Washingtons Spies: The Story of Americas First Spy Ring By Alexander Rose

Like the rest of the Ring, Tallmadge cast off the cloak of the secret world for the raiment of a brave new one, but just once, he felt compelled to break his self imposed silence in order to honor the memory of the sacrifices made by his friends. In 1817....Tallmadge was one of the few surviving members (in congress) who had fought in the war....Like Tallmadge, Major John Andre (British officer) had worked out of nothing but a sense of duty to his country...and so too, had the Culper Ring, whose brave participants had had the decency, modesty, and honor not to keep demanding pensions, medals and recognition for their services....in short, Tallmadge fought to protect his old friends, Woodhull, Townsend, Brewster, Hawkins , Roe, and their assistants. He could not abide to see villains profiting while good and faithful men languished unheeded, untrumpeted, and unknown.

This book has been made into a tv series on AMC called TURN: WASHINGTONS SPIES which is why I had bought the book a few years back and decided to pick it up this year back in January. I already LOVED the series and the acting (Jamie Bell caught my eye and I love anything he does haha and despite the drama) but I also ended up loving this book more than I thought and found it to be WELL WRITTEN! Even though I don't read a ton of these non fictions and get one in a year if I wanted or if I'm lucky. But whether this is your genre or not, at least read it because I seriously learned more of what truly happened behind Washington's army of intelligence and those behind it all even the Benedict Arnold exposure. The show is on Netflix however, someone who doesn't own a ton of shows on DVD, unless I KNOW for a surety I'll watch them again, I'll get it and that's how I felt with this show Turn. The fourth and final season (10 episodes each) is ending next spring :'( which is sad considering the amount of information in this book and could go into the show. It's like one big gigantic soap opera and Alexander Rose did an AMAZING job at writing this and actually made it fun in a way and kept you wanting to know more. One thing I hated if I'm being honest here is one particular key player on the British side was their man who too was on the same job as Major (got promoted to that rank at some point early on) Benjamin Tallmadge as army intelligence. The show made him HUGE and his name was Major John Andre played by JJ Feild (who was in austenland) and yet Rose didn't talk of Andre a whole lot which kinda bugged me considering how he's written into the show perfectly and you kinda feel for him. But I DID however love his capture and death scene in this last season, despite the drama parts, was actually in a way PERFECTION up until the end. I was fangirling a bit considering I'd read that part waaaaay before I even saw it in the show. I would skim here and there during the second season last year and January decided to pick it up and now I'm DONE! Now I'm sad but also a tad excited to see how this show will end next spring. But yeah, if you're really not into these kinds of books at least make an exception to read this one since you're not going to find this story anywhere else (I've looked and it's rare!) or in textbooks. This story I'm glad got told and these men and women involved now have this recognition for the risks they put into their hands and to their families, the sacrifice, courage, integrity and heart into this Spy Ring. It was truly successful and had a huge part in winning the war and our freedom.

Reading this had made me feel even more appreciation for this country and know that no MATTER what happens, it's not the governments, or the presidents, or congresses country, no. This is Gods gift to us and His country. I'm truly grateful for the sacrifice and love for those who fought and gave their lives in this war, all the miracles that occurred to help this spy ring and those behind the scenes as well. They too were risking their lives and seriously had too many close calls but miraculously escaped.

In the words of Benjamin Tallmadge at the beginning of the war to his friend Nathan Hale, I consider our country a land flowing as it were with milk and honey, holding open her arms, and demanding assistance from all who insist her in her sore distress...we all should be ready to step forth in the common cause....Our holy religion, the honor of God, a glorious country, and a happy constitution is what we have to defend.

So overall, this book now is one of my new favorites and actually wish I knew more of these men and women who were a part of this operation. DEFINITELY a high recommendation that's for sure! And same with the tv series. Even if you don't end up reading this, at least watch the first two seasons of Turn on Netflix. It'll be worth it I can promise you that and sooooo much fun! Oh and the guy who played Benjamin Tallmadge, Seth Numrich....... Holy MOTHER SNICKERDOODLE he is WOW!! ;) haha Alexander Rose Dry, dreary, and tedious.

Just a report of facts, names, and dates, all jumbled together. Not enough of a narrative to be entertaining for me. I rushed through the entire thing just to be done with it. Skip the book and just go watch the show instead. Alexander Rose The key thing I discovered reading this book was that General George Washington was a natural spy master. This book is about the Culper Spy Ring. The spy ring operated during the American War of Independence and provided Washington with information on British Troop movements.

In 1778, General George Washington appointed Major Benjamin Tallmadge as director of Military Intelligence, charged with creating a spy ring in New York City. The ring operated for five years and no member was ever unmasked. The ring developed a sophisticated method of conveying information to Washington.

Obtaining information about spies is normally a difficult task as they usually keep information about themselves secret. Alexander Rose tells he found all the letters from the spy member to and from General Washington in the Library of Congress. He used these letters as the bases for his story. The book is well written in fact it reads more like a novel than a history book. The author was able to develop a detailed profile on each of the spy ring members. There are Austin Roe, Caleb Brewster, Abraham Woodhall and Anna Strong.

I understand that the book is being adapted to television. If you are interested in the American Revolution or in just a good spy story this book is for you. I read this as an audiobook downloaded from Audible. Kevin Pariseau narrated the book.
Alexander Rose A fascinating history lesson (of sorts) that reads (for the most part) like a compelling thriller, it's a research-rich telling of the creation and actions of early America's original network of clandestine eyes and ears. Highly diggable, yo.

3 1/2 Illuminating Stars Alexander Rose This was a fascinating book especially after watching the tv show(on VidAngel)😇 based on this book. It was easier to keep up with all the characters because I had a face to put with the names. It was neat reading all the storylines that were in the show finding out the people and plots that actually happened! Highly recommend for any history lover! Alexander Rose


Free download Washingtons Spies: The Story of Americas First Spy Ring

Now a TV series on AMC
Basing his tale on remarkable original research, historian Alexander Rose reveals the unforgettable story of the spy ring that helped America win the Revolutionary War. For the first time, Rose takes us beyond the battlefront and into the shadowy underworld of double agents and triple crosses, covert operations and code breaking, and unmasks the courageous, flawed individuals who inhabited this wilderness of mirrors—including the spymaster at the heart of it all, George Washington.
Previously published as Washington’s Spies
Washingtons Spies: The Story of Americas First Spy Ring

I picked this up because I am in love with Turn: Washington's Spies, the AMC show that you may have guessed is based on this book, and for which author Alexander Rose is also a credited writer.

Given the scant amount of information available about the Culper Ring, I knew the show had to be heavily fictionalized. I did not set out to read Washington's Spies expecting to learn about personal relationships between characters such as you might see in a multi-season TV show. What I did hope for was a narrative, of the Ring's espionage efforts and also the workings of the British secret service (particularly, the recruitment of Benedict Arnold) led by universally beloved stud, Maj. John Andre. I also hoped to see some of the evolution of Gen. Washington's leadership and decision-making.

Alexander Rose can be a great writer of historical narrative: he's witty and deft on the subject of the aforementioned Arnold and Andre collusion, for one, which resulted in Andre's capture and execution and a failed kidnapping attempt of Arnold. I was pleased to see that the humane final impression of Washington's intelligence officer, Benjamin Tallmadge, re: Andre was faithfully portrayed in the show (which, in its fictionalized but compelling relationships, is in large part about how the American Revolution was a civil war between neighbors who happened to have opposing loyalties to US Independence and to Britain, but who were for the most part decent people capable of acting honorably toward one another, even if they had to follow orders).

I also, personally, enjoyed learning more about Robert Rogers -- who wasn't (just???) a campy mercenary with a Scottish accent, but was also the man responsible for the capture of America's most famous spy, Nathan Hale -- and Robert Townsend, the reluctant junior member of the Culper Ring who provided Washington with some of his most valuable information from New York. I was pleased at the aside that Maj. Richard Hewlett, the historical basis of my (fictional) favorite character of the show, also seemed to revere horses. The single fact in this book that gave me the most glee was learning that Capt. John Graves Simcoe really DID write a terrible love poem about a Patriot woman,
though we can assume it probably wasn't mocked publicly.

In terms of criticism, I found the focus to be very scattered, with irrelevant histories about minor characters taking up too much of the page and distracting from the narrative action at key moments. I understand that histories of lesser-documented subjects tend to have some padding, but the information given often did not feel necessary.

I also was less interested in the minute cryptographic details that made up a large portion of the chapters on the Culper Ring, and in the philosophies of various religions towards the American Revolution. Other readers may find more of interest in those subjects. This is ultimately why I can't love the book as much as I'd like, even though I enjoyed sections of it very much. Alexander Rose I was inspired to read this after enjoying the TV show Turn, and I think I would've found the book frustratingly discursive and disorganized if I hadn't seen the show and been able to use the main characters as a sort of anchor. I loved hearing the real life stories behind the characters - and small wonder it got turned into a show, because it's pretty screen-worthy stuff. I also, of course, appreciated all the Yale references - Benjamin Tallmadge and Nathan Hale met there as students - and it sounds like the left-leaning, rebellious spirit that I knew it for goes way back.

It's a really fascinating look at the earliest days of American intelligence, with Sackett as the first sort of American spymaster, inventing and pioneering tradecraft. The Culper ring out-performed their more experienced British opponents, who stuck to the more gentlemanly tradition of tactical military intelligence obtained by scouts; spies were regarded with distaste. But the vastness of the American territory and guerrilla nature of the conflict necessitated better intelligence and spies (it wasn't like Europe where units stuck to predictable lines of communication and movement was easily predictable based on the location of supply depots.) The British approach changed with Benedict Arnold (run by Tallmadge's British counterpart, the dilettante John Andre) as they realized the value. Washington truly understood how to play the game and was a sophisticated consumer of intelligence reporting, seeking corroboration and displaying patience with what was always a tedious jigsaw puzzle, where each piece could be interpreted differently. Tallmadge managed the ring personally, because he'd grown up with members Woodhull and Brewster), and knew how best to deal with them; the British system suffered by being more impersonal, although it was more durable, since Tallmadge was indispensable.

Lots of interesting tidbits abound about the dynamics in colonial American that turned people toward Patriotism (or against it), like the role of Thomas Paine's Common Sense in getting people to turn Patriot, or the corruption and abuse by the British troops stationed on Long Island alienating the local Loyalist population and having the same effect. The glimpse of the Whaleboat War (starring the pugnacious and adventurous Caleb Brewster) is also interesting.

It was also really satisfying to hear how life turned out for the members of the Culper ring, since I've grown emotionally attached to them. Woodhull became a county judge, and two of his offspring married Brewster children. Brewster himself, ironically, joined the predecessor of the U.S. Coast Guard. Tallmadge became a wealthy humanitarian and also member of Congress. Alexander Rose Easily one of my favorite books I've ever read. It's engrossing, exceptionally well researched, - as well as written - and plunges you so deep into the world of those who worked in the Culper Ring that it feels very personal. Mind you, this is all coming from one who had little to no interest in the Revolutionary War before I came upon the book hiding on the lower shelf at the airport [every other book whose summary I read was a promise of disappointment]. Though I will admit I am a total history nerd. I honestly can't say enough good things about this book. I was swept away by the intimacy and so affected by the accounts of the personal lives - coupled with the scenes set by Rose of the entirety of the war - that reading his book is something that will always stand out in my mind. I can understand some reviews invoking the word 'dry,' I would call it vividly descriptive. I have passionately recommended this book to just about everyone I know. Read it, do yourself the favor. Alexander Rose I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country.
Nathan Hale

Statue of Nathan Hale at City Hall in Lower Manhattan.

Courage in the face of imminent demise. There is some speculation as to whether Hale actually said these words or some version of them. At this point it doesn’t really matter, they have become a part of the lexicon of our history. One thing that is not speculated about is that this young man of 21 went to his death displaying fearless gallantry. When the British hanged him for spying on September 22nd, 1776 they also unknowingly condemned a young man by the name of John Andre. George Washington seethed over the execution of Hale, and even though it was several years in the making, he did finally capture the perfect candidate to serve as an eye for an eye.

Nathan Hale was unsuited for spying. He was a Yale graduate, a rather attractive youth, a person that people would notice. One of Nathan’s classmates at Yale was Benjamin Tallmadge, the soon to be leader/handler of the Culper Spy Ring. One of his letters inspired the young Hale to join the rebel cause. Washington was trying to decide what to do about New York, abandon it, burn it, or try and hold it. He realized he needed more intelligence. He asked for a volunteer. Hale still caught up in the zeal of a fresh cause was the only man to step forward. Once in NY he was recognized in a tavern by Major Robert Rogers, one of those men who found the young Hale a bit too privileged. Rogers posed as a rebel sympathizer. Hale, inexperienced and feeling like a fish out of water and probably wanting to impress the crusty veteran, admitted the scope of his task.

Things wouldn’t turn out well for Rogers either, but that is another story.

Let’s flash forward to 1780.

Benedict Arnold an unfortunate traitor.

Benedict Arnold after years of battling his enemies in congress and being passed over numerous times for promotion is about to make a very bad decision. He is nearly bankrupt after using most of his personal fortune to pay his troops and furnish them with supplies. Congress is slow to reimburse him and sometimes even refuses to reimburse his expenditures. He is a legitimate war hero best known for his capture of Fort Ticonderoga. He was a commander that led from the front, a dashing man in the mold of George Armstrong Custer. Confidence and competence exuded from him like a musk. His men would have followed him into the pits of hell if necessary, but men like Arnold also collect enemies. Washington had no doubts about his ability, but he was also tired of the numerous letters of complaints he received from Arnold. He was constantly mediating issues between Arnold and Arnold’s enemies in congress. Washington had a war to win, and though Arnold was important to him, he had other pressing things to worry about.

Arnold was pissed off.

He was also married to Peggy Shippen, a woman from a deeply loyalist family. She was “good friends” with John Andre. (It was rumored that he was also her paramour, but that is on the QT.) Andre was close friends with Sir General Henry Clinton; in fact, being fluent in four languages he wrote a good part of the General’s correspondence. Andre was a handsome man and you would think an intelligent man, but his fiancee broke off their engagement because he lacked “the reasoning mind she required.” Hmmm maybe she was an astute young woman and could see that a life with a dashing, handsome husband might be a life of trouble and heartache.

Because of his connection to the Arnolds and his close association with the General, Andre soon finds himself in the awkward position of carrying dispatches between the two parties. He was the lynchpin facilitating the Arnold negotiations for defection.

Andre is caught with compromising dispatches.

John Andre

Washington finally has the man who will pay the price for Hale. Andre asks for a firing squad, but of course he must be hanged. The American officers who held him captive, which shows how charming the young man was, weeped at his execution. Symbolism negates reason.

Benedict Arnold has always been an interesting figure to me. I read Willard Sterne Randall’s book Benedict Arnold: Patriot and Traitor many years ago and the author certainly poked holes in my previous opinions about Arnold. I’d always thought of him as the ultimate turncoat. In fact on the school yard I can remember using his name to describe a teammate that suddenly switched sides in the rough and tumble football games that often left me bruised, battered, and elated.

He is most assuredly a traitor, but he is also a tragic figure. If he had stayed with the cause schools, roads, counties, and cities would have been named after him. He would have been among the paragon of great soldier patriots. He traded that, out of frustration, for $500,000 and a promise of a knighthood. The thing of it is no one likes a traitor, even the side that benefits from the defection. They can never trust that person and many of them actually despise that person. If his service to his country had been properly recognized. If congress hadn’t been actively trying to destroy his life even to the point of bringing fraudulent charges against him there is no doubt in my mind that he would have stayed a patriot. I might have found myself attending Benedict Arnold High School.

We can really only guess how many Americans were Loyalists or Tories, but the high estimate is about 500,000 or twenty percent of the white population. Only about 19,000 of those men actually picked up weapons to fight against the rebels, so people, with a few angry mob exceptions and an occasional burning of a loyalist home, lived side by side with opposite views of the war. As long as you didn’t actively help one side or the other your life could go on with only the normal stresses of living during a time of war. After the debacle of the Nathan Hale situation it became apparent that it was best to recruit people who actually lived where the intelligence needed to be gathered.

Poster for the show Turn on AMC.

This brings us to Abraham Woodhull. For those that have been watching the series on AMC called Turn this man is the basis for the main character. Major Benjamin Tallmadge is the leader and primary recruiter for the spy ring. He went by the name Samuel Culper. Woodhull signed his dispatches Samuel Culper Sr. and the New York connection Robert Townsend used the name Samuel Culper Jr. Not much imagination being used in the naming of the operatives. None of these men recruited by Talmadge asked for money other than what was needed to reimbursed their expenses.

So Robert Townsend was located in NY. He would pass information to a courier who would leave the dispatch on Woodhull’s property. Woodhull would then add his own observations to Townsend’s. Woodhull’s neighbor Anna Strong would arrange her laundry a certain way to signal that the whaler Caleb Brewster was in the vicinity. Woodhull would then pass the information to him for delivery to Tallmadge. Invaluable information was passed to Washington that certainly had an impact on the future of the war. Washington was always impatient for information arriving quicker, but Townsend and Woodhull were always well aware of the precarious nature of their situation and always errored on the side of caution.

They used invisible ink (gallic acid) that gave the dispatchers some level of security.

Abraham Woodhull to Benjamin Tallmadge.

Alexander Rose has done a wonderful job piecing together what is known about the Culper Ring, and certainly filled in some gaps for this reader. Sometimes the information is sketchy because these men and women after the war just went on with their lives. They didn’t write about their experiences or even talk about it. In some degree there is a feeling of shame associated with spying. The reason they didn’t take pay is because they saw it as a duty not as a way to make money. They were working for a better future for themselves and for their descendents. The life of a spy, no matter which conflict whether it be the Cold War, Civil War, or the Revolutionary War, is a lonely existence. The fears and agitations are theirs alone. To alleviate the stresses by talking to a friend only puts people they care about in danger. They are the unsung heroes, the men and women in the shadows, more worried about results than immortality.

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I also have a Facebook blogger page at:https://www.facebook.com/JeffreyKeeten Alexander Rose “…good and faithful men languished unheeded, untrumpeted, and unknown.”

I love history, so when I discovered the book “Washington’s Spies-The Story of America’s First Spy Ring” thru the AMC series “Turn” (the series was inspired by this nonfiction text) I was excited.
Although this is a good book, it is not a great one. There are quite a few reasons why I think thus. First, the writing can be dry at times. A section in the text on ciphers/ciphering letters is dull, and excessively detailed for my tastes. Sometimes an overview is enough. Occasionally the author, Alexander Rose, is caught up in the mundane. Too often, this text gives detailed family histories, explaining familial connections between key players in the book. That is well and good, if it has a point, but Mr. Rose just talks about them to no narrative purpose. The book also time hops back and forth, often arranged by subject matter, not chronologically- which is irritating and can be confusing if you do not already know some of the history.
However, the book has many positives as well. Mr. Rose has clearly done extensive research, as is demonstrated by the almost 100 pages of notes and sources. The last three chapters of the book (there are nine) are easily the text’s best and chapter 7, “On His Majesty’s Secret Service” is especially well done. It deals with the treachery of Benedict Arnold and the capture/execution of Major John André, a story filled with drama.
Overall, a nice read. A part of the American Revolution I did not know that much about. Alexander Rose