Access Agent: In Episode 205, “Sealed Fate,” Abe returns to New York City to make his strongest attempt yet to recruit Robert Townsend to be a New York-based agent for the Culper Ring.
In modern spy terms, Townsend falls into the category of an “access agent.” Rather than working directly for the organization being spied on, an access agent is either connected to people who work for the organization, or well-positioned to overhear their conversations. As the proprietor of a boarding house near the docks who provides rooms and meals to British military personnel, Townsend is in a unique circumstance to obtain sensitive information: he simply needs to remain on cordial terms with his Redcoat guests and keep his ears and eyes open.
Successful recruitment of agents is a necessary skill for any spy, and dramatically affects the intelligence game. As part of his effort to recruit Townsend, Abe must convince him of the intrusive nature of the King’s government, and that it is his duty to expose British secrets to the men who stand against the King’s tyrannical control of the colonies.
However, dogma is often not enough to recruit a new agent. When modern day spies evaluate a potential agent, they use an acronym, MICE, that summarizes four potential personal vulnerabilities which could make a target agreeable to recruitment: Money, Ideology, Coercion or Compromise, and Ego.
Though such a formalized recruitment assessment did not yet exist when Abe approached Townsend, Abe seized upon ideology as a tool to use to recruit him. In addition to judging Townsend as someone likely to be predisposed to agreeing with Patriot philosophies, Abe is able to use Townsend’s Quaker belief in nonviolence to position Townsend’s choice: spying will hasten the onset of peace and an end to the violence, whereas refusing to spy will help allow the war to continue.
Birdwatcher: Slang term for spy, someone who who surveils the enemy, often used by British Intelligence.
In Turn, Abraham Woodhull tries to steal furtive glances and using reflective surfaces. All the while, he quickly jots down notes in a concealed notebook, later to be transposed on a hard boiled egg using alum for the purposes of sneaking the intelligence out of the city.
Before beginning his observations, a birdwatcher often must make use of an unsuspecting person to provide inside knowledge of where to focus his observations. To do so effectively, the birdwatcher must be deceptive about his purposes for requesting such information. Unable to ask direct questions, a birdwatcher may make comments to strangers regarding the weather and seemingly superfluous curiosities about their surroundings — all the while, steering the conversation in a way that leads someone to share the sensitive intelligence needed.
Cover Story: In Episode 7, Abe’s captivity in the sugar house prison and interrogation at the hands of Officer Yates continues. In order to remain a spy for General Washington, Abe must maintain his cover and stick to his story of being a spy for Hewlett, despite that cover story putting him at odds with his jailer, who suspects Abe is lying, and his fellow Patriot inmates, who suspect Abe is a Tory sympathizer.
In order to be successful, a spy must always maintain a credible and consistent cover story. A cover story must be plausible, well rehearsed, and include verifiable details whenever possible. Any fictional elements of a cover story must be carefully crafted: every lie must be remembered exactly as told, and subsequent lies told to embellish an initial lie can lead to a story unraveling and a cover being blown. In Abe’s case, his cover story works well because it’s based on what someone in a position of power believes to be true and is willing to verify: Major Hewlett believes Abe is spying for him, and has promised to vouch for him.
When a cover story is told, the spy must relate the story in a way that makes the target as open to believing it as possible. A cover story can be fashioned to appeal to a target’s personal beliefs, opinions, or prejudices; to elicit empathy from the target by alleviating a concern or fear; or to engender trust from the target by aligning with someone the target respects. In Abe’s case, the latter applies: Yates is initially willing to consider Abe’s cover story as truthful when Abe name-drops Major Hewlett.
Decisions based on trust are also key to maintaining a cover story. A spy must decide whom to trust, when to bring that person into their confidence, and how much to reveal. Abe learns an important lesson in trust when he doesn’t choose his words carefully enough while speaking with Gareth, one of his fellow inmates. Though Gareth presents himself as someone sympathetic to Abe and the Patriot cause, he is actually trying to goad Abe into saying something incriminating that will reveal Abe as a Patriot spy.
If a spy keeps their cover story credible and consistent, relates their cover story effectively, and chooses whom to trust carefully, they are likely to be successful in maintaining their cover and completing their mission.
Invisible Ink: In Season 2, Episode 4, “Men of Blood,” Ben introduces Abe and Anna to something that will allow for truly hidden and secret communication: invisible ink. In Season 2, Episode 6, “Houses Divided,” Anna uses the ink to send a secret message to Ben, written on the title page of a book.
Invisible ink dates all the way back to the ancient Romans and Greeks. Secret writing was first done using liquids such as vinegar, milk, or lemon juice, which weaken the fibers of paper. When gentle heat is later applied to the page, the weakened fibers darken first, and the secret writing is revealed.
Both sides in the Revolutionary War knew about invisible ink, and if a letter was deemed suspicious, it only took a moment to hold it over a flame to see if any intelligence was hidden within it. After George Washington put out a call for a new kind of invisible ink, James Jay (brother of founding father John Jay) developed one called a sympathetic stain.
Rather than relying on organic liquids and the application of heat, sympathetic stain uses two chemical solutions: an “ink,” called the agent, and a reactant, called the reagent. As with organic inks, secret writing using the agent goes on the page invisibly. Later, when the reagent is wiped on the paper, a chemical reaction between the two solutions darkens the agent and reveals the secret message.
In addition to writing secret messages between the lines of letters about pedestrian topics, Washington also advised his agents to write on the pages of common items such as almanacs, books, and pamphlets. The high quality of the paper in such items supported secret writing especially well, and the items themselves could pass through military checkpoints without suspicion.
Polygraphic Duplicator: Ben and Caleb are ushered into the wondrous world of Nathaniel Sackett’s spy workshop, set up in an old barn near the Patriot camp in Morristown, New Jersey. Among Sackett’s numerous spycraft gadgets and contraptions is a polygraph duplicator, comprised of a board connected to two mounted quills that move together as one to write the same thing simultaneously on two separate sheets of paper.
The polygraph duplicator Ben uses to forge a letter is a second-generation gadget. A French-born engineer, Marc Isambard Brunel patented an earlier, more primitive model. Later, English inventor John Isaac Hawkins, in collaboration with American inventor Charles Willson Peale, developed a second version, which featured a better quality of replication on a wider choice of material. Hawkins and Peale’s invention was awarded a distinct patent in 1803.
The polygraph duplicator was a favorite device of Thomas Jefferson, who used it to write two copies of letters and other documents simultaneously so he could keep one for his own records. Several devices were gifted to Jefferson, who provided feedback regarding user-friendly changes. Jefferson frequently used a polygraph duplicator during his presidency.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, when letters served as contracts for both personal and business matters and when a written personal recommendation from the right high-society figure could open up a world of possibilities, the potential for using the polygraph duplicator for nefarious means was high. However, the device sold less than one hundred units in America, and is not known to have been widely used for criminal activities such as forgery. Instead, the device was a precursor to other technologies enabling deceptive replication of items meant to be passed off as authentic.
Privateers: Men who were authorized by their government to seize goods from enemy vessels. Loyalist privateers robbed Patriot vessels and sold the goods to Loyalists, while Patriot privateers did the opposite.
Station: a secure location to conceal their true activities. A station is a location for in-field operations in enemy
territory. Though occasionally known to foreign intelligence services, as in the case of acknowledged diplomatic missions, stations are most often in a concealed location, and provide a home base from which spies can conduct their missions of surveilling and sabotaging their enemies.
As a home base for agents, stations are akin to a safety raft in shark-infested waters. As long as there are separate interests in the world competing with one another, no spy is truly safe.
A specific type of a station is a safe house. Intermittently used and frequently changed, safe houses are locations which provide traveling agents and contacts with a safe place to lay low or rest during their travels.
The lifespan and success of a station — and the spies using it — are inexorably linked to the quality of the escape routes, clandestine communications, evasion techniques, and physical security measures employed around it. An ideal station has multiple exits onto busy streets where an agent can instantly blend in and lose any possible tail. A station, especially a safe house, will often utilize exterior signals known to agents to communicate about the safety of entering.
In the wake of Mary finding his codebook (and Ensign Baker overhearing their subsequent conversation about him being a spy), Abe realizes he needs a safer place to conduct his espionage activities. He turns to the root cellar beneath the ruins of his burned-down house, fashioning it into a lair of spy gadgets safely away from the prying eyes of Mary and the curious hands of Thomas. There, Abe can keep his cipher wheels, create spy tools like his stiletto knife and his miniature paper and pencil, and store his chemicals for making invisible ink.
The Turtle: In Episode 8, Caleb takes the Turtle, America’s first submarine, on a harrowing journey through New York Harbor.
Created during the Revolutionary War by Patriot inventor David Bushnell, the Turtle was a one-man submarine that was approximately ten feet long, three feet wide, and six feet tall.
Built by expert craftsman, the Turtle was constructed from two wooden shells made of oak, chiseled to fit together. Because solid oak is watertight, only the seam needed to be waterproofed, which was done by packing it with a tarred fiber called oakum. After waterproofing, an iron bar was fixed along the seam, and iron hoops bound the craft together.
The Turtle was piloted by using a hand-cranked propeller to move the vessel forward, and a bilge and crank to submerge and resurface the sub. In calm seas, the Turtle had a top speed of about three miles per hour.
At the top of the vessel, a brass conning tower with small glass panes provided natural light when the Turtle was surfaced and allowed the pilot to see in all directions, including up. While submerged, the pilot was able to read the Turtle’s gauges because they were covered with a bioluminescent fungus called Foxfire.
The conning tower also included one of the Turtle’s most ingenious design aspects: its air intake system. Two brass pipes fitted with three hollow wooden balls extended from the tower. When submerged, the balls would seal the pipes, and upon resurfacing, the seal would let go, allowing air to flow in. When submerged, the Turtle held about 30 minutes worth of air.
The Turtle’s was built to sneak up on an anchored British warship and attach an explosive to the underside. A cask bomb filled with more than 100 pounds of gunpowder was attached the back of the Turtle, affixed with a timing device that allowed the Turtle’s pilot to set the explosion to go off after his departure.
The Turtle’s first expedition was authorized by General Washington, and took place in New York Harbor on September 6, 1776. Around 11PM, Sergeant Ezra Lee was unable to securely attach an explosive charge to the keel of the British flagship HMS Eagle, thought to be because his boring tool hit part of the Eagle’s iron rudder. Several subsequent attempts in the following days to attach an explosive to other British ships anchored on the Hudson River also ended in failure.
In November 1776, during the Battle of Fort Lee, the Turtle was lost when the British sunk an American sloop that was transporting the sub.
Wax-Bust Intelligence: In Episode 204, “Men of Blood,” Caleb successfully completes his mission to retrieve
intelligence sent from London by sculptor-turned-spy Patience Wright.
Patience Wright was born in Oyster Bay, Long Island in 1725. She moved to New Jersey at age four, and at age 16, left home to move to Philadelphia. She married a man many years her senior, and became widowed in 1769.
To support herself and her five children, Patience teamed up with her sister, Rachel, to turn her hobby of molding faces from wax into a full-time occupation. Within two years, the sisters had opened successful waxworks houses in both Philadelphia and New York City. After a fire destroyed the Manhattan shop in 1771, Patience decided to relocate to London.
After meeting his sister, Jane Mecom, Patience obtained a letter of introduction to London society from Benjamin Franklin, who lived in London for nearly 16 years. Franklin’s letter granted Patience access to London’s highest social circles, and she soon became acquainted with British royalty. She went on to sculpt many of them, including King George III himself.
Royal business was often conducted during her sculpting sessions, making Patience privy to decisions being made within St. James Palace. She decided on her own to begin passing intel along, and did so by embedding letters inside wax busts she sent to Rachel, who would then relay the letters on to the Continental Congress. Said Rachel of her sister, “How did she make her Cuntry [sic] her whole attention, her Letters gave us ye first alarm… she sent Letters in buttons & pictures heads to me, ye first in Congress attended Constantly to me for them in that perilous hour.”
After the Revolution broke out, Patience made no secret of her support for the Patriot cause, and she fell from royal favor.
Though today’s spy gadgets and technology have a much higher level of ingenuity and sophistication, often the familiar things which surround us daily can still make the best conduits of secrets. From dead drops made of hollowed-out bricks, to fake branches made of hollow plastic, to listening devices made to look like insects, today’s spies still gather and exchange information using common items that house a secret, second purpose.
For more information on spycraft: Be sure to consult the infographic created by AMC in partnership with the International Spy Museum
Battle of Monmouth
The Battle of Monmouth began on the morning of June 28, 1778. The Continental Army, under the command of General Charles Lee, launched an unorganized and unsuccessful attack against British forces marching from Philadelphia to New York.
After Lee sounded a general retreat, his troops reunited with the main army. Washington relieved Lee of command and rallied and redeployed the men. Large skirmishes continued throughout the day until dusk put an end to the battle.
The meeting between Robert Rogers and George Washington in Cambridge, Massachusetts is inspired by actual events.
Prior to the Revolutionary War, Rogers and Washington fought on the same side, as both served the British with distinction during the French and Indian War. Following the war, Rogers became saddled with crippling debt and began suffering from alcoholism.
In 1775, Rogers was detained by Continental soldiers in New Jersey and brought to Washington, by then the Commander in Chief of the Continental Army. Rogers claimed to be passing through Patriot territory to offer his services to the Continental Congress, but Washington was distrustful of Rogers’ intentions. Rogers was arrested and remanded to the authorities in New Hampshire, his home state.
Connecticut’s jagged, heavily-wooded coastline provided a wealth of hiding places for the boats and crews of privateer vessels like the Revenge.
After raiding and plundering a British ship, Continental privateers needed a place to hide from potential retribution by the superior British Navy, and a place to hide their seized goods and supplies until they could sell them.
Due to its distance from active battlefronts and the ready availability of supplies, Patriot-controlled territory in Connecticut was often used for the incarceration of British prisoners.
Though Patriot inmates were treated appallingly by the British, George Washington demanded Redcoat prisoners be treated humanely and created laws to that effect.
Despite those laws, conditions in Continental prisons were often poor. The most notorious example was the Newgate Prison in Simsbury, Conn.: Established in an abandoned copper mine, the prison’s filthy holding areas and hard labor earned it the nickname “hell.”
Morristown, New Jersey was selected to serve as a headquarters for the Continental Army due to its extremely strategic location. The surrounding highlands provided an excellent vantage point from which the Continental Army could survey the Hudson Valley and keep an eye on British-occupied New York, as well as a place to build fortifications to protect the interior from British invasion. Morristown also allowed easy access to roads leading north to New England and south to Philadelphia, as well as access to local industries and resources that could provide food, arms and support to the army.
At the Continental Army's Morristown camp, an old barn was given a new purpose when it became the home of Nathaniel Sackett's spycraft workshop.
A civilian member of the Committee to Detect and Defeat Conspiracies, Sackett was tasked by General Washington with devising new methodologies for the collection and communication of covert intelligence. These methodologies were frequently used by agents behind enemy lines, who Sackett frequently recruited himself.
Washington also secretly funded a workshop in which Sackett invented new spycraft tools and adapted various gadgets for use in spycraft. Examples include carving a child's toy boat with a hidden compartment for smuggling intel, and finding alternative uses for the polygraph duplicator.
They say, if obliged to choose between gold and his country, you would select the former. They say that you lack even a minimal sense of honor.
– BEN TALLMADGE While recuperating at the Continental Army’s Morristown camp, Benedict Arnold’s pride is assailed in numerous ways. Already struggling to cope with his temporary incapacitation from a broken leg suffered in battle, Arnold seethed as the Continental Congress continued to leave him subordinate to less-accomplished officers, as well as to delay his reimbursement for personal expenses related to the war effort.
In an open letter to Nathaniel Sackett, sculptor Patience Wright makes a seemingly innocuous mention of her latest work's final destination: a home in Hackensack, New Jersey. Unbeknownst to the home's Loyalist owner, concealed inside the wax bust of King George III is a crucial piece of intelligence for the Patriot side.
Tens of thousands of Americans opposed the Revolution. Referred to as Loyalists, many of them armed themselves and waged their own civil war against the Patriots, while others collaborated with the Redcoats by volunteering to feed and house British soldiers.
Loyalists tended to be older and wealthier, with financial well-being intrinsically linked to the class system of the British nobility. Loyalist social circles continued in strength throughout the war, and a commissioned wax bust of the King would have been a status symbol held in high esteem among that class.
New York,New York: By the fall of 1777, York City had become a critical logistical command center for the Redcoats, including serving as a deep-water port for British ships. New York’s pivotal role in
Boarding houses were once a common residential solution for single men and young families that came to New York City for work.
Boarders were typically provided with a room, a shared bathroom, and meals (usually breakfast and dinner). Meals were served at communal table, which often helped fuel a sense of camaraderie and intimacy amongst the residents.
During the British occupation of New York, Redcoat soldiers were commonly quartered in boarding houses.British operations made it crucial for the Culper Ring to get eyes and ears inside the city.
Before the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, New York’s low-ceilinged sugar houses were used to store sugar imported from the British West Indies.
During the war, sugar houses were converted into prisons by the British. One especially notorious house was initially intended to house 40 to 50 men, but eventually swelled to more than 500 prisoners.
More than 17,000 Patriot soldiers died after being imprisoned in sugar houses or on prison ships anchored in New York Harbor.
Abe’s cruel treatment in a New York sugar house prison (exacerbated by Abe’s need to maintain a cover story) is typical of British prisons during the Revolutionary War. British Parliament did not recognize Continental soldiers as prisoners of war until 1782.
New York’s sugar house prisons fell under the command of Provost Marshal William Cunningham. Known and feared among Continental inmates, Cunningham was notorious for starving prisoners and hanging men without a trial for transgressions as minor as casting a glance out a prison window.
New York Harbor
Caleb’s harrowing adventure piloting the Turtle in New York Harbor is based on actual events.
The Turtle was the first submersible vessel ever to be used in combat. Developed in 1775 by Patriot inventor David Bushnell, the Turtle was used to attach explosives to the hull of anchored British ships.
The Turtle’s first-ever mission, authorized by General Washington, took place in New York Harbor on the night of September 6, 1776.
Wilderness Near New York
Wilderness areas provide an ideal base of operations for the Queen's Rangers, a stealth, mobile, and well-trained force capable of living off the land for extended periods of time.
Named after King George III’s wife, Charlotte, the Queen’s Rangers were first raised by Robert Rogers during the Seven Years War to combat French guerrillas who were attacking British regulars.
At the start of the American Revolution, Rogers resurrected the unit to fight for the British after Washington rebuffed his attempt to sell his services to the Continental Army.
Due in part to Rogers’ love of drink, Rogers was eventually stripped of command. John Graves Simcoe took the reigns of the irregular force on October 15, 1777, at which time the unit became informally known as Simcoe’s Rangers.
Three months ago, we suffered a loss severe enough to be given an epithet: the Paoli Massacre.
– GEORGE WASHINGTON During the British campaign to take Philadelphia in the fall of 1777, General Washington dispatched a regiment of 1,500 men to harass British forces. The regiment encamped in an exposed location in Paoli, Pennsylvania.
During the night of September 20, a brigade of 1,200 British soldiers overran the camp, using bayonets and swords to attack the rebel soldiers as they slept. More than 200 Patriots were killed, wounded, or went missing, while the British suffered just four casualties and seven wounded.
The British troops were later accused of battlefield cruelty after eyewitnesses alleged they stabbed or set fire to rebel soldiers who were hurt or attempting to surrender.
As the seat of the Second Continental Congress, Philadelphia served as the capital of the self-proclaimed United States. On September 11, 1777, Washington’s defense of the city was dealt a severe blow when British forces led by General Howe defeated the Continental Army in the Battle of Brandywine. The Continental Congress relocated to Lancaster, PA, and the British occupied the city without further opposition on September 26.
A subsequent victory over Washington in the Battle of Germantown on October 4 ensured British control of the city during the upcoming winter. The British settled comfortably into Philadelphia, with officers quartering in some of the most beautiful mansions in the city.
Margaret “Peggy” Shippen was the youngest surviving child of Edward Shippen IV, the patriarch of one of the most powerful families in Philadelphia. Notable dignitaries in her family line include her paternal grandfather, Philadelphia Mayor Edward Shippen III, and her maternal grandfather, Pennsylvania Attorney General Tench Francis. Peggy's father was a powerful judge who studied law under Attorney General Francis, and later married Francis’ daughter.
Edward endeavored to remain neutral both before and during the war, going so far as to entertain prominent figures and officers from both the Patriot and British sides in his opulent home. As a young girl, Peggy met both George Washington and Benedict Arnold during this period of family hospitality. She later renewed her friendship with Arnold when he was stationed in Philadelphia as the Military Governor.
By the latter half of the 18th century, Philadelphia had a fully developed aristocracy. For high society Philadelphians, lineage, rather than wealth, was of utmost importance. Many upper class families were able to trace their roots back to some of Pennsylvania’s earliest colonial settlers.
John André’s surprise “interview” with Judge Edward Shippen – and Shippen’s lawyer, banker, and secretary – to elicit whether or not he is a “suitable” match for Peggy is typical of the vetting process for suitors of unmarried high-society women at the time.
From acting with fellow officers in Philadelphia to creating theater sets and costumes to organizing spectacular festivals, John André excelled in many artistic mediums.
Serving as the Royal Army’s social director during the winter months, André entertained many with his various talents, which included painting, writing verse, singing, and cutting silhouette pictures.
An artist to the end, he even sketched his own self-portrait the day before being hanged as a spy by Continental forces.
In Episode 8, following the successful delivery of the King’s stolen financial ledger page to John André and its subsequent destruction, Robert Rogers demands to be paid in gold. André directs Rogers to go to the Philadelphia Customs House to collect his reward.
In colonial times, a customs house was a building that housed the offices of government officials responsible for overseeing the import and export of goods. Typically built near the waterfront in port cities, customs houses were where tariffs levied on imports and exports were collected, making them a place where significant amounts of gold and other currency would have been readily available.
Following the rejection of a British peace offer by the Continental Congress, British forces withdraw from Philadelphia on June 18, 1778.
After being named Philadelphia’s military governor, Benedict Arnold led a force that peacefully reclaimed the city for the Patriots on June 19. The Continental Congress returned to their former capital shortly thereafter.
Peggy Shippen and Benedict Arnold began courting soon after Arnold became Philadelphia’s military governor in June 1778. After Peggy’s sister Elizabeth became engaged that December, Arnold wrote a letter to Peggy’s father asking for Peggy’s hand.
The harsh treatment of Robert Townsend’s family and neighbors by the British forces stationed in Oyster Bay was a major factor in Robert’s decision to join the Culper Ring.
The violence against Oyster Bay residents during the war was exacerbated when John Graves Simcoe and 300 of his Queen’s Rangers quartered there during the winter of 1778. Simcoe himself commandeered the Townsends’ house, and his unruly men abused the Townsend property and pillaged numerous homes throughout the village.
To discuss their Culper Ring activities in private, Abe and Anna often meet by an oak tree in the woods (first seen in Episode 102) just outside Setauket, a place they’ve been using as a secret meeting place since childhood. To signal that he needs to meet her there, Abe leaves a sprig of wildflowers somewhere Anna will be sure to find it.
After burning down his own house and moving to his father’s Whitehall estate, Abe found himself in need of a new station from which to base his spy activities. With no cabbage to store, thanks in part to maggots and arson, Abe transforms his old root cellar into a place where he can covertly develop, practice with, and store spycraft items.
While my men camp there, I require more domestic accommodations.
– SIMCOE Major Hewlett is unable to prevent Simcoe’s Rangers from making camp in Setauket for the same reason his own troops are able to board there: The Quartering Act.
Passed by British Parliament in 1765, the Quartering Act required colonists to provide accommodations and provisions to British soldiers at their own expense. Private homes, inns and boarding houses, and even barns and stables were all fair game for quartering British troops.
A 1774 amendment to the Act took away the right of colonial assemblies to manage the Royal Army’s demands for resources, granting that power instead to a Crown-appointed Governor.
Though the patrons of Setauket’s DeJong Tavern gaped at the sight of Jordan in a military uniform, slaves-turned-soldiers were not unusual during the Revolutionary War.
Feeling that the British cause was more likely to offer freedom, many slaves volunteered for service in the Royal Army. Others were forced to serve under duress.
More than 5,000 slaves are known to have fought for the Patriot side. Those who served were promised their freedom after the war.
The arrival of Shanks and Sutherland at Valley Forge is inspired by actual events.
In the fall of 1777, Ensign Thomas Shanks of the 10th Pennsylvania was discharged from the Continental Army for stealing another officer’s shoes. Enraged, he went to British-controlled Philadelphia, where he volunteered himself as an agent and was sent to Valley Forge to collect intelligence.
William Sutherland, a British grenadier sergeant, escorted Shanks to Valley Forge. Sutherland then decided to switch sides and turned Shanks in, and Shanks was hung without ever doing harm to the Patriot cause.
In December of 1777, 12,000 Continental soldiers stood down for winter and encamped at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.
With the Schuylkill River on one side and steep bluffs on the other, the valley provided natural defenses, as well as enough timber to construct more than 2,000 huts. However, it lacked natural springs. A small stream, used as a water source, quickly became contaminated with human waste, causing multiple diseases to spread throughout the camp.
Shortages of food, blankets, shoes, and clothing were common due to the lack of an organized supply train and squabbling between the states and the Continental Congress over who should fund and ship supplies. By winter’s end, more than 2,500 Patriot soldiers died of disease, malnutrition, or exposure.
Though Valley Forge is most remembered for the harsh winter the Continental Army endured there, it was also where the Patriots received news of a key turning point in the war: the signing of the Treaty of Alliance in Paris.
The prospect of the arrival of French military support, which would negate the Royal Army’s superiority on both land and sea, was cause for celebration by the Continental Army troops.
Spring at Valley Forge was a time of rebirth for the Continental Army. After a winter of intense drilling, the American troops were better prepared to take on the Royal Army in the field, and with the signing of the Treaty of Alliance, there was renewed hope for victory and an end to the war.
As the British prepared to withdraw from Philadelphia, General Washington strategically positioned troops to prevent the Redcoats from plundering the Pennsylvania countryside.
There are many stories of plots to assassinate General Washington. One substantiated plot was by Washington’s Life Guard Thomas Hickey to poison Washington’s peas in early 1776. Hickey was officially arrested for counterfeiting, but after confessing to being part of a larger conspiracy against Washington, he became the first person to be executed for treason against the United States.
On February 6, 1778, Benjamin Franklin (representing the Second Continental Congress) and delegates of King Louis XVI of France signed a pair of treaties.
The first was the Treaty of Amity and Commerce, which represented France’s formal recognition of the United States as an independent nation and promoted trade between the two countries.
The second was the Treaty of Alliance, a military pact that provided French troops, ships, and supplies in support of the American war against Great Britain.
Only France has the arms, ammunitions, and ships needed to defeat Howe's army and liberate our cities. Without France, we have no change to succeed. Versailles is watching, waiting to see if we are a worthy ally.
– GEORGE WASHINGTON To win the war, the Patriots needed the assistance of the French Navy, which had the resources to combat the strong British naval fleet and provide a massive resupply for the beleaguered American troops. To convince the French their interference was worthwhile, Washington had to prove to King Louis XVI that his Continental Army was a unified force capable of defeating British forces in the Colonies.
France had much to gain by going to war against England. The French and British had a tenuous balance of territories in the export-rich West Indies, and a declaration of war meant France could move to conquer the British West Indies for financial gain. A conflict with the French would force the British to spread out their Navy in defense three fronts: their homeland, their West Indies territories, and their interests in the Colonies.
Persons of Interest
King George III, who ruled from 1760 to 1820, is known to have suffered from mental illness during his reign at St. James Palace. Modern researchers suspect he may have suffered from bipolar disorder.
Patience Wright was an American-born sculptress who lived in London and specialized in creating wax busts. Patience’s unique access to her most prominent client, King George III, provided a wealth of opportunities to overhear various political secrets – secrets she then sent to the United States, hidden inside the very busts she created.