For that were stupid and irrational;
But he whose noble soul its fear subdues,
And bravely dares the danger nature shrinks from.
When the British army held possession of Philadelphia, General Howe's head quarters were in Second street, the fourth door below Spruce, in a house which was before occupied by General Cadwalader. Directly opposite, resided William and Lydia Darrah, members of the Society of Friends. A superior officer of the British army, believed to be the Adjutant General, fixed upon one of their chambers, a back room, for private conference; and two of them frequently met there, with fire and candles, in close consultation.
About the second of December, the Adjutant General told Lydia that they would be in the room at seven o'clock, and remain late; and that they wished the family to retire early to bed; adding, that when they were going away, they would call her to let them out, and extinguish their fire and candles. She accordingly sent all the family to bed; but, as the officer had been so particular, her curiosity was excited. She took off her shoes, and put her ear to the key-hole of the conclave. She overheard an order read for all the British troops to march out, late in the evening of the fourth, and attack General Washington's army, then encamped at White Marsh. On hearing this, she returned to her chamber and laid herself down.
Soon after, the officers knocked at her door, but she rose only at the third summons, having feigned to be asleep. Her mind was so much agitated that, from this moment, she could neither eat nor sleep; supposing it to be in her power to save the lives of thousands of her countrymen; but not knowing how she was to convey the necessary information to General Washington, nor daring to confide it even to her husband. The time left, was, however, short; she quickly determined to make her way, as soon as possible, to the American outposts. She informed her family, that, as they were in want of flour, she would go to Frankfort for some; her husband insisted that she should take with her the servant maid; but, to his surprise, she positively refused.
She got access to General Howe, and solicited—what he readily granted,—a pass through the British troops on the lines. Leaving her bag at the mill, she hastened towards the American lines, and encountered on her way an American, Lieutenant Colonel Craig, of the light horse, who, with some of his men, was on the look-out for information. He knew her, and inquired whither she was going. She answered, in quest of her son, an officer in the American army; and prayed the Colonel to alight and walk with her. He did so, ordering his troops to keep in sight. To him she disclosed her momentous secret, after having obtained from him the most solemn promise never to betray her individually, since her life might be at stake, with the British. He conducted her to a house near at hand, directed a female in it to give her something to eat, and he speeded for head quarters, where he brought General Washington acquainted with what he had heard. Washington made, of course, all preparation for baffling the meditated surprise.
Lydia returned home with her flour; sat up alone to watch the movement of the British troops; heard their footsteps; but when they returned, in a few days after, did not dare to ask a question, though solicitous to learn the event. The next evening, the Adjutant General came in, and requested her to walk up to his room, as he wished to put some questions. She followed him in terror; and when he locked the door, and begged her, with an air of mystery to be seated, she was sure that she was either suspected, or had been betrayed. He inquired earnestly whether any of her family were up the last night he and the other officer met:—she told him that they all retired at eight o'clock. He observed—"I know you were asleep, for I knocked at your chamber door three times before you heard me;—I am entirely at a loss to imagine who gave General Washington information of our intended attack, unless the walls of the house could speak. When we arrived near White Marsh, we found all their cannon mounted, and the troops prepared to receive us; and we have marched back like a parcel of fools."
Article compiled from sources in the public domain.
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Smiles & Good Fortune,
It is not wealth one asks for, but just enough to preserve one’s dignity, to work unhampered, to be generous, frank and independent. W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) Of Human Bondage, 1915