John Rattoon


I was a tavern owner with some deadly secrets.

I was born in Perth Amboy near New York Harbor in 1744. I married Isabella Dunham in 1768 and we owned a tavern in South Amboy. Taverns were places where local people and travelers came for food and conversation, so they were hotbeds of politics and information. What my customers did not know was that I was a spy for the British – code name Mercury – providing intelligence, helping other spies get to their destinations, and taking messages across British and American lines.

When the Patriot Benedict Arnold was negotiating with the British to commit treason, I was the courier who took his coded letters through the American lines, rowing my boat from a marsh near my tavern to an armed British vessel stationed at Prince’s Bay, Staten Island. This was risky business, if I was caught I could have been killed as a traitor, and either side could have suspected me of being a double agent for the other side.

In January 1781, some disgruntled American soldiers from a part of the Continental Army called the Pennsylvania Line mutinied up at Morristown, and I assisted some British agents to try to entice them back to British loyalty.

I survived the war with my secret intact. After the war, I was an upstanding citizen, served terms as mayor of South Amboy, and was a vestryman and warden at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. For a while, I even owned the Proprietary House, the former royal Governor’s mansion. I survived until 1823.


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