American Spy: Enoch Crosby Part 3

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.

Apparently, the elderly gentleman continued to be treated as a celebrity in New York. For, when he returned to his farm, he wrote a letter to the Journal of Commerce. It was published on December 21, 1827, and it read, "Messrs. Editors, It would be an unsatisfactory restraint of my feelings, should I not express my gratitude to the citizens of New-York, for their kind attention to me during my late visit to the city, and particularly to the managers of the theatre, who politely invited me to witness the play called The Spy. I was much gratified with the performance."

Thus, in 1827, the real Harvey Birch was known to the inhabitants of New York. Four years later, he was known throughout the nation. In 1831, a 216-page nonfiction book appeared entitled, The Spy Unmasked; or, Memoirs of Enoch Crosby, Alias Harvey Birch, The Hero of Mr. Cooper's Tale of the Neutral Ground: Being an authentic account of the secret services which he rendered his country during the Revolutionary War. (Taken from his own lips, in short-hand.) Comprising many interesting facts and anecdotes, never before published. By H. L. Barnum." The slender volume included a dedication to James F. Cooper, Esq., whose "pen 1st immortalized the subject of the following Memoir," and an autographed engraving of the prototype--big eyes and hooked nose appended to the face of a beaver, with forehead and chin receding briskly from the nose--captioned with the legend, "the true Harvey Birch, Hero of The Spy."

The author of this documentation, the enterprising H. L. Barnum, explained in his preface how he had authenticated in his preface how he had authenticated the model for The Spy. "A gentleman of good standing and respectability," he wrote, "who had filled honorable official stations in the county of Westchester, and who has long enjoyed the friendship and confidence of Mr. Cooper, informed the writer of this article, on the authority of Mr. Cooper himself, that the outline of the character of Harvey Birch, was actually sketched from that of Enoch Crosby; but filled up, partly from imagination, and partly from similar features in the lives of 2 or 3 others, who were also engaged in secret services, during the Revolutionary War. But Mr. Cooper had frequently assured our informant, that, though he had borrowed incidents from the lives of others to complete the portrait, yet Enoch Crosby was certainly the original which he had in his 'mind's eye.'"

Mr. Cooper neither affirmed nor denied this added disclosure. But readers of The Spy, in Cooper's lifetime, and critics and biographers since, were almost unanimous in accepting the identification of the prototype. When Enoch Crosby, who did not read fiction in his latter years, was finally persuaded to glance at The Spy, he agreed that many incidents in the novel "resembled his own life."

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