Monday, June 13, 2011

The Ghost of Sally Townsend

Raynham Hall located in Oyster Bay, New York was the home of the Townsend family during the American Revolutionary War. During this war Americans were either Patriots—those who wanted independence from Great Britain, or Loyalists those who remained loyal to King George and wanted to remain an English Colony. Samuel Townsend was a Patriot and one of his older sons Robert was a participant in a Patriot intelligence group called the Culper Spy Ring.

Most of the Americans who lived in Oyster Bay were Loyalists so the Townsends were in the minority. After the Patriot’s defeat at the Battle of Long Island, to add insult to injury Samuel Townsend was forced to quarter in his home two of his enemies Lieutenant Colonel John Graves Simcoe and Major Andre both British officers who commanded an elite unit of American Loyalists called the Queen’s Rangers. Samuel Townsend told his children to treat the officers with respect.

One of Samuel’s daughters Sally Townsend enjoyed the company of these two British soldiers and despite her father’s protests she continued to associate with them. She eventually fell in love with John Graves Simcoe and he returned her affection. Raynham Hall today is a museum and it contains what is considered the oldest Valentine preserved in American History. John gave this valentine, dated February 14, 1779, to Sally.

During this time the Culper Spy Ring was supplying much needed information about British plans and troop movements to George Washington. Simcoe in turn was using Raynham Hall as a drop off location for British intelligence. 

Sally reading one evening in the Hall’s living room stayed hidden while one of these notes was placed in a container in the room. She read the note—it confirmed intelligence that Major Andre had been working on--Benedict Arnold, the commander of West Point, would accept a bribe to betray the Patriots by offering to surrender the fort and his troops to the British.

Sally, knowing this information would harm her country was torn between her feelings of love for Simcoe and her loyalty for America. She knew she must betray one or the other. Finally, heartbroken she informed her father of this plot.

This information was passed on to Benjamin Tallmadge, who had organized the Culper Spy Ring. Major Andre was found, on him he held the plans for the fortification of West Point that Arnold, following through with his betrayal, had given him. 

He was hanged for a spy since he was caught out of uniform. Andre was well liked by all, so his death was mourned. Sally’s brother Robert regretted it deeply. On a monument the Americans erected to Andre’s memory there is a quote from George Washington. “He was more unfortunate than criminal an accomplished man and a gallant soldier.”

The choice Sally made allowed West Point to be saved from British control this helped the Patriots win the war. Unfortunately, there was no happy ending for Sally Townsend. John finding out about her part, vowed to avenge Andre’s death and left Oyster Bay never to return. He later married and was made a Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada. 

Sally lived the rest of her life at Raynham Hall. It is said she thought of John everyday of her life. She died a spinster at the age of 82; among her remaining possessions was the valentine that John gave her.


The ghost of Major Andre supposedly visited Sally at Raynham Hall to tell her he forgave her betrayal of him. 

But Sally was never able to forgive herself for betraying, John, the only love of her life. Today there is a female ghost that haunts Raynham Hall--Sally Townsend. Her bedroom, known as the west room, is always colder than the rest of the house. Tour guides mention that they have to wear a sweater when they are in her room. Many people avoid the room altogether stating they always feel someone is behind them. Others state they feel conflicted guilty emotions upon entering the room.

Sally Townsend is a true unsung hero of the American Revolution because she chose her country over her love.

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