A New York mayor’s bizarre kidnapping plot

In Colonial New York, mayors were appointed, not elected, which helps explain why corrupt loyalist David Matthews was running the city in 1776.

How corrupt? He was in on a notorious plot to kidnap and assassinate George Washington.

This crazy idea naturally came about in a tavern, a place called Corbie’s, near Washington’s residence. All those involved were sworn to secrecy.

But someone squealed, and at 1 a.m. on June 22, 1776, Patriot troops surrounded Matthews’ Flatbush home and brought him to jail.

Though the plot was real (one of Washington’s guards was hanged for it, and New York governor William Tryon was involved), there wasn’t enough evidence to charge Matthews—who resumed his mayoral duties until 1783.

After the war, Matthews apparently confessed. “I formed a plan for the taking of Mr. Washington and his Guard prisoners but which was not effected,” he told a royal commission in London.

Interestingly, this didn’t stop him from getting his name on a Bronx park: Matthews Muliner Playground. Even the Parks Department identifies him as a thief, kidnap plotter, and embezzler.

[Right: New York in 1776, from the NYPL]

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3 Responses to “A New York mayor’s bizarre kidnapping plot”

  1. T.J. Connick Says:

    With a navy that sailed the globe, the British must have been mighty surprised when they got out of those boats and found out they were in Boston.

  2. Parnassus Says:

    You are the expert, but it seems to me that considering later New York politicians, Matthews was hardly the worst of the lot. The website you linked to explains that the Playground was not a direct tribute, but named after bordering Matthews Street.

    And here we thought the Wild West was untamed!
    –Road to Parnassus

  3. Javaman Says:

    congratulating thieves, kidnappers, and embezzlers, seem to be the way of life in our modern society. .

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