Brad Meltzer Unearths Plot to Kill George Washington
Author's new book, “The First Conspiracy,” details scheme of British-loyalist would-be assassins.
On a summer day in 1776, some 20,000 gawkers stood in a field that is now modern-day Chinatown, waiting for Thomas Hickey to be hanged for his role in a massive scheme to assassinate George Washington.
In his new book The First Conspiracy, author Brad Meltzer brings to life the real-life plot to assassinate Washington, who at the time was the Continental Army’s commander-in-chief.
Meltzer recently spoke with Smithsonian.com about the attempt to kill Washington, how the plot went down, and how the historical event was discovered all these years later.
“The New York Provincial Congress had established the Committee on Conspiracies, a top-secret team of civilians with a mission to gather information about the enemy and detect and thwart the enemy’s intelligence operations.” Meltzer explains. “As the plot against Washington got bigger, people started to talk, and this little committee—led by lawyer and Continental Congress delegate John Jay—wound up bringing the whole thing down. It was the beginning of America’s counterintelligence efforts.”
The governor and mayor of New York, who were appointed by England’s royal government, were both British loyalists and worked to turn some of Washington’s personal guards against him.
“They were ready to strike, but Washington found out.” Meltzer told Smithsonian.com. “The conspirators were arrested and interrogated in secret. Then Washington gathered 20,000 troops and citizens in an open field and had one ringleader hanged for all to see. That sent a clear message to the Loyalists without revealing the plot.”
So why haven’t we heard more about what could be America’s first assassination attempt? Meltzer has an theory: “The assassination plot is hidden history. When the British were coming, the last thing Washington wanted to say was, ‘Hey, everyone, my own men just turned on me.’ That is not the picture of leadership you want when you are in charge of the military. It’s clear to me that he didn’t want anyone to know this story.”
Almost 250 years later, however, the story is being told.
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