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Otsego Herald

April 10, 2014

British Spy Executed

From the Otsego Herald

for Saturday, April 9, 1814

Compiled, with comments



Plattsburgh, March 26. At length, by redoubled vigilance, in spite of the defects of our own laws, the corruption of some of our citizens, and the arts and cunning of the enemy, one Spy, of the hundreds who roam at large over this frontier, has been detected, convicted, and sentenced to Death.

He came from the enemy as a deserter, in the uniform of a British corps, had obtained a pass to go into the interior, visited this place, and was on his return to Canada, in citizens clothes, when a virtuous citizen, who had seen him as he came from Canada, recognized and made him prisoner — and not withstanding the arts of one of our citizens, (a Peace officer) who advised him to let the fellow go, brought him to this place.

He has acknowledged that he was a sergeant in the 103d regiment of British infantry, and calls his name William Baker. We understand he is to be executed this day at 1 o’clock P.M.

COMMENT: Espionage was very common on both sides of the War of 1812, with all too many people willing to engage in spying, often for profit. Few were caught, and trials for espionage were often decided on the basis of little evidence. Just what if any information William Baker had collected, or whether he was just a deserter who changed his mind, does not seem clear. One modern source says:

“On March 25, 1814, British Army (103rd regiment of Infantry) sergeant William Baker, was tried by a general court martial presided over by Brigadier General Thomas A. Smith at Plattsburgh, N. Y. Baker was convicted of spying and sentenced to be hanged.

“The execution was carried out the next day on a sand ridge between Court and Brinkerhoff Street. For many years afterward, boys on still moonlight nights would go to the place where the gallows had stood and shout three times ‘Baker, for what was you hung?’ Some claimed to hear the wind whistle back ‘N-o-t-h-i-n-g.’”

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