to them. His present object was not to capture anything and take it away, but to be captured and taken away. After a time he saw at a distance what he had been looking for. Behind some bushes, but still quite plain to the eye of this practiced soldier, were two cavalrymen dismounted, and Honeyman knew that they were Americans. He continued to walk towards them until he came close to the spot where the two soldiers were standing.

The moment their eyes fell upon him, they recognized him, and shouted to him to halt; but Honeyman was too good an actor to do that. If he wished to carry on the business in hand, he must keep up his character as a Tory, and so he took to his long legs and ran like a deer. But the men jumped on their horses and were after him in a moment; and as

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horses' legs are a good deal better than human legs, no matter how long they may be, the flying butcher was soon overtaken. But even then he did not surrender, but so laid about him with his whip that he kept the two men at bay. Of course, if they had not known him, they would have shot him down; but as Washington had issued a proclamation concerning him, and had especially insisted that he should be brought in alive, they did not wish to injure him. But the unequal fight did not continue long, and Honeyman was soon captured. The soldiers bound his arms, and, mounting him behind one of them, so carried him across the river to Washington's camp.

When Honeyman was brought into the presence of the commander in chief, he pretended to be very much frightened; and he would have been excusable if he had been really frightened, for in that little performance of his he had run a great many risks. After asking a few questions of this pretended traitor Washington told the guards to withdraw, and he had a private conference which lasted over half an hour; and in that time it is probable that these two men did a great deal of talking. The information given was most valuable, and such as could have been furnished only by a man of extraordinary powers of observation.

When he had kept Honeyman as long as was necessary, Washington called the guards, and told them to take the prisoner to a log cabin which was used as a military jail, and there to watch him carefully during the night, and in the morning he would

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be tried by court-martial. Honeyman was taken to the prison, which had but one window and one door, and supper was given to him. He was locked in, and two sentinels went on guard outside the walls of the log house.

In the middle of the night these men saw a fire burning not far from headquarters, and, fearing that it might prove dangerous to allow it to burn, they thought it their duty to run and put it out. This they did, and returned to the log house, where everything looked the same as they had left it. But in the morning, when they opened the door, there was no prisoner inside.

It is said that the whole plan of this escape, probably by means of the window, was arranged by Washington himself, but of this we are not certain. We know, however, that Washington looked upon Honeyman as one of the most valuable men in the employ of the army, and that he would take every means to prevent him from coming to harm on account of this service.

It was in consequence of the information that Honeyman, at the cost of such great risk and danger, had brought to Washington, that three days afterwards the Americans crossed the Delaware, attacked Trenton, routed the British, and thus gained one of the greatest and most important victories of the Revolution. If it had been John Honeyman, instead of the British officer, who was struck by a cannon ball crossing the St. Lawrence, it is likely that Washington would not have dared to attack the British army

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in Trenton, which, before his half hour's conversation with his spy, was believed to be entirely too strong to be meddled with by the Continental soldiers on the other side of the river.

But the report which Honeyman had made to Washington was not the only service which he did to the American cause. Having left his peace principles at home, as he was bound to do if he wanted to act as a truly serviceable spy, he had more work before him. As soon as he got out of the log house, he ran from the camp, and, although he was fired at by a sentinel, he got safely away. He crossed the river on the ice whenever there was any, and when he came to open water, he jumped in and swam, and so he got safely over into the British lines.

There, wet and shivering, he demanded to be taken to the commander; and to him he told the dreadful story of how he had been captured by the American soldiers while he was looking for beef cattle, and how he had been taken to headquarters, questioned, and afterwards shut up in prison, to be shot in the morning, and how he had quietly escaped and come back to his friends. Colonel Rahl, who was in command of the British, was delighted to get hold of this Tory butcher who had been taken prisoner by the Continentals, and he put him through a course of examination about the condition of the enemy.

Of course, it was to the benefit of the Americans that the British should think their army as small and as weak as possible; and so Honeyman gave an account of the wretched condition of the American

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soldiers,-how few they were, how badly they were armed, how miserably they were officered, and how they were half starved and discouraged. He told this story so well, that he made the colonel laugh, and declare that there was no reason to apprehend any danger from such a pack of ragamuffins as were collected together under Washington, and that, if anybody wished to keep Christmas in a jolly way in his camp, there was no reason why he should not do so.

When Honeyman had finished telling his tales, one to one army and another to the other, he knew that it would be better for him to get out of the neighborhood. He was quite sure that Washington would take Trenton, and, if he should be found in that city when it was captured, it might be hard for even the commander in chief to prevent him from being shot. So he hastened away to take refuge with the British in New Brunswick.

Honeyman had made himself so conspicuous in that part of the country as a Tory who was working as hard as he could for the benefit of the British by supplying them with beef, that all news about him was received with great interest. It was not long

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before this story of how he had been captured by the American pickets, and afterwards escaped from the log prison, became generally known; and the people of Griggstown, where his wife and family lived, were greatly excited, believing that Honeyman had come there, and had concealed himself in his house. A mob collected in the neighborhood late one night, surrounded the house, and woke up the family with shouts and banging on the door. Mrs. Honeyman appeared, nearly frightened to death; and some of the ringleaders told her that they knew that her Tory husband had come back, and was concealed inside; and they vowed, that, if he did not come out and deliver himself up, they would burn the house and everything in it.

She declared that he was not there, and that it had been a long time since she had seen him. But this was of no use. They persisted that he was inside, and that, if he did not come out very quickly, they would set fire to the house. It was of no use to reason with an excited mob, and, although Mrs. Honeyman said that they might come in and search the house for her husband, they would not listen to her. Perhaps one reason of this was, that Honeyman was a dangerous man to look for, inside of his own house and in dark rooms. Mrs. Honeyman saw that she must act quickly, or her home would be lost to her.

She ran inside, and soon appeared with a paper, which she gave to a man in the crowd with whom she was acquainted, and asked him to read it so that every one could hear.

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It was not to be supposed that Mrs. Honeyman possessed a private riot act, which might be read in order to disperse a disorderly assembly; but even the most disorderly people are generally possessed of great curiosity in regard to anything out of the common, and they consented to put off the bonfire a few minutes, and hear what was to be read. What the angry crowd heard was as follows:-

American Camp, New Jersey, 1776.

To the good people of New Jersey, and all others whom it may concern: It is hereby ordered that the wife and children of John Honeyman of Griggstown, the notorious Tory, now within the British lines and probably acting the part of a spy, shall be, and are hereby protected from all harm and annoyance from every quarter until further orders. But this furnishes no protection to Honeyman himself.

Geo. Washington,
Com.-in-Chief.

This paper, which it is said Washington not only signed, but wrote with his own hand, had been given to Honeyman some time before, and he sent it to his wife in order that it might protect her in case of danger such as now threatened her. It was thought very likely that the people of Griggstown would become so incensed against the Tory butcher, that they might offer harm to his wife and family; and Washington was, no doubt, glad to give what protection he could to the home of the man who, no matter how much he might have deceived other people, was always true to him and to the American cause.

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When the crowd heard the communication from the commander in chief of the American army, ordering them to refrain from violence to Mrs. Honeyman and her family, they could not understand why it had been written; but they understood very well what it commanded, and so, grumbling a good deal, but not daring to disobey, they dispersed, and left the wife of the spy in peace.

This paper, of course, was cherished as a great prize by the Honeyman family, and remained in their possession for many years; and it was indeed an heirloom worth preserving. But, although it proved a safeguard for Mrs. Honeyman, it did not remove the prejudices against her husband, and for a long time after that it would have been a very unwise thing for Tory Honeyman to come to Griggstown. Of course, it would have been an easy thing for Washington to have publicly exonerated Honeyman from all charges of treason and Toryism, but this would not have served his purpose. There was still need of a competent spy in the British lines; and there Honeyman remained during the rest of the war, always ready to give information to the commander whenever he could obtain it.

When peace was proclaimed, Washington did not forget Honeyman, and he himself told the story of how this brave man became a Tory butcher for the sake of American independence, and of the great services he had rendered to the cause. Then, of course, Honeyman went home to his wife and family, and the people of Griggstown received him as if he

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had been a great hero. And in fact, looking at the matter from a war point of view, he deserved all the honors they could give him, for without his aid the battle of Trenton could never have been won; and in fact he was more useful in that engagement than if he had been a regiment of soldiers.

Honeyman was no doubt a great man in Griggstown. The people who had once threatened to burn down his house could not do enough for him. Those who once would not speak to his wife when they met her, now implored her to let them know what they could do for her, and it was not long before the popularity of the family increased to a wonderful degree.

Several officers of rank who had heard of what Honeyman had done, came to see and talk with him; and, more than that, Washington himself came to Griggstown, and paid a visit to his former spy. Such an honor was enough to make the once denounced Tory butcher the leading citizen of the town. Honeyman now became a prosperous man, and bought a large farm and reared a family of seven children, who grew up and prospered; and their descendants are now scattered all over the State. He himself lived to the good old age of ninety-five, and died respected and honored by all, never thought of as a spy, but only as a patriotic hero.

It would appear, from the stories of those early days, that whenever a man or woman acted a good part, and was truly of service to New Jersey, he or she always lived to be very old, and left behind a vast number of descendants.

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