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John Honeyman Sr., Private Spy for George Washington -- 11/21/10

This is the story of my Great-Grandfather, many generations back. Born at Armagh, Ireland 1729 of Scottish Parents, the son of a poor farmer.

Like his brothers and sisters, he received little formal schooling. He worked as a farmer tending cattle, and plowing and planting fields till he was about 29 years old. At that time in 1758 he was conscripted by the English to fight their wars in North America. He was placed aboard the frigate Boyrie, the same boat as Colonel James Wolf, bound for Canada to fight the French. Colonel Wolf stumbled on the stairs and was caught by John. In appreciation of this valor, he took John's name and said he would see him when they landed. He made John his Body Guard, with orders to be with him all the time. He served under Colonel Wolfe and was there at the Siege of Louisburg fortress in Nova Scotia. The Colonel became general after that battle and then commanded the army that attacked Quebec. In 1759 at the Battle of The Plains of Abraham in Canada (Siege of Quebec, General Wolfe, Death of General Wolfe), Wolfe was shot. John carried him to his shelter where he died. It is possible that this famous painting by Benjamin West, has John Honeyman in it, but he is unidentified. Apparently, a tune origininated shortly after General Wolfe's death.

John was given an Honorary Discharge from the Army and came down to the States. Wolfe had told him to look up Washington. He located him and Washington knew about him, as he had been in that battle. He made John his Private Spy.

Before this happened he married Mary Henry of Colerain, Ireland, in Pennsylvania. They had several children. After Mary died on June 24, 1801 (top gravestone below), he married widow Mrs. Elizabeth Burrows in 1804. He died August 18, 1822, at 93 years of age (bottom gravestone below).

Images courtesy of Garrett Husveth

He is buried in the village churchyard at Lamington, New Jersey. there is a memorial to him in Washington's Crossing State Park, on the New Jersey side of the Delaware, where Washington and his ragged army landed, on the stormy night of December 25, 1776, on their march to the Battle of Trenton. There a plaque stands, put up in 1930, bearing this legend: Dedicated in Memory of John Honeyman Who Served Washington and the Continental Army as a Spy, drink of the fount of liberty let posterity inherit freedom. This man truly helped form what is now the United States of America. Note: There was a place called the Van Doren mill about one mile from the Honeyman home at Griggstown. It is thought that one of John Sr's children married a Van Doren, hence the later name, "A. Van Doren Honeyman".

When the Revolutionary War was going against Washington, it was decided that John should go back to the British side as a "Tory", where he could watch all their maneuvers. He worked as his Trades of Weavers, Butcher & Cattle Buyer. He found that the British were planning on a big celebration for Christmas at Trenton, New Jersey; and rules would be relaxed and a lot of drinking would be done. John started for the American side on the pretext of looking for cattle. He soon spotted a cow and ran after it, as he cracked his whip the noise attracted Guards, Who had been warned to watch for the "Tory" and capture him. He stumbled and they caught him. After a tussle, he was taken to Washington, Who dismissed the guards, after congratulating them on their capture. After considerable conversation, Washington recalled the guards telling them to feed the "Tory" and lock him in a small hut called a prison, it had no window, a pad lock was put on the door. Soon after a fire was seen in the vicinity, everyone went to fight it. In the morning the door was still locked but no prisoner was there. He went back to the British side and told of his escape.

John went to another town to stay. While John was away until the end of the war, his family were threatened and ill treated by the neighbors, until one day a letter was read to them as follows:

New Jersey American Camp

November A.D. 6, 1776

To the Good People of New Jersey and all whom it may concern:

It is hereby ordered that the wife and family of John Honeyman of Griggstown, New Jersey; the notorious "Tory" now within British lines and probably acting as a Spy, shall be protected and hereby are protected from all harm and annoyance, from every quarter, until further orders. This does not provide protection for John, himself.

Geo. Washington

Commander in Chief

On December 25, 1776, with the information obtained by John, Washington captured Trenton, New Jersey; this was the beginning of the end of the war.

This information is a combination of information submitted to me by my cousin, Dennis A. Wilson and a letter written to me, Donald W. Larson, by my Grandmother, Mrs. Edna T. Wilson, during the year 1964. In that letter she states:

"This letter is copied from The Honeyman Family Book 1548-1908. By A. Van Doren Honeyman."

Edna T. Wilson (l888-1969) was a 6th generation descendant of John Honeyman.

The book, The Honeyman Family in Scotland and America is a great source of information on the lineage of the Honeyman family from 1548-1908. Thanks to, Kimberly Nelson , for that reference.

The book "The Spy and General Washington" April 1965 1st edition, 2nd printing January 1966 by William Wise ( of New York City, graduate of Yale University) author of "The Story of Mulberry Bend" and "Detective Pinkerton and Mr. Lincoln", and illustrated by Peter Burchard tells of John Honeyman's efforts to help George Washington. Published by E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc. 201 Park Avenue South, New York N.Y. 10003, simultaneously published in Canada by Clarke, Irwin & Company Limited, Toronto and Vancouver.

On May 26, 2002, John's headstone (shown above) was removed for preservation to the church and a new one to replace it was installed during a special ceremony. You can read about it here and see some pictures of it here.

On October 1, 2005 Greg Welsh sent me the image below of James H. Honeyman from a painting he owns.

On July 16, 2007 Gordon Porter sent me the two images below of James H. Honeyman from the copyrighted paintings he created.

"The story of John Honeyman is so interesting and finding notes at my old homestead where I lived in my early years before getting married, I have opened up this event and sort of living with it which makes a great hobby. I hope you find these pictures of good quality and worth adding to the story.

The first picture is John being captured by sentries bound with his own rope he used to capture an animal for beef for the British to be taken to George, this is a 16"X20" picture on canvas board.#410 painted February 2005.

The second is on a canvas 24"X30" #452 painted spring of 2007 both done in acrylic, is at Georges' headquarters in Pennsylvania maybe at the Keith Home where John age 46 is in private conversation with George reporting about the British and Hessian soldiers celebrating Christmas. You have my permission to publish these 2 pictures on your web site." -- Gordon Porter

John Honeyman Captured, #410

John Honeyman and George Washington, #452

On January 28, 2010 Gordon Porter sent me this information on John Honeyman's Children, in pdf format.

On November 30, 2009 Debby Honeyman wrote a response to the CIA Assertion. She gave me written permission to publish it here as, In Defense of John Honeyman the Spy of General Washington (PDF).

Other web sites containing information on John Honeyman:

YouTube (Liberty Kids):

  1. (1 of 2)
  2. (2 of 2)

John Honeyman - General Washington's Spy

The American Revolution

Honeyman Global Genealogy

Pam Davies, nee Bratherton

Revolutionary War - Other Individuals

Intelligence and Espionage

Colonial Inteligence Techniques

John Honeyman, 'The Spy Of Washington'

Unsung Hero

CD of the Honeyman Book

Wikipedia Page


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