Peter Livius, chief justice of the province of Quebec and former justice of New Hampshire, wrote a letter on June 2, 1777 to American Major General John Sullivan in an effort to get Sullivan to turn to the British cause. Livius thought Sullivan was the commander at Fort Ticonderoga. Livius believed Sullivan had lost his fervor for the patriot cause because of his having been captured the previous year on August 27, 1776 during the Battle of Long Island and since he agreed to be the bearer of Lord Howe’s peace overtures to Congress in order to get himself exchanged.
General John Burgoyne had arrived in Quebec in March 1777 and been appointed to command the northern British army in America. He was preparing his army for an expedition to divide the colonies by controlling the Hudson River area of New York. If Sullivan could be turned to the British side then Fort Ticonderoga could be taken without resistance. The fort is strategically located overlooking the narrow passage between Lake Champlain and Lake George in northern New York. Livius wrote to Sullivan that he would be pardoned, amply rewarded, and save his property from being confiscated if he turned over the fort. He told Sullivan that he could write to him or write to General Burgoyne but to sign with Livius’s name and Burgoyne would know it came from Sullivan.
Livius entrusted William Amsbury with the task of delivering the letter to Sullivan. Amsbury, in the company a man named Adams who appears to have been on his own secret mission, left Montreal on June 4 with letters to people in the United States and a large amount of money. They traveled to Saint John, which is north of Lake Champlain on the Richelieu River, and left there on the morning of June 5. At Saint John they received a British pass to go beyond their lines.
In order to travel undetected Amsbury took an old Indian trail from Canada that the Indians used to make their attacks on the frontier settlements on the Connecticut River. Amsbury made it as far as the Onion River in Vermont where an American scouting party captured him. Adams was reportedly captured at Sabbath Day Point.
Amsbury was taken to Fort Ticonderoga and turned over to Major General Arthur St. Clair who had taken command of the Fort on June 12, 1777. St. Clair wrote to Major General Philip Schuyler the next day about Amsbury, “I have the strongest suspicion of his being a spy and secured him as such.” He also thought “there was no method more likely to procure them an easy reception” than having Adams and Amsbury provide the intelligence of General John Burgoyne’s arrival.
Amsbury claimed to be searching for plans of the country that he claimed were at a house in the area. When Amsbury was captured he had some gold and silver and a considerable sum of Continental currency that was wrapped in a letter he was carrying. St. Clair sent Amsbury on June 15, 1777 by way of Lake George to Schuyler at Saratoga, New York.
General Schuyler reminded Amsbury that the pass he carried was enough to hang him: it was from “M[ichael] Kirkman, Major of Brigade of British Infantry at Saint John, to the commanding officer at the Isle aux Noix or any detached parts of the army” and included the phrase, “the bearer [Amsbury] and his companion [Adams] being employed on Secret Service.” Schuyler then ordered Amsbury to be sent back to the guard, placed in irons, and taken to Albany. After some time Amsbury pleaded for an audience with Schuyler which was granted. Schuyler cautioned Amsbury that if he provided frivolous information the execution would be accomplished. Under threat of being hung by Schuyler, Amsbury opened up and stated that the British forces were approaching St. John on the Richelieu River and were to advance under General Burgoyne; that a detachment of British troops, Canadians, and Indians under Sir John Johnson was to penetrate the country through the Mohawk Valley; also that the Canadians were averse to taking up arms but were forced to do it; and that no reinforcements had arrived from Europe.
Amsbury admitted to being on a secret errand. He admitted to smuggling a letter intended for Major General John Sullivan in a false bottom of a canteen. Amsbury said that someone named Michael Shannon wrote the letter. Shannon’s name was found on a separate piece of paper that General St. Clair said Amsbury was reluctant to surrender; St. Clair believed that this piece of paper was a signal by which Amsbury was to be known upon his return. Amsbury stated that a “Mr. Levy, a Jew, had spoken to him to carry some things to Ticonderoga. He advised that on the 4th, Judge Peter Livius of Montreal had given him a canteen with a false bottom concealing a letter for General Sullivan. When questioned about the canteen, he advised that while at Fort George, he gave it to an American officer’s servant to fill with water.” However, the servant had not returned with the canteen before Amsbury was taken away.
General Schuyler sent Second Lieutenant Bartholomew Jacob van Valkenburgh of the 1st New York Regiment to retrieve the canteen from Fort George. He was to bring the canteen under armed guard to Fort Edward, New York where Schuyler would meet him. Van Valkenburgh retrieved the canteen from Lieutenant Colonel Cornelius Van Dyke Dyck of the 2nd New York Regiment “who separated part of the wire from the false bottom to see whether it was the canteen I was sent for, and who after taking out this letter, and letting out some rum, returned it into the canteen without breaking the seals” that closed the letter.
Van Valkenburgh delivered the canteen at 10 a.m. on June 16. General Schuyler opened the false bottom of the canteen in the presence of observers and they signed the letter that was removed as witnesses.
General Schuyler sent a letter to General George Washington that very day. He advised Washington that he would send a reply back to Chief Justice Peter Livius as if it had come from General Sullivan. On June 17, 1777 at Albany, New York, Schuyler sent a letter to the Continental Congress advising them of his plan. General Sullivan was at Rocky Hill, New Jersey when he was informed by Washington of the secret letter in the canteen. He reconfirmed that it was in the handwriting of the “infamous Mr. Livius.”
On June 20, 1777 the response was ready and claimed General Sullivan’s disapproval of the actions of Congress and a loyalty to the king. It requested instructions from General Burgoyne and provided exaggerated troop strengths for the Continental Army in New Jersey and New York. Schuyler included some significant information received from other spies from Montreal. This information could be verified by Peter Livius thereby giving credence to the information in the response. The letter indicated that correspondence should be directed to Major Henry Dearborn who was well known by Peter Livius to the extent that Livius had twice made personal loans to Dearborn. Major Dearborn knew of the message as he was one of the officers who had approved of its contents. A copy of the response was sent to Congress on June 25, 1777.
A soldier who was to have received physical punishment for attempting to desert to the enemy was duped into escaping and taking the letter. It is unknown if the letter ever reached its destination or if a response was ever sent. However, General William Howe sent a message on July 17, 1777 from New York City to General John Burgoyne, written on two strips of paper that were rolled and hidden in the hollow shaft of a quill pen, which warned him that “there is a report of a messenger of yours to me having been taken, and the letter discovered in a double wooded canteen.” Howe’s warning of Livius’s letter to Sullivan having been intercepted would explain why no response was received by Major Henry Dearborn from General Burgoyne.
What happened to Ambsbury’s companion, Adams? Since he was considered to be innocent, he was probably released. What happened to William Amsbury? It appears he may have escaped. There is a private William Amsbury who was listed in a troop return for the Queens Loyal Rangers, a loyalist regiment, dated December 14, 1780; it may be the same person. That William Amsbury with a woman and child were receiving rations in 1780 and 1781 at Saint Johns.
I first wrote this story in my book Invisible Ink Spycraft of the American Revolution (Yardley, PA, Westholme Publishing, 2010). Since that time I have discovered some additional information which is included here.
 Peter Livius was born July 12, 1739 in Lisbon, Portugal He moved to New Hampshire in 1763. L.F.S. Upton, “LIVIUS, PETER,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 4, (University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003), http://www.biographi.ca/bio/livius_peter_4E.html, accessed February 5, 2014.
 Amsbury was paid per order of General Burgoyne on June 2, 1777 12 pounds 10 shillings for going to General Sullivan. “Account of Cash disbursed by Lieutenant Colonel John Peters to sundry Persons for Government Services on the Expedition Commanded by Lieutenant General John Burgoyne,” Great Britain, British Library, Additional Manuscripts, No. 21827, folio 18, at http://www.royalprovincial.com/military/rhist/qloyrng/qlrdisb.htm accessed February 13, 2014. At this writing, nothing is known about Adams including his first name. It appears that Adams did not know of Amsbury’s secret mission.
 Adams and Amsbury must have separated; Adams was captured at Sabbath Day Point south of Fort Ticonderoga on Lake George, New York. General Arthur St. Clair at Ticonderoga to General Schuyler, June 13, 1777, in William Smith, The St. Clair Papers (Cincinnati, Robert Clark and Company, 1882), 400.
 The pass was signed by M. Kirkman, Brigade Major. There is a Brigade Major Michael Kirkman who is a Captain of the 21st Regiment. Worthington Chauncey Ford, British Officers Serving in America 1754-1774 (Boston, Brooklyn: Historical Printing Club, 1897), p. 106. Isle aux Noix is a 210 acre island in the Richelieu River south of Saint John. The French built a fort there in 1759.
 The name is sometimes spelt Tierce. Philip j. Schuyler, June 15, 1777 at 4 p.m., American Intelligence Report. GWP and Francis Heitman, Historical Register of Officers of the Continental Army during the War of the Revolution, April 1775 to December 1783 (Washington, DC: Rare Book Shop Publishing, 1914), 535, 543.
 Van Valkenburgh identified Colonel Dyck but Heitman, Historical Register, 408 identifies him as Lieutenant Colonel Cornelius Van Dyke of the 2nd New York Regiment. Bar. J. V. Valkenburgh, Lieut[enant] to John Sullivan, June 16, 1777. New York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, September 1, 1777, p.2, c. 4.
 The witnesses were Captain Benjamin Hicks of the 1st New York Regiment; John Lansing Jr., Military Secretary to General Schuyler; Colonel Henry B. Livingston, aide-de-camp to General Schuyler; and Captain John Wendell of the 1st New York Regiment. New York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, September 1, 1777, p.2, c. 4.
 Philip J. Schuyler to Continental Congress, June 25, 1777. Papers of the Continental Congress, No. 153, III, folio 172. Schuyler’s letter was received in Congress on July 3, 1777. Worthington Chauncey Ford et al, Journals of the Continental Congress (Washington, DC), vol. 8, 527.
 Return of the Corps of Queens Loyal Rangers commanded by Lieut. Colonel John Peters, Quebec December 14, 1780, http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~qceastwn/archives/QueensLoyalRangers.html, accessed February 7, 2014 and Locator 2324—Amsbury, Herbert Clarence Burleigh Fonds Collection, Queens University Library, Kingston, Ontario, Canada.