The Hickey

Minutes of the
Committee for
Detecting Conspiracies

Enoch Crosby
Describes His
Career As A Spy


Dr. Edward


Other Spies


The Burr

Alien and
Sedition Acts—



End Notes


Dr. Edward Bancroft 19

Among the many spies the British recruited and placed inside the American Commission in Paris under Benjamin Franklin, was one who had access to every secret move, conversation and agreement negotiated between the American delegation and the intermediaries representing the French government. French support and aid was critical to the American revolutionary cause, without it the dream of American independence would have expired. Yet, despite the British intelligence success, the government of Lord North was ineffective in stopping American-French activities. The spy, Dr. Edward Bancroft, was never discovered until seventy years after his death when the British government provided access to its diplomatic archives.

Bancroft was born on 9 January 1744 in Westfield, Massachusetts. When he was two years old his father died of an epileptic seizure leaving his mother to care for the family. Five years later, his mother, Mary, remarried and the family moved with her new husband, David Bull, to Hartford, Connecticut. Bull owned "The Bunch of Grapes" tavern which, on 23 May 1781, hosted a meeting between George Washington and General Jean-Baptiste de Vimeur, Comte de Rochambeau, to plan their siege against British General Lord Charles Cornwallis at Yorktown.

While growing up in Hartford, Bancroft studied under Silas Deane, after the latter's graduation from Yale. Two years later, at age 16, Bancroft was apprenticed to a physician in Killingsworth, Connecticut. Then, on 14 July 1763, Bancroft left the colonies for Surinam where he found employment as a medical chief on one of the plantations. Bancroft expanded his medical practice to several additional plantations and also found time to write a study of Surinam's environment. Bancroft soon grew weary of Surinam and in 1766 began one year of travel between North and South America before sailing for England.

After his arrival in London, Bancroft became a physician's student at St. Bartholomew's Hospital. He also published, in 1769, a book titled, "Natural History of Guiana," which brought him to the attention of Paul Wentworth, the colonial agent for New Hampshire in London. Wentworth hired Bancroft to survey his plantation in Surinam with the hope that Bancroft could uncover ways for Wentworth to increase his profits from the land. Bancroft returned to Surinam for several months and then returned to London.

Also in London at the time was Benjamin Franklin, who was the colonial agent for several colonies. Franklin met Bancroft and they became friends. Franklin used Bancroft as a spy to support several of Franklin's colonial activities.20 When Franklin returned to America, it is unknown if Bancroft continued his spying for Franklin but evidence exists that this may have been the case. For example, when the Committee for Secret Correspondence sent Silas Deane to Paris to examine the political climate of France, Franklin provided Deane instructions to contact Bancroft. Deane was told that to arrange the meeting:

" writing a letter to him, under cover to Mr. Griffiths, at Turnham Green, near London, and desiring him to come over to you in France or Holland, on the score of old acquaintance. From him you may obtain a good deal of information of what is now going forward in England, and settle a mode of continuing correspondence. It may be well to remit a small bill to defray his expenses in coming to see you, and avoid all political matters in your letter to him."21

If Bancroft was not an agent, why is it suggested that the letter be sent to a cover address rather than to Bancroft directly. Deane had been Bancroft's teacher, so it would be natural for a teacher to try to contact a former successful student. Also, Deane's instructions to devise a contact plan to meet with Bancroft adds further proof of some clandestine relationship.

A day after Deane arrived in France, 7 June 1776, he mailed a letter requesting Bancroft come to Paris to discuss some assistance to Deane in procuring goods for Indian trade and enclosing 30 pounds to defray travel expenses. Bancroft agreed and on 8 July both men met in Paris. Deane and Bancroft quickly established a close rapport, so much so that Deane informed Bancroft of his true mission in Paris.

He told Bancroft that he was attempting to devise a clandestine relationship with the French to obtain military aid for the colonies. Bancroft declined an invitation to attend the negotiations between Deane and the French but agreed to serve as Deane's assistant and interpreter during meetings with French agents, Pierre Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais and Monsieur Donatien le Rey de Chaumont. It was at these meetings the details of transferring to the Americans some forty thousand strands of arms, including two hundred cannon with French markings removed, as well as four million lives credit for miscellaneous military supplies. 22

Pierre Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais

Deane informed Bancroft that the American objective was to motivate a Bourbon-Prussian coalition against England on the continent to force the British to redirect their power to a continental conflict and leave the colonies alone. The Americans expected the French to agree to the alliance. In fact, French Foreign Minister, Charles Gravier, the Comte de Vergennes was leaning towards war with England when he learned that General Sir William Howe evacuated Boston but wanted to enlist Spain's assistance and agreement to go to war with Portugal, England's ally. The situation changed when the French learned that Britain defeated Washington's forces on Long Island on 27 August 1776. 23

Bancroft, saying business matters obliged him to return to London, left France on 26 July 1776. Before departing, he agreed to provide Deane with intelligence gleaned from his contacts in England. Despite his agreement to cooperate, Bancroft was troubled by his new role. He had always supported the British Empire's interest but also adhered to the belief that the colonies and the crown had to reconcile their positions through some compromise. He now realized that this was impossible and that French entry into the conflict would destroy the British empire. Bancroft considered informing the British government about Deane's efforts because he was convinced "that the government of France would endeavor to promote an absolute separation of the then United Colonies from Great Britain; unless a speedy termination of the revolt by reconciliation, or conquest, should frustrate this project." 24

Before Bancroft had an opportunity to contact the British, he was met by Paul Wentworth. Wentworth was recently recruited by William Eden, chief of the British Secret Service,25 who assigned Wentworth the task of meeting with his old friend to obtain full details of Bancroft's visit to Paris. Wentworth informed Bancroft that the British knew he met and spent several days with Deane. Wentworth asked Bancroft to meet with Eden. Bancroft agreed and shortly thereafter a meeting was held between Bancroft, Eden, and Lords Suffolk and Weymouth to discuss the colonial rebellion. At this meeting, Bancroft was recruited as a double agent for the British. He later wrote of his decision:

"I had then resided near ten years, and expected to reside the rest of my life in England; and all my views, interests and inclinations were adverse to the independency of the colonies, though I had advocated some of their claims, from a persuasion of their being founded in justice. I therefore wished, that the government of this country, might be informed, of the danger of French interference, though I could not resolve to become the informant. But Mr. Paul Wentworth, having gained some general knowledge of my journey to France, and of my intercourse with Mr. Deane, and having induced me to believe that the British Ministry were likewise informed on this subject, I at length consented to meet the then Secretaries of State, Lords Weymouth and Suffolk, and give them all the information in my power, which I did with the most disinterested views." 26

When Benjamin Franklin arrived in Paris to take over the negotiations with the French, Lord Suffolk told Bancroft to move to Paris and inject himself in Franklin's circle. In return for his service, Bancroft was offered a life pension of 200 pounds per year, increasing to 500 pounds per year. Bancroft left England on 26 March 1977. After his arrival in Paris, it was not difficult for him to find a position with Franklin, his former friend and mentor. Bancroft was made secretary to the American commission. Also arriving in Paris was Paul Wentworth, who was sent to be Bancroft's handler.

To communicate with the British, Bancroft was instructed in the use of a timed deaddrop. He was told to compose a series of cover letters about gallantry which he was to address to a "Mr. Richards," and sign each with "Edward Edward." Between the lines of his letters, he was to write in secret ink the information he acquired on the French-American partnership. When the letter was complete, he was to place it in a bottle with a piece of string around the bottle's neck. Each Tuesday evening after 9:30, Bancroft was instructed to proceed to the south terrace of the Jardin de Tuilleries where he was to place the bottle in a hole in the roots of a certain box tree. The bottle was retrieved by Thomas Jeans, secretary to British diplomat Lord Stormont, who removed the contents and usually replaced it with taskings for Bancroft. Bancroft later that same evening returned to the drop site to recover the bottle. It is reported that Bancroft provided copies of hundreds of documents to his handlers. For example, it is said that the French-American treaty was in King George's hand 48 hours after its signing, courtesy of Bancroft.

Compliments of Franklin and Deane, who sent Bancroft on frequent secret intelligence missions to London, Bancroft had the luxury of sitting down in a relaxed atmosphere to be debriefed by Lord Suffolk and others. There is some suggestion by historians that Franklin was aware of Bancroft's betrayal, citing Franklin's comment in response to a friend's warning about British spies:

"I have long observ'd one Rule which prevents any Inconvenience from such Practices. It is simply this, to be concern'd in no Affairs that I should blush to have made publick, and to do nothing but what Spies may see & welcome. When a Man's actions are just and honourable, the more they are known, the more his Reputation is increas'd and establish'd. If I was sure, therefore that my Valet de Place was a Spy, as probably he is, I think I should not discharge him for that, if in other Respects I lik'd him." 27

Whether Franklin knew and used Bancroft to pass false information to the British or never knew Brancroft's true status is subject to interpretations of the facts because Franklin did not write about it and Bancroft's personal papers were later destroyed by a family member. No matter what the truth is, the fact remains that the British had placed an excellent double agent within the American Commission in Paris who provided a wealth of information on the French-American alliance. Even with Bancroft and the other British agents inside the Commission, the British were unable to take more effective action to destroy or diminish the negotiations and support which lead to the American-French Alliance and the final defeat of the British at Yorktown.

Secret Writing

While serving in Paris as an agent of the Committee of Secret Correspondence, Silas Deane is known to have used a heat-developing invisible ink, compounded of cobalt chloride, glycerin and water, for some of his intelligence reports back to America. Even more useful to him later was a "sympathetic stain" created for secret communications by James Jay, a physician and the brother of John Jay. Dr. Jay, who had been knighted by George III, used the "stain" for reporting military information from London to America. Later he supplied quantities of the stain to George Washington at home and to Silas Deane in Paris.

The stain required one chemical for writing the message and a second to develop it, affording greater security than the ink used by Deane earlier. Once, in a letter of John Jay, Robert Morris spoke of an innocuous letter from "Timothy Jones" (Deane) and the "concealed beauties therein," noting "the cursory examinations of a sea captain would never discover them, but transferred from his hand to the penetrating eye of a Jay, the diamonds stand confessed at once."

Washington instructed his agents in the use of the "sympathetic stain," noting in connection with "Culper Junior" that the ink "will not only render his communications less exposed to detection, but relieve the fears of such persons as may be entrusted in its conveyance . . ." Washington suggested that reports could be written in the invisible ink "on the blank leaves of a pamphlet . . .a common pocket book, or on the blank leaves at each end of registers, almanacs, or any publication or book of small value." Washington especially recommended that agents conceal their reports by using the ink in correspondence: "A much better way is to write a letter in the Tory stile with some mixture of family matters and between the lines and on the remaining part of the sheet communicate with the stain the intended intelligence."

Other Spies

To Joseph Reed or Colonel Cornelius Cox

Head Quarters, Morris Town,
April 7, 1777.

Dear Sir:

I am informed, there is a certain Mr. Smith, who has been lately taken up by Genl. Lincoln as a Spy and sent to Philadelphia under that Character; I believe, for several reasons that he is the man who was employed by you to act for us, in that capacity, and that the apprehending him is a mistake, which may be attended with ill consequences. Lest he should be precipitately tried and punished, I must beg you will interpose in the affair without delay, and if you find him to be the person I suspect he is, take measures to have him released. I should be glad indeed, that some management might be used in the matter, in order to turn the Circumstance of his being apprehended to a good account. It would be well to make him a handsome present in money to secure his fidelity to us; and contrive his releasement, in such a manner, as to give it the appearance of an accidental escape from confinement. After concerting a plan with him, by which he will be enabled to be serviceable to us, in communicating intelligence from time to time, let him make the best of his way to the Enemy. Great care must be taken, so to conduct the scheme, as to make the escape appear natural and real; there must be neither too much facility, nor too much refinement, for doing too little, or over acting the part, would alike beget a suspicion of the true state of the case. I am etc.


To Governor William Livingston

Head Quarters, Valley Forge,
January 20, 1778


I last night received a Letter from Colo. Dayton, informing me, that John and Baker Hendricks, and John Meeker had been apprehended upon a supposition of carrying on an illegal Correspondence with the Enemy, as they had been several times upon Staten Island and that they were to be tried for their lives in consequence.

In justice to these Men I am bound to take this earliest opportunity of informing you that they were employed by Colo. Dayton last Summer to procure intelligence of the movements of the Enemy while upon Staten Island, for which purpose I granted them passports, allowing them to carry small quantities of Provision, and to bring back a few Goods the better to cover their real designs. Colo Dayton acquaints me that they executed their trust faithfully; this I very well remember, that what intelligence he communicated to me and which he says, came principally thro' them, was generally confirmed by the Event. Upon these Considerations I hope you will put a stop to the prosecution, unless other matters appear against them. You must be well convinced, that is indispensibly necessary to make use of these men to procure intelligence. The persons employed must bear the suspicion of being thought inimical, and it is not in their powers to asset their innocence, because that would get abroad and destroy the confidence which the Enemy puts in them. I have the honour, etc.


To Governor William Livingston

Head Quarters, Valley Forge,
March 25, 1778.

Dear Sir:

I have strong reasons to suspect a Mr. Banskon,28 late a Captain of Marines in our service, of being in the employ of the enemy as a Spy. His family lives at Princeton. We have nothing against him that amounts to proof, and to seize him at present would answer no end; but to put it out of our power to detect and punish him. It were to be wished, your Excellency, without discovering our suspicions could fall upon some method to have him well watched, and, if possible, find out something to ascertain the fact. He is lately from Philadelphia and has offered me his services in that way, as he proposes to return in a few days, taking this Camp in his way. If in the mean time any circumstances should arise within your knowledge you will be pleased to transmit it to me. I am etc.


To Colonel Stephen Moylan

Head Quarters,
April 3, 1778.


By command of his Excellency, I am to desire, you will send a corporal and six Dragoons, with a Trumpeter to Head Quarters, without loss of time. They are wanted to escort the Commissioners on our part who are to meet on the subject of a General Cartel. You need not be told they must be picked Men and horses, must make the best possible appearance, must be very trusty and very intelligent. They should also be of the same regiment.

The General reminds you again of the necessity of keeping your Officers close to their quarters and duty; and of letting no attention be wanting to put the cavalry under your command, on the best footing you can, both with respect to condition and discipline.

There is a certain Mr. Bankson late of the Continental marines, who has a family at Princeton. We suspect him to be a spy to Mr. Howe, though he offers himself as one to us. We wish to find out his true history. He left this camp the 24th of March, on pretense of making a visit to his family, and is now returned with renewed offers of service. It is doubted whether he has not, in the mean time, been at Philadelphia. The General wrote some days since to Governor Livingston, requesting he would take measures to explore Mr. Bankson's conduct and views. He directs you immediately to see the Governor and learn from him, if he has been able to make any discovery, and to take cautious methods to ascertain whether Bankson has been at home, since he left camp, how long, and when he left home, in short any thing that may throw light upon his designs. Let him hear from you as soon as possible about the he subject. Manage the business with caution and address. Yours Affectionately.


To Governor William Livingston

Head Quarters, Valley Forge,
June 1, 1778.

Dear Sir:

I am honoured with yours of the 23rd and 29th Ultimo. The person who delivered me your letter of the 17th was one of our hired Expresses. He now out upon duty, but when he returns I will inquire how he came by the letter. The Christian name of Bankson, who I begged the favor of you to keep an eye upon, is Jacob28, but as I am now satisfied concerning him, you need not trouble yourself further in the matter....


To Brigadier General William Swallowed

Head Quarters, Valley Forge,
June 1, 1778.

Dear Sir:

I received yours of the 30th May: A person, who I sent down to Chester to observe the movements of the Fleet, left that place on Sunday at dusk, he informs me that upwards of one hundred Sail had come down from Philadelphia and that they had not stopped near Wilmington, but proceeded towards the Capes. If this is so, it is a plain proof that they have no design to land any body of Men to molest our Stores. Captn. McLane who commands a scouting Party upon the Enemy's lines has been this Morning as near Philadelphia as Kensington, from whence he has a full view of the Harbour, he says very few ships remained and those chief armed Vessels. If therefore, upon sending an Office to Chester and another to Wilmington, you find that the Vessels have gone down and are below New Castle, you are immediately to join me, with your whole continental force. I am &ca.

P.S. Bring up your Tents with you and your lightest Baggage, as you will probably march immediately Northward.


To The Board Of General Officers

Head Quarters, Valley Forge,
June 2, 1778.


The Adjutant General has directions to send you one Shanks29 formerly an Officer in the 10th Pennsylvania Regiment, charged with being a spy for the Enemy. There is a British deserter a serjeant of Grenadiers, who will attend as a Witness against him. His own confession is pretty ample. But to make the evidence as full as possible, I have directed Col. Morgan to send up the persons, who took the criminal, in order to ascertain the circumstances of his apprehension. To avoid the formality of a regular trial, which I think in such a case ought to be dispensed with, I am to request you will examine him and report the result; and if his guilt is clear, his punishment will be very summary.30 If the Witnesses expected from Colonel Morgan, should not arrive speedily, so that it would detain the Board too much to wait for them; they may proceed to the examination, without them, but if it shod appear that their presence may materially affect the merits of the inquiry, I would wish it not to be brought to a conclusion. If it should be thought unessential, I should be glad the examination may be definitive. I am, etc.

P.S. I wish your report to be as full as possible, clear as to the criminality of the person, expressive of your opinion whether he is a proper subject for an example, and what kind of punishment may be most proper.


General Orders

Head Quarters, W. Plains,
Monday, September 14, 1778.

Parole St. Augustine. Countersigns Salem, Sandown.

After Orders
At a General Court Martial held in the Highlands January the 13th, 1778, by order of Major Genl. Putnam whereof Colo. Henry Sherburne, was President, Matthias Colbhart of Rye, in the State of New-York, was tried for holding a Correspondence with the Enemy of the United States, living as a Spy among the Continental Troops and enlisting and persuading them to desert to the British Army, found guilty of the whole Charge alledg'd against him and in particular of a breach of the 19th Article of the 13th Section of the Articles of War and therefore sentenced to be punished with Death, by hanging him by the Neck until he is dead.30 Which Sentence was approved of by Major General Putnam. His Excellency the Commander in Chief orders him to be executed tomorrow morning nine o'Clock on Gallows Hill.


To Major General Alexander McDougall

Head Quarters, Middle Brook,
March 25, 1779.

Dear Sir:

I duly received your favour of the 20th instant. Mr. H.——-31 has just delivered me that of the 22nd. (The Letter and inclosures referred to in it are not yet come to hand.) I have had a good deal of conversation with Mr. H-——. He appears to be a sensible man capable of rendering important service, if he is sincerely disposed to do it. From what you say, I am led to hope he is; but nevertheless, if he is really in the confidence of the enemy, as he himself believes to be the case, it will be prudent to trust him with caution and to watch his conduct with a jealous eye.

I always think it necessary to be very circumspect with double spies. Their situation in a manner obliges them to trim a good deal in order to keep well with both sides; and the less they have it in their power to do us mischief, the better; especially if we consider that the enemy can purchase their fidelity at a higher price than we can. It is best to keep them in a way of knowing as little of our true circumstances as possible; and in order that they may really deceive the enemy in their reports, to endeavor in the first place to deceive them. I would recommend, that the same rule should be observed in making use of Mr. H——, who notwithstanding the most plausible appearances may possibly be more in earnest with the enemy than with us. By doing this we run the less risk and may derive essential benefit. He is gone on to Philadelphia.

Which so far as it affected the troops under your command you will be pleased to assist me in executing as speedily as possible. I am, etc.


To Major General Alexander McDougall

Head Quarters, Middle Brook,
March 28, 1779.

Dear Sir:

I yesterday Evening was favd. with yours of the 21st instant with the several inclosures to which it refers.

——-32 is gone to Philada. and will call upon me in his way back. In my last I took the liberty to drop you a hint upon the subject of the danger of our putting too much confidence in persons undertaking the office of double Spies. The person alluded to in the present instance appears very sensible, and we should, on that account, be more than commonly guarded until he has given full proofs of his attachment. The letter directed to Genl. Haldimand33 was evidently intended to fall into our Hands. The manner of contriving that, and some other circumstances, makes me suspicious that he is as much in the interest of the enemy as in ours. I am etc.

Joseph Hyson 34
Joseph Hyson was a Marylander, living in London where he was an unemployed seaman. While carousing among the bars, he met William Carmichael, a fellow Marylander and personal secretary to Silas Deane in Paris, who was visiting England and also liked to frequent the shadier sites of London. The two men became very close friends. When Carmichael was sent to England to recruit seamen to command privateers and munitions ships clandestinely fitted in France, he approached Hyson, who readily agreed because he was broke and wanted, he said, to see America again.

After Hyson was recruited by Carmichael, he was approached by Reverend John Vardill, a British agent of William Eden, an under-secretary of state, who directed British intelligence during the early years of the American Revolution. The meeting took place on 12 February 1777 and Hyson agreed to work for British intelligence. A plan, briefed to the British Admiralty which gave its approval, was devised whereby Hyson would slip out of England for France. After Hyson's arrival in France, he was to collect coastal and other maritime information on the country while waiting to take possession of one of the ships. Once he commanded a ship, he was to use elaborate signals, worked out with the British navy to make it appear that the ship was captured rather than Hyson having sailed it into British hands.

Hyson safely arrived in France and, while his ship was being fitted, he spent a great deal of time with Carmichael and the American Commissioners, Benjamin Franklin and Silas Deane. Hyson also began to collect data on French ports and shipping which he passed to Lt. Col. Edward Smith, a British intelligence officer. Carmichael detected Hyson's spy activities for Smith but did not reveal them to any of the American Commissioners. In fact, Carmichael offered to help Hyson obtain American dispatches, an offer Smith believed could help the British recruit Carmichael.35 The British did try to recruit Carmichael but he rejected there overtures.

Benjamin Franklin and Silas Deane decided to send the Commissioners' important dispatches to the Continental Congress earlier than expected and selected a Captain Folger to take them aboard his ship. To get the dispatches to Captain Folger, Captain Hyson was selected as the courier. Hyson traveled to Havre, France where he turned over the dispatch pouch to Folger. Folger, after his arrival in America, gave the pouch to the Committee of Correspondence of the Continental Congress. When the Committee opened the pouch, they discovered a wad of blank paper. While the substituted pouch was on its way to America, Hyson delivered the real pouch to Lt. Col. Smith in London, who immediately turned it over to William Eden. Eden, in turn, displayed the entire pouch contents to King George III, who was often a harsh critic of the spies, alluding to his mistrust of them.

Hyson was paid for his services. Lord North gave him 200 pounds and a promise of 200 pounds a year. "He was an honest rascal, and no fool though apparently stupid."36 An apt remark considering that Hyson returned to France to renew his contact with the American Commissioners. He could not understand why the Commissioners rejected any contact with him. The only one who came to visit him was Carmichael. He failed to realized that Carmichael was directed to make contact with him in order to get Lt. Col. Smith to come to Paris to meet with the Commissioners.

The Commissioners wanted to use Smith as a broker to determine if the British government was agreeable to negotiating a peace. When word was received on 30 November 1777 that General John Burgoyne surrendered, this plan was shelved. Hyson's value to the Commissioners was ended although he was offered the job of taking some dispatches to America. He refused. The French told him to leave their country or be arrested as a spy.

Hyson requested funds from Smith, who sent the request to Eden. Eden responded that he would support giving Hyson 40 pounds if Hyson would set sail and try to overtake either Silas Deane or Carmichael who had departed France in separate ships carrying dispatches. Hyson left for England, where he signed on a man-of-war, the Centaur, in which he was a key player in betraying an American munitions ship to the British. This is the last anyone heard of Hyson.

Lydia Darragh
Though it has been disputed as to accuracy and, indeed, truth, the story of Lydia Darragh deserves mention. Darragh, listening through a paper-thin wall of her home where British officers met, learned of British plans for the 4 December march on Philadelphia. Smuggling her notes in a "dirty, old needlebook" she was able to report the British would march out on 4 December and surprise General Washington at Whitemarsh with their superior forces against Washington's unprepared Continentals.

She reported that there would be 5,000 men under General William Howe, 13 pieces of cannon, baggage wagons and 11 boats on wheels, or pontoon equipment. The British did pull out of Philadelphia with more than 5,000 men on the night of 4 December, rolled through the city going in the wrong direction toward the Schuylkill River. Washington's intelligence and estimates were correct. He had strengthened the front, not the rear, and the British surprise failed.

After a day of confrontation, Howe withdrew to Philadelphia "like a parcel of damned fools." It was to his report of the Whitemarsh fiasco that General Charles Cornwallis first appended his view that the conquest of America was impossible. On other occasions, Lydia concealed reports in shorthand only her older brother, Lt. Charles Darragh could read, and covered them as buttons which her 14 year-old son wore on his clothing when traveling on regular visits to her brother. Charles would then decode the shorthand and deliver the report to Washington.

James Armistead
James Armistead was a slave who, with his master's permission, joined Marquis de Lafayette's service when the young French General arrived in Williamsburg in March 1781. Armistead had repeated success in penetrating the British lines and bringing out intelligence on Cornwallis' forces. Lafayette later commended the agent's "essential services," noting "His intelligences from the enemy camp were industriously collected and more faithfully reported."

As a courier between Lafayette and American agents in the Norfolk area, Armistead won this accolade from Lafayette: "He properly acquitted some important communications I gave him." But, the most valued role of this agent involved deception. Posing as a refugee, he crossed Cornwallis's lines, where he was recruited as a British spy and dispatched back against Lafayette.

Lafayette prepared a false order from himself to General Daniel Morgan, in which Morgan was instructed to move non-existent troop replacements into certain positions. With the properly crumpled and abused letter in hand, Armistead returned to the British, reporting that he had found no changes in the American position, but displaying the torn paper that he claimed to have found along the roadside, but could not read.

Cornwallis accepted the bait and did not learn he had been tricked until Lafayette completed the military operation. Cornwallis, during a courtesy visit to Lafayette after the British defeat at Yorktown, recognized Armistead on Lafayette's staff, and realized for the first time that his trusted agent, had, in actuality, been an American agent.

Following the war, the Virginia Assembly voted James Armistead his freedom and in later years approved both a bonus and a lifetime pension for his intelligence work, conducted "at the peril of his life." James reciprocated the honor, adopting the new surname, Lafayette.

John Honeyman
John Honeyman was denounced by George Washington as a traitor as part of a plan to get the American spy a warm welcome when he fled to the British lines. The "traitor" label worked so well that once Honeyman, who used the cover of butcher and horse trader, had his house raided by patriots. In order to expedite Honeyman's return, Washington issued order that Honeyman, upon returning to American lines, was to be "captured alive" and taken to Washington directly so that Washington could interrogate the "dangerous rascal" personally.

Honeyman, would of course, subsequently manage to escape back to British lines and provide deception information, as he did in telling the Hessians that Washington was not prepared to attack Trenton on Christmas.

Daniel Bissell
On 8 June 1783, Sargeant Daniel Bissell of the 2nd Connecticut Regiment was awarded the Honorary Badge of Military Merit, one of three men in the American Revolution to be cited with the award now known as the Military Order of the Purple Heart. Bissell was bestowed the award for his work as a military spy.

In August 1781, Lt. Col. Robert Harrison, Washington's aide-de-camp, dispatched Bissell into New York to gather intelligence. Finding he could not exfiltrate the city, he masqueraded as a Loyalist and joined Benedict Arnold's provincial regiment. For over a year, Bissell gathered intelligence, committing it to memory.

In September 1782, he was able to escape through British lines and report to Washington. Not only was Bissell able to report first-hand on British fortifications, and intelligence gathered from others, he was able to present a twelve-month analysis of the British method of operation, which Washington commended him on.

Bissell's ideological motivation became clear when he refused both an honorable discharge and a pension for his work as an intelligence agent for Washington; he felt the nation could ill-afford the loss of his services, and he believed the nation should not be tasked with the pension payments.

David Gray
David Gray, a captain in the 1st Massachusetts, was highly effective in obtaining intelligence about the Loyalists and their plotting, which earned him the attention of Washington, who employed him as a spy. Gray made a number of trips to Conneticut and Long Island, New York and finally managed an introduction to Col. Beverly Robinson at British intelligence headquarters. He was recruited by Robinson as a courier to carry letters to Tories in New York, Conneticut, Vermont, and New Hampshire, which he did; after first delivering them to Washington for examination. After about a year with the British, he was sent to Canada with dispatches from Sir Henry Clinton.

The XYZ Affair

In 1798 a political scheme by three emissaries from French Foreign Minister, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand, outraged the American public, when it surfaced in the United States. The three emissaries, known by the initials, X, Y, and Z, attempted to bribe three American commissioners, who were seeking a treaty of commerce and amity with France. The uproar cause by the attempted bribe led to a complete break in relations with France and an undeclared naval war for two years.

The French, upset by the Jay Treaty of 1794 between the United States and Great Britain, giving Great Britain favored-nation status, felt the Americans were becoming too pro-British. The French were at war with Great Britain and began to seize American ships on the high seas looking for contraband believed headed for British ports. Suffering staggering financial losses, American ship owners demanded reprisals against the French.

In December 1796, the American minister to France, Charles C. Pinckney, tried unsuccessfully to present his credentials to the French Directory. This diplomatic slap in the face resulted in a heated outcry in America against the French. John Adams, the newly elected President, desired better relations with France and to avoid war. On 31 May 1797 he named a three-member commission, Pinckney, John Marshall and Elbridge Gerry, to negotiate with the French government. However, when they arrived in Paris in October 1797 to begin negotiations on a new commercial and friendship treaty, the French Directory refused to meet them. Instead, Talleyrand sent three emissaries to meet with them.

The emissaries advised the American commissioners that a "gift" of $25,000 to the Foreign Minister and a loan of $10 million to France was a prerequisite to any negotiations. Two other conditions demanded by the emissaries was an apology by the President for his past critical remarks about France and a reaffirmation by the United States of the old Franco-American Alliance of 1778. Although diplomatic bribes were customary, Pinckney, furious from twiddling his thumbs waiting for an appointment with Talleyrand, said, "Not a sixpence." His diplomatic note to President Adam was more articulate, "Millions for defense but not one cent for tribute."

The American commissioners decided to appeal to Talleyrand directly in a diplomatic note. Talleyrand did not respond for two months and when he did, his reply was terse. He blamed the Americans for the problems, said the President should have sent only Republicans (Pinckney and Marshall were Federalists) to negotiate and stated he would deal only with Gerry. Talleyrand also said that if Gerry left France, war between the two countries was likely. Although the commissioners made no concessions to the French, Pinckney and Marshall returned to the United States, leaving Gerry in France. Gerry's presence in France did not sit well with the Americans and President Adams recalled him.

President Adams informed Congress about the failed mission and provided Congress with the XYZ correspondence. The Federalists were overjoyed by the news. Alexander Hamilton suggested raising an army of 10,000 men. George Washington said he would come out of retirement to lead the new army, but in title only. Washington wanted Hamilton as his second-in-command. President Adams, fearful of promoting Hamilton over several Revolutionary War officers, who then might lead a coup against him, decided to authorize the building of 40 frigates and lesser warships. An undeclared naval war ensued for two years (1798-1800) in which American naval forces captured 84 armed French ship while only losing one. The Convention of 1800 ended the fighting. The diplomatic dispute ended six months later when Napoleon Bonaparte officially received the American commissioners to France.


19. This article is copyrighted by Eric Evans Rafalko and used with his permission.

20. Secret New England Spies of the American Revolution, ed. by Edmund R. Thompson (The David Atlee Phillips New England Chapter, Association of Former Intelligence Officers, Kennebunk, Maine, 1991, p. 73).

21. Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States, ed. by Francis Wharton, U.S. Department of State, 6 vols., Washington, Government Printing Office, 1889, pp. 78-80.

22. Silas Deane to the Secret Committee of Congress, August 18, 1776, in The Deane Papers, ed. Charles Isham, 5 vols, New York Historical Society Collections, Vols. XIX-XXIII, New York, 1886-1891, XIX, p. 206.

23. Bemis, Samuel F., The Diplomacy of the American Revolution, New York, D. Appleton Co., 1935, pp. 44-45.

24. Dr. Edward Bancroft to the Most Honorable Marquis of Carmarthen, September 17, 1784, Samuel F. Bemis, British Secret Service and the French-American Alliance, American Historical Review, XXIX, No. 3 (April, 1924), p. 493.

25. There was no organization within the government known as the British Secret Service. Intelligence collection was conducted by major figures within the Foreign Ministry or military for their own purposes. In this respect, Eden was probably in charge of a small group of intelligence collectors for Lord Suffolk.

26. Dr. Edward Bancroft to the Most Honorable Marquis of Carmarthen, September 17, 1784, op. cit., p. 493.

27. Secret New England Spies of the American Revolution, ed. Edmund R. Thompson, op. cit., p. 80.

28. Jacob Bankson was one of Washington's spies.

29. Thomas Shanks, formerly an ensign of the Tenth Pennsylvania Regiment. He had been cashiered Oct. 12, 1777, for stealing shoes.

30. The board voted 10 to 4 that he was a spy and 8 to 6 that he ought to suffer death.

31. Elijah Hunter, assistant commissary of forage, at Bedford, N.Y.

32. Elijah Hunter. In the draft he is designated "H------."

33. Lieut. Gen. Frederick Haldimand, Governor of Canada.

34. This article was written by Frank J. Rafalko, Chief, Community Training Branch, National Counterintelligence Center.

35. Smith obtained this information which he communicated to Eden in "Information obtained by Lt. Col. Smith during the six weeks of his intercourse with Capt. Hyson, in February and March 1777," Mar 27-28, 1777, Stephens's Facsimiles of Manuscripts in European Archives relating to America, 1773-1783, no. 670.

36. William Eden to George III, Oct 20, 1777, Stevens, op. cit., no. 275.


Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Main