10 Unsolved Mysteries of the American Revolutionary War
10 Unsolved Mysteries of the American Revolutionary War

10 Unsolved Mysteries of the American Revolutionary War

Larry Holzwarth - January 3, 2018

10 Unsolved Mysteries of the American Revolutionary War
One of Washington’s earliest duties after taking command of the Continental Army was dealing with its traitorous Surgeon General. Wikimedia

What Happened to Benjamin Church?

Dr. Benjamin Church was a Boston physician and surgeon in the days of the Sons of Liberty in that city, active and vocal in his support of the cause of the Patriots. Following the Boston Massacre in 1770 Church treated several of the injured and performed the post mortem examination of the body of Crispus Attucks. He was an early practitioner of cataract surgery, and among his patients was John Adams, then a Boston attorney.

Church was a member of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress and its Committee of Safety, exercising responsibility for preparing the rebellious colony for armed conflict by ensuring weapons and supplies were secreted at various points around the countryside, including in Concord. He worked closely with Dr. Joseph Warren to prepare medical supplies for any coming conflict. After the war began he was assigned as a surgeon with the newly formed army. He reported being arrested by the British authorities in Boston (explaining why he had been seen in conversation with General Gage), released for lack of any evidence of his revolutionary activities.

When Washington arrived in Cambridge, problems within the medical department which by then was being run by Church as Director General compelled the new Commanding General to initiate an investigation. Church asked to be relieved of his duties, complaining that he was the victim of professional jealousy. Before Washington could act, information and evidence arose describing Church’s corresponding with the enemy, in the form of coded messages to General Gage describing American troop strength.

Although Church protested his innocence he was removed from his offices and placed in custody, although he was not incarcerated and was at liberty in the camps after a short time of being held in Connecticut. In 1778 he was banished from Massachusetts and left for Martinique on a packet, which was never heard from again after its departure from Boston.

Evidence unearthed from General Gage’s personal papers more than a century later established a long-term correspondence between Church and Gage, containing details about Patriot activities and plans which pre-dated the war. Church was likely motivated by money, his accounts revealed him to have been deeply in debt. Whether he escaped to a British man-of-war and a new life outside Boston or was lost at sea has never been determined.

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