31 March 2014


Spies in Disguise: The Feminine Side of Patriotism and Liberty

Excerpted from Moondance: Celebrating Creative Women
June, 2001

Edenton Ladies Tea Party
One of the earliest organized political efforts of the Revolutionary War were the Edenton Ladies' Tea Party, so named by a British cartoonist. These North Carolina women took the lead in the boycott of English goods, signing a formal pledge to support colonial resistance to the tea tax.

Another organization, The Ladies' Association, was the first national women's group. Organized in Philadelphia during the war by Esther de Berdt Reed, it raised money for Washington's army and was derisively known as "Washington's Sewing Circle."

Women served as soldiers, hid fugitives and shot the British to protect their families. They also performed the traditional logistical support tasks of cooking, sewing, nursing and fixing weapons. But perhaps the most under-appreciated in history were the women spies who risked all in order to promote freedom.

Spies have been needed since prehistoric times, gathering information on the strengths and weaknesses of the enemy. Women have proved adept at this art form, often taking advantage of the preconceived notions of womanhood.

A harmless Quaker woman, the British thought as they commandeered the Philadelphia house of Lydia Barrington Darragh for secret war strategy meetings on the night of 2 Dec 1777. Her gentle religion forbade her an active role in the fighting; her prowess as a nurse and midwife also pointed to her dedication to life. So it was with trepidation that she considered the information she'd gathered while listening through the keyhole. It was her faith in God that steered her as she realized more lives would be lost to silence than action. The British, led by General William Howe, planned a surprise attack on General George Washington and his men at camp in Whitemarsh, eight miles away.

Keeping her intention secret even from her husband, Lydia obtained a pass to leave the city and obtain flour at the Frankford Mill. Once safely clear of prying eyes, she veered toward Whitemarsh. Along the road, she encountered a friend, Colonel Thomas Craig. He took the information directly to General Washington as Lydia secured her flour and hurried home. The British marched during the night of December 4th but were repelled by a fully armed and waiting Continental Army. They drove the British regulars back to Philadelphia, thanks to Lydia's timely courage.

South Carolinian Emily Grieger was a mere eighteen in June 1781, when
 she heard that the American General Greene needed a courageous messenger to ride through British lines. The British commander, Lord Rawdon, was in pursuit of his regiment. Two other American regiments, under the command of Generals Sumter and Marion, planned to join Greene and attack Rawdon, but they were unaware of the unexpected movement of the British forces.

When no man stepped forward for the task, Emily volunteered to ride from Broad River to the Watersee River, even though the distance was long and the danger great. Riding sidesaddle, her long skirt billowing in the breeze, she counted on her horse, which was strong and swift. She forded the Congaree River by the second day. Soon after, on the edge of a dried-up swamp, a small party of British scouts took her prisoner. A young girl on a dismal road, she was immediately suspected of spying for the Americans. Not far away was a deserted cabin where the soldiers questioned her. She revealed nothing, but they weren't satisfied. Emily gambled on a risky plan, challenging them to bring a woman to search her. They locked her in and posted a guard before leaving. Emily promptly memorized and ate the written dispatch she was carrying. When the matron arrived, she found nothing, and the British were forced to release her. At once, Emily mounted her horse and galloped off toward her original destination.

Although she made quick progress, her ride was again interrupted by arrest. Late in the afternoon, a group of Tories stopped her, took her to a farmhouse and confined her in a room by herself. The Tories were as bloodthirsty as the British soldiers were and known to have killed many a patriot. Emily quietly fretted while the sun set and the moon rose bright, illuminating the landscape. Waiting till midnight, when all others were asleep, Emily pried open the window and slipped out. The moonlight was all she needed to find a bridle and her horse, mingling with a herd of others. She mounted bareback and escaped into the night.

By dawn she had arrived at the house of a known patriot. He provided her with breakfast, a fresh horse and a guide. The guide led her to a shorter, safer route, then returned home. Emily urged her sweaty horse on. By early afternoon, she located a few of General Sumter's soldiers. So tired she could hardly speak, she nevertheless convinced them of the urgency of the message from General Greene. They took her directly to Sumter, where she was able to repeat the contents of the letter word for word. Sumter sent a fresh courier on to warn Marion, then joined Greene at Greenberg via an alternative route.

Kate Moore Barry
Another teenager, sixteen-year-old Betsy Dowdy garnered information that enabled the Americans to defeat Dunmore and seize Norfolk, Virginia. Other South Carolinian messengers who risked their lives included Kate Moore Barry, Jane Thomas and Dicey Langston. Deborah Champion rode from Connecticut to Boston to deliver her message. In 1777, Sybil Ludington, from New York, rode by night to warn the American militia.

The towns and countryside of the thirteen colonies have changed drastically in the two centuries since these women braved war and death in the cause of freedom, yet their courage lingers, inspiring others to fight on against overwhelming odds.

25 March 2014

Agent "355" & the Culper Ring

Many intelligence historians consider her one of this country’s first female undercover operations officers. Still others refer to her as the “hidden daughter of the American Revolution.” While defending against British transgressions in and around New York, George Washington came to rely heavily on the information she supplied him. But even today, she is known only by the designation “355”, the code-number for "lady" in an encryption system used by the famous Culper Ring.

It was to the Culper Ring that “355” reported, having been selected for the silent service by Abraham Woodhull, chief of the clandestine group. A Long Island farmer, Woodhull’s nom de espionage was Samuel Culper, Sr. His principal agent was a Quaker dry goods merchant named Robert Townsend, who was known as Samual Culper, Jr. This fictitious father-son arrangement formed the basis of the highly effective Culper network.

Utilizing a variety of trade craft, including a type of invisible ink developed by the brother of future Chief Justice John Jay, the Culper Ring provided timely and accurate intelligence to American military leaders, most notably General Washington.

Routes Taken by the Culper Ring
It is believed that “355” was a member of a prominent Tory family, a position that would have allowed her virtually unrestricted access to British political and military leaders operating in the New York area.

For her part, “355” helped expose Benedict Arnold’s treasonous role in the surrender of West Point and neighboring military outposts, an act that earned him a £20,000 gratuity from the British government. She also facilitated the arrest of Major John André, the head of England’s intelligence operations in New York, who was eventually hanged as a spy on orders from General Washington.

While in New York, the debonair André kept company with any number of beguiling and available women. Taking advantage of this, “355” worked the parties he gave and attended, paying careful attention to what he offered during conversations that were often plied with considerable quantities of ale. Any substantive information “355” gleaned from these indiscretions, such as the deal to hand over West Point for payment, was surreptitiously passed by way of the Culper Ring to an appreciative George Washington.
It is believed that “355” was actually Robert Townsend’s common-law wife, with whom he had a son. When Townsend learned that his prized operative and lover was to bear his child, he pleaded with her to forgo her dangerous espionage work. She refused, believing, and rightly so, that the information she was providing was of the highest value. Indeed, her days were numbered thanks, so the historical reflection goes, to the traitor Benedict Arnold, who gave her up once he had defected to Great Britain following the arrest of André.

Benedict Arnold
In October 1780, “355” was captured and ordered held in fetid conditions aboard the prison ship Jersey, which was moored in the East River. While incarcerated, she gave birth to a son, whom she named Robert Townsend, Jr., after the Culper Ring operative. She died shortly thereafter. (See note.)

To new intelligence service hires, “355” is often cited as an inspirational example of a trusted field agent, who has retained her anonymity even 222 years following her death. The young woman’s contributions to America’s War for Independence did not go unnoticed by the head of the fabled Culper Ring, Abraham Woodhull, who wrote that she “hath been ever serviceable to this correspondence” and could “outwit them all.”

This biography is excerpted and from the NWHM exhibition Clandestine Women: The Untold Stories of Women in Espionage, Curated by espionage historian Linda McCarthy (2002). She is the author of Spies, Pop Flies, and French Fries: Stories I Told My Favorite Visitors to the CIA Exhibit Center.

NOTE: Most academics debunk this story as mere legend however, Robert Townsend, Jr., a "son" of James Townsend (brother of Robert Sr.) became a lawyer and went into politics. One of his pet projects was the Prison Ship Martyrs Memorial Fund which eventually became the Prison Ship Martyrs Monument at fort Green Park in New York. This monument, which is nearly 150 feet tall, commemorates the men and women who lost their lives aboard these horrible prison ships. Which begs the question: Could Robert Townsend have asked his brother to raise a bastard son, to give him a chance at a respectable life? 

24 March 2014

Miss Jenny (ca. 1760-)

"Miss Jenny", a French-speaking woman whose real-life identity was never confirmed, infiltrated the French troops who were fighting on the American side and reported the movements of French and American troops to the British headquarters in New York. She was reportedly in her late teens or early twenties in 1781.

At that time, she reported to the British that the French and Americans were planning an attack on the city of New York. She was on her way to report to the British base in New York she was taken hostage by the French General Marquis De Lafayette. There she was beaten and raped while they tried to wrench her story out. When they could not extract the truth, she was sent to General George Washington. Upon arrival at his camp she was questioned mercilessly. Through all of this she did not change her story or let out any secrets. She claimed that she was looking for her French-Canadian father who had left for war five years before. During her abuse she stuck to her story and would not back down.

Thoroughly frustrated, Washington sent her back to the French. Back at the French camp she was released, but only after they humiliated her by cutting off her hair, which was a big deal in that time. When she arrived back in New York and reported all that she saw, she was rewarded and was let go.

This was her last mission. Miss Jenny was never seen or heard from ever again. She simply disappeared.

Disposition of Miss Jenny after returning from the French camp. 

Page 1
Miss Jenny left here on Thursday the 9th of this month. In the evening, she slept in Kingsbridge and spent 3 to 4 hours in the morning traveling, having walked almost 3 miles. Our refugees came upon her, stopped her, and brought her back to Kindsbridge to Colonel Warn(er) who sent her back from this encounter with a passport. Having followed the main road, keeping always to the right, she came across a cavalry officer coming from the woods whom she asked, "Monsier, would you show me the French camp?" He answered her, "Why are you French?" "Yes, Monsieur," (she replied). "Come with me; I'll take you there," (he said). The officer led her to the outermost guard post of the camp after having proposed an amorous liaison to her, even desiring to force her, which she did not wish under these circumstances. When she arrived at the main guard post of the camp, the Captain asked her whom she sought. She answered that she came from the direction of York, having learned that her father was there (at the camp), and that she will be delighted to come and see him; (she said) that she was a seamstress and that her mother was a good wife, and that they found out that their father returned from France with the troops, seeing that it was six years since he went to France from Canada. The Captain of the post sent her to Monsieur de Rochambeau at general headquarters and Monsieur l(e) V(ice) C(onsul) de Laval had orders to question her since he (de Rochambeau) was not able to get anything from her, and he asked her several times whether she knew Hend and that surely he would have promised her money for coming to spy. She told him that she did not know what he meant. At this, she was sent to Monsieur de Rochambeau who asked several questions and in the end said, "Madame, I am sending you to General Wa(s)hi(ng)t(on)," which he did. Having arrived there, she was interrogated by Monsieur Smidt and Monsieur Cooper. Finding nothing against her, they held her for two days, and she was sent back to the French camp.

Page 2
While Monsieur Smidt and Cooper questioned her, she was asked several time whether she knew me, (was told) that I was responsible for the desertion of the French and that I would be the first one hanged if York were ever taken. After all that, she was sent back (to the French camp). Upon arrival at the French camp, she was handed over to the Provost; nevertheless, she was treated well enough. The Chief Provost questioned her several times over the course of two days, and insisted that she must know me, using guile and intimidation to make her talk. Seeing that nothing was able to be got from her, the order arrived late in the evening on Tuesday the 14th for her to depart on Wednesday at daybreak, and beforehand, to have her hair cut in such a fashion that what was done be acknowledged yet again; then (for her) to be set on a horse with neither bonnet nor hair covering, sitting on a cloak between two soldiers and (for her) to be led in this manner outside of the lines with the order not to return unless she wants to run the risk of being severely punished. She says that everything is ready with them for advancing and that the general opinion is that he (Washington) wants to come and attack in two places as soon as their fleet arrives. She saw your Jagers arrive yesterday, around 4 or 5. They were not retained; they were sent immediately to Philadelphia. When these Jagers arrived at Washington's quarters, he had them given something to drink and eat, informing them that soon all of your people will come, and that in a short while he will be in York.

The Chief Provost told her that if she wished to confess that it is Hend who sent her, that he would give her 12 twenty-franc pieces, and if she wished to dissemble, that he wants to send to her mother to see if she speaks the truth. All that did not make her change her story. She persisted (in saying) that she does not know me.

Page 3
Monsieur Major, Miss Jenny has just arrived this moment. I will have her stay here until evening, and I will ask you, if your business allows you, to stop by for a little while. You can be sure that no one will know you, and you will be perhaps very delighted to hear from her lips the agreeable statement which she has just made. She will not know who you are.

Awaiting your reply I beg to be respectfully,

B. Ottendorf
15 August 1781

23 March 2014

Ann Bates (1748-1801)

Mrs. Barnes

Ann Bates was a loyalist American school teacher from Philadelphia who acted as an agent for British forces. She and her husband, a field artillery repairman for the British army, accompanied the British when they departed Philadelphia for New York City in 1778. In New York, she was asked by Major John Andre' to spy on American forces in New York and report her findings to General Henry Clinton.

She traveled a number of times disguised as a peddler into the American camp at White Plains, NY. Soldiers at the encampment allowed her to move about freely to sell her wares, as most military camps were populated by female peddlers. Because of her husband's artillery repair background, she readily identified the types of guns, cannons, ammunition and soldiers, and accurately relayed this information to General Clinton. On one occasion, she infiltrated General George Washington's headquarters, and overhear military intelligence discussions concerning troop movements and future maneuvers.

Ann typically would spend a week in the military camps, gathering any information she could. Then traveling by way of a series of Loyalist safe houses, she made her way back to New York to report to General Clinton. These cunning expeditions into the American camps ultimately led Britain to send reinforcements to Rhode Island, forcing the Americans from Newport and allowing Britain to maintain control of the coastal state.

In 1780, Ann journeyed with her husband and British troops to Charleston, SC. Her missions ended there. They secured permission to travel to England in March 1781. Later, abandoned by her husband, she appealed to the government and received a pension for her successful espionage work in the United States.

21 March 2014

Lydia Barrington Darragh (1728-1790)

Lydia Barrington, daughter of John Barrington and his wife, was born in 1729 in Dublin, Ireland. She died on 28 Dec 1789 in Philadelphia, PA.

On 2 Nov 1753 she married the family tutor, William Darragh, with whom she had five children who survived: Charles, Ann, John, William and Susannah.

None Known

On 26 Sep 1777, British troops occupied Philadelphia. General William Howe moved across the street from the Darraghs, in a house formerly belonging to John Cadwalader. Lydia began regularly providing her son Charles with information regarding the enemy's plans, gathered by eavesdropping in her home and around town. She would often write this information in simple code on pieces of scrap paper, which she hid in large buttons that she and the messengers wore.

The following day, Major John Andre, aide to General Howe, requested use of the Darraghs' home for Howe's staff. Lydia told them that they had already sent away their two youngest children to live with relatives in another city, but that they had nowhere else to go and would like to stay in their home. She protested and went straight to Howe's residence (Cadwalader House) across the street from her home (Loxley House). 

Prior to her meeting Howe, a British officer introduced himself as Captain William Barrington of the 7th Regiment of Foot (Royal Fusiliers). She was immediately taken aback by his Irish brogue and his name Barrington, which was her maiden name. He told her that he was from Dublin and in the course of the conversation, she discovered that he was her second cousin. She explained to her the situation and he stated that he would take up her case with Howe immediately. They both walked into the residence and were taken in to see Howe who agreed to let her stay but that he and his staff would use the large house parlor for staff meetings. As Quakers were known to be unsupportive of the war, even on the side of the colonies, they posed no apparent risk to the British army.

On December 2, Lydia received a request that she and her family retire by 8:00 p.m. She was told that she would be awakened when the soldiers were finished so she could let them out. Lydia pretended to go to sleep, but instead listened to the soldiers through the door. She learned that British troops were being ordered to leave the city on December 4 to make a surprise attack on the Continental army camped at Whitemarsh, led by George Washington. Lydia sneaked back to bed and pretended to be asleep until the officer, Major John André, knocked three times at her door to awaken her to follow them out and extinguish the candles.

Lydia decided not to share this information with her husband. The following morning she was given permission by General Howe to cross British lines in order to go to Frankford to get flour. Lydia dropped off her empty bag at the mill and then headed toward the American camp. Along the way she met an American officer, Colonel Craig of the Light Horse, and told him about the impending British attack so that he might warn Washington. After the warning, Lydia made her way back to the mill, picked up her flour and started her journey home. 

British Intelligence agents became aware of the "bag of flour" trick bit too late. On 6 Dec 1777, after the British returned from Whitemarsh, a message was published in the Philadelphia newspaper about "a poor woman, whom we both know" traveling to the Frankford Mill:

The following letter was found in a bag of Indian meal, which was picked up on Saturday the fourteenth of last month, was supposed to have been dropped by some of the women who were coming into town, when the skirmish happened between the pickets.

After the British troops attempted their attack and realized that the Americans were waiting for them, the officer questioned Lydia and asked if anyone was awake on the night of the meeting, because it was obvious that someone had betrayed them. Lydia denied any knowledge of this and was not further questioned.

Elias Boudinot's Journal Entry

In the Autumn of 1777 the American Army lay some time at White Marsh. I was then Commissary Genl of Prisoners, and managed the Intelligence of the Army. — I was reconoitering along the Lines near the City of Philadelphia. — I dined at a small Post at the rising Sun abt three miles from the City. — After Dinner a little poor looking insignificant Old Woman came in & solicited leave to go into the Country to buy some flour — While we were asking some Questions, she walked up to me and put into my hands a dirty old needlebook, with various small pockets in it. surprised at this, I told her to return, she should have an answer — On Opening the needlebook, I could not find any thing till I got to the last Pocket, Where I found a piece of Paper rolled up into the form of a Pipe Shank. — on unrolling it I found information that Genl Howe was coming out the next morning with 5000 Men — 13 pieces of Cannon — Baggage Waggons, and 11 Boats on Waggon Wheels. On comparing this with other information I found it true, and immediately rode Post to head Quarters.

A contemporary account of Lydia Darrah highlights several grist mills on the Frankford Creek; also a tavern named the Rising Sun next to Frankford's main grist mill. This was not the same Rising Sun Tavern mentioned in Boudinot's Journal.

18 March 2014

Sarah Bradlee Fulton (1740-1835)

Sarah Bradlee, daughter of Samuel Bradlee and Mary Andrews, was born on 24 Dec 1740 in Dorchester (now part of Boston), MA. In 1762 she married John Fulton and moved to Medford, MA 
where she died 9 Nov 1835.

John and Sarah Fulton had three children: Ann W., Mary and Elizabeth Scott.

Mother of the Boston Tea Party

In addition to being a prominent member and leader of the Daughters of Liberty, Sarah is often referred to as the “Mother of the Boston Tea Party.” She is credited with the idea of disguising the men as Mohawk Indians, painting their faces and donning Native American clothing. She also anxiously awaited the men’s return to her home to dispose of their disguises and remove the stained red paint from their faces in order to conceal their identities.

This was not the end of her involvement in the war effort. Two years later, after the Battle of Bunker Hill (17 Jun 1775), Sarah voluntarily rallied women to nurse and tend to wounded soldiers. She came to an open space by Wade’s Tavern between the bridge and South Street armed with baskets full of lint, bandages and other basic medicinal remedies of that time to act as surgeon to the injured men. 

In March of 1776 Major John Brooks of Medford needed an urgent message to be delivered to General George Washington. He called upon the Fulton family for aid. Sarah volunteered to carry the message alone through the enemy lines of the Charleston waterfront; she did so successfully and later returned home. Washington later visited the Fultons to thank Sarah for the dangerous mission she undertook. 

As the British laid siege to Boston, the Fultons used their own ships as protection and often rowed across the river to seek fuel and wood in Medford. Aware of what a shipment of wood meant for the American troops at Cambridge, Sarah sent her husband to buy the wood, hoping that the laws regarding personal property would be respected. But this was not so: The British confiscated the wood from Mr. Fulton. Sarah pursued the British until she reached them, reportedly grabbing the oxen by the horns, turning them around and leading them away even as the British prepared to shoot her. She simply told them to “shoot away” and the British, so astonished by her defiance, surrendered the wood to her without resistance.

17 March 2014

Nancy Morgan Hart (1735-1830)

Nancy Morgan was born in North Carolina sometime around 1735. She is said to be related to pioneer Daniel Boone and Revolutionary War General Daniel Morgan.

Her physical appearance was both dramatic and imposing: She had red hair and freckles, was six foot tall and cross-eyed with scars of small pox evident on her face. She was a hard swearer and a sharpshooter who could handle a rifle as well as any man.

When Nancy married Benjamin Hart, the couple migrated first to South Carolina and then to the Georgia back country where they settled along the banks of the Broad River in Wilkes County in 1771. A mother of eight children, Nancy's knowledge of frontier medicine made her a sought-after midwife.

None Known

In the years of the Revolutionary War, most women and children were relocated for their safety. Nancy, however, chose to remain with her husband. But for most of the conflict, she was left alone to fend for herself and her children while her husband served as a lieutenant in the George militia under Elijah Clarke. Nonetheless, she was a devout patriot who gained notoriety during the revolution for her determined efforts to rid the area of Tories, English soldiers and British sympathizers. 

Her single-handed efforts against Tories and Indians in the Broad River frontier, as well as her activities as a patriot spy, have become the stuff of myth, legend and local folklore. Disguised as a simple-minded man, she wandered into Tory camps and British garrisons to gather information which she subsequently passed along to patriot authorities. According to some accounts, she was also an active participant at the Battle of Kettle Creek on 14 Feb 1779.

After the Revolution, the Harts moved to Brunswick, where Benjamin died. Nancy then moved to Clark County, GA, and finally to Henderson County, KY where she died in 1830.