In the Works: Simcoe’s Valentine


John Graves Simcoe, oil on canvas by George Theodore Berthton, c. 1881; in the Government of Ontario Art Collection. Government of Ontario Art Collection/Archives of Ontario (Colonel John Graves Simcoe-Item Reference Code: 694156)

The legend of Captain John Graves Simcoe includes a secret romance during the American Revolution. As a young naval officer in the British Royal Navy, Lt. Col John Graves Simcoe met a young American woman named Sally Townsend. Despite the Revolutionary strife surrounding their meeting, Sally inspires acts of poetry from a smitten Simcoe, but the romance is threatened by their opposing patriotic loyalties. Simcoe’s allegiance is for King and Country (England) while Sally eventually remains true to the Stars and Stripes over her love affair.

When Sally chooses her country and betrays Simcoe, he is gone for good and she remains devoted to her memories of their time together. Legend has it that Sally’s ghost haunts her family home where she and Simcoe carried on like a colonial Romeo and Juliet. (Read “America’s First Valentine” which was sent from John to Sally)

John Graves Simcoe is a recently promoted soldier in His Majesty’s Army and serves under Major Hewlett’s command in Setauket. A born attack dog, he harbors an intense dislike for most colonists, especially Abe, and holds a deep, menacing infatuation with Anna. A skilled fighter and true believer in the British cause, Simcoe is as crafty as he is dangerous.

When Boston University historian Ursula Hammond wins a grant to write a history book on Simcoe and Townsend she decides to spend time in the Townsend home now known as Raynham Hall Museum in Long Island, New York. Ursula had always been intrigued by the story of American Sally Townsend and the British Cpt. Simcoe. She had ever since her mother told her that the first Valentine in America was sent to the Patriot Sally by British officer Simcoe during the American Revolution.

Raynham Hall is a time capsule of Long Island life in the 18th and 19th centuries. We offer field-trips to students to enhance Common-Core curriculum knowledge of Colonial Life, the Revolutionary War, and the Victorian Era.

After arriving in Oyster Bay, New York, the locals warn Ursula  about the ghost of Sally and how her lovesickness over Simcoe can frighten anyone who enters the old manor. Ursula decides to spend time in the Townsend estate anyway to gather pictures for her book but it’s not Sally’s ghost whom she encounters but Simcoe’s. Ursula begins to receive love letters in strange places written on parchment paper, hears someone singing outside the garden of her apartment at night, and has vivid dreams of a man dressed in a 19th century British Naval uniform begging her to run away with him.

Upon her return to Boston, events start to get scary when Ursula rekindles a romance with her college sweetheart Russell. Russel has moved back to Boston from Chicago and this time he is serious about settling down with Ursula. Strange accidents and odd illnesses strike Russell and it’s a Boston gypsy who warns the couple that they must reunite the ghosts of Simcoe with Townsend to be free of danger.

After Andre’s death, Simcoe left Oyster Bay and never came back. Simcoe and Sally never saw one another again. He married a wealthy woman and returned to North America as the Lieutenant Governor of Upper Ontario. Sally never married, and she never left Oyster Bay. When she died at the age of 80, a journal was one of the few things she owned. Inside was found Simcoe’s Valentine, creased and well-worn from the years she had held and read his words.





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