George Washington Papers

General Orders, 27 June 1776

General Orders

Head Quarters, New York, June 27th 1776.

Parole Halifax.Countersign Ireland.

Several persons having been detained by Sentries, notwithstanding their having given the Countersign at night, and others in the day time on the wharves on a pretence of their not having passes—The General forbids such practices, and any Soldier convicted of them in future will be punished—Officers of guards to be careful, in posting their Sentries, to make them acquainted with this order.

After Orders. Thomas Hickey belonging to the Generals Guard having been convicted by a General Court Martial whereof Col. Parsons was President of the crimes of “Sedition and mutiny, and also of holding a treach’rous correspondence with the enemy, for the most horrid and detestable purposes,” is sentenced to suffer death. The General approves the sentence, and orders that he be hanged to morrow at Eleven oClock.1

All the officers and men off duty, belonging to Genl Heath’s, Spencer’s, Lord Stirling’s and Genl Scott’s Brigades, to be under arms, on their respective parades, at Ten o’Clock to morrow morning, to march from thence to the Ground, between Genl Spencer’s and Lord Stirling’s encampments, to attend the execution of the above sentence.

The Provost Marshal immediately to make the necessary preparations, and to attend on that duty to morrow.2

After Orders. Each of the Brigade Majors to furnish the Provost Marshal, with twenty men, from each Brigade, with good arms and bayonets, as a guard on the prisoner to and at the place of execution.

Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

1For a discussion of the alleged Loyalist conspiracy that Hickey was convicted of participating in, see the notes to the Arrest Warrant from a Secret Committee of the New York Provincial Congress, 21 June. Although Hickey apparently played a minor role in that conspiracy, receiving two shillings and signing his name to a piece of paper to indicate his enlistment in the king’s service, he was the only one of several accused conspirators who was convicted and executed, probably because he alone among the accused was a soldier in the Continental army and hence subject to court-martial. The other accused conspirators were jailed in Connecticut and eventually escaped or were released without being brought to trial.

Hickey, who referred to himself as an “Old Countryman,” that is, a native-born Briton, and Michael Lynch, another soldier in GW’s guard, were brought before the New York provincial congress on 15 June on charges of attempting to pass counterfeit bills of credit. Nathaniel Woodhull, president of the provincial congress, sent copies of the affidavits relating to the cases of the two soldiers to GW on that same date and informed him in a covering letter that the “Congress have thought it their duty to commit them immediately to close custody under the Guards at the City-Hall.... Your Excellency will be pleased to take such further measures with them as you shall think proper” (Force, American Archives description begins Peter Force, ed. American Archives. 9 vols. Washington, D.C., 1837–53. description ends , 4th ser., 6:1406). On 17 June the provincial congress determined that the two soldiers could not be tried by the colony’s courts on those charges but must be court-martialed. The originals of the affidavits and other papers relating to the cases were then sent to GW (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 , 1:495–96).

More serious charges, however, were made against Hickey later on 17 June when Isaac Ketchum, another prisoner at the city hall, reported some indiscreet remarks that Hickey and Lynch had made in his presence about a conspiracy to enlist soldiers for the king and to sabotage Patriot efforts to defend New York City (see the source note to the Arrest Warrant from a Secret Committee of the New York Provincial Congress, 21 June). No charges apparently were brought against Lynch.

At Hickey’s court-martial on 26 June, Ketchum testified that “in different Conversations he [Hickey] informed me that the Army was become damnably corrupted. That the [British] Fleet was soon expected, & that he & a Number of others were in a Choir to turn against the American Army when the King’s Troops should arrive, & ask’d me to be one of them. The Plan he told me was, some were to be sick, & others were to hire Men in their Room. That eight of the General’s Guard was concerned, but mentioned only [William] Green by Name. He farther told me that one Forbes a Tavern Keeper was to be their Captain, but that the Inferior Officers were not yet appointed lest the Scheme should be discovered” (proceedings of Hickey’s court-martial, 26 June, DLC:GW). William Green, Gilbert Forbes, and William Welch also testified against Hickey.

In defending himself, Hickey produced no evidence but said that “he engaged in the Scheme at first for the Sake of cheating the Tories & getting some Money from them; & afterwards consented to have his Name sent on Board the Man of War, in order that if the Enemy should arrive & defeat the Army here, & he should be taken Prisoner, he might be safe” (proceedings of Hickey’s court-martial, 26 June, DLC:GW). For Hickey’s execution, see Council of War, this date, and General Orders, 28 June.

2Henshaw’s orderly book includes here the following order: “A Detachment of 30 Men properly Officer’d with Axes to attend Captain [Peter B.] Bruin at the Ship Yards this to be furnish’d out of the present Fatigue Party of 900 Men” (“Henshaw’s Orderly Book,” description begins “The Orderly Books of Colonel William Henshaw, October 1, 1775, through October 3, 1776.” Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society, n.s., 57 (1948): 17–234. description ends 163; see also Dodge, “Orderly Book,” description begins “Orderly Book Kept by Capt. Abraham Dodge of Ipswich, January 1, 1776 to August 1, 1776.” Essex Institute Historical Collections 80 (1944): 37–53, 111–30, 208–28, 368–84; 81 (1945): 87–94, 152–175. description ends 80:378–79).

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