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THE FIRST AMERICAN TRAITOR
Dr. Benjamin Church has the dishonorable distinction of being the first traitor to this country, and as he has no descendants in New England to-day so far as can be learned, a sketch of his unworthy career may be ventured upon. Church came of a very distinguished family, was a graduate of Harvard College, an excellent surgeon, and posed previous to the Revolution as one of the leading patriots of Massachusetts; he was a member of the famous Committee of Safety and even delivered an oration in the Old South Meeting-house on March 5, 1773, the anniversary of the massacre. It afterwards developed that even ten years before this time he had been in secret correspondence with Governor Hutchinson. In 1774 Paul Revere wrote that he was surprised to find the secrets of the Vigilance Committee had been made known immediately to General Gage although every member of the committee had sworn to keep its proceedings secret. At the outbreak of the Revolution he was attached to a large army hospital, and it was while there that he was detected in secret correspondence with General Gage. He had intrusted a letter in cipher to a woman to be taken to the British commander. The woman was captured and Church’s treachery discovered. He was brought before a council over which Washington presided and on being questioned practically admitted his guilt. He was found guilty but was remanded for the General Court. At the trial held in Watertown the court-room was crowded. The defence claimed that the letter was written to Church’s brother, and Church himself declared that no one had a greater love for America than he. Nevertheless, on very clear evidence he was found guilty and condemned to the Norwich jail in Connecticut, where his health soon failing he was allowed to leave the country. He set sail for the West Indies, and his ship was never again heard from.
While in confinement in the Jonathan Belcher house on the corner of Brattle and Hawthorn Streets, Cambridge, he carved on the door of a closet his name, “B. Church, Jr.” The marks can still be seen, although their meaning was not understood until fifty years had elapsed.
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