Sunday, August 3, 2014

People: The Lady was a... Spy?

The  General... 

Thomas Gage
Many  British officers  serving in the American Revolution had served  previously in North America during the French and Indian War. Some, such as Horatio Gates and Charles Lee took to the new world, settled in America, and fought for the Patriots during the War for Independence. Others took American wives in the grand tradition of war brides that continues to this day. One such officer was General Thomas Gage. Gage was born in Firle, England, the second son of a Viscount. Gage  attended the prestigious Westminster School and on graduation joined the British Army as an ensign. He rose in rank  and was promoted to lieutenant colonel in March 1751. His regiment was sent to America in 1755. In fact, his career took  through many important military events as the British kingdom forged an empire during the mid-18th century. But that is another story.

The Lady...

Margaret Kemble Gage in 1771
In America, Gage proved a successful and innovative officer, achieving high command and eventually governing Canada after the French surrendered. But in December 1757 the war and life in America took on a special meaning for the accomplished officer, now a brigadier general. He spent the winter in New Jersey, where he was charged with recruiting colonists for the British army. He was stationed near  Brunswick, a small town not far from New York City.  There he met Margaret Kemble, a well-known beauty of some standing in the area. Margaret was the great-granddaughter of the former Mayor of New York City Stephanus Van Cortlandt (one of the richest families in New York). And her father was Peter Kemble, a well-to-do New Jersey businessman and politician. In December 8, 1758, Gage married the beautiful and well connected Jersey girl. For many years, the Gage's played a prominent role in New York society. By all evidence they were  happily married, and most attested that they were an ideal couple. Their marital compatibility was evinced by the births of five daughters and six sons.

The Governor...

Margaret's brother Stephen
 Kemble was Gage's Chief of
Thomas Gage eventually rose to command of all British troops in North America. After the war with France ended, he watched as the political strife in the colonies turned to resistance. Unfortunately, he would soon play a hand in turning them to open rebellion. The colony of Massachusetts was the most rebellious. In May 1774, King George III sent Gage  to Boston, naming him military governor of Massachusetts, with hopes that he
could restore order to that most rebellious colony, and enforce the hated Parliamentary acts.  His wife Margaret arrived in Boston in late 1774. Although Gage had initially been respected by the colonists, they also regarded him with a measure of suspicion. Margaret herself was anguished over the conflict in the colonies and her divided loyalties. She hoped that her husband would not take actions resulting in the loss of the lives of her countrymen....


Doctor Benjamin Church
Margaret's brother, Stephen Kemble, was her husband's  Intelligence Officer. His chief asset was the very prominent Dr. Benjamin Church, a member of the Massachusetts Congress and its Committee of Safety. Seems the doctor liked to play doctor with  an expensive mistress and turned to spying for the British to pay for her. So while the Patriot Congress met in Concord (October, 1774, and March through April, 1775), sworn to secrecy, Dr. Church regularly provided summaries of the proceedings to Gage. Church was later exposed (no pun), but that is another tale.  General Gage learned that the Massachusetts militia were storing
arms and ammunition in Concord, about 20 miles northwest of Boston. He also heard that Samuel Adams  and John Hancock were in Lexington. Gage made plans to take them out along with the munitions. But the  rebels under Dr. Joseph Warren had their own spy network. Warren learned of the upcoming British troop movements on April 18 and confirmed it through a confidential informant with connections to the  British high command. Thus the famous "midnight ride" of Paul Revere and others to warn the rebels. The "shot heard round the world resulted." But just who was the informant? Unfortunately, Warren was killed  at Bunker Hill, so the  identity of the informant is subject to speculation.


Doctor Joseph Warren
And as we all know, speculation is fun. The warning was out before the redcoats marched for Lexington and Concord so the informant was not a low ranking soldier or officer.  Gage himself was called into question because he admitted telling just one  person of his plans before informing his top commanders. But major speculation is that Gage had been betrayed by his American-born wife, Margaret. Could the long term spouse of the top British officer really have been an American agent? Would she betray her husband and her king? And if so, how? Did her brother play a role? Stephen was reduced to the grade of captain after Lexington and Concord. Why? But let's focus on his sister. Allegedly, Margaret  warned  Warren of her husband's plans on April 18th.  A clergyman from Roxbury named Rev.William Gordon, later noted that Warren's spy was "a daughter of liberty unequally yoked in the point of politics." Many have suggested  she was sympathetic to the colonial cause. There is evidence that she had political sentiments of her own and that the now burning dispute between Britain and America filled her with sadness. Margaret did once admit to an acquaintance that she hoped her husband would not be the instrument of the death of her countrymen. But there were many Loyal Britons who held similar views. In all, there is no proof of her espionage. Many a discussion has taken place on communication. How could Warren communicate with the wife of the British governor?  How could he trust an intermediary with such a delicate mission? How could he risk a personal meeting? Such challenges face every intelligence operation, especially those of potential high gain as assets such as the wife of the British Governor would be. But perhaps the biggest "indicator" of Margaret Kemble Gage's possible espionage is that her husband soon after packed her off to England. This blog considers her a very likely source, if not outright spy. The reduction in grade of her brother around the same time lead us to believe there was a connection. Perhaps Gage's other confidant in his plans was his intelligence chief. Perhaps she gleaned her nugget from Stephen. In 1775, the stakes were high enough to risk getting the information to the American side.

End of the Affair...

Gage remained in America for another year and returned to an England not too impressed with his record in Boston.  In the years that followed, their marriage deteriorated and was marked by estrangement. Jersey girl Margaret Gage spent the second half of her life in England, never returning to her land of birth. She died at the age of 90 in 1824, surviving her husband by almost 37 years.


Margaret in 1775

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting to me, as I live in Warrenton VA, named after Dr. Warren.