General Washington’s Spies on Long Island And in New York

Title:                      General Washington’s Spies on Long Island And in New York

Author:                 Morton Pennypacker

Pennypacker, Morton (1939, 2005). General Washington’s Spies on Long Island And in New York. Cranbury, NJ : Scholar’s Bookshelf

LCCN:    2005923571

E279 .P46 2005



  • “In this volume are now collected a majority of the letters still in existence from spies in the American service during the Revolutionary War”–p. 17.
  • Originally published: Brooklyn, N.Y. : Long Island Historical Society, 1939.

Date Updated:  October 21, 2016

Reviewed by George C. Constantinides[1]

Pennypacker in 1930 wrote The Two Spies, Nathan Hale and Robert Townsend[2]. This book he considered the second edition of that work, with new material. Pennypacker first identified Robert Townsend as the principal agent in New York and definitively identified Abraham Woodhull, another member of the network, as the agent known as Culper Senior. Townsend was one of Washington’s outstanding agents who insisted on his identity’s being tightly held, an insistence that partly accounted for his success and survival.

Pennypacker’s work was based on correspondence that survived between Washington and Major Benjamin Tallmadge, the man who ran the New York network known as the Culper ring. It covers the use of codes and code names, secret writing, secret couriers and signaling, and the other paraphernalia of clandestine operations. Washington’s belief in the vital importance of good intelligence, his reliance on the Culper net’s information, and his flair for and use of deception based on reliable intelligence are well brought out and illustrated. Note that Washington used a form of the Meinertzhagen satchel ploy[3] to cause the British to turn from an objective. And perhaps there is a moral to the story of the American Quaker who made gold available to Washington to be used only for the secret service. Carl Van Doren in Secret History of the American Revolution[4] states Pennypacker’s book contains much useful material but unsupported conjecture as well. Though he does not identify the latter, Van Doren appears to have considered the way Major André and Benedict Arnold are linked by Pennypacker’s account as speculation. Corey Ford’s 1965 A Peculiar Service[5] provides more information on the Culper ring and complements this important study of a portion of the American Revolution’s intelligence history.

Reviewed by Paul W. Blackstock and Frank L. Schaf[6]

The author, member of the New York Historical. Society, whose hobby is tracing events in Long Island history, has researched available materials in order to identify the men recruited by Washington to act as spies.

[1] Constantinides, George C. (1983). Intelligence and Espionage: An Analytical Bibliography. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, pp. 361-362

[2] Pennypacker, Morton (1930). Pennypacker, Morton (1930). The Two Spies: Nathan Hale and Robert Townsend. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Co.

[3] From International Journal of Intelligence and CounterIntelligence (27, 1, 2014):“The historical record of a country allowing false documents to fall into the hands of its enemy in order to deceive him goes back at least as far as the third century B.C.E., when Hannibal fought the Romans. Yet the ploy of misleading an enemy through the ‘passage’ of fake documents to the other side probably reached its zenith during the twentieth century’s First and Second World Wars, especially with a few spectacular cases involving an allegedly wounded courier and, once, even a dead one. Because of the famous British deception ploy in Palestine against the Turks in 1917 , most all such deceptions came to be known as “haversack ruses.’ The king of all such ruses, at least in terms of being the best-known through numerous books and even a movie, was Operation MINCEMEAT of World War II.” And from Warfare History Network: “Add to these the numerous preparations to deceive the enemy about the location and time of the attack, the most effective of these ploys now known as the “haversack ruse.” Conceived by Colonel Richard Meinertzhagen, head of Military Intelligence at General Headquarters, Egyptian Expeditionary Force, this plan was sanctioned enthusiastically by General Allenby in September. The scheme called for a staff officer, ostensibly on a reconnaissance mission, to contrive to be chased by patrolling Turkish soldiers, pretend to be wounded, and drop his haversack, freshly stained with his horse’s blood. The haversack contents were meant to deceive the Turks into believing that the main attack would again be made at Gaza and that the preparations against Beersheba were only a feint. Meinertzhagen’s haversack ruse helped break the stalemate at Gaza and even attracted the appreciation of Lawrence of Arabia for its brilliance. British General Allenby enters Jerusalem after a series of battles against the Turks. The British made good use of trickery before the fighting commenced. Meinertzhagen’s staff ingeniously compiled a portfolio for the fictitious staff officer. Items in the haversack included a staff officer’s estimate of the situation complaining about the command’s obstinacy in attacking at Gaza instead of at Beersheba, and a report in the staff officer’s notebook disclosing the inability of the British commander to overcome the water shortage and transport difficulties in maintaining a large force before Beersheba. There was also an agenda for a meeting at Allenby’s headquarters, with a telegram announcing a reconnaissance patrol in the Beersheba vicinity, and a map, with arrows pointing to Gaza. Of utmost importance was a copy of a detailed General Headquarters operations order clearly indicating that the British main attack would again be made against Gaza, simultaneous with an amphibious landing on the coast north of the town. Noted as a secondary operation, more on the scale of a feint, was an assault by mounted troops on Beersheba. Rough notes about a wireless cipher were also included.”

[4] Van Doren, Carl (1941, 1973). Secret History of The American Revolution: an account of the conspiracies of Benedict Arnold and numerous others, drawn from the Secret Service papers of the British headquarters in North America, now for the first time examined and made public. Clifton, NJ: A. M. Kelley

[5] Ford, Corey (1965). A Peculiar Service. Boston: Little, Brown

[6] Blackstock, Paul W. (1978) and Frank L. Schaf, Jr. Intelligence, Espionage, Counterespionage, And Covert Operations: A Guide to Information Sources. Detroit: Gale Research Co., p. 162


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2 Responses to General Washington’s Spies on Long Island And in New York

  1. Pingback: Benjamin Tallmadge | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

  2. Pingback: Espionage and Counterespionage, Chapter 14 | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

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