- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 14, 2008

A week before American Army and capturing or killing Gen. George Washington.

Having met the elite guard´s qualifications of “sobriety, honesty and good behavior,” New York City when the Revolutionary War broke out.

With the city teeming with staunch Loyalists, New Yorkers drank the defiant elixir of sabotage at taverns such as Corbie´s, the Highlander and Washington Irving called “a network of corruption and treachery,” to entice New Yorkers to join the Loyalist ranks and be ready to spring into action as soon as the British landed in the city. The going offer: five guineas and the promise of 200 acres of land for the recruit and 100 acres for his wife.

Intoxicated by too many toasts to the ruination of the rebel army, Hickey brashly spewed threats and promises he would come to regret someday. That day got closer after a virtuous patron named Sergeant Arms Tavern.

In June 1776, 18-year-old Pvt. Hickey “got bewitched after hard money” (George Washington´s expression) and tried to pass counterfeit currency. A lot of counterfeiting was going on; even the British navy was believed to have been printing counterfeit currency on its vessels blockading New York.

Hickey landed in prison, where his jail chatter was reported to authorities, and before the month was out, the young miscreant was hanged from a tree located near the present-day intersection of Christie and Grand streets.

Fellow convict Isaac Ketchum heard Hickey´s comments and knew he had a get-out-of-jail-card. Ketchum claimed he was so “deeply imprest with shame and confusion” for his “past misconduct” that he wanted to report “nothing concearning my afair but entirely on another subgyt.” The subject: Hickey had boasted that he had enlisted 700 people to help the British defeat what he called the “damnably corrupted” American Army.

By June 1776, hundreds of Loyalists already had been reported to American authorities and a Committee to Detect Conspiracies had been formed. Those found guilty of providing information or supplies to the British were jailed or banished to another Colony.

The committee had been established “for the hearing and trying of disaffected persons and those of equivocal characters.” Most of the characters knew enough to be discreet or, as John Adams said, “durst not show their heads.”

Hickey, however, dursted. His loud, indiscreet and brash threats in bars and behind bars made him a prime target. He was tried on June 26 before 13 officers for “exciting and joining in a mutiny and sedition, and treacherously corresponding with, enlisting among, and receiving pay from the enemies of the United American Colonies.”

Four defendants, Ketchum included, were called to prove Hickey´s guilt; it appears they were given leniency for their testimony. William Welch testified they had held conversations about the plot with Hickey and had heard him say: “This country was sold … the enemy would soon arrive, and it was best for us old countrymen to make our peace … or they would kill us all.”

Hickey did not offer any evidence in his defense. He claimed he was merely trying to cheat the Tories and “get some money from them.”

Washington hoped Hickey´s “unhappy fate” would “produce many salutary consequences and deter others from entering into like traitorous practices.” Hickey, the guard´s fallen star, somehow had plunged into a netherworld of convicts and con men - and some unsavory women, too. The real source of Hickey´s downfall might have been members of the opposite sex. Washington cryptically lamented: “Lewd women … first led [Hickey] into practices which ended in an untimely and ignominious death.” It is not known if Washington still had Hickey in mind 14 months later when he wrote in general orders: “Officers … will take every precaution … to prevent an inundation of bad women from Philadelphia.”

Years later, George Washington “was to have been stabbed.”

Whatever it was called, this scheme to assist the British upon their arrival was foiled just in time. On the morning of June 29, 1776, a staggering armada of British ships was sighted. One witness wrote: “The whole Bay was full of shipping. … I thought all London was afloat.” But Thomas Hickey would not be there to assist the British. A day earlier, before a crowd of approximately 20,000, Hickey became the first of an estimated 100 soldiers executed during the American Revolution.

• Paul N. Herbert (pnh9202@ verizon.net) of Fairfax County writes frequently for the history page.

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