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This Day In History: George Washington Informed Congress Of Espionage From The Surgeon General Of The Continental Army

October 05, 2016

This day in history, October 5, 1775, General George Washington wrote a letter the the president of the Continental Congress saying that a letter from Dr. Benjamin Church, surgeon general of the Continental Army, to Lieutenant General Sir Thomas Gage, British commander in chief for North America, had been intercepted and that he was committing espionage.

In the weeks before Lexington and Concord, Church provided British General Thomas Gage with information about colonial plans and supplies, but yet the patriots still trusted him. He was seen leaving Gage’s residence in Boston after Lexington and Concord as well but said that he was taken prisoner.

He then was given the title of chief physician of the Continental Army and then lost contact with Gage.

Church wrote a letter in code and asked his mistress to deliver it to one of several people. His mistress did not follow the instructions she’d been given. She instead delivered the letter to a baker named Godfrey Wainwood (or Wenwood). Wainwood was suspicious and never delivered the letter. Several weeks later, the mistress wrote him about it. Wainwood became even more suspicious and he turned the letter in to local officials. The letter was decoded. Dr. Church’s mistress was questioned and revealed that Church was the author.

A court martial was held on October 4. Church claimed that he’d been trying to help the Patriot effort by “impress[ing] the Enemy with a strong Idea of our Strength & Situation in order to prevent an Attack at a Time when the Continental Army was in great Want of Ammunition.” The court found Church guilty of “criminal Correspondence with the Enemy.”

Washington then wrote a letter to Congress the next day to make them aware.

Congress said that “Dr. Church be close confined in some secure gaol in the colony of Connecticut, without the use of pen, ink, and paper, and that no person be allowed to converse with him. . . .”

The contents of the letter included Church’s statement of allegiance to the British crown. He was charged with treason, convicted and sentenced to life in prison. He was exiled to the West Indies after he became ill. His ship is believed to have been lost at sea.