Waterville Historical Society

your connection to the past

The Waterville Historical Society collects, preserves, provides access to, interprets and fosters an appreciation of history that has an impact on the Waterville, Ohio and surrounding area.

Ariel Bradley "1776 Spy" For George Washington

The Ohio Historical Society marker at Mogadore, a suburb of Akron, OH, reads in part:  “Legend has it that Mogadore’s first settler, Ariel Bradley, was a spy for George Washington in 1776. As a nine year old boy, Ariel crossed British lines on a supposed errand to the nearest grain mill and returned with troop positions and tent counts…” Buried in Waterville Wakeman Cemetery, the legend of the boy spy continues to both inspire and intrigue.

 Whereas a legend generally contains anywhere from a kernel of truth to a great amount of truth, it is often difficult to know what to believe. What do we know for certain?  The autumn of 1776 had not gone well for General George Washington’s Continental Army. Although previously determined to defend the city of New York from invasion by British General Sir William Howe with naval support from his brother, Admiral Lord Richard Howe, Washington and his army barely escaped capture and/or destruction at the Battle of Long Island on August 17.   

Thus began a series of battles, defeats and narrow escapes before a much needed, morale-building victory could be achieved at Trenton, New Jersey on December 26. One of those narrow escapes occurred at White Plains, New York on October 28. Enter our local legend, Ariel Bradley. Born December 30, 1767 in Salisbury, Litchfield County, Connecticut, Ariel was the only son of Ariel Bradley (1728-1795) and his second wife, Mary Mercy Bird (1724-1820). He had two older half-brothers, Thaddeus (born 1752) and James (born 1756) from the union of his father and his first wife, Amy Thompson. Young Ariel was educated in the common school and raised as a farmer. 

Prior to the Battle of White Plains in 1776, Washington was in desperate need of information regarding the strength and positioning of British forces. An article from the Toledo Blade dated May 31, 1929 states:  “A number of soldiers who had been sent out as spies had never returned and Washington was about to proceed without the desired information. At this time the two older brothers of Ariel Bradley, who were serving as regular soldiers, went to Washington and told him that if there were anyone in camp who could get through the British lines it was their nine-year-old kid brother. As a result, Ariel Bradley was put on a horse with a sack of corn, ostensibly an uncouth lout on his way to the mill to have some meal ground. The ruse worked, and the British soldiers under General Howe, after seizing the boy and searching him thoroughly, allowed him to proceed to the mill.   

Young Ariel, however, was not so dumb and green as he acted. While going to the mill he made an estimation of the force of the enemy by the number of tents and took a good mental picture of the layout of the forces along the river. When he returned he was searched again but maintained the same dumb demeanor and was allowed to go through the lines and home. As he departed, however, he heard a British officer say ‘I bet the little devil will betray us yet’.” Bear in mind that Nathan Hale had been hanged as a spy barely a month before. 

Although the Battle of White Plains was hardly a victory for Washington’s troops, it did allow his army to withdraw from the field largely intact and begin the arduous trek culminating with the convincing victory at Trenton. While we cannot positively place Thaddeus or James Bradley at the scene, both had enlisted in the patriots’ cause early on and served in Connecticut regiments involved in the New York retreat. It seems that both of the brothers eventually attained the rank of sergeant and served through the duration of the war.  No written record indicates that Ariel continued his service to the cause.  James died March 3, 1817 in Johnston Township, Trumbull County, Ohio.  Having lived in Johnston Township himself at one point, Thaddeus died November 16, 1840 in neighboring Geauga County. 

Ariel married Chloe Lane in Killingworth, Connecticut in 1792. They had four children before migrating over the Alleghany Mountains to the Western Reserve of Ohio where they had four more. After spending several years in the frontier towns of Canfield in Mahoning County and Suffield in Portage County, he purchased 120 acres of land in the fall of 1807 and erected the first house in what is now Springfield Township in Summit County. The community became known as Bradleyville and retained that name until 1825 when it was renamed Mogadore, Arabic for beautiful. 

Sometime after the death of Chloe in 1848, Ariel headed to Wood County to stay with his son, Ariel Bird Bradley, and perhaps be closer to his daughters, Amelia and Phoebe.  He died there on March 25, 1857 and is buried in Wakeman Cemetery.  Daughter Amelia Emma would die in Portage in 1842 and Phoebe Marilla in Bowling Green in 1872.  Ariel Bird died in 1887 and is buried with his wife and father in Wakeman, Waterville, Ohio.

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P.O. Box 263,  Waterville, OH  43566            whs43566@outlook.com

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