Chauncey Judd: Pursuit from Bethany
Pursuit from Bethany
Wearily the leaden hours of night dragged themselves onward, while Mrs. Dayton and her frightened children sat, where the robbers had left them, waiting for the dawn. By the help of her servants, she had succeeded in extricating herself from the strips of sheeting with which they had bound her, but she could do nothing more. Neither commands nor entreaties would have induced the blacks to venture out in the night to arouse the neighbors; and Mrs. Dayton herself, overcome with prostration from excitement, found herself unequal to the exertion. Besides, she had shuddered at the fearful threats of vengeance which had been heaped on her if she attempted to give the alarm before morning; so she composed herself as well as she could, and wished for the day.
At last a faint blush began to spread over the east, and the noisy fowls, calling to each other from the neighboring barns, announced the coming of the morning. Slow indeed is her approach in circumstances like these. Does she linger on her way, and wear the blush of shame when she appears, as if conscious of the evil deeds that have been done in her absence, but which she is now to meet with with open face?
With trembling hand Mrs. Dayton drew aside the window curtains, and beheld the smoke from Dr. Hooker's mansion shooting up like a slender pillar in the keen March air. A few minutes later the doctor himself appeared, on the way to his stable, as if preparing to set forth on a professional visit. With difficulty the window was raised, and the united voices of the lady and her servants shouted to him for help. So unwonted a sound in the still morning atmosphere penetrated far, and the doctor hastened to ascertain its meaning.
Arriving at the unfortunate dwelling, a few words of explanation, in connection with the broken window, sufficed to reveal the cause of alarm.
Good heavens! he exclaimed,
and all this within sight and hearing of us all! I should say that was a smart piece of business.
However, it's no more than I expected. I've told neighbor Dayton fifty times that it was not safe to have so much money and valuables in his house. There are ever so many tories that wouldn't scruple a moment to engage in a job as this.
I know it, replied Mrs. Dayton;
and I have worried over it a great deal. But Mr. Dayton always said there were enough here to protect the house; and indeed our men have been here till yesterday, when they went away. My husband, too, had to go to Boston, and leave us alone - just for once, he said.
Well, I've no doubt the villains found it out, and seized the opportunity. It's very probable that somebody has been watching a good while for just such a chance as this. But I must not stay here gabbling. Something's got to be done, and right away too. They have had time enough to get clear off, I'm afraid, already. Do you know whether the rascals had horses?
I did not hear of any; but I was in such a state of excitement that may be I shouldn't if they had.
Well, compose yourself as well as you can, and I'll have the alarm given at once. No time to lose. Stupid that I was not to hear the noise.
And the doctor hastened home, muttering at his own obtuseness in allowing such a crime as this to be perpetrated so near them, and not to know it.
Arriving at his house, he sent Scipio, his black man, to ring the meeting-house bell. The marauding expedition of General Tryon and his British troops, the summer before, at New Haven and along the Sound, had greatly alarmed the coast towns, and in the apprehension that their ravages might be renewed, they had agreed that the ringing of the bell, except in the usual way for public worship and funerals, should be the signal of danger.
Ring it hard, Scip, cried the doctor;
make it fly lively!
After relating briefly to his family the events of the night, he next hastened across the Green to the Rev. Mr. Hawley's.
That gentleman had already risen, and at first stroke of the bell, had come to the door to ascertain the cause of the alarm. He was just in time to receive the greeting of Dr. Hooker, who cried, as he approached the door,-
A pretty piece of business this, Parson Hawley - done right here under our noses, and we so stupid as not to hear a sound!
Why, what has happened, doctor? inquired the latter.
In a few words the physician stated in what condition he had found Mrs. Dayton and her family, and repeated her account of the robbery during the night. Mr. Hawley agreed with him in the opinion that this was the work of the tories, and thought it likely it was some retaliatory expedition from Long Island, from whence it was well known Dayton had brought his goods.
They that take the sword shall perish by the sword, said the good man.
Captain Dayton ought not to expect that one one who has been so active and successful in privateering as he could escape retaliation, although so far from the coast. It is a very fortunate thing for him that he was not at home, for he could not alone have resisted a half dozen of armed ruffians, and would, in all probability, have been murdered in his own house.
No doubt of it, replied the doctor.
If the rascals had caught him, he would never have gone privateering again, you may be sure. However, it's a pity he is not here now. He knows all the haunts of the cow-boys and tories on the island, and very likely could tell just who the robbers were, and where to find them.
Meanwhile the lively peal of the bell, under the vigorous demonstrations of old Scipio, sent its sharp summons through the clear March morning; and it was not long before the alarmed townsmen began to appear. Some brought muskets with them; a few, from the more distant dwellings, came on horseback. All were in a state of greatest excitement, inquiring what had happened.
The doctor, having snatched a morsel of breakfast, returned to the church door, and explained to the people, as they assembled, the reason of the alarm. With one voice, they concurred in the suspicions he had already expressed as to the perpetrators of the outrage.
It is the work of the cursed tories, cried one.
We must hang every mother's son of them.
Ay, said another;
and I'll be one to do it. But we have got to catch them first, and that may not be so easy. They have had time to get half way to the island already.
I don't know about that, was the reply.
If they have carried off Captain Dayton's goods, they have got some heavy bundles to lug, and if we are smart, we can overtake them yet.
With all agreed, however, that the robbery was the work of tories, there was not altogether the same unanimity of feeling as to the character of the transaction.
Bethany, like some of the adjacent towns, had a large sprinkling of tories among its inhabitants; and these, as well as the whigs, responded to the call of the bells, so far at least as to ascertain what was going on. When they learned what had taken place, they were far from expressing the indignation which was felt by those of the opposite party. They were sorry, indeed, to have Mrs. Dayton and her children disturbed, but had no regrets for Dayton himself.
One of the most bitter of these tories was an old fellow named Lines. He was profane and vulgar, and had an impediment in his speech, which, when he was excited by drink or passion, often occasioned very ludicrous scenes. He came up to the Green mounted on an old mare, never of the most amiable temper, but this morning particularly ruffled at being taken from her snug stable, and compelled to face the cutting March wind. When he learned that Captain Dayton's house had been broken into and robbed, he declared he was glad of it.
S-s-sarved him right, he said,
the old p-pirate! G-g-guess he'll know how g-good it seems t'other p-people to have their homes p-p-plundered.
You think so - do you, Uncle Luke? said young Sam Perkins, riding up behind him, and touching the old mare with his whip under the flank.
The vicious beast, laying her ears back, responded with a kick which tossed her rider forward upon her neck. Grasping instinctively at the mane, to save himself from falling, he lost his hold of the bridle, at the same crying-
Sam, seeing Line's plight, brought his whip again with a sharp cut across the haunches of the irate animal. This insult was more than she could bear. Wheeling herself in the direction of home, she started off at full gallop, her rider stuttering curses upon the mare and the rebels and crying,
Whoa! wh-who! But curses and commands were alike unavailing, and the old man disappeared over the hill, clinging to the neck of his beast, while the rest of the company shouted after him,-
Go it, you old tory; three to one you'll win the race!
When the laughter at Uncle Luke's discomfiture had subsided, the townsmen began to consult in good earnest as to the measures they should adopt for overtaking and capturing the robbers.
Meanwhile a portion of the men had been examining the premises to see what clew to the robbers, if any, might be found. Some traces of their footsteps were detected in the snow under the broken window, but they had been mostly obliterated by the wind, nor could they be tracked away from the house. No signs of horses could be discovered, and it was inferred that they probably had none, which was a favorable circumstance, giving hope that the pursuit would not be fruitless.
On inquiring further of the family, little additional could be learned beyond what Dr. Hooker had already stated. Mrs. Dayton described the appearance of the burglars, who seemed to her to be six or eight in number, mostly young men. One of them they called
Captain, and another, who had been set with his musket to guard Mrs. Dayton,
Dave. The sacks they used for bundling up the goods were mentioned, and the goods themselves, so far as she could recollect them, - at least those which she knew that they had had in the house. From the sound of their voices and steps when they left, she concluded that they had gone off westward toward Chuse-town.
After gathering all the information possible, a consultation was had as to the course to be taken in pursuit. On this point opinions were divided. Some believed that the plunderers had started for Derby, where it was known many tories lived, and from which frequent communication was held with the island. Others thought it more likely they had gone to New Haven, or possibly West Haven, the point where the British troops had landed the summer before, and which should be several miles nearer Long Island than any other within their reach.
By this time, the bell having continued its noisy clangor, a large number had assembled, and it was decided to divide into several parties. A portion, who had horses, should take the road through Amity parish to New Haven; others should start for Derby. Others still should call upon certain tory families in Bethany itself, and see if something could not be learned that would afford a clew to the perpetrators of the outrage. It was agreed also that if these were found, notice should be given by again ringing the bell, ending with a half-dozen separate strokes, as if tolling on a Sabbath morning.
The pursuit thus organized began with vigor. The party destined for New Haven, rode rapidly forward, making inquiries of all whom they met, but of course learned nothing of the robbers. They continued their journey, however, toward the city, deeming it important, if these had not already reached there, that such information should be given of the affair as should lead to their arrest if they came. But though they failed in the immediate object in view, they succeeded in another scarcely less important, viz., in meeting Captain Dayton himself, and informing him of what had taken place in his absence.
Dayton had started from Boston for home on Monday morning, and reached New Haven on the evening of Tuesday. At that time the only means of travel between the two places were on foot or on horseback. The distance was about one hundred and twenty-five miles, constituting two hard days' ride. Such a thing as a regular coach for passengers was hardly known in this country. The first public conveyance of the kind, established at Boston, was in 1763, called the
Portsmouth Flying Stage-coach, running once a week, each way, between Boston and Portsmouth. It was not till after the Revolution that so serious an undertaking was ventured upon as to set up a line between Boston and New York. Having rested in New Haven on Tuesday night, Dayton had now, on Wednesday morning, started for Bethany, and had gone but a mile or two, when he was met by the party of pursuers from that place.
On receiving information of the catastrophe which had happened to his house and family, Dayton at once confirmed the general belief that the perpetrators of it were from Long Island, and added his opinion that they had come by way of Derby, whither they had also probably returned. So strong was his conviction of this fact, that the pursuers did not think it worth while to go further toward New Haven, but returned with him to Bethany.
The search in the direction of Derby, though equally unsuccessful in capturing the robbers, procured, nevertheless, important information concerning them. It was soon made apparent that they had come from thence. In sheltered places in the road the footsteps of several men were still discernible in the snow. At one house where they stopped to inquire it was stated that such a company as the robbers were supposed to be had been seen passing in the night by a watcher in charge of a sick room. It was not, however, until they reached Whittemore's tavern in Chuse-town, that they got an definite clew to the men themselves. The landlord recalled the fact that two strangers had lodged at his house on the Saturday night previous, and that a considerable number of young men, among whom were Doolittle and the Woosters, were gathered in the bar-room. He observed also that they were engaged in a conversation about Captain Dayton and his privateering expeditions, in which considerable warmth of feeling was manifested, the strangers expressing admiration of Dayton's exploits, and others mostly condemning and denouncing them. He said, however, that he had retired early that evening, feeling somewhat unwell, leaving Wooding in charge of the bar-room, and knew nothing more of what happened.
Wooding was next questioned, and very soon betrayed that he knew more of the affair than he was willing to acknowledge. He said that the two strangers had left on Sunday morning, and he had not seen them since; and that the young men who were conversing with them in the bar-room went away, as usual, at a somewhat late hour. While this questioning was going on, two of the pursuers, learning where Wooding lived, went to his house, and soon obtained evidence of the falsity of his story, the very strangers whom he professed to know nothing about having, as his wife confessed, lodged with them for two nights in succession. Further inquiries were also made at Mr. Wooster's and at the place where Doolittle worked, neither of whom had been at home the past night. Suspicions now quickly ripened into conviction that the culprits, or part of them, had been ascertained. Wooding was arrested and put under keepers; then, arranging that sharp lookout should be kept at the tavern and the vicinity, the party galloped back to Bethany to report the result.
Captain Dayton at once concurred in the belief that sure clew had been obtained to the plunderers of his house, and the mention of the Woosters suggested the probable direction of their flight. It was well known that several tory families of that name lived in Gunntown, and nothing was more probable than that the robbers should have gone thither with their booty. He immediately drew up an advertisement, narrating the crime which had been committed, naming the persons suspected, and offering the large reward of five thousand dollars for such information as would lead to the conviction of the plunderers and the recovery of the property.
It was now a little past noon, and a fresh party of men, well mounted, set forth on the road to the suspected neighborhood. Dayton declared himself too much exhausted with his journey from Boston to accompany them, but promised to come the next day if they did not succeed in their quest sooner.
About three miles north from Bethany Center was a tavern kept by Mr. Perkins, who, as we have before related, had on a summer or two before brought home his young wife, Rosanna Judd, Chauncey's eldest sister. The news that Chauncey was missing, however, had not as yet reached them. Stopping here for a moment, they received a new and strong confirmation of their belief that they were now on the right track. Some children on their way to school that morning had picked up a small marine spy-glass, which they had brought into Mr. Perkin's as a curiosity. On examination this was found to have the name "E. Dayton, Brookhaven, L.I.," engraved upon it, which at once identified it as part of the property stolen the preceding night.
Under the fresh impulse afforded by this discovery the pursuers rode forward at a rapid pace, and in less than an hour reached the bridge at Judd's Meadow. Here they first heard that Chauncey was missing, a messenger being met who had been sent to Bethany to inquire for him, under the supposition that he had for some reason gone thither to his sister's. This intelligence at first awakened a suspicion that Chauncey himself might have been one of the robbers. But a little further consideration of the fact that he had always borne an irreproachable character, that he was from one of the best families in the place, distinguished for their patriotic sentiments, and more than all, that it had been ascertained where he had been the preceding night, at least until long past the time of the robbery, soon satisfied the persons that their suspicions were groundless. But still was there not some connection between this sudden disappearance and the robbery? Was there not, in short, a new clue to the perpetrators of the crime?