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This Week in History
October 18-24, 2015

Special from the Committee of Correspondence*

St. Albans, Vermont Raided by Confederate Cavalry Rebels Steal $200,000 and Attempt to Burn the Town
(October 19, 1864)

By Pam Lowry

By Redjar at English Wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.)
License: GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0
Location of St. Albans within the state of Vermont.

* The Committees of Correspondence, best known from Benjamin Franklin’s work, were the American colonies’ means for maintaining communication lines in the years before the Revolutionary War. In 1764, Boston formed the earliest Committee of Correspondence to encourage opposition to Britain’s stiffening of customs enforcement and prohibition of American paper money. The following year, New York formed a similar committee to keep the other colonies notified of its actions in resisting the Stamp Act. In 1773, the Virginia House of Burgesses proposed that each colonial legislature appoint a committee for intercolonial correspondence. The exchanges that followed built solidarity during the turbulent times and helped bring about the formation of the First Continental Congress in 1774. The Committees continued to function in the following years as a US Intelligence Service.

Special from the Committee of Correspondence

Oct. 19, 1864--The small village of St. Albans, Vermont, located on the shores of Lake Champlain, was raided today by a group of Confederate cavalry which rode south from Canada. With his gun drawn, Confederate Lieutenant Bennett Young mounted the steps of a hotel and shouted, “This city is now in the possession of the Confederate States of America.” Demonstrating what this signified, the Confederates herded the residents onto the village green, robbed three banks, and attempted, but failed, to burn down the town. Escaping with an estimated booty of $200,000, the Rebels fled northward, burning a bridge behind them to frustrate any attempts at pursuit.

This raid is only the most recent example of British attempts to reconquer or subvert the United States from their base in Canada. British military expeditions from Canada during the American Revolution attempted to cut the new nation in two, but as everyone knows, the defeat of General Johnny Burgoyne at Saratoga temporarily defeated that strategy. What may not be as well remembered is the fact that the 1786-87 Shays’ Rebellion in Massachusetts after the Revolution was coordinated by a group of doctors operating out of Canada. And a whole string of frontier disturbances, including both Spanish and British attempts to detach new territories such as Kentucky and Tennessee from the Union, were again coordinated by agents such as Dr. John Connolly operating out of British Canada. The British attacks over the Canadian border from Missouri to New York during the War of 1812 have, of course, still not faded from popular memory.

Continuing its deep hostility to the independence of the United States, the British Government during the current War of Rebellion has sent two thousand British troops to Canada and has safehoused many Confederate agents and soldiers there. What may be even more important, it has acted as the bankroller for the Confederacy. As of now, the Confederate Government has contracted loans from abroad to the amount of almost fifteen million dollars. Most of this has come from the “Southern Independence Association” in England, composed chiefly of the British aristocracy. As collateral for these loans, the Confederacy pledged much of its cotton crop, but the cotton planters have so far withheld most of their production from the government. Therefore, the British aristocracy has so far received little return on its investment. Perhaps the St. Albans raiders were combining an attempt to recoup some of the British losses with a forcible reminder that the Union faces not one enemy, but two.