American Spy: Enoch Crosby Part 2

About the American Spy Enoch Crosby and his places in United States history after James Fenimore Cooper published the book The Spy.

ENOCH CROSBY (1750-1835). American spy.

Cooper was deeply impressed by Jay's story. The patriotism of the little-known spy appealed to him. Cooper tracked the subject further. He invited to his home elderly neighbors, in the country, who had known the Revolutionary War and the spy in question. When Cooper had what he wanted, he sat down and wrote The Spy: A Tale of the Neutral Ground. He wrote it, he said, "because I was told I could not write a grave tale; so to prove that the world did not know me, I wrote one so grave nobody could read it." He wrote it rapidly, finishing 60 pages in a few days, and he had his publisher set it up in type as he wrote. After the 1st volume, he lost confidence, and hesitated about continuing the story. But belated reviews from England, lauding his 1st novel, gave him encouragement. He went on. Then his publisher worried that he was running too long and that the project might prove unprofitable. To reassure him, Cooper concluded the last chapter, and permitted it to be set in type, before he attempted the chapters preceding it.

The Spy appeared in December, 1821. It related the life of a lowly peddler of laces named Harvey Birch, who was thought to be a British agent, but was secretly in the service of a Mr. Harper, actually George Washington in disguise.

The Spy was an immediate success. Not only was it read throughout America and England, but it was translated into French, Spanish, German, Italian, and Russian. At a time when Yankee authorship was regarded with condescension, it was hailed as "the 1st living American novel." Its acclaim and sales convinced James Fenimore Cooper that he was an author and encouraged him to produce The Last of the Mohicans and The Deerslayer.

There was enormous public curiosity about the origin of The Spy. Beyond admitting that he had 1st heard the basis of the story from John Jay, and that it was true, Cooper said nothing. Who, then, was really Harvey Birch? Perhaps Cooper knew, but did not choose to tell. Or perhaps he did not know at all, since Jay may have related the spy's exploits without revealing his name, as Cooper several times insisted. Nevertheless, public curiosity was soon to be satisfied. Just 6 years after publication of The Spy, the name of the real Harvey Birch was revealed. He was Enoch Crosby, and he still lived, in retirement, on a farm in Carmel, N.Y., aged 77.

The 1st disclosure of the real Harvey Birch occurred in 1827 when old Enoch Crosby was brought to New York to stand as witness in a real estate lawsuit. Upon entering the courtroom, in City Hall, he was recognized, he said, "by an old gentleman, who, not having heard of him for a number of years, supposed (like Jay and Cooper), that Crosby had been, long since, numbered with the dead. After such mutual greetings as are usual on similar occasions, Crosby's old acquaintance turned to the court, and introduced his friend as 'the original Harvey Birch of Mr. Cooper's Spy.'" This meeting, and revelation, was accorded wide publicity in the press. It encouraged the shrewd proprietor of the Lafayette Theatre, who was producing a dramatized version of The Spy, to invite the original to see himself on the stage. Crosby attended, sat in a special box, and was introduced to the packed house as "the real spy." He was given a great ovation.

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