Washington's Spies: The Story of America's First Spy Ring
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Turn: Washington’s Spies • Now a new original series on AMC
Based on remarkable new research, acclaimed historian Alexander Rose brings to life the true story of the spy ring that helped America win the Revolutionary War. For the first time, Rose takes us beyond the battlefront and deep into the shadowy underworld of double agents and triple crosses, covert operations and code breaking, and unmasks the courageous, flawed men who inhabited this wilderness of mirrors—including the spymaster at the heart of it all.
In the summer of 1778, with the war poised to turn in his favor, General George Washington desperately needed to know where the British would strike next. To that end, he unleashed his secret weapon: an unlikely ring of spies in New York charged with discovering the enemy’s battle plans and military strategy.
Washington’s small band included a young Quaker torn between political principle and family loyalty, a swashbuckling sailor addicted to the perils of espionage, a hard-drinking barkeep, a Yale-educated cavalryman and friend of the doomed Nathan Hale, and a peaceful, sickly farmer who begged Washington to let him retire but who always came through in the end. Personally guiding these imperfect everyday heroes was Washington himself. In an era when officers were gentlemen, and gentlemen didn’ t spy, he possessed an extraordinary talent for deception—and proved an adept spymaster.
The men he mentored were dubbed the Culper Ring. The British secret service tried to hunt them down, but they escaped by the closest of shaves thanks to their ciphers, dead drops, and invisible ink. Rose’s thrilling narrative tells the unknown story of the Revolution–the murderous intelligence war, gunrunning and kidnapping, defectors and executioners—that has never appeared in the history books. But Washington’s Spies is also a spirited, touching account of friendship and trust, fear and betrayal, amid the dark and silent world of the spy.
From the Hardcover edition.
city. Washington planted himself midway between Howe’s landing place and Philadelphia, on Brandywine Creek. On September 11, in what was a repeat performance of the Battle of New York a year earlier, Howe feinted toward Washington’s center while executing a flanking maneuver with his main force. Washington seems not to have learned his lesson from his defeat the previous time, and at Brandywine he was again defeated by Howe and forced to retreat, leaving a thousand of his men dead and wounded.
is now on the Sound in pursuit of intelligence,” and that Scott had sent in three officers separately—Butler, Parker, and Grayham—to sniff out British positions on Long Island.26 A Captain John Rathburn also went in, to observe the enemy fleet. Rathburn and Leavenworth soon returned safely, but Scott feared the worst for the other three. On September 12, Scott informed Washington that one of them had been “stopped at the out lines contrary to the usual custom. Leaves it no longer a doubt about
Clinton’s withdrawal from Philadelphia. Eighteen months later, owing to British success in the South, the number of redcoats had fallen to 4,000, but in August 1781, on the eve of Yorktown, it had more than doubled, to 9,700, before reaching 17,200 in December 1782, that imposing figure ironically heralding the collapse of Britain’s American empire.68 Even then, these numbers were underestimates. For example, if one includes in the July 1778 figures (i.e., 9,000) the cohorts of new recruits,
ambassador was perusing his new decrypted mail over breakfast, the local Black Chamber had already read it. Human error was another major factor. At great expense, England’s Decyphering Branch in the early 1700s developed an impregnable four-digit code for diplomatic use only to discover years later that the Foreign Office, thinking it would save some money, had gone on to use the same code in embassies from Gibraltar to Stockholm for more than a decade. Changing the code numbers at least three
charged one dollar per fifteen lines of text.72 While it took only 600 subscribers to make a paper self-sufficient, Rivington’s costs were enormous, employing as he did sixteen men. Like many other newspaper barons, he found his influence greater than his profits. So, in keeping with traditional Grub Street practice, Rivington opened a business on the side. In his case, two. There was, first, a general store selling gloves, stationery, “a few very elegant pictures of the King and Queen,” canes,