Spy: A Tale of the Neutral Ground

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Romance by Cooper, published in 1821, and dramatized by C.P. Clinch (1822).

Harvey Birch, supposed to be a Loyalist spy but secretly in the intelligence service of General Washington, operates in the “neutral ground” of his native Westchester County, New York, and aids his neighbors, Henry Wharton, a Loyalist who pretends to be neutral, his daughters Sarah and Frances, and a son. Captain Henry Wharton of the British army. In 1780, Washington, in his accustomed disguise as Mr. Harper, is sheltered at the Wharton home, where he is impressed by the rebel sympathies of Frances. To repay the family's hospitality, Birch warns Captain Henry of his impending capture, but the young man, refusing to leave, is taken by a rebel force under Captain Jack Lawton. Frances appeals to her fiance, the patriot Major Peyton Dunwoodie, but meanwhile Captain Henry escapes during a battle, only to be recaptured with Colonel Wellemere, Sarah's British admirer. Birch is almost captured by Lawton, who mistakes him for a spy, but in their struggle he spares Lawton's life, a good deed repaid by Lawton when Birch is later turned over to him by the “Skinners,” a band of marauding patriots. The wedding of Wellemere and Sarah is interrupted by Birch, who reveals that Wellemere is already married, and the Englishman escapes during a raid by the marauders, who destroy the Wharton home. Captain Henry is sentenced to be executed as a spy, but Birch helps him escape, and Frances, seeking them, goes to Birch's mountain retreat, where she finds “Mr. Harper” and persuades him to end the pursuit of her brother. Birch takes Captain Henry to a British ship, Frances and Dunwoodie are married, Lawton is killed in battle, and Birch, ending his service to Washington, refuses rewards, preferring to remain an itinerant peddler.

Subjects: Literature.

Reference entries

James Fenimore Cooper (1789—1851) American novelist

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