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April 18, 2013

The Henry Plot

The Daily Star

---- — From the Otsego Herald

for Saturday, April 17, 1813

Compiled, with comments


What Started the War of 1812?

The infamous Order in Council of 26th Oct. 1812 places beyond any reasonable doubt, this fact, that the Henry Plot was a thing well understood and encouraged by the British government, as they, by said Order in Council, are attempting to carry into effect a part of the plan agreed on by “their friends in America” and John Henry, viz. to “bend their whole force, in case of war, against the southern states,” and to favor their friends in the Eastern states, as much as possible, on condition that those friends should aid and feed them.

There was a time, when a similar proposition, from any foreign nation would have roused such indignant feelings in the American people, that town meetings would have been held in all parts of New England, with a view of expressing their detestation and contempt of the dastardly measures, and the nation that resorted to it; and we trust and hope that the spirit of ‘75 is not yet quite extinct in this quarter. – “BUNKER HILL”.

COMMENT: John Henry (ca. 1778-1853) was a British spy against America, but a crooked, and as it turned out, an incompetent one. Born in Ireland, he came to Philadelphia about 1793, where he edited a newspaper (and cultivated friendships with Federalist politicians), and served for a time in the American army. Sometime around 1805, he moved to Montreal, Canada, where he befriended local officials and promoted the idea that in case of war with America, the New England states could be induced to secede and side with Great Britain. He was sent to Boston as a secret British agent in 1809, with secret instructions to determine whether the Federalists would be likely “to bring about separation from the general Union” and to what extent “they would look up to England for assistance or be disposed to enter into a connexion with us.” He returned to Canada with documents purporting to support this idea.

But when the British government failed to pay him for these documents (he wanted $160,000), John Henry returned to America. There he met a French crook named Soubiron, pretending to be the “Count of Crillon,” who suggested that John Henry sell his documents to the United States. After some negotiations, President Madison agreed to pay him $50,000 (virtually all the money in his Secret Service budget), while the “Count of Crillon,” sweetened the deal by giving Henry a fake deed to property in France supposed to be worth $30,000 more. Henry collected the $50,000 and promptly sailed for France.

When the documents were revealed to be worthless, the scheme backfired. Americans were furious at the British, and the anti-war Federalists were to some extent weakened. Some people believed that this hastened the American declaration of War against Britain in June 1812. The British “Order in Council of October 26,1812,” mentioned in the story above, provided for the issuance of licenses to American ships wishing to trade with French islands in the Caribbean, but only if they came from New England – thus seemingly endorsing John Henry’s claim that the New England states might be induced to break with the rest of the country.

Soldier’s Body Found

Cazenovia, March 31, 1813. On Thursday last, the coroner was called on to view the body of a man, found in ... the town of Nelson. The body appeared to have lain a considerable time in the situation in which it was found. He was about 5 foot 10 inches high. His dress was a blue short coat with metal buttons, swansdown vest, tow cloth shirt, light corduroy pantaloons and boots all very much torn or worn, and his body shockingly mangled and defaced by the hogs .... The coroner’s jury ... brought in a verdict, “that he died by the visitation of God, in a natural way.” JOHN E.BAKER, coroner.

The person above described, is supposed to be one Timothy Coye, from New Lisbon or Butternuts, Otsego County, who returned from the Niagara frontier, thro’ this village, some time in the month of November last. He had been sick while on the lines, and appeared to be deranged when in this village.

Considerable search was made by the inhabitants of this town and Nelson, from the circumstance of his horse, &c., being found the next morning after he left this place, in the town of Nelson, five miles distant; but the heavy fall of snow at that time rendered all search fruitless.

COMMENT: It seems probable that the unfortunate Timothy was the son of Nathaniel Coy, born 1778 in Connecticut, who with his wife, Bridget Goodell Coy, had moved to Butternuts by 1800. According to the 1810 U.S. Census, they had a son aged between 26 and 44. I can find no other record of his death.

News From Lewiston

April 6, 1813. [To Joseph Haslett, Governor of Delaware:] “The attack immediately commenced and continued till near 10 o’clock. The fire from our batteries silenced one of the most dangerous gun boats, against which I directed the fire from our 18-pounder, for which I request you will immediately send me a supply of shot and powder, as it is uncertain how long the bombardment will continue. They have not succeeded with their bombs in reaching the town. And the damage from their 32-pounders and cannister cannot be ascertained till daylight.

“I hope, Sir, in this affair you will find the honor of the state has not been tarnished. “I have the honor to be, sir, &c. [Samuel Boyer] DAVIS [1766-1854], Col. Comdt.

“N.B. While writing the above the enemy has recommenced firing.”

COMMENT: Readers will recall that a British Naval Squadron had threatened to bombard the town of Lewiston [Lewes], Delaware, unless it agreed to sell it live cattle to feed the British sailors. Cannon were generally described by the weight of the cannonballs (“shot”) they could fire. “Cannisters” were filled with small iron objects intended to kill or wound personnel.


Died, at Troy, on the 3d inst., Mr. BENJAMIN COLLINS, aged 44 years.