June 21, 2024

By Colby. S (G5, 2024)

Table of Contents:

  • Chapter 1. The American Revoultion______________________________2-4
  • Chapter 2. Invisible Information__________________________________5-9
  • Chapter 3. Life as a Spy_________________________________________10-11
  • Chapter 4. The importance of spies_______________________________12
  • Glossary______________________________________________________13
  • Bibliography___________________________________________________14

Chapter 1, The American Revolution

Before America was America, it was under British rule. The Americans fought a war called the American Revolution for their freedom from mistreatment.

It all started in 1764, when the British started making taxes to get out of debt. They made the Sugar Act, which highly taxed sugar and molasses that were imported from merchants that weren’t British. On March 22, 1765, the British parliament signed the Stamp Act.

What was the Stamp Act? Well it was an act that started to tax every paper, document, and even playing cards. This made the colonists angry as with before, they were still represented. They shouted “No taxation without representation!” When the British saw that the colonists were getting out of control, they called for more British ships and had to repeal the act. The British were angry, as they wanted to show Americans they had power, so they made the Declaratory Act.

The Declaratory Act stated that Parliament could make laws binding the American colonies “in all cases whatsoever.” In 1767, The British once again made taxes, this time on paper, glass, and of course, tea. This act and a few others were called the Townshend Acts. Colonists were once again angered and began smuggling these products. Then something unexpected happened. On March 5, 1770, a boy named Edward Garrick was told to collect payment that a British officer was supposed to give. When he arrived at the place, The British guards guarding it refused to let him in. They broke into arguments and soon attracted more and more colonists. The colonists started arguing and more British soldiers came to try to break the tension. It was useless. Then it happened. One colonist hit a soldier with a stick and angered him. Soldiers shot continuously into the crowd. The captain told them to stop but it was too late.  5 people were killed and 9 were injured. This angered the colonists even more and demanded to repeal the Townshend Acts. Most of it was, but the British left the tax on tea to remain in power. This was the start of the Boston Tea Party.

On the cold night of December 16, 1773, dozens of disguised men, some as Indigenous Americans, boarded the three East India Company ships and dumped 342 chests or 92,000 pounds of tea, reported by the British East India Company worth £9,659 (equivalent to £1,305,774 in 2021), or roughly $1,700,000 in today’s money, into Boston Harbor. After that, the British were ANGERED and forced the Americans to pay for all the tea. This is when they made the Intolerable Acts.

As you can see in the name, the Intolerable Acts were unbearable. These Acts included the Boston Port Act, the Massachusetts Government Act, the Administration of Justice Act, and the Quartering Act. In the fall of 1774, 12 people from the colonies came to Philadelphia to create the First Continental Congress. This group included Patrick Henry, George Washington, John and Samuel Adams, John Jay, and John Dickinson. These people went against King George III for the colonist’s rights. They demanded that the Intolerable Acts be repealed. The British did not respond the way the Americans were hoping. In 1775, both sides started to stock up on weapons as the tension grew and grew. On April 8, 1775, news was spread that the British planned to march to Concord and also go to Lexington to arrest 2 Patriots. When the British arrived in the morning, they were met with armed minutemen. Both sides had a minute of awkwardness, neither side willing to shoot. Then a shot called the “Shot heard round the world.” Later by Ralph Waldo Emerson was shot.

“Concord Hymn” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

By the rude bridge that arched the flood, Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled, Here once the embattled farmers stood, And fired the shot heard round the world.

The British thought that the colonists started shooting so they shot. The Americans thought the British were shooting and shot. Soon, it was a bloody mess. The commander ordered the British to stop but they were wildly shooting. They killed the eight Americans and continued. When they reached Concord, they barely found anything before more shooting began. Several British soldiers were killed and the British retreated to Boston. Then on June 16, 1775, the colonists realized that the hills surrounding were unprotected and got as many militia that they could find. The next day, the British came and there was a very close battle, with lots of casualties, but the British still won. On August 22, 1776, the British took a path and surprise-attacked the Americans that were waiting in Brooklyn. In July 1777, the British marched to Philadelphia and sent a smaller group to attack, while the larger group attacked from the rear. By the end of September, the British claimed their victory. A few days later, George Washington led an attack to Germantown and attacked from all sides. The British held the Americans off enough for reinforcements to come and counter the attack. At the same time, John Burgoyne was suffering from the lack of supplies, waiting for William Howe to help, not realizing he was helping lead the attack in Germantown. On September 19, The Americans attacked Saratoga and were slowly defeating the British. On October 7, They made a desperate attempt to attack them but surrendered when more rebel forces came. After the news spread that the Americans won, the French and Spain helped fight alongside the Americans. Clinton sent a force with 3,500 soldiers to Georgia and fell to the British at the end of 1778. Clinton led another force to Charleston, South Carolina at the end of 1779 and started a siege. Benjamin Lincoln surrendered on May 12. Meanwhile, Banaste Tarleton led an attack at Waxhaws and won on May 29, 1780. In August, Cornwallis attacked a large rebel force in Camden, South Carolina and won. Moving on to North Carolina, Cornwallis was attacked by a rebel force on King Mountain and was defeated. In 1781, Tarleton attacked a rebel force led by Daniel Morgan but was defeated when Morgan expertly held off attack after attack and Tarleton had to quickly surrender. Cornwallis chased the Americans to North Carolina. To move quickly, he left behind his supplies and tents, a fatal mistake. The Americans already picked the place clean, causing Cornwallis’ army to suffer the lack of supplies. By March 1781, the American force was at least double the amount of Cornwallis’ army. The rebels made a stand by Guilford Courthouse. Cornwallis ordered a soldier to fire a grapeshot, and because the Americans were so packed together, almost everyone was hit, forcing them to flee. In April Cornwallis decided to go to Virginia to attack because the Americans would try to resupply there and they would never get the support of the people of the Carolinas. Clinton was thinking the same thing and sent a British force under the command of Benedict Arnold. Then, another 4,200 troops followed them. In the spring, Cornwallis came with 1,500 troops with him. In June Clinton told him to send troops to New York. Then Clinton told him to raid Philadelphia but then told him to forget that. Then he told him to build a base in Virginia. Cornwallis did so at Yorktown. On August 31, Cornwallis sent a letter telling that there were 30-40 French warships. He was hoping for Clinton reinforcements to escape. Clinton did send warships to confront them, but it didn’t repel it. Cornwallis and Clinton were outnumbered. In late September there was a siege of Yorktown that lasted several weeks. Cornwallis surrendered. King George was not ready to quit. In 1782, Clinton was told to continue fighting without reinforcements. King George was alone in this, however, as the government had spent thousands of dollars on fighting. The Treaty of Paris was signed on September 3, 1783 and the American Revolutionary War was done.

Chapter 2, Invisible Information

As I’ve told you before, even though there were a lot of American militia, they weren’t as well trained as the British. Even though the odds were stacked against them, the Americans still won. How? Well, let me take you behind the scenes with one word… Spying.

What is a spy? I’m pretty sure you’ve heard of James Bond, maybe even watched it once or twice! But spying in real life is much more intense and risky. These are some spies in the American Revolution that changed the world.

George Washington:

George Washington was the first president of the United States of America. You probably don’t know that he was the first-ever spymaster. Yep, he was in charge of spies. He helped make the Culper Spy Ring (which I’ll talk about later), sent the famous Nathan Hale, James Armistead Lafayette, and much more. 

James Armistead Lafayette:

James Armistead Lafayette or Lafayette, was an enslaved African-American who volunteered to join the army under Lafayette in 1781, Armistead served as a double agent working for the Patriots. Armistead posed as a runaway slave who agreed to work with the British, though in actuality he was collecting intelligence from the British and reporting back to Patriot forces. Armistead spied on Brigadier General Benedict Arnold (also known as the Big Traitor, who had already defected to lead British forces), and eventually visited the camp of Lord Cornwallis to gather information about the British plans for troop deployment and armaments. The intelligence reports from Armistead’s efforts were instrumental in helping to defeat the British during the Battle of Yorktown.

Nathan Hale: 

Nathan Hale was the first spy for America. He spied for America in the American Revolution to find intel for where and when the attacks would come. The intel was mostly HUMINT, not PHOTINT because photography wasn’t invented until the 19th century. Growing up Nathan Hale lived in a religious family with 13 siblings whom the parents, Deacon Richard Hale and Elizabeth Strong, wish at least one would grow up to become a priest. He went to Yale College, now Yale University, and made a lot of friends there. Little did he know, some of those friends would grow up to help him through the journey of war. Nathan Hale grew up to become a teacher at Yale College and was well respected when the Boston Tea Party happened. Nathan was sad that he couldn’t participate, so he joined the Continental Army under Colonel Charles Webb. Signed by John Hancock on January 1, 1776. The British were a lot more trained than the Americans causing the need for help for spies. Now, being spies is dangerous and not everyone wants to do the risk of being caught and hanged, so Nathan Hale volunteered. Hale planned to disguise himself as a Dutch school teacher looking for work, though he did not travel under an assumed name and reportedly carried with him his Yale diploma bearing his real name. Unfortunately, Hale was captured on September 21, 1776, by the British while attempting to return to his regiment, having penetrated the British lines on Long Island to obtain information. He was hanged without trial the next day because the British thought that he was lying about being in the Continental Army. His famous last words were: “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.” You can see why they made a statue of him in a million different places.

The Culper Spy Ring:

 As I’ve said before, George Washington made something called a spy ring. To be exact, The Culper Spy Ring. In October 1778, with the Continental Army encamped outside British-occupied New York City, George Washington and Benjamin Tallmadge masterminded what would become the most successful and enduring espionage network of the war. The Culper Spy Ring was an adaptation of Culpeper, the small Virginia community where George Washington had worked as a surveyor in his youth. Though Washington had a limited budget for espionage, he devoted nearly one-quarter of it to the Ring. The ring was made up of 8 members, in sources associated members, sub-agents, associates and informants have included: Selah Strong, Anna (Nancy) Smith Strong, James Rivington, Jonas Hawkins, Amos Underhill, Mary (Woodhull) Underhill (sister of Abraham Woodhull), Nathaniel Ruggles, Zachariah Hawkins, “John Cork,” Hercules Mulligan, Cato (an African American slave and spy courier for Mulligan), Hugh Mulligan (brother of Hercules), Daniel Bissel, Lewis Costigin, and Haym Salomon. Nathan Hale and Joshua Davis were hung for spying before the Culper Spy Ring was formed. 

Members of the Culper Spy Ring:

Benjamin Tallmadge:

A veteran of multiple Continental Army campaigns, Tallmadge was a native New Yorker who had much to begrudge the British. He was classmates at Yale with the late Nathan Hale, and his brother had perished aboard the notorious British prison ship, HMS Jersey, a ship nicknamed “Hell” by its occupants.

He was also a man of action, serving as a senior officer in the 2nd Continental Light Dragoons, followed by command of the 2nd Legionary Corps, an elite unit of mounted and light infantry troops. He often led raids against the British based on intelligence collected by the Ring.

After the war, Tallmadge served as a postmaster and Member of Congress from Connecticut. His memoirs published after his death in 1835 make no mention of the Culper Ring; a true professional, he never ceased protecting the identities of his spies. In fact, on his deathbed, he still wanted to keep the identities secret.

Robert Townsend: 

Robert Townsend was a Yale graduate and former captain in the Queens County militia who later operated as a spy in New York City under the code name Samuel Culper, Jr. Townsend was a silent partner in a coffee house owned by James Rivington, whom Townsend recruited to spy for the Ring. Rivington also published a Loyalist newspaper in New York City, for which Townsend served as a journalist and reporter. Townsend used that cover at social gatherings to gather information about British forces and plans.

Sarah “Sally” Townsend:

Another member of the Ring was Sarah “Sally” Townsend, the sister of Robert Townsend. Just seventeen years old when she started spying, Sally was attractive and vivacious, and earned the affections of Lieutenant Colonel John Graves Simcoe, who succeeded Robert Rogers as commander of the Queen’s American Rangers. Simcoe established his headquarters in the Townsend home in 1778, and young Sally used her influence over him to learn British secrets, which were passed to her brother.

Abraham Woodhull:

The family of lead agent Abraham Woodhull had suffered much at the hands of the enemy; his cousin was a New York militia general who died in British captivity, while his father had been the target of harassment and abuse from the Queen’s American Rangers. Using the code name Samuel Culper, Sr., Woodhull operated in New York City and Long Island where he collected intelligence on British military forces.

Caleb Brewster:

Caleb Brewster, a whale boatman and smuggler/privateer originally recruited to spy by Major John Clark, operated in Long Island and on the Long Island Sound, reporting on British naval activities and also served as a courier, carrying messages from Long Island to Connecticut. Brewster was fearless in his operations, even refusing to use a code name. During a naval engagement on the Long Island Sound, in December 1782, Brewster was seriously wounded, taking a musket ball through his chest. Thought to be dead, Brewster survived and returned to service a few months later.

James Rivington:

James Rivington owned a Manhattan coffee house and owned a widely circulated Loyalist newspaper, both popular among British officers. Robert Townsend, as silent partner in Rivington’s business and contributor to his paper, recruited Rivington to spy for the Ring. The coffee shop served as a cover for collecting intelligence.

Fueled by their morning Joe or a cup of tea, gossiping British officers would often discuss sensitive military operations. Little did they know that the coffee shop’s walls had ears. While Washington was purposely kept uninformed about much of the Ring’s operations and members during the war, he nonetheless visited  Rivington after hostilities ended and presented the former spy with a bag of gold coins for the invaluable intelligence he provided to the Continental Army.

Anna Strong:

Anna Strong was a neighbor of Abraham Woodhull who operated an essential communications link in Long Island. Strong coordinated the delivery of messages between Woodhull and Caleb Brewster through prearranged signals using laundry on a clothesline, which Brewster could observe by telescope

from his Connecticut base across the Long Island Sound.

Anna’s husband was Selah Strong, a former member of the Provincial Congress who had been imprisoned aboard the notorious British prison ship, HMS Jersey, and one of the few who survived.

Austin Roe:

A tavern and innkeeper in Setauket, New York, Austin Roe was the Ring’s principal courier and an occasional collector of intelligence. As a merchant, Roe had a legitimate cover story for visiting Manhattan, using the pretense of purchasing needed goods and supplies. Traversing the arduous, 50-mile route from Manhattan to Long Island while evading British patrols, he then passed the intelligence directly to Woodhull through a dead drop at Woodhull’s farm. Following the war, Roe continued managing his inn, where then-President George Washington stayed overnight during a 1790 tour of Long Island.

With all these heroic spies, plus the spies that we won’t and may never know about, the Americans won against the British with all this INTEL and gained independence.

Chapter 3, Life as a Spy.

I woke up in an unfamiliar place and panicked for a moment. Then I remembered I was in the Continental Army. Ugggggg, not another day. Thank god Nathan Hale is still here to encourage me. I sat up, snatched my musket, and got dressed.  Going down the stairs, I come across Nathan Hale, training to fight hand-to-hand combat. I nodded to him, and he nodded back. After walking out, I smiled despite myself. How did my once best friend become a well-known and brave soldier? I looked up at the morning sky and prepared myself for today.


It was a cold night on April 8, 1775, when Paul Revere and Williams Dawes came rushing by our camp yelling something like “The British are coming to Concord and Lexington!” before continuing. “Finally able to do what I learned, eh?” I nudged Nathan. “Eh?” Turning around, I saw that Nathan was ghastly pale. “700 men,” he said “700 MEN!” Then, turning to me, he said “Tell Washington to put 8 men at the front. If they refuse, then send the larger army and sabotage them. “Yessir!” I immediately ran to Washington’s office. “Message for Washington, sir!” “From who?” “General Nathan Hale!” “‘Kay, come on in.” I walked in and couldn’t help but be amazed by the design. There were muskets hanging all over the place an- “Looking for me?” asked Washington. “Wha-? Oh uh um-” “No, it’s fine, I usually get that reaction. What was it you wanted me for? I haven’t got all day.” “General Nathan wants you to ‘Put 8 men at the front. If they refuse, then send the larger army and sabotage them’ , sir.” “I’ll give it some thought,” Washington said after a moment. “Now back to your posts!” “Yessir.” I turned around and loaded my musket. It was time to sleep, and in the morning, the fun will begin. 


Pound Pound Pound Pound. Ugggg. I stumbled to the door and opened it. It was George Washington. Suddenly, I was immediately awake. Correcting my posture, I asked, “What do you want?” He gestured for me to go outside. “Look,” he said in a low voice. “We have found an opening tomorrow and we need information.” “Aaaand?” I asked, not sure where this was going. “We want you to be a spy,” he said.


I was gathering information under the name of Bellamy D. Hyena. I was disguised as a British citizen looking for a job and accidentally stumbled into the battles of Lexington and Concord. I was captured by the Americans. I was taken to Bunker Hill before being recaptured by the British. I had to pretend to be captured by the Americans and was recaptured by the British. That was so harsh. I looked up from the newspaper and looked around, trying to memorize the street names before heading out to the shop. While walking, I passed Samuel Culper and slipped a note into his pocket. Samuel Culper was actually Robert Townsend, someone part of our group, the Culper Spy Ring. I continued to the shop. I was in Germantown in early October.

Just then a person ran screaming “THE AMERICANS ARE ATTACKING!” with no time to react everything exploded around me and a burning sensation was in my leg. I just then realized that I was very close to the British tents and the Americans might have fired at me by mistake. They kept firing. Why? All I had was a red coat and an extra pair of shoes… WAIT I had a redcoat. Quicky, I tore off my coat and tried to run, before falling face down in the grass because of my injured leg. Ugggggg that does NOT feel good. An American kicked my head and I passed out.


Beep Beep, Beep Beep, Beep Beep! I woke up in the British Hospital of Injured Warriors. Otherwise, right in the British army. Uh-oh. This was bad. A guard came in and regarded me with disgust. “Boss would like to see you,” he said. Harshly grabbing my arm he led me to an office. The was a tall blonde-haired person. Next to him was… was that Anna Strong? Yes! I was in good hands. I tried to hide my relief but didn’t quite manage it. “What?” the boss said. “Nothing.” “You seem like you’re hiding something… anyways, we need to talk.” He held up my red coat and a piece of paper slipped out of it. “What’s this?” he asked. He grabbed the paper and read it out loud. “B- The British are attacking Daniel Morgan’s rebel force. Send a message to Washington. – R.”  It was a letter from Robert Townsend. At that moment I looked up and Anna and we exchanged glances. I knew that if I didn’t make it, at least the message would be sent. Acting fast, I kicked the boss in the face. He staggered back, surprised. He was the only one who knew this information and I needed it to be erased. The boss took out his musket and before he could shoot, I kicked it away and grabbed it midair. Without hesitation I shot him. I heard the bells ring as reinforcements came. In the corner of my eyes I saw Anna escaping. I did my job. Sighing, I wrote on the wall, I have done my duty to my country for victory. Forgive me that I have only one life to spare for my country. The next day, I was hanged.

Chapter 4, The importance of spies.

After all this, I think that spies are an important and hard part of the American Revolutionary War. Spies gathered the information to stop or expect attacks, it was a huge risk to get caught and hurt, and no one would know what they did.

First, Spies gathered the information to stop or expect attacks. Without this information, the Americans would not have a single chance of winning. Information was crucial, as the Americans could expect whether anything would happen without being surprised and unprepared.

Second, it was a huge risk to get caught and hurt. Spies often pretended to be someone else and it might be uncomfortable for them to get used to their new personality. Plus, they have to remember their backstory and lie without giving away body language. As you might know, the British investigators most likely were masters of finding the truth and deception. The spies would have to train to not panic and infiltrate, find, and of course, surveillance.

Lastly, no one would know what they did. Because their surveillance was classified, no one would know about them. The spies had to be modest and not get the urge of telling people. It usually is hard to, as you might have saved the world multiple times but no one would know.

In conclusion, spies were an important and hard part of the American Revolutionary War because spies gathered the information to stop or expect attacks, it was a huge risk to get caught and hurt, and no one would know what they did. I challenge you to often think about the unseen forces out there and appreciate them.


Dead drop/ Dead letter box– a method of espionage tradecraft used to pass items or information between two individuals using a secret location.

Invisible Ink– Invisible ink, also known as security ink or sympathetic ink, is a substance used for writing, which is invisible either on application or soon thereafter, and can later be made visible by some means, such as heat or ultraviolet light. Invisible ink is one form of steganography.

Espionage– Espionage, spying, or intelligence gathering is the act of obtaining secret or confidential information. A person who commits espionage is called an espionage agent or spy. Any individual or spy ring, in the service of a government, company, criminal organization, or independent operation, can commit espionage.

Cypher– A cipher scrambles your message into nonsense by substituting (and adding to) the letters in it. For someone to read it, they’ll either need the key or be skilled at cryptanalysis.

HUMIT– Stands for Human Intelligence,  is intelligence-gathering using human sources and interpersonal communication. It is distinct from more technical intelligence-gathering disciplines, such as signals intelligence (SIGINT), imagery intelligence (IMINT), and measurement and signature intelligence (MASINT).

PHOTMINT–  Formerly known as photographic intelligence, or PHOTINT, IMINT is derived from photography, infrared sensors, synthetic aperture radar, and other forms of imaging technology.

Spy Ring– a group of spies operating covertly together. It is alleged that they had a spy ring at the heart of the government.


Works Cited

  • Burgan, Michael. The Split History of the American Revolution : A Perspectives Flip Book. North Mankato, Minnesota, Compass Point Books, A Capstone Imprint, 2013.
  • “Culper Spy Ring.” Www.intel.gov, www.intel.gov/evolution-of-espionage/revolutionary-war/culper-spy-ring.
  • Google. “Google.” Google.com, google, 4 Sept. 1998, google.com.
  • Wikipedia Contributors. “Wikipedia.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 15 Jan. 2001, en.wikipedia.org.