Friday, February 11, 2022

Spies among us

Letter from John Henry to John Wheelock
Winter Carnival is this weekend. We have plenty of snow this year thanks to last week's storm, so the winter games should be festive and fun. The theme is Mission Impossible, so we went searching the collections. There are a ton of options--many impossible missions to the Arctic; books on imaginary contraptions impossible to build; collections where one impossible-to-find-item leaves them incomplete; and amazing items whose survival seems, well impossible. But the fun part of Mission Impossible is the intrigue of cloak and dagger spies. That led us to an innocuous letter from John Henry to Dartmouth President John Wheelock.

Written in 1810 by a formal military officer and sometimes Vermont farmer, John Henry, from his quarters in Boston, the letter thanks John Wheelock for a letter of introduction and expresses Henry's desire to get to know more people of Wheelock's social standing. Why might John Henry have been trying to get to know more social elites in the young republic? Well, at the time he was busy spying on the United States for the Canadian colonial government. When London failed to pay for his work, Henry switched allegiances and sold all of his information to the U. S. government. The result appeared to be another justification for deepening distrust of the British in the lead up to the War of 1812. It sounds kind of like a Mission Impossible plot: a spy cozying up to those in power, turned against one government and flipping to the other side when the profit margin reached the right level. [Cue Mission Impossible theme]

To see the letter ask for Mss 810360. Have a great Carnival!