MOODY, JAMES, army and militia officer, office holder, politician, and author; b. c. 1744 in New Jersey, son of John Moody; by his first marriage he had three children; m. secondly 21 March 1782 Jane Lynson, née Robinson; d. 6 April 1809 in Sissiboo (Weymouth), N.S.
James Moody occupies a special place among the thousands of loyalists who settled in Nova Scotia after the American revolution because he is widely held to have been one of the most effective British raiders in that conflict, and many of his exploits read like popular fiction. At the outbreak of the revolution he was living quietly on a farm belonging to his father in Sussex County, N.J. Like many loyalists, he was “a Lover of Peace & good Order, and loyal on Principle,” but initially he had no thoughts of taking part in the struggle. Early in 1777, however, the local committee of safety ordered him to abjure his British allegiance and pledge loyalty to the United States, and he refused. He was then harassed, and after being shot at in his fields he gathered more than 70 neighbours and fled to the British lines in April.
Soon after his arrival Moody became an unpaid volunteer in the New Jersey Volunteers, and because of his knowledge of northern New Jersey was sent back there to observe rebel troop movements, enlist men for the British forces, and generally annoy the inhabitants. On all the missions he undertook he led small bodies of men deep into enemy territory, and on several occasions he narrowly escaped death or capture. At last, in July 1780, now an ensign, he was taken near Englishtown, N.J. Imprisoned at West Point, N.Y., he was treated with great cruelty by Benedict Arnold, who commanded there, and it was not until George Washington himself intervened that his conditions improved. In September Moody was transferred to Washington’s main camp, where he was to be tried by court martial for causing the death of two rebel officers in a skirmish. Hearing that he would almost certainly be condemned to death, he decided to escape. But this was easier said than done. He had been manacled, and was guarded by a sentry placed in his cell; in addition, there was a second sentinel at the door, and four others near by, and he was in the middle of the rebel camp. Notwithstanding these apparently insurmountable difficulties, one stormy night he incredibly managed to free himself and evade his captors. After several days of travel, he arrived safely at New York City.
Moody was to be left little time to rest from his harrowing experience. In March 1781 Oliver De Lancey, adjutant general of the British army, requested his help in intercepting Washington’s correspondence, and after one failure he succeeded. On another mission to capture rebel mail he had a narrow brush with death when 70 men fired at him from point-blank range. Moody was uninjured, however, and must have been thankful for the proverbial inaccuracy of the 18th-century musket. His last major undertaking occurred in November 1781 when he was sent to break into the state-house at Philadelphia, Pa, and steal congressional books and documents. The plan was exposed, and he was forced to spend two days in a cornstack without food or water to avoid capture. His brother, who had accompanied him, was caught and executed as a spy.
Moody’s adventures seriously affected his health, and when Sir Henry Clinton, the retiring commander-in-chief, was leaving America early in 1782 Moody accepted his offer of a passage to England. There he memorialized the government for compensation for his losses, and was awarded a yearly pension of £100 from the Treasury. The officials were impressed with his claims, commenting that “this is a Case of great Merit & great Exertions in his Majesty’s Service.” Moody also had his wartime experiences published as a pamphlet entitled Lieut. James Moody’s narrative of his exertions and sufferings in the cause of government. Although the Narrative was ignored by the London press, Moody had it reprinted, asserting that he did so to reply to the general disbelief in the facts it presented. This time he added testimonials from several prominent army officers and loyalists, all of whom signified their complete acceptance of his story. The Narrative, and the accompanying personal statements, doubtless helped Moody when he went before the loyalist claims commission in 1784: he was awarded £1,608 of his total claim of £1,709 for property confiscated during the war and received in addition £1,330 for his expenses in raising men for the British service. He also obtained half pay as a lieutenant (he had been promoted in August 1781) when the New Jersey Volunteers were disbanded after the war.
Now at least temporarily free from the financial difficulties that had afflicted him throughout the war and during his stay in London, in 1785 Moody went to Nova Scotia, where he had been recommended to Governor John Parr* for a grant of land. The following year he travelled to the loyalist community on the Sissiboo River that later became the town of Weymouth. Moody soon became a person of some stature in the infant settlement. In August 1788 Bishop Charles Inglis noted when passing through the community that Moody had just launched a ship he had built and was constructing another, and that in the absence of a clergyman he led the inhabitants in prayers on Sunday. Moody must have continued the latter task for some time, since Weymouth did not receive a clergyman until 1798; in the mean time, in 1790, he and his wife conveyed land for a church and cemetery to the inhabitants of Weymouth. In conjunction with a Colonel Taylor, Moody launched another ship in 1793, and he was also active in building mills. He served as a captain in the Royal Nova Scotia Regiment from 1793 to 1802 and participated as well in local affairs. A magistrate and colonel of militia, he was made a road commissioner in 1801. Moody entered politics when he was elected to the House of Assembly from Annapolis Township in 1793. Like that of other rural members, his time in Halifax was limited owing to the difficulties of travel, but he apparently took an active part in the business of the house. One of his proposals, the separation of the western portion of Annapolis County and its establishment as an independent county, was not accepted until 1833, when Digby County was created. Following his retirement from the assembly in 1806 Moody lived on his farm; the 640-acre grant he had received in 1791 had been swelled by 2,258 acres allotted to him when Digby Township was regranted in 180l. His death left his widow in straitened circumstances, however, and she was forced to petition the British government for a continuation of her husband’s pension. Her claim was supported by strong recommendations from Inglis and Edward Augustus, Duke of Kent and Strathearn, and she received an annual pension of £81.
Lieut. James Moody’s narrative of his exertions and sufferings in the cause of government, since the year 1776 was published in London in 1782; a second edition –. . . authenticated by proper certificates – appeared the following year and was reprinted in New York in 1865, with an introduction and notes by Charles Ira Bushnell. The Narrative, without its supporting letters, has been printed with an introduction by William Stewart MacNutt* in Acadiensis (Fredericton), 1 (1971–72), no.2: 72–90.
PRO, AO 12/13: ff.36–38; 12/89: f.4; 12/109: 208–9 (copies at PAC). DAB. Directory of N.S. MLAs. E. A. Jones, The loyalists of New Jersey: their memorials, petitions, claims, etc., from English records (Newark, N.J., 1927; repr. Boston, 1972). Loyalists and land settlement in Nova Scotia, comp. Marion Gilroy (Halifax, 1937). Sabine, Biog. sketches of loyalists, 2: 90–97. Calnek, Hist. of Annapolis (Savary), 391–92. Fingard, Anglican design in loyalist N.S., 59. W. S. Stryker, “The New Jersey Volunteers” (loyalists) in the Revolutionary War (Trenton, N.J., 1887), 57. I. W. Wilson, A geography and history of the county of Digby, Nova Scotia (Halifax, 1900; repr. Belleville, Ont., 1975), 59, 91, 110, 125, 322–23.
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Cite This Article
Stuart R. J. Sutherland, “MOODY, JAMES,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 8, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/moody_james_5E.html.
The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:
|Author of Article:||Stuart R. J. Sutherland|
|Title of Article:||MOODY, JAMES|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1983|
|Year of revision:||1983|
|Access Date:||June 8, 2023|