George Washington Papers

Arrest Warrant from a Secret Committee of the New York Provincial Congress, 21 June 1776

Arrest Warrant from a Secret Committee of the New York Provincial Congress

[New York, 21 June 1776]


Whereas David Matthews Esqr. stands charged with dangerous Designs and treasonable Conspiracies against the Rights and Liberties of the united Colonies of America We do in Pursuance of a certain Resolve of the Congress of the Colony of the twentieth of June Instant authorize and request you to cause the said David Matthews to be with all his Papers forthwith apprehended and secured and that Return be made to us of the Manner in which this Warrant shall be executed in Order that the same may be made known to the said Congress1—Given under our Hands this twenty first Day of June 1776.

Phil. Livingston

John Jay

Gouvr Morris

DS, in Gouverneur Morris’s writing, CSmH.

On the reverse of this document, GW wrote: “Genl Green is desird to have the Within Warrant executed with Precission & exactness by One Oclock the Ensuing Morning by a careful officer[.] Go: Washington[.] Friday Afternoon. 20th June 1776.” The context of this note and the fact that 20 June was a Thursday indicates that GW wrote it on 21 June. Gouverneur Morris endorsed this document on the reverse: “Warrant for apprehending David Matthews Esqr. Ma[yo]r,” and GW added “living at Flat Bush.”

The reverse side of the warrant also includes Nathanael Greene’s reply to GW of 22 June from Long Island: “In obedience to the within Order & Warrant, I sent a Detachment of my Brigade under the Command of Col: Vernon [James Mitchell Varnum], to the House of the within named David Mathers [Mathews] Esqr. at Flat Bush, who surrounded his House & seized his Person precisely at the Hour of One this Morng. After having made him a Prisoner diligent search was made after his Papers, but none could be found—notwithstanding great Care was taken that none of the Family should have the least Opportunity to remove or destroy them.”

Philip Livingston, John Jay, and Gouverneur Morris were appointed by the New York provincial congress on 17 June to “be a secret committee to confer with Genl. Washington, relative to certain secret intelligence communicated to this Congress, and take such examinations relative thereto as they shall think proper” (N.Y. Prov. Congress Journals description begins Journals of the Provincial Congress, Provincial Convention, Committee of Safety, and Council of Safety of the State of New-York, 1775–1776–1777. 2 vols. Albany, 1842. (Microfilm Collection of Early State Records). description ends , 1:497).

The secret intelligence, which concerned an alleged conspiracy among disaffected persons in the colony to enlist Continental soldiers and others in British service and to sabotage American defenses in and around New York City, had been given to the provincial congress earlier on 17 June by Isaac Ketcham, an accused Loyalist who was being held under guard at the city hall. Ketcham said that he learned of the plot from two soldiers in GW’s personal guard, Michael Lynch and Thomas Hickey, who had been recently confined at the city hall on charges of attempting to pass counterfeit bills of credit. “From their conversation,” Ketcham testified, he was “of opinion they have not as yet fixed any plan of operation; that sometimes they talk, when the fleet arrives, of cutting down King’s Bridge; that as many of them as [could] would go over to the regulars, and that such as should be obliged to stay will do more execution than five times the number out of the army.” Among the Continental soldiers involved in the plot, Hickey and Lynch claimed, were “a number of the riflemen on Staten island, and the Cape Cod men” as well as some artillerymen. A royal proclamation aboard the British warships in the harbor, they further said, offered “free pardon to all who would come over before the time of action; and also a considerable encouragement as to land and houses” (ibid., 496–97). For Hickey’s court-martial on charges of sedition and mutiny, see General Orders, 27 June.

1Informed that the secret committee had “discovered certain dangerous persons who ought to be arrested,” the provincial congress resolved on 20 June “that the said committee . . . do cause such persons to be apprehended and secured in such manner as they may think most prudent; and that they have authority either to employ the militia or obtain detachments of Continental troops from the Commander-in-Chief for that purpose” (ibid., 500).

David Mathews (Matthews), an attorney who had been appointed mayor of New York City by Gov. William Tryon in February 1776, was accused of carrying money from Tryon to Gilbert Forbes, a gunsmith on Broadway, to pay for rifles and muskets. At his examination by the secret committee on 23 June, Mathews admitted that six or seven weeks earlier, while aboard the governor’s ship on some official business approved by Gen. Israel Putnam, Tryon privately gave him money for Forbes, which he accepted reluctantly and conveyed to the gunsmith only after much hesitation and delay. Upon learning that Forbes was recruiting soldiers for the king as well as supplying guns to Tryon, Mathews said, he had warned Forbes to desist lest he be hanged and had forbade him to come to his office any more (Force, American Archives description begins Peter Force, ed. American Archives. 9 vols. Washington, D.C., 1837–53. description ends , 4th ser., 6:1163–65). Mathews’s explanations did not satisfy the provincial congress, which kept the mayor in the city jail for two months and then sent him to Connecticut for safekeeping. Mathews escaped on 21 Nov. 1776 and returned to British-occupied New York City, where he resumed his duties as mayor. In December 1776 Tryon also appointed him to the lucrative post of registrar for the court of vice admiralty. Mathews held both offices until the end of the war, when he moved to Cape Breton Island near Nova Scotia. In August 1784 Mathews told the British commission for American claims that during the war “he had formed a Plan for the taking Mr Washington & his Guard Prisoners but which was not effected by an unfortunate Discovery that was made of a Letter. One of the persons who was concern’d in the business (a Mr Hicky) was seized & executed” (Egerton, Royal Commission description begins Hugh Edward Egerton, ed. The Royal Commission on the Losses and Services of American Loyalists, 1783 to 1785: Being the Notes of Mr. Daniel Parker Coke, M. P., One of the Commissioners during that Period. 1915. Reprint. New York, 1969. description ends , 168). No other evidence of the existence of such a plan has been found.

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