During the American Revolution, New York City was very much a center for British sympathizers. That’s not especially surprising, as we’ve mentioned it on a couple of occasions. And what’s more, the violence and persecution (I think the term is appropriate here) against them was widespread, as the pro-independence Colonists there had little trouble finding Loyalists to torment.
So when General George Washington arrived on the scene in April of 1776 to oversee military preparations, it doesn’t take much imagination to figure out that the Loyalists might target him in order to exact a bit of revenge. The British, still stinging from the loss of Boston in March, probably would have welcomed a change of leadership at the head of the Continental Army.
On June 21, 1776, a plot to convince Patriot soldiers to defect to the British was uncovered. It was orchestrated by William Tryon, New York’s former governor, who had been ousted from his position by the Patriots. David Matthews, New York City’s current mayor and a Tory, was accused of funding the operation, which involved bribes to Continental Army soldiers. And while it was never completely proven, Matthews spent some time in prison.
But most shocking was the discovery that members of Washington’s guard, most notably, Sergeant Thomas Hickey, were involved. Having been assigned to his position in March, he was caught passing counterfeit money. While in prison, he told a fellow soldier that his crimes were part of a much larger plot.
Evidence seems to suggest that included in the plans was the capture or assassination of General Washington and other members of his staff. There doesn’t seem to be 100% consensus on whether a plot to kill the General actually existed. Some historians seem to think so, while others are doubtful. In his biography of Alexander Hamilton (which I’ve quoted dozens of times), Ron Chernow writes of a definite assassination plot. So I’m inclined to believe that one existed.
How far-reaching such a plan reached is hard to say, but we know for sure that only Thomas Hickey’s neck would feel the bite of the hangman’s rope, as his execution was carried out a week later.