In the weeks and even months leading up to the Battle of Brandywine, the British sought out information from a network of spies that included local residents who could tell them how to navigate the Brandywine Valley, a region they assumed to be filled with difficult terrain. Many of the names are lost to history, but others are documented as recruits by Joseph Galloway, a former Chester County resident and Philadelphia attorney. Galloway became the notorious assistant to Howe during the Philadelphia Campaign, recommending local residents, for instance, to serve as spies, scouts, or guides. At least three of the guides were Quaker residents from different regions of Chester County.
The Loyalist guide Richard Swanwick owned extensive properties in West Caln and Charlestown Townships, and wrote in a compensation claim to the British that he was approached by Galloway after the Sept. 11th battle “in the name of Sir Wm. Howe who requested [his] services in pointing out the Roads and obtaining Intelligence of the force and situations of the American Army.”
At least two of Galloway’s group assisted the British at the Brandywine: John Jackson, a clockmaker from East Marlborough and Curtis Lewis, a blacksmith in East Caln who owed extensive lands in the Bradfords where the Upper Fords were located.
In Lewis’ compensation claim, he stressed the usual “Knowledge of the Country,” but also wrote of his long employment, acting as a guide from the Head of the Elk and later leading what was termed the flanking party from Kennett Square.
Not much is known of Jackson, except that he may have later escaped to Nova Scotia, but Curtis’ eventual downfall can be traced through the minutes of the Bradford Friends Meeting.
Curtis was not only disowned by the Meeting, but he was also forced into exile after the Continentals assumed control of his extensive West Bradford lands. In 1779, he fled with his family to Long Island and lost his lands a second time for working again with the British. He contracted a disease and died penniless within the year.
Galloway may be the best-known spy, largely because he made such a dramatic turn at the start of the Revolution. A former delegate to the First Continental Congress and a close ally of Benjamin Franklin, Galloway later rejected all attempts at American independence and abandoned both Congress and the Pennsylvania Provincial Assembly, where he had served as Speaker of the House.
Galloway then became an informal advisor to Howe on the Philadelphia Campaign of 1777, and perhaps did the most damage to the American cause by serving as his guide on the infamous British “Left Hook” or flanking movement through Chester County, Pa., just before the Battle of Brandywine.
Indeed, it was Galloway who was said to have recruited Jackson and Curtis, who lived in Chester County and were apparently familiar with the area’s winding roads as well as the Upper Fords of the Brandywine River. (The British cross two fords above the “Forks of the Brandywine” near present-day West Chester.)
Galloway, who lived in Philadelphia, had an equally firm grasp on the territory of Chester Country. The Hessian officer Ewald was so impressed with Galloway, he pronounced him a “Real geographical chart.”
Ewald led one of the Hessian units on the flanking maneuver and he later reported that he had ordered that they were to move as “slowly as possible, to use all caution in order not [to] fall into an ambuscade [ambush], as the area was traversed by hills, woodlands, marshes, and the steepest defiles.”
For much of the morning of September 11, 1777, Galloway was in the lead, helping Howe’s troops to avoid detection; Ewald would later credit Galloway in this sweeping statement: “He constantly judged so correctly that I always found the enemy there where he presumed him to be.”
Galloway was also considered an authority on the cultural and social pulse of Chester County. He had long reassured Howe that the region matched Philadelphia in its high number of Loyalists and that together with the large number of Quakers, the population would be fairly supportive of the Crown.