A child spy: Springfield settler aided George Washington


There was a time when George Washington had the holiday to himself.

Summit County schoolchildren wore powdered wigs and colonial attire in classroom skits honoring the Father of Our Country. Washington's Birthday -- so important that capitalization was required -- was a solemn occasion every Feb. 22.

Children recited colorful tales about the first U.S. president and Revolutionary War general.

Ariel Bradley played a heroic role in the real-life story.

According to Summit County historians, the first settler of Springfield Township and Mogadore was a child spy for the commander of the Continental Army.

The 18th-century legend, generally accepted as true, tells the daring adventure of a brave young man who fooled the British military.

Born in Salisbury, Conn., Bradley was 9 years old when he served Washington in 1776 before the Battle of White Plains in New York.

The general was eager for information about the enemy's position, but the men he sent on reconnaissance missions hadn't returned. A valuable lesson might have been learned: Never send a man to do a boy's job.

Soldiers Thaddeus and James Bradley suggested to Washington that their little brother could gather intelligence for the army without raising suspicion. They devised a simple plan to get the youngster into the redcoat camp.

Gen. Lucius V. Bierce, a former Akron mayor, was a Connecticut native whose father had fought in White Plains during the American Revolution. Bierce offered an account of Bradley's mission in Historical Reminiscences of Summit County (1856), the first local history book.

``He took an old horse, and putting a load of grain on his back, got astride of it himself, and boldly passed within the British lines under pretence of going to mill,'' Bierce wrote. ``He was arrested, as he expected to be, and taken to the British camp for examination.''

Bradley had been instructed to play dumb when questioned by British troops. As a kid brother for nine years, he probably had experience in that area.

At headquarters, British Gen. William Howe's underlings quizzed the boy repeatedly about where he was going. With childish stubbornness, he insisted that he was merely taking a sack of corn to the mill.

Summit County historian Samuel Lane wrote in 1892 that Bradley ``played the green country bumpkin'' to perfection.

The conversation went around in circles.

Surely the Continental Army wouldn't send a simpleton on an important errand. Would it?

``A long consultation was held by the officers, as to what should be done with him, but young Bradley acted the `Johnny Raw' so completely that they finally dismissed him; thinking him more fool than spy,'' Bierce wrote.

As Bradley ambled away on his horse, he overheard a British officer express doubt: ``I bet the little devil will betray us yet.''

Akron historian John Botzum noted in 1926 that the redcoats turned out to be the real rubes that day. Bradley wasn't as dumb as he acted.

``While going to the mill, he made an estimation of the force of the enemy by the number of their tents and also got a good mental picture of the layout of the forces along the river,'' Botzum wrote.

With a sack of freshly ground cornmeal, he rode the horse past the British lines and took a circuitous path back to the patriot camp.

The general was waiting.

As the story goes, the little spy reported his findings directly to Washington.

The next day, the Americans and British battled to a draw.

It's purely conjecture whether the careful observations of a 9-year-old boy saved the Continental Army from disastrous defeat. However, history was kind to man and boy.

Washington became the Father of Our Nation. Bradley became the Father of a Township.

The young hero grew up in Connecticut, married Chloe Lane in 1792, had four children, moved to Ohio in 1801 and had four more children.

Bradley lived for five years in Canfield before moving in 1806 to Suffield in Portage County.

A year later, he bought nearly 200 acres of farmland -- about $2.50 an acre -- from the Western Reserve and built the first log cabin in what is now Springfield Township.

A farming community sprang up around the family's home. Originally called Bradleyville, the village was renamed Mogadore in 1825.

When Bierce published Historical Reminiscences in 1856, the pioneer was still living in his old home in Mogadore.

Ariel Bradley was 89 years old when he died in March 1857 while visiting his son Ariel Bird Bradley near Lovett's Grove, Ohio. He was buried in Wood County.

The story of Bradley's role in the American Revolution was passed down from generation to generation in Mogadore.

In 1926, the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Sons of Union Veterans teamed up to dedicate a historical marker in front of Mogadore High School at 130 S. Cleveland Ave.

They used a 19-ton boulder removed from the original Bradley farm.

Among those who attended the dedication ceremony were great-grandchildren Charles Bradley and Louise Bradley Parker, great-great-granddaughter Myrza Kline and great-great-great-grandson Richard Bradley Kline II.

The 80-year-old memorial still stands on state Route 532 -- across from the Mogadore Municipal Building and next to the Mogadore branch library.

It is a solemn tribute to a spy whose bravery was worthy of mention on Washington's Birthday.

Look for the plaque featuring the little boy, the bag of grain and the old horse.

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