Archive for the ‘Historic Blackguards’ Category

“Conway Cabal” Against Washington

November 9, 2011

Thos. Conway “Cabal” Against Washington

A MIDDLE-aged, jolly, dashing soldier of fortune came to America in 1777 and offered his services to the patriot army. He brought along with him no great military skill, but a most amazing capacity for making trouble. The soldier was Thomas Conway, a British subject, who had lived since early childhood in France. There he had joined the army and risen to a colonelcy. when he came here he was joyfully received. The Revolutionists lacked expert officers and they made him a brigadier-general.

The man’s boasts and his dashing ways impressed the simpler statesmen. But George Washington read him at a glance, for a windy, vicious incompetent.

So when congress decided a little later to make Conway a major general the chief sternly opposed such a promotion and gave his reasons for doing so. From that moment Conway was Washington’s sworn foe. One active mischief-maker can sometimes work more harm than a dozen wise men can undo. Conway at once joined Washington’s opponents in congress and the army, and started a campaign for the chief’s overthrow.

He and his associates formed what was known as the “Conway Cabal,” and did all in their power to undermine Washington’s influence. In a series of anonymous letters Conway ridiculed the chief as a coward and as too feeble of mind as a leader. He suggested Gen. Horatio Gates as commander-in-chief in Washington’s place. Not only did Conway and his friends win Gates over to this scheme, but they induced several prominent congressmen to lend their influence to the movement.

It was the Revolution’s dark hour. New York and Philadelphia were in the hands of the British. Washington and his army were starving and freezing at Valley Forge after a summer and autumn of repeated defeats. Men’s hearts grew faint and their allegiance weakened. Conway’s crafty words at such a moment fell on ready ears.

The cabal waxed strong. But for a mere accident it might readily have ended by depriving Washington of power and of placing the command of the patriot armies in the hands of Gen. Gates. And with fussy, inefficient, cowardly old Gates at the head of the American troops American liberty would have been doomed. Here, in brief, is the story of the accident that saved our country:

Gates’ aid, Wilkinson, drank too much one night and babbled to a friend of the chief some of the contents of a letter from Conway to Gates in which Conway had spoken insultingly of Washington. The story was told to Washington, who called Conway to account. Conway rushed to Gates for aid, and Gates tried to get out of the difficulty by branding Wilkinson as a liar.

Wilkinson promptly challenged Gates to a duel. Gates wept on Wilkinson’s shoulder and implored him to withdraw the challenge, speaking of himself as a feeble old man who loved Wilkinson like a father. In this way the frightened old general wriggled out of fighting.

Title: Life of George Washington: Vol. III
Author: Washington Irving
Publisher: Bohn, 1856
Chapter CXIII page 922

Meantime, thanks to the first hint, Washington learned of all Conway’s anonymous letters and other treacheries. The facts were made known to the people.

The cabal was crushed under a storm of public disapproval.

But Conway was not to escape so easily. He was challenged to a duel by Washington’s friend, Gen. Cadwallader, who proceeded to shoot him through the mouth.

Conway, believing himself dying, wrote one more letter. This time to Washington, asking forgiveness for his villainies and declaring the chief to be a “great and good man.” Then he “conditionally” resigned his commission as an officer in the American service. Congress accepted the resignation, unconditionally, and Conway went back to France.

There he styled himself “Count de Conway,” and managed to win an appointment as governor of one of France’s Oriental provinces. He made such a mess of his diplomatic work in his province of the Orient that he almost wrecked the French interests there. He returned to France and became a general in the royal armies.

During the French Revolution he was condemned to death. He was saved only by an appeal to Great Britain (against which he had fought in the American Revolution), but was compelled to flee from France for his life.

After that Conway disappeared from history. He is supposed to have died about 1800 in poverty and exile.

The Gettysburg Times (Gettsyburg, Pennsylvania) Jun 27, 1912

Image and excerpt quoted below is from the Lux Libertas website:

Most historians agree that the so-called “Conway Cabal” was not an organized effort to replace Washington with Gen. Horatio Gates, the victor of Saratoga or some other general.

But there were some in the Army who felt they were better qualified than the Virginian and several politicians were critical of his performance.

The so-called “cabal” was a lot of mutterings and niggling criticism that finally broke out in the open with the help of an arrogant Irish-born, French-reared soldier of fortune, Thomas Conway. He was recruited in France by Silas Deane and was granted the rank of brigadier general. Washington and many other American officers took an immediate dislike to the boastful Conway.

Read more at the Lux Libertas link above.

Guy Fawkes: And the “Gunpowder Plot”

November 5, 2011

Guy Fawkes: And the “Gunpowder Plot”

A BIG, bearded man, known as “Johnson,” aroused some idle curiosity by bidding in at auction the lease of a vault or coal cellar underneath the House of Lords in London. Johnson explained that he was the servant of Master Thomas Piercy, who lived next door to Parliament House, and that he wanted the vault as a storage place for fuel.

James I, was king of England. He had succeeded Queen Elizabeth in 1603. He was a scoundrel in a weak stilted way. He persecuted the Catholics, broke his solemn state promises, lied out of difficulties and in other ways made for himself a host of enemies. Parliament, for the most part, backed the king’s wishes. Hence Parliament shared his unpopularity.

A band of daring, if unscrupulous, men resolved to rid England of King James, the royal family and Parliament as well by the very simple means of destroying the whole lot at one blow. Their plan was to fill the cellars of the House of Lords with gunpowder. Then, on the day when the king and his family should come to open Parliament, to set a match to the powder and blow up every one in the building.

Robert Catesby, Thomas Piercy and eighteen others were in the conspiracy. They chose as the actual assassin a brave, heartless soldier of fortune whose real name is said to have been Guido Fox, but who is known to history as “Guy Fawkes.” No one knows whether Fawkes was to receive money for his deed or whether he consented to do it through hatred for King James.

In the early autumn of 1604 the conspirators began to cut a hole through the nine-foot wall between Piercy’s house and the Parliament cellars. Then, hearing the cellars were for rent, Fawkes hired them. After that the work went on easily and safely enough. Thirty-six barrels of gunpowder were rolled into the cellars and were covered with masses of wood. A train of powder was laid. Everything was ready.

Parliament was to meet on November 5, 1604. The king and most of the royal family were to be there. At a signal Fawkes was to light the powder train and was then to escape by ship to Flanders. The other conspirators were to kill or capture any members of the royal family who did not chance to be at Parliament’s opening.

No one betrayed this plot, which might have changed the history of the world. Yet it was discovered. The discovery came about in an odd way.

One of the conspirators — which one was never known — was a friend of Lord Monteagle, a noted English statesman. He sent Monteagle an anonymous letter, begging him to keep away from the opening of Parliament. Monteagle, not sure whether or not the warning was a joke, showed it to the secretary of state.

The secretary laughed at it as a hoax, but was induced to show it to the king. James (who was so cowardly that the sight of a sword used to make him ill) fell into a frenzy of fear. On the night of Nov. 4 he ordered Parliament house searched. As the searchers neared the cellars they met Guy Fawkes coming out. He was seized before he could dart back and the place was ransacked.

The sight of so large a pile of wood roused suspicion. The wood was cleared away and the gunpowder barrels were discovered. Fawkes, raving with helpless fury, strove in vain to set fire to the gunpowder and to die with his enemies. He was overpowered and dragged before the king. There he made surly, contemptuous answers to all questions and refused to betray his accomplices. But torture at last made him speak. The conspirators were seized and most of them were executed — Fawkes last of all. An old chronicle gives the following account of his farewell to the world:

“This very tall and desperate fellow .  .  .  made no long speech, but (after a sort), seeming sorry for his offense, asked a kind of forgiveness of the king and the state for his bloody intent.”

All Europe shuddered over England’s narrow escape. The fifth of November was ordained by King James “to be observed forever as a day of thanksgiving.” For centuries thereafter Nov. 5 was celebrated throughout England much as we celebrate July 4. Amid bonfires and noise Guy Fawkes was burned in effigy. Even now the cellars of the houses of Parliament are regularly “searched” in memory of a government’s old-time peril.

So, for more than three hundred years after his death, Guy Fawkes has had the honor of an annual “Day” — a privilege denied to most heroes and accorded perhaps to no other blackguard.

The Newark Advocate (Newark, Ohio)  Dec 28, 1912

Henry Morgan, Prince of Pirates

November 3, 2011

Henry Morgan, Prince of Pirates

A COUNTRY boy, son of a Welsh farmer, was wandering about the docks of Bristol, England, staring at the odd waterfront sights, when he was kidnapped and carried aboard a ship bound for the West Indies. He was taken to Barbadoes and there sold to a planter as a slave.

The boy was Henry Morgan. He began his career as a penniless, ill-treated servant. By sheer villainy he rose to wealth and rank. Some writers say he ended his life in misery.

Central America and much of the neighboring territory were under Spanish rule. Greedy governors and heartless soldiers wrung vast treasure from the Indians and in other ways amassed untold fortunes for themselves and for Spain. Galleons would come from Europe with provisions, clothing, etc., and go home laden with precious metals and gems. Of course, these treasure ships attracted pirates as sugar attracts flies. And the Spanish Government kept powerful fortresses and warships in the New World to protect their wealth. The clash between Spain and the buccaneers was everlasting.

Image from the Smithsonian‘s Ocean Portal

The word “buccaneer” means “a drier of beef.” The buccaneers used to make a living by butchering and selling wild cattle, until the local Spaniards made life unpleasant for them. Then they took to the sea and proceded to revenge themselves upon their tormentors by looting every treasure they could lay hands on. They were not, at first, common pirates, though “pirate” and “buccaneer” came afterward to mean much the same thing.

Morgan, escaping from slavery, fled to the island of Jamaica. There he joined a crew of buccaneers. By genius and cruel cunning he quickly became their captain. Then he joined his crew to that of a powerful buccaneer who called himself “Admiral” Mansfield. Mansfield soon afterward was killed; and Morgan was at the head of all the neighboring freebooters. His real life-work had begun.

He persuaded some of his companions not to throw away every penny of their gains on drink, gambling and finery, as had been their custom, but to save it for the expenses of a great expedition. Thus he quickly found himself in charge of the largest, strongest pirate fleet ever seen in the Spanish Main. The Spaniards had grown overcautious about risking their treasure ships in such dangerous waters. So Morgan decided to attack them by land. He swooped down on one rich fortified town after another, destroying its defenders or holding them for heavy ransom and seizing their treasure. In this way he soon became very rich.

Panama was the foremost treasure city in Spain’s New World possessions. It was strongly fortified and lay far off the pirates’ track. To reach it miles of poisonous jungle and Indian-infested forests must be passed. The place was deemed safe and there many millions of dollars’ worth of gold and jewels were kept. The hope of such wondrous plunder was enough to make Morgan try to do what every one had declared impossible. He turned from ravaging Cuba and the American mainland, and on Jan. 9, 1670, set out on the terrible river-and-jungle trip to Panama.

The Spaniards had word of his coming. All food supplies were removed from the route. The forests were alive with hostile savages. The hardy buccaneers endured daily starvation, fever and battle, but pushed on fearlessly until they came before the walls of the treasure city, Panama. There they thrashed a Spanish and Indian force more than three times the size of their own and rushed into the city. The mass of treasure was seized, the town burned to the ground and hundreds of captives held for ransom. Each buccaneer received only about $200 worth of plunder. Morgan kept the bulk of the hoard for himself.

Image of Henry Morgan in Panama City – also from the Ocean Portal

As a feat of daring and of military genius, Morgan’s dash to Panama excited the wonder of the world. Morgan, however, was summoned to England to give account of his crimes. He went without fear. For, on England’s throne sat King Charles II — as great a blackguard as Morgan himself. The pirate chief arrived in London, had a private interview with the King, and, it is said, slipped a goodly share of his Panama winnings into the royal pocket. Thereupon, instead of being punished, he was made a knight and was sent back to the West Indies as Lieutenant-Governor of Jamaica and commander-in-chief of the British forces there. He married and lived a life of luxurious ease, sternly condemning to death those of his old comrades who were brought before him on piracy charges, and playing the rich aristocrat to perfection. He died in 1668 at the age of fifty-three.

The Gettysburg Times (Gettysburg, Pennsylvania) Jun 17, 1912

William Cunningham: Jailer of Revolution Martyrs

October 27, 2011

William Cunningham, Jailer of New York “Revolution Martyrs”

“FOLK of fashion do complain right grievously that the groanings and lamentable cries of the rebel prisoners (both here in New York and in the prison ship on the Breucklen shore) disturb their slumbers. And they pray that Master Cunningham, our provost marshal, will devise some means to keep the poor wretches quiet of nights.”

So runs an old letter written in New York during the darkest days of the American Revolution. The British had captured New York and Philadelphia. To both cities — but chiefly to New York — they brought thousands of patriot soldiers, captured in battle, and many non-combatants who had risked freedom and life to help the cause of liberty by money, gifts or by patriotic speeches.

These unlucky captives were not treated like prisoners of war. They were housed and fed — or, rather, starved — in a way the law nowadays would not permit for cattle or swine. And the man in charge of them was a blackguard whose own countrymen loathed him, William Cunningham.

Cunningham was the son of British dragoon and was born in the regimental barracks at Dublin. In 1774 he came to America and settled in New York, where he made a living for some time by “breaking” colts and by giving riding lessons. When the Revolution broke out, in 1775, he became involved in a political row with some local patriots and was forced to flee to Boston, there to seek the protection of the British army.

His noisy loyalty to King George III, got him into trouble there and attracted the notice of Thomas Gage, the English general. Gage appointed him provost marshal to the royal army. His chance for “revenge” had come.

Image from Frances Hunter’s American Heroes Blog

Cunningham was sent back to New York and was put in charge of the Revolutionary prisoners there and in Philadelphia. There were several impromptu prisons in New York where the patriot captives were lodged. One was the city hall, another the famous old “Sugar House,” another, King’s (now Columbia) college; another the “new gaol” (the old hall of records in City Hall park, torn down only a few years ago) and — worst of all — the “prison ship ‘Jersey,'” moored on the Brooklyn shore. Churches were also turned into jails.

In the prison ship the captives were herded by hundreds in dark, foul pens, destitute of pure air and sunlight. They were given such food as a dog might well scorn, and in such tiny quantities as would not suffice to keep a dog alive. The water they drank was filthy. No medical care or chance for cleanliness or exercise was granted them. Prison fever and other maladies scourged their ranks. They died like so many flies. To such fearful condition were they reduced that the lowest city outcasts were touched by pity and secretly sent them food.

The fate of the captives in the new gaol, or hall of records, was little better. Here is an extract from Pintard’s account of their sufferings:

“So closely were they packed together that when they lay down at night to rest, on the hard oak planks, and they wished to turn, it was all together, by word of command — ‘right’ — ‘left’ — being so wedged as to form almost a solid mass of human bodies.”

All war is cruel. But such torture as this was inexcusable. And (though the British government might perhaps have bettered matters had they chosen to) the lion’s share of the blame was Cunningham’s. Here is a portion of his sworn confession, made in 1791, just before his own execution:

“I shudder to think of the murders I have been accessory to, both with and without orders from government, especialy while in New York, during which time there were more than two thousand prisoners starved by stopping their rations (which I sold). There were also 275 American prisoners executed. A guard was despatched to forbid people to look out from their doors or windows on pain of death, after which the prisoners were conducted, gagged, at midnight, just behind the upper barracks, hung without trial and then buried.”

Cunningham went back to England after the war and took to riotous living. Being short of money to squander on dissipation, he forged a draft. For this crime he was tried, condemned, and, on August 10, 1791, was hanged.

He is said to have been responsible for the shameful death of nearly 2,500 American patriots. Nor could mere hatred for the colonists account for this wholesale slaughter, since he dishonestly sold for his own profit the provisions allotted to them.

The Newark Advocate (Newark, Ohio) Sep 19, 1912

Jean Lafitte, and the “Pirate Trust”

October 23, 2011

Jean Lafitte, and the “Pirate Trust”

TWO young Frenchmen — Jean and Pierre Lafitte — started a blacksmith shop in New Orleans in 1809. They had not the look or manner of blacksmiths. Probably Jean — a splendid, handsome giant, the hero of this story — never wielded hammer or shod a horse in all his career. Instead, he made negro slaves do the rough work while he strolled about the city and planned bigger enterprises.

Jean Lafitte was a blackguard. But he was a manly, likeable blackguard. And, once at least, he did our country valiant service. He was a pirate. Yet some historians say he went to sea but twice in his life — once when he came from France to New Orleans as a youth and once when he sailed away from America in 1820, never again to be heard of. Others say it was Pierre who set sail in 1820 and who perished somewhere in the ocean, while Jean went to Yucatan and lived six years longer in ill-earned luxury. The fact remains that there is no absolute knowledge as to whence Jean Lafitte came or whither he vanished. He was a man of mystery.

Louisiana in those days consisted largely of rich, unsettled land. Into these waste spaces the pioneers began to come. Huge plantations sprang up. To work the plantations there was need for thousands of negro slaves. And the slave trade between Africa and America throve tremendously. A negro that cost $20 in his African jungle could often be sold for $1,000 in the New Orleans market. Then the United States declared the horrible African slave trade illegal. This stopped the imports. The planters clamored for more slaves. Gangs of smugglers met the demand by secretly buying slaves intended for Spain’s Cuban and South American plantations and landing them by night in the Louisiana bayous. There was money in this sort of business. More than in blacksmithing. So, the Lafitte brothers became slave smugglers.

Then Jean’s fertile brain still further improved his business in a rather original way. What was the use of buying negroes from the Spanish slave ships off the Cuban coast when, by seizing those ships, he could get the negroes for nothing? It was a clever idea and he at once put it into practice. He also seized vessels laden with other valuables, and altogether he prospered exceedingly.

Lafitte himself did not go in search of such prey. He was a business man, not a cheap sea rover. By this time he had a number of good ships and nearly one thousand men to send on his piratical errands. He had a fortified town and harbor of his own at Barataria and made that place his headquarters. Jean had marvelous control over his men, and, though he seldom troubled himself to fight, he was unconquerable. One night a band of mutineers attacked him in is cabin. Lafitte, single-handed, slew six of them and beat off the rest.

The pirates called Lafitte, behind his back, “The Old Man.” To his face they called him “Bosse” (meaning literally “prominence”). And thus the word “boss” came into our own language. He seldom spoke to his men except when he had to and held aloof from them.

By judicious bribes to the right authorities he managed to steer clear of active prosecution, though countless governmental threats were hurled at him.
When the British planned their attack on New Orleans in the War of 1812 they offered Jean Lafitte a captain’s commission and $30,000 to join them with his men. Instead of accepting, he sent word of the offer (and of the British plot against New Orleans) to the American government, volunteering his services in exchange for a pardon. The British, in revenge, destroyed his Barataria stronghold and seized his ships. But the American general, Andrew Jackson (after cursing him for a “hellish bandit”) accepted Lafitte’s offer. And the pirate fought bravely for America in the battle of New Orleans, receiving a pardon for all past crimes.

After the war Lafitte went blithely back to his old ways. With his men he settled on an abandoned island, where now stands the city of Galveston, and made that place his new headquarters. Thus he was in a sense the real found of Galveston. He hit on an odd way to sell his smuggled slaves. He would arrange for Colonel Bowie (inventor of the bowie knife) to seize them from him and take them to New Orleans. There, as confiscated goods, they were placed on sale, and Lafitte and Bowie each reaped a goodly profit.

A visitor to the pirate lair wrote:

“Gold pieces are as plentiful here as biscuits.”

In 1820 the government captured Lafitte’s Galveston camp and hanged many of his followers.

Adams County News (Gettysburg, Pennsylvania) Jun 8, 1912


Thanks to commenter, Robert R., here is a Google ebook preview link regarding Jean Laffite’s death:

Title: The Pirates Laffite: The Treacherous World of the Corsairs of the Gulf
Author: William C. Davis
Edition: reprint, illustrated, annotated
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2006
ISBN: 0156032597, 9780156032599
Google eBook preview (can be purchased for $9.99)
Jean Laffite’s death – Page 463

This might not be the same book, but it is the same author. Thanks, Robert!

Charles Lee: The Traitor Who Threatened America

October 20, 2011

Gen. Charles Lee — The Traitor Who Threatened America

GEN. WASHINGTON and his staff thundered up, through the broiling summer heat, to the stricken battlefield of Monmouth. News had reached the commander-in-chief that his trusted leader, Gen. Chas. Lee, had disobeyed orders and that as a result, the American army was retreating.

Washington took in the situation at a glance. The patriots were falling back. The British were everywhere successful. His blue eyes ablaze with anger, the chief galloped across to Lee.

“In heaven’s name, General,” he shouted, “what means this ill-timed prudence?”

“I know of no one,” sneered Lee, “who has more of that abominable virtue than your excellency.”

At this retort the last barriers of Washington’s patience gave way. He hurled at Lee a public reprimand that the latter never forgot nor forgave. It was a case of a just man’s wrath at a blackguard’s misdeeds.

Charles Lee was born in England in 1731. He joined the British army as a mere child. At the age of eleven he was a commissioned officer. He fought in America during the French and Indian war and rose fast in rank to a lieutenant-colonelcy. But he had a sarcastic tongue and an ungovernable temper. He criticised his superior officers and made fun of their weaknesses. This sort of thing does not help a man on in any walk of life. It led at last to Lee’s practical dismissal from the army. He drifted to Poland and Russia, where, serving as a soldier of fortune, he received the rank of major-general. He also won doubtful fame as a ferocious duelist.

Leaving Russia, Lee made his way to America a short time before the Revolution. He hated England and he loved intrigue. So he plunged into the stirring politics of the day, siding with the patriots. The Revolutionary army was short of experienced officers and was delighted to accept the services of so noted a soldier as Lee. He was offered the rank of second major-general under General Washington. He bargained shrewdly with congress before accepting this honor, declaring that King George’s government would surely confiscate his British estates, and demanding to be paid for them. Congress agreed to give him $30,000 out of the impoverished patriot treasury as recompense for this possible loss.

Now began Lee’s American military career. From the first he seems to have had two aims. One, to seize Washington’s position as commander-in-chief; the other, to sell the American cause, at the best possible terms, to the British. After more than once risking the army’s welfare by disobeying Washington’s orders, Lee was captured at Basking Ridge, N.J., by the British. Whether or not he consented to the capture in order to carry out his treason plot cannot be known. But during his captivity (most of which he spent in a suite of rooms in New York City Hall) he came to terms of understanding with the British general, Howe, and explained to him his ideas on how best to crush the Revolution. Thinking he would be of more use to them in the Revolutionary army than in prison, the British set him free in 1778 and he went back to his duties. (The complete draft of Lee’s plan, by which the colonies might be overthrown, was found in 1857 among General Howe’s private papers.)

Then came the battle of Monmouth. The English, under Clinton, in June, 1778, evacuated Philadelphia and retreated across New Jersey to the British headquarters at New York. Washington resolved to smash part of the British army at Monmouth, N.J., on its march. Lee begged him not to make the attempt, but Washington sent him with an advance guard of 6,000 men to overtake the enemy. Lee caught up with the British at Monmouth on June 28, 1778, and began the battle in so strange and incompetent a way that Lafayette, in alarm, sent a secret message begging Washington to hurry to the front. Washington arrived in time to meet Lee in full retreat. He rebuked the traitor, rallied the army and saved the day.

No one could understand Lee’s odd behavior, for no one then knew he was false. In rage at the rebuke, he wrote two insulting letters to Washington, who promptly ordered him arrested. A court-martial suspended him from active service for a year. In rage, he retired to a mountain hut, where, for months, he lived like a hermit.

As his year of suspension drew to an end, Lee wrote an abusive letter to congress, and was at once dismissed from the army. He went to live on an estate he had bought in the Shenandoah Valley. In 1782 he visited Philadelphia, where he fell ill and died.

Daily Commonwealth (Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin) Jul 16, 1912

Historic Blackguards: Robin Hood

October 14, 2011

Robin Hood, Who “Robbed the Rich to Feed the Poor”

“Heere, underneethe thys Lyttel stone,
Lies Robert, Earle of Huntingdone.
For twenty years and somethynge more
Hee robb’d the rich to feed the poore.
No archer was as hee soe goode,
And menne did call hym ‘Robin Hood’
Such outlaws as hee and hys menne
Will England never see agayne.”

SO RUNS an old rhyme. The man about whom it was written undoubtedly lived and was known from one end of England to the other. But whether half the stories told about him is true is quite another matter. It is hard in writing of Robin Hood to sift fact from legend. This story can but tell the popular version of his career without vouching for its entire truth.

Robin Hood is said to have been born in 1160, and to have been a nobleman’s son who, through injustice, was outlawed. He took refuge in Sherwood forest, in Nottinghamshire, England. There he gathered about him a band of men as deperate as himself, and prepared to make war on the world at large.

It was a rude, violent age. Human life was held lightly. Laws were barbarous. For shooting deer in the royal forests the penalty was torture and (for the second offense) death. The barons and other rich and powerful men could overtax and ill-use the poor almost without restraint. Persons who suffered under such tyranny had usually no redress. Often they revenged themselves by plundering their former masters and by preying on humanity at large.

Says one old historian (Stow).

“In this time were many robbers and outlaws, among which Robin Hood and Little John, renowned theeves, continued in the woods, despoyling and robbing the goodes of the rich. The said Robin suffered no woman to be oppressed or molested. Poore men’s goodes he spared; abundantlie relieving them with that which by theft he got from the houses of the rich. Of all theeves Maior (an early writer) affirmeth him to be the prince and the most gentle theefe.”

Robin and his band dwelt in the greenwood, patrolling the highroads and holding up rich travelers. Especially did they enjoy capturing dishonest money lenders and cruel landlords. Robin’s favorite method with such prisoners was to conduct them to his secret glade and there regale them with a feast. (The food consisted largely of stolen deer and dainties filched from noblemen’s larders.) After the meal he would suggest that they pay for their entertainment by giving him all their money and jewels. At other times he would go, disguised, to some town, make friends with a local rich man and under some pretext lure him to the forest.

That Robin did not steal from the poor was not an especially noble trait. The poor had nothing worth stealing. Moreover, by helping the peasants with a little money now and then he made them his friends and gave them an interest in warning him against his pursuers.

Robin and his men were splendid archers. Their skill with bow and arrow reached the king’s ears. His majesty is said to have been so much pleased with the band’s archery that he pardoned them all. But Robin could not long remain out of trouble. He fell foul of the law once more, and the sheriff of Nottingham was sent to crush him. In the woodland battle that followed the sheriff’s men were beaten off. Soon afterward Robin fell dangerously ill.

There was no surgeon nearby. So his men carried him to a convent, where his cousin was a lay sister. She had great repute in medicine and Robin though she might save him. She dared not refure shelter to the sick man for fear of his followers’ wrath. But she dared not cure him, lest the king should hear that the convent had harbored and aided an outlaw. So, according to the story, she opened a vein in his arm and left him to bleed to death.

When the dying man learned of her treachery he set his bugle to his lips and blew a feeble blast. Little John, his lieutenant, heard it, and rushed to the sick room. Robin, so runs the old ballad, forbade Little John to take vengeance on the convent. Then, setting arrow to bow for the last time, he sent the shaft whizzing out through an open window and begged to be buried at the spot where his arrow should strike earth.

A likeable, rollicking, sentimental outlaw. His life story (even stripped of all legend and folklore) seems to entitle him to a goodly place among Historic Blackguards.

The Gettysburg Times (Gettysburg, Pennsylvania) Jul 12, 1912


Merry Robin image from:

Title: The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood: Of Great Renown in Nottinghamshire
Author: Howard Pyle
Publisher: Charles Scribner, 1884
(Google books LINK)

Georgia’s Traitor and the Patriots of Liberty

October 13, 2011

John Zubly, the American Patriot Who Turned Traitor

“A REPUBLIC is little better than a government of devils!” So declared John Joachim Zubly, a man on  whom our country had relied, and whom the Revolutionists had trusted. He was a patriot who suddenly turned traitor at a time when America and liberty needed every true man’s aid.

The colonies had long groaned under British oppression. When they rose against England, in 1775, it was less with an idea of breaking loose from the mother country than of showing resentment by force of arms where argument and appeal had failed. They simply wished to bring England to her senses and to obtain relief from injustice. Even George Washington in later years confessed: “The idea of independence was at first abhorrent to me.”

But soon he and all the rest of the patriots realized that the time for half-way measures had passed. There must be either dumb submission or open defiance. And, should they choose defiance, they must free the colonies wholly from the British yoke and declare our country free and independent.

It was to discuss this that the continental congress met at Philadelphia in 1776.

We are apt to think that congress was a collection of ardent patriots, panting for liberty at any price. This was not wholly true. While the majority of the delegates were firm in their resolve to declare for independence, several of them threatened to balk at so rash a step.

Nor can they be severely blamed for hesitating. They were men of property and importance. They had more to lose than had most Americans. Should the Revolution fail their goods would doubtless be seized by the British government and they themselves would be hanged. As Benjamin Franklin said, in grim jest:

“We must hang together or we’ll hang separately!”

But, to their eternal credit, these wary delegates at last yielded to the popular voice. The Declaration of Independence was drawn up, and on July 4, 1776, was adopted (although it was not signed until the next month). The grave step was taken. The congressmen stood committed. They had “crossed the Rubicon” and were ready to take the consequences.

There was one exception to this band of patriots. He was John Joachim Zubly, a Swiss, who had emigrated to America in early life and had settled in Georgia. Zubly was not only prominent as a scholar and a statesman, but was a preacher as well. He had shown great indignation at the colonists’ wrongs and had both written and spoken in protest against tyranny.

So patriotic was he that Georgia chose him as one of its five delegates to congress in 1775. There he worked hard for the people’s cause and even drew up a petition to King George III, “upon the present unhappy situation of affairs.” Altogether, he was looked upon as an ardent patriot. Indeed, it is hard to understand the sudden and terrible change in the man.

As soon as Zubly found congress was determined to adopt the Declaration, he fought the proposition most bitterly and utterly refused any part in it. He denounced the idea of a republic and did everything in his power to stem the tide of opinion. Had this been all he did no great shame need to have been attached to him. But he was not content with refusing to vote for the Declaration. He actually entered into secret correspondence with the enemy, betraying to the British the patriots’ private plans and giving warning that the Declaration was about to be adopted. What further harm he might have done the cause of liberty cannot be guessed, for a fellow congressman (Samuel Chase of Maryland) found reason to suspect him. A treasonable letter from Zubly was intercepted. Chase exposed the man’s whole black treachery to congress.

Zubly fled in hot haste from Philadelphia to escape punishment. He went at once to Georgia. There, utterly casting away his cloak of patriotism, he sided openly with America’s foes. For this he was banished from Georgia and half of his property was declared forfeit. He rushed to the British for protection.

After a few years of misery and disgrace he died, in 1781, while the Revolutionary war was still at its height.

Adams County News (Gettyburg, Pennsylvania) Aug 10, 1912

The colonial ball, which was given at the Kimball house last Friday evening, has developed the amusing fact that nearly everybody in Atlanta is provided with a great ancestor.

To the strains of old colonial music, which might have soothed the ear of George Washington, when that distinguished patriot was a dashing cavalier, these ancestors in their knee breeches, powdered wigs and fluted shirts, marched out in gay procession before the assembled lookers-on. The customs in vogue before the revolution were revived in all of their quaint and amusing comedy and not a few of the old ancestors, as they skipped about the ballroom, gave refreshing evidence of the fact that age and long imprisonment in their respective places of abode had not impaired their ease of locomotion. In fact, their long retirement had seemingly lubricated their joints and prepared them, as it were, for greater exhibitions of agility.

This ball will serve a beneficial purpose if it kindles a renewed interest in the old colonial era. It is a foolish idea which many have acquired, because of the rapid growth which has characterized this country during the present century, that our fathers were very simple men. There are many respects in which they far surpass us, and we could set at their feet, so to speak, and drink in many valuable lessons of social and political wisdom. After all, we only surpass them in the enlarged development of the inventive faculty, as applied to the practical aspect of life. We have steam engines, electric telegraph and sewing machines, all of which our fathers might have given us had they lived in an age of peace and tranquility, but they had no time for such thinking. From the science of war they emerged, without a moment’s rest, into the science of government, and began to study the problems that would shape the destiny of the new world and promote the happiness of their posterity.

There is much to be gained from the study of past events, for wisdom lies in review as well as in progression, and the prophet’s vision is often clarified by looking backward. Americans have no reason to be ashamed of their simple and patriotic ancestry. A grander federation never met in solemn caucus than the continental congress of 1776, which proclaimed the principles of the American declaration and in the streets of Philadelphia kindled the flaming bonfires of liberty.

An Old Story Reviewed.

To widen the retrospective area thus opened by the social events of the week, it may be of interest to the readers of The Constitution to know that Georgia was entitled to five signers of the declaration.

Instead of this number, however, only three names appear in her behalf on the scroll of independence. The other two have been omitted from the document, which is still preserved in Washington city.

Behind the apparent oversight there hangs an interesting story and one with which only a very few, at this time, are familiar.

The declaration of independence was signed by the members of the continental congress, which met in the spring of 1776. In this congress Georgia was represented by a delegation of five representatives. These were Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, George Walton, John Houston and Rev. John Zubly.

The latter member, although a wearer of the sacred cloth, was guilty of an act of perfidy which has eternally blighted his reputation.

Why Mr. Zubly Fled.

During the early part of the session of congress a few of the members had privately discussed the subject of drawing up a declaration of independence, Zubly opposed the efforts of the delegation, on account of the strong political affinity which bound him to the English government.

Although a member of the continental congress and Georgia’s accredited representative, he was not as ardent in his championship of liberty as the other members of the delegation. He was not in favor of any radical measure by which the colonies would be wholly separated from England.

Finding, however, that his ardor was unavailing, he secretly dispatched a letter to the British governor, acquainting him with the nature of the situation and advising him to adopt, in Georgia, a speedy measure of prevention.

A copy of this letter, by a fortunate accident, was obtained from one of the clerks, and Mr. Chase, a representative from Maryland, openly brought against Mr. Zubly the charge of improper conduct in betraying the interests of liberty. Seeing that his perfidy had been discovered and apprehending the action of congress, which he knew would blight his reputation, he cowardly betook himself to flight.

Mr. Houston, a member of the Georgia delegation and a colleague of the clergyman, who had thus violated the sanctity of his high oath, was appointed by congress to go in search of him and to counteract any evil that might result from his disclosure of the situation.

In addition to the search for Mr. Zubly, which occupied a considerable portion of his time, other important business detained Mr. Houston in Georgia for several weeks, and for that reason he was not present when the document of liberty was signed. There were only three of the Georgia members in their places, at this time, and these were Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall and George Walton.

The protest of Georgia, therefore, against the tyranny of England and her solemn declaration in favor of a total severance, was couched in the strong, manly and characteristic signatures of this illustrious trinity.

In Augusta, Ga., a handsome granite monument has been erected to the signers, and three counties have been named for them, as a tribute to their exalted memory. A braver, bolder or more devoted trio never served the cause of liberty, and their glory, like Orion’s belt, illuminates the misty background of our colonial history.

Button Gwinnett

Image from The New Georgia Encyclopedia website

On the Field of Honor.

The first of these signers, Mr. Gwinnett, was the unfortunate victim of the code of honor.

His antagonist was Colonel Lackland McIntosh. A feud of long standing was the cause of their fatal meeting. The failure of Mr. Gwinnett, in 1777, to be re-elected to the continental congress, after a warm fight, exasperated him no little and the taunts of Colonel McIntosh, who was greatly pleased with the result, prompted him to send a challenge to that gentleman.

The challenge was accepted. They agreed to fight with pistols at a distance of only twelve paces. In exhange of bullets both principals were wounded. Colonel McIntosh however, recovered, while Mr. Gwinnett was mortally wounded and died on the 7th of May, 1777, in the forty-fifth year of his age.

Mr. Gwinnett was an Englishman by birth and for several years was engaged in mercantile pursuits in Bristol. After his marriage he came to America, in 1770, and settled on St. Catherine’s island, near the coast of Georgia.

At first Mr. Gwinnett was not an ardent friend of liberty, because of the exposure of his property. He doubted the ability of the colonial government to cope with England in a fight for independence. When he was afterwards convinced, however, that independence was a possibility, he entered into the revolutionary protest with great enthusiasm. His property was seized and totally destroyed by the British and yet he was loyal in affliction to the cause which he espoused.

Dr. Lyman Hall was a devoted patriot from the beginning of the movement which resulted in the overthrow of English tyranny.

The remaining signer, George Walton, was the most distinguished of this colonial group. He was six times a member of the continental congress, a soldier of the revolution, the first governor of the young commonwealth, the chief justice of the supreme court, and for nearly fifteen years prior to his death a stainless wearer of the judicial ermine. His home is yet standing near the city of Augusta, in plain view of the Carolina hills. Here he entertained Washington and LaFayette, during the days of the revolution, and dispensed his lavish hospitality. Colonel Walton was a man of great genius and his memory is the precious heritage of all Georgians. A subsequent article may touch upon his services at greater length. His grave is on the Sand Hills, near Augusta, Ga., where he has slept, under the overhanging foliage, since the first faint glimmering of the century.


The Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) May 20, 1894