Thomas Hickey and the Plot Against George Washington

and the Plot Against George Washington

In June 1776, General Washington ordered the arrest of David Mathews, the Loyalist mayor of New York City, for conspiring in support of British plans to invade the city and strike the Continental Army there.

It was later learned that Mathews was also involved in a devious plot against Washington, along with William Tryon, the British-appointed governor of New York. The conspirators aimed to capture or assassinate Washington using traitors in his “Life Guard,” the detachment of soldiers responsible for the general’s safety. They were foiled by the Committee for Detecting and Defeating Conspiracies, led by John Jay, who would later gain fame as a Founding Father, diplomat, and jurist.

camera icon - click to for more details about the image camera icon - click to for more details about the image Official flag of General Washington’s “Life Guard”
Map of New York City circa 1776.

In June 1776, General Washington ordered the arrest of David Mathews, the Loyalist mayor of New York City, for conspiring in support of British plans to invade the city and strike the Continental Army there.

Flag of George Washington’s Life Guard, a unit comprising handpicked men assigned to protect the commanding general. camera icon - click to for more details about the image Official flag of General Washington’s “Life Guard”

It was later learned that Mathews was also involved in a devious plot against Washington, along with William Tryon, the British-appointed governor of New York. The conspirators aimed to capture or assassinate Washington using traitors in his “Life Guard,” the detachment of soldiers responsible for the general’s safety. They were foiled by the Committee for Detecting and Defeating Conspiracies, led by John Jay, who would later gain fame as a Founding Father, diplomat, and jurist.

Field order from General Washington for the hanging of Thomas Hickey

Thomas Hickey, the Continental soldier at the center of the plot, was a favorite of Washington. An Irishman and British Army deserter, Hickey joined the colonial militia in Connecticut and was later handpicked by Washington to join his elite Life Guard. Hickey proved a disappointment and was later jailed on suspicion of counterfeiting. While detained, he confided to fellow prisoners that he was turning his back on the cause of independence and actively recruiting others to support the British.

Justice for Treason

Hickey was court-martialed for his role in the plot against Washington, and pleaded innocent to charges of “exciting and joining in a mutiny and sedition,” and “treacherously corresponding with, enlisting among, and receiving pay from the enemies of the United Colonies.” Hickey was found guilty on June 26, 1776.

Two days later, Hickey was hanged in New York City before 20,000 onlookers. He was the first individual to be executed for treason against what would become the United States. By Washington’s orders, all soldiers who were not on duty at the time were present at the execution. Washington later wrote in a letter to the Continental Congress, “I am hopeful this example will produce many salutary consequences and deter others from entering into the like traitorous practices.”

 General Washington’s Field Orders entry for June 27, 1776 camera icon - click to for more details about the image Field order from General Washington for the hanging of Thomas Hickey
 General Washington’s Field Orders entry for June 27, 1776 camera icon - click to for more details about the image