Andre later acknowledged that Clinton had explicitly ordered him not to enter the American lines, change his uniform or receive papers. A caution against putting it out of his power to return to the Vulture would have seemed
superfluous—but it was just here he made his first mistake. True, part of the
responsibility rests on Robinson1 and Sutherland, but that he would go ashore
in a stranger's boat, without providing independent means of return, in the shape
of an armed boat from the Vulture, either to accompany or follow Smith's, could
never have suggested itself to anyone.2 We may now return to the midnight
conference. Arnold awaited his visitor probably very near the centre of the spot
shown in the view of " The Firs." Smith says he was " hid in a clump of firs."
Though but few such trees are there now, there are enough to retain for the place
something of its original aspect. It was dim, even on a bright August morning,
when I visited it. At the historic hour we are concerned with, there was no moon,
and the stars could have given little or no light through the dense wood.
The steep ascent—nearly fifty feet—from the beach was easy for an active young man like Andre, and he and his unknown correspondent were soon met. Expressing surprise and regret at Robinson's non-appearance, the traitor asked Smith to return to the boat. To be thus dismissed to the society of his two boatmen-tenants must have been galling to the man whose aid in bringing about
the meeting had been sought by Arnold but a few days before. Of course he could not refuse, and the two conspirators were left alone. The place was well
suited for a meeting which would not bear daylight—literally or figuratively. It
was easily accessible by either road or river, yet remote from any dwelling. Just what passed during the long interview, none but the two principals ever knew.
Below, the tired boatmen probably slept, but Smith, suffering alike from wounded pride and the ague to which he was subject, must have had a weary time of waiting in the boat or on the beach. The exact length of the interview is
* In the first place, the mere acquisition of a fortress so important, with all its dependencies, garrison, stores,
magazine, vessels, etc., was •(would he) an achievement of no secondary magnitude. The supplies
gathered here were very great, and, once lost, could not have been readily, if at all, restored. The works
were esteemed our tower of salvation, an American Gibraltar, impregnable to an army twenty thousand
strong. Though yet unfinished, they had cost three million dollars and three years' labor of the army.
But the ulterior consequences of its possession were of even greater importance. It would have enabled
Sir Henry Clinton to have checked all trade between New England and the Central and Southern States.
It was, in Washington's eyes, the bolt that locked this communication. The Eastern States chiefly
depended for their breadstuff's on their sisters in the Union, were commercial rather than agricultural
communities, and the power that at once commanded the seaboard and the Hudson might easily bring
upon them all the horrors of famine. From Canada to Long Island Sound a virtual barrier would have
shut out New England from its supplies, as the wall of Antonine barred the free and rugged Caledonians
from the Roman colonies and the south of Britain.—Sparks.
1 Colonel Robinson observed that as they had but two men in a large boat, they would find some difficulty in
getting on shore, and proposed that one of ours should tow them some part of the way, to which he
(Smith) objected, as it might, in case of falling in with any of their guard-boats, be deemed an infringe-
ment of the flag.—Sutherland to Clinton, Oct. 5.
2 Andrews testimony upsets the flag theory (see Chapter V). Smith says he asked for two rowers, to aid the
Colquhouns, but was refused. This was very natural on Sutherland's part. Leake pertinently remarks,
"This portion of the plot seems to have been most clumsily contrived, and unless it was changed in part
of its details, failed from its own stupidity. Why the Vulture should not have been ordered to anchor
nearer the place of meeting is very difficult to imagine.'' She was now twelve miles further up-stream than
when at Dobbs' Ferry.
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