Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Spy Who Eluded Me, Part 2: War and Captivity

Typical attire of a soldier in
the Royal Fencible American
The Spy Who Eluded Me, Part 1: Across the Sea

Civil unrest in the New England colonies had erupted into destruction and violence. The self-styled Patriots—rebels in the eyes of those loyal to the King—declared their independence from Britain on July 4, 1776. Twenty-three days later—one day short of the third anniversary of his father’s death—David Dobson enlisted in the Royal Fencible Americans at Fort Cumberland, Nova Scotia. Under the command of Colonel Joseph Goreham, the Loyalist regiment braced itself for the anticipated incursion of rebel forces into Nova Scotia. They didn’t have long to wait.

The Eddy Rebellion, named for Cumberland settler Jonathan Eddy, presented a threat to the future of Nova Scotia. Eddy and his supporters believed that Nova Scotia should follow New England’s example. Loyalist settlers preferred their emotional bond to the monarchy.

November 1776 proved a pivotal month in the life of Private David Dobson. On November 5th, he was sent by Goreham to assess Eddy’s forces. His was a spying mission, albeit unsuccessful. When he did not report back by November 7th, he was presumed to have deserted or been captured. Goreham maintained faith in his operative, however, and David was officially listed among those captured by the rebels.

By November 12th, those prisoners were relocated to Boston, presumably to be kept in a military stockade. That Private Dobson avoided being executed as a spy spoke either to his luck or his personal charm. Since good fortune seemed in short supply, his personality must have dazzled.

David’s brother, George Jr., was the only adult male remaining on the Dobson homestead. Brother-in-law William Wells was near at hand, but he had his own growing brood with which to contend--not to mention the shadow of his apparent involvement with Eddy's rebels. When George was pressed into service aboard a Yankee privateer, management of the farm would have fallen to his mother.

Perhaps coincidentally, both David Dobson and George Dobson were listed among dozens of Loyalists held aboard the brig Rising Empire and scheduled for a prisoner exchange in 1778. Family tradition holds that George was released and allowed to return home due to ill health. But is it possible that the brothers were imprisoned and exchanged together?

Prisoner exchange list, page 1
Prisoner exchange list, page 2
Following the exchange, David's whereabouts become a mystery. Does he return to the family homestead with George? Or does he perhaps continue his military experience? Part 3 will focus on what might have happened.


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