Enoch Crosby American Patriot and Spy


Enoch Crosby
American Patriot and Spy

Enoch Crosby was a hero and patriot soldier of Dutchess County, New York, whose adventures during the American Revolution were so similar to those of Harvey Birch, the hero of the novel, The Spy, by James Fenimore Cooper, that it is generally accepted that they are one and the same person.  His performance during our struggle for independence consisted of so many important acts of heroism and personal sacrifice as to merit the esteem of all Americans.

He was born in Harwich, Massachusetts, in 1750, moving with his family in 1753 to Southeast, Dutchess County, (now Putnam County) New York.  At age 16 Enoch was apprenticed to a cordwainer (shoemaker) in Kent for seven years because there was no money for him to go to school.

His apprenticeship up, Enoch moved to Danbury and became a shoemaker there.  At the outbreak of the Revolution he joined the Continentals and served under Gen. Schuyler in campaigns against Montreal and Quebec.  While there, he became ill and was sent home.  He resumed his trade upon recovery, this time as an itinerant shoemaker throughout Westchester, Putnam and Dutchess counties.

In September, 1776, Crosby was on his way through Westchester County to rejoin the American army when he fell in with a man who was a Tory, and supposing Crosby to be one also, invited him to join a company then forming to aid the British.  Enoch seized this opportunity of gaining information.  During the night he slipped away and immediately communicated this information to the Committee of Safety in White Plains.  This committee was headed by John Jay.  A group of mounted rangers, with Crosby as guide, surrounded and captured the entire band of Tories.  He informed Colonel Jay of his desire to re-enlist, but Jay sensed Crosby's peculiar ability and persuaded him to become a Secret Agent and join various bands of Tories.  This was probably the beginning of United States intelligence, and Crosby was considered the first Secret Agent of the United States.  Jay felt that "our greatest danger lies in our secret enemies.  A man of your special abilities is entitled to greater credit than a regular soldier."  Enoch then consecrated himself to years of suffering and sacrifice with that objective in mind.

His major focus was working as a cobbler/peddler in the Neutral Ground -- that region between the Harlem River and the Pines Bridge on the Croton River.  This area, the Neutral Ground, became a place of lawlessness by troops of both sides.  It was here that the British "cowboys" and the American "skinners" operated and created the greatest risk for Crosby.  He skillfully managed to gather much information which he transmitted to American officers.

Six years and more were spent in cobbling, hog butchering, hay pitching, wood chopping -- all incidental to his main purpose. And it wasn't easy, for nearly everyone was suspicious of strangers, making it necessary for him to hide and sleep in caves, and to travel at night.  He was frequently captured, beaten and imprisoned, even condemned to die; yet he always possessed the uncanny knack of escaping with valuable inside information as to enemy plans.

One of the few people who knew the secret of Enoch Crosby was Colonel Henry Ludington, commanding the 7th Dutchess County Militia.  Crosby often found needed rest at the Ludington house.  Col. Ludington's eldest daughter Sybil, helped out on several occasions acting as a sentinel guard and liaison between her father and his secret agents.  Crosby had a code of secret signals which were known to Sybil and her sister Rebecca.  The two girls were always on guard during their father's absence.

After serving two more six-month enlistments, one under General LaFayette, he returned to his farm in Southeast.  Enoch and his brother, Benjamin, had purchased 276 acres near Brewster from the Commission of Forfeiture.  In 1785 Enoch married Sarah Kniffen.  She died in 1811.  He later married Margaret Green who died in 1825.

We remember Enoch Crosby not only as a valued secret agent -- the "spy of the neutral ground" -- but also as a man with strong patriotic spirit.  A quote from one of his letters to the Journal of Commerce reveals his true nature:

"having been spared to enjoy these blessings -- independence and prosperity -- for half a century and see them still continued, I can lay down my weary and worn out limbs in peace and happiness."

He died on June 26, 1835, and was buried beside his first wife in the Old Gilead Cemetery, Carmel, New York.

Enoch Crosby Deposition for Federal Pension, 1832

Enoch Crosby Family History

Enoch Crosby Will dated April 17, 1835

Enoch Crosby Inventory of Estate