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The Ketcham Inn and the Curious Case of the Culper Connection (Part 2)

June 11, 2015

Over the next several months, members of the Committee of Safety, including Benjamin Havens and Abraham Woodhull, would meet in both Corum and Setauket. Their activities would be short lived. The organization was soon scuttled by the British occupation, after the Battle of Long Island in August of 1776. Its liberty minded members would now have to play it much closer to vest. Some would flee to Connecticut or upstate New York - others to their taverns or farms where they would have to play it cool and develop a different strategy.

As for Benjamin Havens' role; he certainly does appear on the enemy's radar. The famous British spy, Major John André, noted the location of his property on a map used by General Sir Henry Clinton, the British Commander-and-Chief in North America during the war. Leading up to the Battle of Long Island, Havens did his part - providing important support to his friend and fellow Safety Committee member, Brigadier General Nathaniel Woodhull.

Woodhull, for years an impassioned critic of the Crown's colonial policies, was elected President of the anti-British Provincial Congress in 1775 and again the following year. On July 9, 1776, the Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence and formed the state of New York. In August the General obtained a leave of absence from Congress to attend to some personal matters in Mastic. While there he received news that the British had landed troops near Bath and were threatening New York from Brooklyn.

Orders were sent to him to call out the entire militia of Queens County and part of the forces of Suffolk County to remove or destroy livestock and other goods that might be useful to the enemy. Woodhull at once proceeded to Jamaica, Queens to carry out his orders. There he succeeded in capturing a considerable quantity of cattle and other live stock, which he sent beyond arms reach of the British.

Benjamin Havens, though too old for service (he was in his 60s), still managed to find a way to answer the call. An order to purchase cattle in Queens and Suffolk issued on August 10,1776, illustrates his effort:

That Benj Havens, Nath' Williams, Philip Allen Jun, John Hendrickson & Nath' Seamen be requested & empowered to purchase all the fatted Cattle & Sheep in the Counties of Suffolk & Queens & to drive them down on ac'of the Commissary Genl to Gen Woodhulls Encampment & that Mr L'hommedieu, Mr Van Wyck & Mr Gelston be a Committee to wait upon the Commissary Gen' & request him to inform them what price he will give for the same & that the Commissary of Genl Woodhulls Brigade be directed to retain as many of the said Cattle as he shall think will be required for the subsistence of the said Brigade.

In the course of operations, Woodhull's army steadily dwindled until it numbered less than 100. On the 27th of August, in the Battle of Brooklyn, the British succeeded in cutting off his remaining forces from the rest of the army. He was forced to retire to Jamaica to await further orders. He was captured there  by enemy forces. A British officer struck him multiple times with a broad sword, mangling his arm and injuring his head for not saying, "God save the King," as ordered. Instead he said, "God save us all."

He was first taken to a prison ship moored in Gravesend Bay where no medical attention was available. A British officer, who was sympathetic to his serious condition, had him transferred to the Dutch village of New Utrecht (now part of Brooklyn). His arm had to be amputated in an effort to save his life. On September 20th, in the century old home of a Dutch settler, with his wife at his side, he died - the first martyr of the Revolutionary War. It may have been his death and treatment at the hands of the enemy that inspired his cousin, Abraham Woodhull, to become a spy.

On the 29th of August, as Sir William Howe, the British general, waited in anticipation of the American general's surrender; George Washington mounted a masterful retreat, fleeing through heavy rain and thick fog, under the cover of darkness, across the East River.

Click here for Part 1

Click here for Part 3

Click here for Part 4

Ketcham Inn Foundation

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