Bates was born on a farm in what is today Darien, Connecticut, the son of John Bates and Sarah Bostwick. During the American War of Independence, he was captured by local rebel sympathizers, who pressured him to reveal locations of British Loyalists, including his brother. After escaping, Bates fled Connecticut and ended up in British-occupied New York City. He later became a farmer and teacher on Long Island, another Loyalist stronghold. 
With the end of the war, it became untenable for the Loyalists to remain in New York. In 1783, Bates accepted a British offer of 200 acres (0.81 km2) of land in New Brunswick plus two years’ supplies and transportation to his new homestead at Kingston, New Brunswick. He was part of the first contingent of settlers who sailed in that year. Bates later wrote of his journey in Kingston and the loyalists of the “spring fleet” of A.D. 1783.
Once in Kingston, Bates became a selectman and then served several terms as the high sheriff of Kings County, New Brunswick. He was also a founder of the Anglican Trinity Church in Kingston. In October 1884, Bates married Abigail Lyon; the couple had four children.
In 1817, Bates wrote The mysterious stranger; or, memoirs of Henry More Smith; alias Henry Frederick Moon; alias William Newman: who is now confined in Simbury mines, in Connecticut, for the crime of burglary; containing an account of his . . . confinement in the gaol of King’s County, province of New Brunswick . . . with a statement of his succeeding conduct. The book was about Henry More Smith, a burglar and confidence man. Bates got to know Smith while he was incarcerated in Kingston. Published in the United States and the United Kingdom, The mysterious stranger... sold thousands of copies.
Bates died in Kingston on February 11, 1842.
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