Three Strikes and You’re Out, Joseph Bettys

1902’s “History of the Police Service of Albany” kinda buries the lead in its chapter on homicides and malefactions, leading off its account of notable crimes with this brief mention:

“In the latter year [1782], Joseph Bettys was convicted of treason and murder, and conditionally pardoned by George Washington. He subsequently violated the conditions, was recaptured and hanged.”

Joe Bettys was a hothead from Ballston (originally from Connecticut) who became a sergeant in the Continental Army, serving at Skenesborough, where General Benedict Arnold was trying to build a fleet to block British control of Lake Champlain. He was demoted for assaulting his ranking officer. Lieutenant John Ball (yes, of the Ballston Balls) interceded on his behalf, apparently using his family connections to George Washington’s mother, Mary Ball Washington. It is written that there were concerns that Bettys would go over to the other side and reveal Arnold’s plans. (At this point, Arnold wasn’t sharing those plans with the other side.) Somehow, Bettys was restored to rank and placed aboard one of Arnold’s ships, the Philadelphia. He fought valiantly in the Battle of Valcour Island, but his ship was sunk and the ship he jumped to captured. The British released him as a spy and a raider, leading Indian forces on small raids where they burned farms and homes in his old neighborhood. He reported directly to General Burgoyne and was with him at the Battle of Saratoga. Shortly after, he was discovered as a spy, captured and court-martialed on April 6, 1778. He was ordered to be “hung by the neck until he shall be dead,” as Gen. Washington recorded in his own orderly book.

The Father of our Country must have been a bit of a soft touch, or he believed in redemption, or maybe the Ball family connection was exceedingly strong (which seems odd, since Bettys was well-documented as a terrible person back in Ballston) — whatever the reason, Washington responded to pleas from his parents and fellow crewmen from Champlain, and pardoned Bettys on the condition that he renounce the Loyalist cause.

So you’ve run afoul of military justice twice, you’ve been sentenced to hang, you escape the noose, and all you have to do is not run with the Loyalists to keep the rope off your neck. Apparently, that was too much for Bettys. He very quickly returned to raiding. This account comes from a website on historically significant artifacts:

However, soon after being freed, Bettys returned to his work as a traitor, marauding around the Albany area robbing and killing patriots and burning their property. He joined the British Army as an ensign in the Second Company of the King’s Rangers, a unit raised in 1779 that operated in the Lake Champlain region in both New York and what was then the Republic of Vermont. His unit took part in the capture of American forts Anne and George, and operated an espionage network in the area. In the winter of 1781-82, Bettys, dressed as a civilian, was captured near Ballston. Coded messages to British forces in New York City were discovered hidden in his boots; Bettys asked his captors for a smoke and tried to destroy the messages by throwing them, encased in small metal containers, into a fireplace.

So, yeah, that didn’t work. He was captured again and brought to Albany, where he was tried, convicted and hanged as a traitor April 1, 1782.

More details on Joseph Bettys here.

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