Both the British and the Americans sent Revolutionary War spies over to the other’s camps to discover what secrets they could.
There were many spies that were never discovered and to this day we do not know who they were. Most of those we do know are known thanks to the meticulous record-keeping of Sir Henry Clinton, British commander of the forces in America.
Benedict Arnold, spy for the wrong side!
Clinton exhibited an almost maniacal fascination with the duplication of any and all correspondence that he wrote and received. He went so far as to make duplicate copies of all the letters and documents he signed and saved almost every scrap of paper that crossed his path, including such mundane items as the accounts of his personal expenses and dinner receipts. (from Spy Letters of the American Revolution).
I cannot tell you the lives or stories of those unknown spies, because, like I said, they are unknown, but I can tell you about those we do know …
Famous Revolutionary War Spies
- Everyone knows who Benjamin Franklin is, but did you know he was a spy during the War for Independence?
- Nathan Hale—one of the most famous American spies and whose only regret was that he had “but one life to give for my country,”—had but one assignment as a spy.
- Benedict Arnold’s very name has been attached to being a double agent and traitor, but did you know it took time for him to grow disillusioned with the American cause?
Women as American Revolution Spies
Those are the men, but Revolutionary War women played a large role as spies as well. foolishly, American men assumed that women were too simple to understand complex military strategy, so they spoke freely as British spies mingled among them disguised as peddlers or pretending to search for a father or brother.
Our knowledge of these is limited, as many were not caught, but those we do know include …
- Miss Jenny, who paid dearly for information she extracted from the French camp
- Ann Bates, a schoolteacher that infiltrated George Washington’s camp
- Lydia Darragh, a Quaker and pacifist who nonetheless seized an opportunity when it appeared in her living room
Nature of Espionage During the Revolutionary War
When you hear the word spy you may think of people in black masks and hoods like you see in the movies. This is not how these spies operated. They led normal lives and blended in with society, which is how they got the job done.
Many of these Revolutionary War spies are also heroes, whose bravery we can aspire to.