In 1777 the British put into action a plan to invade America from Canada, first chasing out the American troops besieging Quebec. General Burgoyne’s army was to fight its way to Albany and there to link up with the army under the command of General Howe moving up north from New York. In the event, General Howe decided to abandon the plan and instead to attack Philadelphia. He delegated the task of linking up with General Burgoyne to a small force under the command of General Clinton. Coincidentally, the commander of the American forces blocking the advance north was also called General Clinton.

Communication between the two British armies was extremely difficult and dangerous for the messengers riding through enemy occupied country. Many of them disappeared without trace.

On 19th September a messenger from the British General Clinton reached Burgoyne. He was Sergeant Daniel Taylor. The information he brought required an urgent reply and on 21st September General Burgoyne sent him back to General Clinton with a coded message hidden in a silver bullet.                                                                                              

After a difficult journey the Sergeant reached Kingston and asked to meet General Clinton. Unfortunately for the hapless sergeant the village was under the occupation of the American forces and the Clinton he met was the wrong one. Realising his mistake he swallowed the bullet. The General called his doctor to give Taylor and emetic to make him sick and bring up the bullet. This was successful, but before the bullet could be snatched from the sergeant he swallowed it again and refused to take a second draught of emetic. However, the General demanded that if he did not acquiesce, he would be hung and the doctor would cut the bullet out of him. Taylor reluctantly agreed to take the medicine and the bullet was recovered. 

On 12th October, Sergeant Taylor was hung on an apple tree, as a spy. The day after, but a day too late for Taylor, General Clinton’s troops captured the village.

The story of General Burgoyne’s ambitious invasion is told through the eyes of a private in his army, Aaron Mew, in “The Wessex Turncoat”