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Patriot spies: winning the Revolutionary War required that a brave few--including women and children--work in secret.

The early days of the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783) were dark ones for the rebelling colonists. General George Washington, Commander of the Continental Army, faced a larger, much better equipped British military machine. Looking for every advantage over the enemy, he relied extensively on the covert (secret) work of spies.

On Washington's orders, his second-in-command, Major Benjamin Tallmadge, set up a spy network in British-controlled New York City. The operation, known by the code name Samuel Culper, would be crucial in the winning of the war.

The Spies of New York

The central figure of the band was Robert Townsend--code name Culper Junior--the owner of a dry-goods store. Townsend was also a society reporter for the New York Royal Gazette, a newspaper that was pro-Loyalist, or faithful to King George III of England.

Townsend's position within Loyalist New York provided him access to a wealth of intelligence (information, often secret, about an enemy). He listened slyly as English officers chatted at society gatherings and soldiers exchanged information at his store.

Transmitting Townsend's intelligence to Tallmadge and Washington was a complicated, dangerous business. One agent, acting as a customer at the store, would take the information to a drop box on the North Shore of Long Island. Another would signal across Long Island Sound from a clothesline on the Connecticut shore. Still another would carry the letter by whaleboat to Tallmadge, who waited in Connecticut.

Any slipup could have been fatal to the spies and their cause.

Brave Women and Children

Spying during the Revolution was not restricted to men. Often women and teens were able to infiltrate (enter secretly) enemy lines because soldiers didn't think they could understand military strategy.

British officers in Philadelphia used a room in the house of Lydia Darragh (DARE-ah), a Quaker woman, to discuss their war plans. Darragh eavesdropped (listened secretly) by pressing her ear to a crack in the floor above. Her 14-year-old son, John, would then carry the information--hidden in the buttons of his coat--through British check-points to the American lines.

In the South, where pro-English sympathies were strong, 15-year-old Dicey' Langston lived in constant danger. Dicey's brothers fought in an anti-British militia (an army of citizens), which hid in the woods surrounding their town of Spartanburg, South Carolina. The Langstons' Loyalist neighbors were rightfully suspicious of the family.

Dicey overheard much information about the British, and regularly sneaked through the woods to tell her brothers what she had learned. These activities became so risky that Dicey's father begged her to stop. But when she learned one day that a Loyalist band called the Bloody Scouts was planning to wipe out the militia, she had to take action.

Under cover of darkness, Dicey ran to warn her brothers. Getting across the treacherous, rain-swollen waters of the Tyger River proved difficult. Dicey was swept downstream by the swift current. Cold, wet, and shivering, she had to find the militia's camp in the pitch black. Her bravery saved the men's lives.

Unrecorded Heroism

The story of the Revolution's spies is largely unknown. But there were many significant triumphs. The Culper gang, for example, helped Washington avoid several costly battles.

In the end, Washington's Continental Army prevailed, thanks in no small part to an intrepid (brave) few who were America's first spies.

American History Word Match, p. 19

1. C 2. D 3. B 4. E 5. A
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Title Annotation:American History
Author:Brown, Bryan
Publication:Junior Scholastic
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 29, 2003
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