Crosby, the Patriot Spy
Myths and Legends of Our Own Lands
It was at the Jay house, in Westchester, New York, that Enoch Crosby met Washington and offered his services to the patriot army. Crosby was a cobbler, and not a very thriving one, but after the outbreak of hostilities he took a peddler's outfit on his back and, as a non-combatant, of Tory sympathies, he obtained admission through the British lines. After his first visit to head quarters it is certain that he always carried Sir Henry Clinton's passport in the middle of his pack, and so sure were his neighbors that he was in the service of the British that they captured him and took him to General Washington, but while his case was up for debate he managed to slip his handcuffs, which were not secure, and made off. Clinton, on the other hand, was puzzled by the unaccountable foresight of the Americans, for every blow that he prepared to strike was met, and he lost time and chance and temper. As if the suspicion of both armies and the hatred of his neighbors were not enough to contend against, Crosby now became an object of interest to the Skinners and Cowboys, who were convinced that he was making money, somehow, and resolved to have it.
The Skinners were camp-followers of the American troops and the Cowboys a band of Tories and renegade British. Both factions were employed, ostensibly, in foraging for their respective armies, but, in reality, for themselves, and the farmers and citizens occupying the neutral belt north of Manhattan Island had reason to curse them both impartially. While these fellows were daring thieves, they occasionally got the worst of it, even in the encounters with the farmers, as on the Neperan, near Tarrytown, where the Cowboys chased a woman to death, but were afterward cut to pieces by the enraged neighbors. Hers is but one of the many ghosts that haunt the neutral ground, and the croaking of the birds of ill luck that nest at Raven rock is blended with the cries of her dim figure. Still, graceless as these fellows were, they affected a loyalty to their respective sides, and were usually willing to fight each other when they met, especially for the plunder that was to be got by fighting.
In October, 1780, Claudius Smith, "king of the Cowboys," and three scalawag sons came to the conclusion that it was time for Crosby's money to revert to the crown, and they set off toward his little house one evening, sure of finding him in, for his father was seriously ill. The Smiths arrived there to find that the Skinners had preceded them on the same errand, and they recognized through the windows, in the leader of the band, a noted brigand on whose head a price was laid. He was searching every crack and cranny of the room, while Crosby, stripped to shirt and trousers, stood before the empty fireplace and begged for that night to be left alone with his dying father.
"To hell with the old man!" roared the Skinner. "Give up your gold, or we'll put you to the torture," and he significantly whirled the end of a rope that he carried about his waist. At that moment the faint voice of the old man was heard calling from another room.
"Take all that I have and let me go!" cried Crosby, and turning up a brick in the fire-place he disclosed a handful of gold, his life savings. The leader still tried to oppose his exit, but Crosby flung him to the floor and rushed away to his father, while the brigand, deeming it well to delay rising, dug his fingers into the hollow and began to extract the sovereigns. At that instant four muskets were discharged from without: there was a crash of glass, a yell of pain, and four of the Skinners rolled bleeding on the floor; two others ran into the darkness and escaped; their leader, trying to follow, was met at the threshold by the Smiths, who clutched the gold out of his hand and pinioned his elbows in a twinkling.
"I thought ye'd like to know who's got ye," said old Smith, peering into the face of the astonished and crestfallen robber, "for I've told ye many a time to keep out of my way, and now ye've got to swing for getting into it."
Within five minutes of the time that he had got his clutch on Crosby's money the bandit was choking to death at the end of his own rope, hung from the limb of an apple-tree, and, having secured the gold, the Cowboys went their way into the darkness. Crosby soon made his appearance in the ranks of the Continentals, and, though they looked askant at him for a time, they soon discovered the truth and hailed him as a hero, for the information he had carried to Washington from Clinton's camp had often saved them from disaster. He had survived attack in his own house through the falling out of rogues, and he survived the work and hazard of war through luck and a sturdy frame. Congress afterwards gave him a sum of money larger than had been taken from him, for his chief had commended him in these lines: "Circumstances of political importance, which involved the lives and fortunes of many, have hitherto kept secret what this paper now reveals. Enoch Crosby has for years been a faithful and unrequited servant of his country. Though man does not, God may reward him for his conduct. GEORGE WASHINGTON."
Associated with Crosby in his work of getting information from the enemy was a man named Gainos, who kept an inn on the neutral ground, that was often raided. Being assailed by Cowboys once, Gainos, with his tenant and stable-boys, fired at the bandits together, just as the latter had forced his front door, then stepping quickly forward he slashed off the head of the leader with a cutlass. The retreating crew dumped the body into a well on the premises, and there it sits on the crumbling curb o' nights looking disconsolately for its head.
It may also be mentioned that the Skinners had a chance to revenge themselves on the Cowboys for their defeat at the Crosby house. They fell upon the latter at the tent-shaped cave in Yonkers,—it is called Washington's Cave, because the general napped there on bivouac,—and not only routed them, but secured so much of their treasure that they were able to be honest for several years after.