Thursday, June 20, 2002

spies of the founding fathers

The new international spy museum, opening sometime in July, just made a showcase addition to their list of exhibits by purchasing a letter written by George Washington. In the document, General Washington authorizes a man in New York to set up a network of spies in the region.

This is a departure from the tales we hear of our founding fathers during our studies in grade school. How common were espionage and intrique in those days? I came across another letter online which may have been the one to influence our first president to send the spy museum's newest acquisition.

Two letters don't make a spy ring, but there's reason to believe that there was much more going on behind the scenes then we've been made aware of in our history books. According to an article on the CIA web site called The Founding Fathers of American Intelligence, George Washington, John Jay, and Ben Franklin were quite good at intelligence. Washington's specialty was the gathering of foreign intelligence. John Jay excelled at American counter intelligence. Benjamin Franklin was the master of propaganda and covert actions.

The best of the spies was a man that we may never have known about. It's said that he was the inspiration for James Fenimore Cooper's novel The Spy, even though Cooper never learned the man's name, and based his words on stories relayed to him second hand by John Jay. In 1832, at the age of 82, Enoch Crosby dictated a 12 page deposition to a county clerk in New York while applying for a federal pension. Hidden within the clerk's dry diction and difficult punctuation is the compelling tale of Crosby's life as a spy.

Crosby had made the claim that he was Cooper's Spy, shortly after the novel was published. This article disagrees, and guesses at a couple of other sources for the novel. Regardless, I'm hoping that Washington DC's International Spy Museum will tell us more about some of these revolutionary spies when it opens next month.