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Zedwitz’s Letter

From Diary of the American Revolution, Vol I. Compiled by Frank Moore and published in 1859.

August 31. –A few days ago, a most infamous letter from Colonel Zedwitz to Tryon, the late governor of New York, was intercepted and fell into our hands.1 After presenting his compliments in a formal manner to Lord Howe, and begging the contents of his letter to be explained to him, Zedwitz proceeds to profess a consciousness that the world will censure him for his treachery in corresponding with the enemy of those in whose service he had engaged; but he apologizes for himself by appealing to the governor as a person who knew he had been forced to accept his commission for fear of ruin to himself and family; and as he had engaged through compulsion (a most villanous lie, for he solicited for it) from a rebellious mob, he infers that he can be under no obligation to conform to his engagements. Besides this, he observes that previous to his entrance in the continental army, he took the governor’s advice on the occasion, and promised to do all he could in his new capacity, for his Majesty’s service.

He next declares that ever since his return from Canada, he had been laying plans for the performance of his promise, and was in a fair way of doing something, when Forbes and the mayor were detected in their conspiracy,2 which obliged him to lay aside his schemes; as Forbes had indiscreetly mentioned to the court on his trial a message from Governor Tryon to him, to wit: “that he would make his fortune if he would execute a certain commission.” This, he says, rendered him suspected, and for the present frustrated his designs. However, as an instance that he was returning into favor, he informs the governor that General Washington had lately employed him to translate a paper into high. German, which was to be printed and distributed among the Hessian troops. He advises to keep a good look-out.

In his next paragraph, he invents this abominable falsehood, that he had lately seen four villains at General W. ‘s house, with fourteen bottles of a mixture as black as ink, with which they were to poison the watering place on Staten Island, and were to receive a recompense of one thousand pounds each from the general.

He then informs, that a person always near the general, who was a friend to the King, though an interested one, had offered to furnish him with weekly returns of the strength and detail of the army till December, for the sum of four thousand pounds sterling, to be paid beforehand in hard gold; that he had proposed a reward of two thousand pounds sterling, which was agreed to, and he therefore desires (if the plan be agreeable) that the money might be immediately conveyed to him. He concluded with informing them that he shortly expected a full colonel’s commission, with the command of the three forts up the North River.

The wickedness of this despicable man was discovered by the person whom he engaged to convey his letter. He endeavored to debauch one Steen, who, being a German, in but indifferent circumstances, and unemployed in our service, he imagined would be a proper instrument for his purpose. But Steen perceiving his intention, and being an honest man and a friend to the country, only amused him with a seeming compliance till he got his letter into his hands, and then, without delay, had it laid before the general.

Zedwitz, on his trial, acknowledged the letter to be his own, but pleaded that it was intended merely as a trick upon the enemy, to extract from them two thousand pounds sterling, in lieu of certain expenses he had put himself to in raising a regiment in Germany, at the request of the Marquis of Granby, for which he had never been reimbursed. The verdict of the court-martial is not yet known, but ’tis supposed he will suffer according to the merit of his crime.3


1 Clift’s Diary.
2 See page 255, ante.
3 Pennsylvania Journal, September 4.

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