3. For Col. Philip Skene see JA to Joseph Warren, 21 June, note 2
(above). Rev. John Vardill (1749–1811) was a graduate of King's College, which in 1773 appointed him a fellow and professor of natural law. A staunch tory, his writings satirizing the whigs made him the object of a parody in John Trumbull's McFingal.
In London in 1774 Vardill was ordained a priest in the Anglican Church. He remained in England in an effort to have King's College made a university, an effort that proceeded successfully until the war intervened. Vardill, who never returned to America, served as a spy in the British service from 1775 to 1781. His most important accomplishment was the theft, in 1777, of a packet of dispatches from Silas Deane to the congress containing all of the confidential correspondence between the American Commissioners and the French Government between March and Oct. 1777 (
; Lewis Einstein, Divided Loyalties
, Boston, 1933, p. 51–71).
JA's reference to a ministerial plot to subvert the government of New York through Skene and Vardill was probably based on documents examined by JA's committee appointed to deal with Skene. Only two such documents appear in the records of the congress, and Skene reputedly destroyed private papers relating to his mission; yet Eliphalet Dyer of Connecticut, citing private letters from London, also wrote about Skene's purpose of undermining New York's government (PCC
, No. 51, I; Doris Begor Morton, Philip Skene of Skenesborough
, Granville, N.Y., 1959, p. 39; Dyer to Joseph Trumbull, 8 June, in Burnett, ed., Letters of Members
, 1:115). An unsigned letter dated “London, March 4, 1775.” that may have been carried by Josiah Quincy Jr. on his last voyage, states that “a Major Skene, and a Parson Vardell, a native of New York, are to be sent over thither with propositions of advantages for the college, the city, and the Province, and with a list of profitable places for individuals, sufficient, as they conceive,—with the favorable disposition which they are persuaded pervails there,—to draw off that city from the common cause, and attach them to government. They are determined to spare no promises and temporary douceurs to effect their purpose” (MHS, Procs.
, 4 [1858–1860]: 229).
Although Dyer does not mention him, Vardill's involvement in such a scheme would seem plausible, his personal participation being prevented only by the war's outbreak. Indeed, in a memorial dated 16 Nov. 1783 to the Parliamentary commission formed to compensate loyalists, Vardill noted that his service to the crown had begun very early and had included an effort “to secure to Government the Interest of two Members of the Congress by the promise of the Office of Judges in America,” which failed only because of the Battle of Lexington. In addition, he stated that the new charter for King's College and his appointment as Regius Professor of Divinity were intended as payment for such services “and to give the Loyalists at New York a Proof of the Attention and Re•
wards which would follow their Zeal and Loyalty . . . and he was ordered to acquaint the President and College with this instance of Royal Patronage” (Einstein, Divided Loyalties
, p. 409, 412).