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Stories of New Jersey
The Story Of A Spy
(Period, 1758-80.)

By Frank R. Stockton

Originally published in 1896
This Web version, edited by GET NJ, COPYRIGHT 2003

There were a good many Tories in the State, and, 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 hiitcher for the army and after having gone 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 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 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.


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