Directing Tories in Their Road: Ensign DeBerniere's Missions to Worcester and Concord

An old map on yellowed paper showing a rough sketch of roads and towns in eastern Massachusetts
This is the map Captain Brown and Ensign DeBerniere made after their reconnaissance missions to Worcester and Concord in 1775

Library of Congress

Revolutions often begin as localized rebellions where people choose sides and neighbors turn on neighbors. Such was the mood of the people during the politically charged and polarizing crisis of 1775.

Before General Thomas Gage ordered his soldiers to destroy rebel supplies and munitions in Concord, he entertained the idea of a longer expedition to Worcester, MA. In the late winter of 1775, he sent two officers and a servant to reconnoiter the countryside: Captain William Brown of the 52nd Regiment, Brown’s servant John, and Ensign Henry DeBerniere of the 10th Regiment. Gage instructed the men to “go through the counties of Suffolk and Worcester, taking a sketch of the country as you pass… mark out the roads and distances from town to town, and also the situation and nature of the country…” He also wanted them to take note of places where the army, should it venture out, might be vulnerable to attack and to make note of places suitable for an encampment.

Because of the secret nature of their mission and the generally hostile attitude of the country people, the men disguised themselves “…like countrymen, in brown cloths and reddish handkerchiefs round our necks….”

Ensign DeBerniere wrote an account of the mission which was published in Boston by the printer John Gill in 1779. DeBerniere’s account provides an interesting view into the mood of the people on the brink of war.

In late February of 1775 the men left on their spy mission and crossed the Charles River to Charlestown, making their way through Cambridge before stopping for the night at a local tavern in Watertown. Here, a local Black woman served them their meal and quickly ascertained that they were military spies. Although they protested that they were surveyors she told them not to go any further into the country as “…we have got brave fellows to defend it, and if you go up any higher you will find it so.” After their meal, John told the two men that the woman knew who they were as she had seen their maps and had recognized Captain Brown from an earlier incident. As they left, they ran into deserters and people from nearby towns who questioned them and made it apparent that they were known spies and not welcome in the area. At Weston, the men stopped for the night at the Golden Ball Tavern. When the men asked for coffee, they were told “…we might have what we pleased, either tea or coffee. We immediately found out with whom we were, and were…pleased to find, on some conversation, that he was a friend to government….” (Since the tavern keeper offered them tea he discreetly told the men that he was a loyalist as it was frowned upon to drink tea)

After this, they continued over several days of cold sunshine, rain, and frost. They walked through Shrewsbury and outside of town a man on horseback overtook them, studied DeBerniere, and galloped off on the Marlborough road. However, DeBerniere and his companions took the Framingham road and safely arrived at Buckminster’s tavern. Later when they arrived in Weston they stayed at the home of a loyalist, Mr. Jones. They warned the officers not to continue as it was dangerous, but they continued anyways. However, they sent John back to Boston with their sketches and notes to keep them safe. As they continued it began to snow, and they found themselves walking on bad roads up to their ankles. They pushed through Sudbury while the snow concealed their movement. Three miles from Marlborough, a rider approached.

“…a horseman overtook us and asked us from whence we came, we said from Weston, he asked if we lived there, we said no; he then asked us where we resided, and as we found there was no evading his questions, we told him we lived at Boston; he then asked us where we were going, we told him to Marlborough… he then asked us if we were in the army, we said not; but were a good deal alarmed at his asking us that question….”

He asked several more questions and rode off towards Marlborough. When the officers arrived they stayed at the home of loyalists Mr. Barnes, who warned them that they were well known by the townsfolks. He persuaded the men to stay in his home as no tavern was safe and that a “…party of liberty people…” had gone to the home of Col. William’s to await their expected arrival the previous night. DeBerniere and Brown asked Mr. Barnes what would happen if the towns people captured them but “…he did not seem to like to answer; we asked him again, he then said we knew the people very well, that we might expect the worst of treatment from them.”

As the men were talking, the town doctor stopped by to ask Mr. Barnes to dine with him but he declined as he had guests and the doctor had not visited him in over two years. The doctor then looked around the home and asked one of Mr. Barnes girls to confirm if the two Officers were staying at her house. She did not know, but he still warned the rest of the town.

Minutes later, as the two men sat down to eat, they were interrupted when Mr. Barnes rushed in and warned the men that his own servants planned to attack Brown and DeBerniere. Even though a blizzard had arrived, the men left at once. They escaped town and made it back to the home of Mr. Jones after walking thirty-two miles between 2 P.M. and 10:30 P.M. through a snowstorm and on a road that sunk up to their ankles in mud and snow. A few days after their return to Boston, Mr. Barnes arrived and told them that the Marlborough Committee of Correspondence came to his house and demanded he handover the two men. Barnes stated they were gone but the men barged into his home and searched every room and under every bed.

About a month later Gage sent the two men on a similar mission towards Concord. When they arrived they approached a woman in the street to ask for directions to the home of Mr. Bliss, which she gave. From Mr. Bliss they learned valuable information, including the threat that he would not leave town alive the next day. William Brown and Henry DeBerniere offered to take him with them to Boston and he agreed. Before the men left, the woman who gave Brown and DeBerniere directions showed up on their doorstep. Through tears and sobs she told the men that the townspeople “…swore if she did not leave the town, they would tar and feather her for directing Tories in their road.”

It is obvious in reading the account of Brown and DeBerniere’s missions that the mood of the people in the Massachusetts countryside was angry and tense. Anyone suspected of being disloyal to the Colonial cause or associated with the British Army was seen as a threat and treated as an enemy, even neighbors.

To learn more about the fight and the combatants on both sides visit:

To view the map and British spies in the area go here: British Spy Map of Lexington and Concord: A Detective Story | Worlds Revealed: Geography & Maps at The Library Of Congress (

To read an in-depth account of Henry DeBerniere and his and Capt. William Brown’s expedition go here: Boston 1775: Henry DeBerniere

Boston National Historical Park, Minute Man National Historical Park

Last updated: December 9, 2021