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Friday, March 20, 2015

Washington's Spies Review - By Pat Iacuzzi

Washington’s Spies

The Story of America’s First Spy Ring

Alexander Rose

            I recently joined an American Wars discussion group at my local Barnes and Noble. The group, made up of veterans of more recent wars, and re-enactors of early American wars, is a great outlet for research. And I was happy to find out the first book they were discussing was Washington’s Spies.  

A lot has been written about the heroes of the American Revolution—but few take an in-depth look into the secret world of America’s first spy ring. Certainly little recognition was given to these men who risked their lives for liberty; their belief as strong as the men who fought on the forefront of battle. Spies, if caught, would be hanged by the enemy, and never acknowledged by their own side.    
            Spying, as we know it today….living among the enemy as one of them, gathering secrets, developing codes and seeing information got to the American side, was first developed by the Culper Ring, a group of men led by Abraham Woodhull who used the code name “Samuel Culper Sr.” and Robert Townsend (“Samuel Culper Jr.”). Smart, articulate men hand-picked by Washington, they were the first to break out of the mold where soldiers merely “observed” troop movements from a distance. Instead, they were able to create a convincing “cover” in order to live among the British and collect information, yet faced constant danger should they be discovered.
            This non-fiction narrative had me hooked from the beginning as Rose discussed such incidents as Nathan Hale’s enlistment as one of Washington’s spies, before the development of the Culper Ring. Hale, an idealistic, trusting young man of twenty-one, and acting alone, was quickly captured by the British and hanged. Rose does so well developing insight into Hale’s character from his personal letters and journals, I almost hoped what we’d learned in our history books about his fate wasn’t true—that he had somehow survived.
            The only problem I saw with this book was a hint, perhaps, of a rather liberal or revisionist attitude in his style of writing. There are certain adjectives, adverbs and personal comments he makes about our American heroes that, if you research their personal papers, you will find the true reasons for their actions. Example: “For political cover, Washington passed the buck to Congress; if there were to be fallout in later years, the general needed to be able to claim he was following the directions of the nation’s elected representatives.”
Washington wasn’t “passing the buck” as a personal cover. Nor it seems would he be the type to say “I was just following orders”. He was a man of leadership and integrity, who applied to a newly-created Congress for aid in getting supplies and report to the people, through their elected representatives. He also could not say should there be “fallout in later years”…
For by applying to the members of Congress as often as he did, Washington not only endangered himself but all of them.  

Rose also leaves out mention of female spies, only naming women as spouses of the agents. And there were female spies during the American Revolution, including Sally Townsend, sister of Robert Townsend who was able to intercept a message to John Andre about the attack on West Point.
Though it was made into the AMC series “Turn”, my rating: 4 stars.           


  1. Interesting post.
    Blessings, Tina

  2. Complete fan of George Washington since I wrote my first paper on him in 8th grade. Thanks for the interesting review!!

  3. Very interesting! Thanks for your insightful review!

  4. I've wondered about this series. Thanks so much for the review. I appreciate it!


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