Updated:
Original:
Year
1775
Month Day
October 05

General Washington informs Congress of espionage

On October 5, 1775, General George Washington writes to the president of the Continental Congress, John Hancock, to inform him 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. Washington wrote, “I have now a painful tho’ a Necessary Duty to perform respecting Doctor Church, Director General of the Hospital.”

Washington described how a coded letter to a British officer, Major Crane, came into Washington’s possession by a convoluted route from “a Woman who was kept by Doctor Church.” Washington “immediately secured the Woman, but for a long time she was proof against every threat and perswasion[sic] to discover the Author, however at length she was brought to a confession and named Doctor Church. I then immediately secured him and all his papers.”

The woman Washington interrogated was the mistress of Dr. Benjamin Church, a renowned Boston physician, who was active in the Massachusetts Committee of Safety and served as a member of the Provincial Congress. In July 1775, Washington had named Church the first surgeon general of the Continental Army, only to find out three months later that he had been spying for the British since 1772. Church faced an army court martial on October 4, 1775.

Despite Church’s plea of innocence, and the inconsequential nature of the information he provided to Crane, 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. After becoming ill while incarcerated, Dr. Church was exiled to the West Indies. The ship in which he traveled is believed to have been lost at sea.

On November 7, 1775, shortly after the conviction of Dr. Church, the Continental Congress added a mandate for the death penalty as punishment for acts of espionage to the “articles of war.”

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us!

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Steve Jobs, founder of Apple

Apple founder Steve Jobs dies

On October 5, 2011, Steve Jobs, the visionary co-founder of Apple Inc., which revolutionized the computer, music and mobile communications industries with such devices as the Macintosh, iPod, iPhone and iPad, dies at age 56 of complications from pancreatic cancer. Born on ...read more

Shawnee chief Tecumseh is defeated

During the War of 1812, a combined British and Native American force is defeated by General William Harrison’s American army at the Battle of the Thames near Ontario, Canada. The leader of the Native forces was Tecumseh, the Shawnee chief who organized intertribal resistance to ...read more

Dalai Lama wins Nobel Peace Prize

The Dalai Lama, the exiled religious and political leader of Tibet, is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of his nonviolent campaign to end the Chinese domination of Tibet. The 14th Dalai Lama was born as Tenzin Gyatso in Tsinghai Province, China, in 1935. He was of ...read more

Chief Joseph surrenders

Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce Indians surrenders to U.S. General Nelson A. Miles in the Bear Paw mountains of Montana, declaring, “Hear me, my chiefs: My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.” Earlier in the year, the U.S. government ...read more

American circumnavigates the globe on foot

American Dave Kunst completes the first round-the-world journey on foot, taking four years and 21 pairs of shoes to complete the 14,500-mile journey across the land masses of four continents. He left his hometown of Waseca, Minnesota, on June 20, 1970. Near the end of his journey ...read more

Blimp crashes in France

On October 5, 1930, a British dirigible crashes in Beauvais, France, killing everyone onboard. The airship, which was Great Britain’s biggest, had first been launched about a year earlier. In the 1920s, the major European nations competed with each other to build larger and ...read more

Iran-Contra scandal unravels

Eugene Hasenfus is captured by troops of the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua after the plane in which he is flying is shot down; two others on the plane die in the crash. Under questioning, Hasenfus confessed that he was shipping military supplies into Nicaragua for use by the ...read more