Missing Links to the Culper Spy Ring? Recent Publications


A book review by Brian Curry about the book ”Missing Links to the Culper Spy Ring? authored by Bernadine Fawcett appeared in the December 3rd, 2009 issue (page 12) of the L. I. Advance paper.

Download the newspaper copy of this article here.

Though her book was published in 2005, Patchogue author and practicing relationship counselor Bernadine Fawcett’s historical Missing Links to the Culper Spy Ring? has kept Revolutionary War buffs buzzing straight up to today with her convincing argument of a spy ring that kept information flowing to General Washington and the rebels.

The added fact that the author herself is related to Vice President Aaron Burr and his various kin and inherited the very letters from the late 1700s that convincingly make the case that Burr and his relatives formed an information highway with everything from troop movements to battles being waged gives these facts a personal connection.

A great majority of the book is the correspondence from two relatives of Burr’s, Reverend Andrew Eliot and his father, of the same name. Mixed in between their seemingly benign letters that include everything from how good the harvest went to how children kept themselves occupied in the period from 1774 to 1777 are reports of troop desertions and English ships sailing up Long Island Sound.

Though the younger of the Rev. Eliots was in Connecticut and his father in Boston, there are also numerous mentions of movements or battles in Huntington, Setauket and Southold, showing that the north shore of Long Island played a part in the war to make us free.

What impresses the reader is the thorough and painstakingly cross-referenced research that Fawcett has put into these handed down family heirlooms. Though she has reproduced the body of each letter in easy to read font and highlighted or underlined the spy-related passages, she also includes as a matter of authenticity and proof the original letters, written in the handwriting and spelling of the time.

To further establish the timelines of both the letter writers and the revolutionary war news contained within their correspondence, she has exhaustively conducted further research with outside historical groups such as the Fairfield Historical Society. Fawcett makes liberal use of footnotes, using them to further flesh out and explain people, events or things alluded to within the letters.

While the evidence of the information passed back and forth convinced me that these two men of the cloth were indeed passing info that would easily be of help to the colonies and have them arrested as traitors if they fell into the wrong hands, what is almost as fascinating is the tidbits of life in that day.

In everything from alluding to bouts of dysentery and smallpox in their town, to the passing on of their feelings about leaders of their day, the letters bring history alive in a very human way. It’s one thing to think of General Washington as the “Father of our Country” here in 2009, but you start to look at him in another way when you hear him described and praised by men who knew him and are judging him from his actions as they happen.

Whether it is the Eliots, the Burr family, Washington or John Hancock, you realize that these letters are not an early form of name-dropping, but are instead the actual thoughts and doings of at least some of our founding fathers who knew and broke bread with our letter writers.

This book is a not a novel so don’t expect battle scenes or a romantic subplot, but it is a fascinating look at everyday life in the midst of a war where information took days and sometimes weeks to reach the person who needed it.

You can purchase the Missing Links to the Culper Spy Ring? at either www.Amazon.com or www.Buybooksontheweb.com. You can also check out a short video on the book at www.Youtube.com. Type in “Culper Spy Ring” in the Youtube search.


"A Journal’s Discovery into the Past" by Bernadine Fawcett appeared in the January/February 2010 issue of Patriots of the American Revolution Magazine.
Timothy M. Jacobs, Editor
Patriots of the American Revolution
12995 S. Cleveland Ave.
Suite 141 #1776
Fort Myers FL 33907
jacobs1776@yahoo.com

(239) 464-9730
www.patriotsar.com

Download the cover here.
Download Part 1 here.
Download Part 2 here.


"SPYING ON THE SPIES: ATTIC FINDS OF THE REVOLUTIONARY WAR" by Bernadine Fawcett appeared in KOKI.Volt.11,No.01, Jan-Feb-Mar 2010 issue.
J Kaval Editor
Publisher Post Box 9705
Vidayaranyapura Post
Bangalore, Karnataka, India
kathalok@vsnl.net.

Download the front cover of the journal here.

SPYING ON THE SPIES: ATTIC FINDS OF THE REVOLUTIONARY WAR
History is not events, but a brief synopsis of the events leading up to the personal Revolutionary War never before published letters puts the entire spying aspect into prospective:
In 1763, Revolutionary War rumblings warned of future eruption when King George proclaimed that the Native Indian’s habitat should not be invaded by the colonists. We were an unruly lot and refused to obey. Sparks flew in all directions with King George’s attempts to suppress the rising rebellion with increased troops, and with dozens of Proclamations. His extinguishing tactics only served to ignite every segment of colonial life. The 1764 Currency Act seared and united the North and South by threatening to destabilize colonial economy. The citizens congealed when the 1765 Quartering Act decreed that they must provide shelter and food for the British garrisons in their area. Lawyers, land owners, ship builders and merchants were directly burned by the 1765 Stamp Act that taxed the printed materials which created the fabric of business life. The 1770 Boston Massacre killing five people and wounding six incensed a grass roots uprising of farmers who unified as a voluntary militia. The molten lava anger was solidifying In 1773 as Samuel Adams insisted that the British troops be withdrawn from Boston and then announced that the presiding governor demanded tea tax payment. (I can just hear the colonists, "First the King tells us where we can't live, then he tells us who we are going to live with and feed to boot! And now we are supposed to pay a tax for all these indignities!") Reverberations of the rock solid British institutions shattered within all thirteen colonies as a defence war secret service system and execution decrees against those supporting the Crown were developed and put into operation; from 1774 to 1777 by President John Hancock who presided initially over the Provincial Congress and then the Continental Congress. The internal combustion burst apart families and friends on opposing sides-as the militia united into a smouldering ignition- the war was proclaimed by the 1776 Declaration of Independence.

However history is not events. History is the people who make events. The inherited 1777-1778 letters (see scanned examples from a log of preserved missives) of Reverend Andrew Eliot of Fairfield, Connecticut to his father of the same name who lived in the hotbed of Boston, illustrate the determination to circulate spy information through high sources. John Hancock visited with the Reverend Andrew Eliot and Thaddeus Burr in Fairfield Connecticut and then personally delivered the collected evidence to Eliot’s father at the Massachusetts residence.

President John Hancock relied on the organized news which informed the colonial government through patriots such as those comprised in Fairfield Connecticut Town and County committees led by Thaddeus Burr, High Sheriff, Deputy, and member of the Governor’s Council, and the town committee. Thaddeus Burr (first cousin of Aaron Burr) was another prominent church figure who supported Reverend Andrew Eliot’s ordination (a known patriot clearly appointed for these sympathies) at the 1st Congregational church. Thaddeus Burr associated with prominent scholars, statesmen and clergymen such as: Copley, George Washington, Lafayette, Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock, Trumbull and family members of both the Quincy and Adams families. Therefore, the secret intelligence gathering fell into place without suspicion. Other personages where repeatedly referred to in Reverend Andrew Eliot’s letters to his father such as: Jonathan Sturges (secretary for the Sons of Liberty in Connecticut who was a member of Congress, a judge of the Superior Court and an influential member of various town committees), Andrew Rowland, Job Bartram, and Thaddeus Burr (represented the town at the County Congress) and therefore, all of the before mentioned met to discuss and enforce the issues of independence.

John Hancock was also the friend of the Eliot's - both father and son, and Thaddeus Burr. Hancock married his wife, Dorothy Quincy at Thaddeus Burr’s mansion at an all night gala affair. Thaddeus Burr invited Hancock's Aunt and adoptive mother to live with the Burr’s until her death and is buried in the cemetery with the Burr’s not the Hancock's.

Thaddeus Burr and Reverend Eliot’s wife had common Burr ancestry as they were both direct descendants of Alfred the Great.

Thaddeus Burr, a patriot conspirator holding the position of Fairfield Connecticut County Sheriff, shared secret briefs with Reverend Andrew Eliot. Below is just one of many letters from the 1777 to 1778 inherited journal of Reverend Andrew Eliot published in Bernadine Fawcett's book THE MISSING LINKS TO THE CULPER SPY RING? which identifies the manner in which useful war information is obtained.

“Fairfield March 14th 1777 The British ships are almost every day in sight. They seem determined to prevent any more excursions to Long Island & not only so but harrass our coast as much as possible....

Last evening I received a pacquet (Reverend's spelling of packet) by Mr. J. Hancock1 containing a number of important letters from Nancy & a very long one from you. Mr. Bartram was by and advised me to measure the paper & send one as large and comprehensive...

The flag was stop’t {Reverend's spelling both times} by the Schooner Neptune commanded by Capt. Muler-Dimon spent part of the night with them. (Thaddeus Burr). The Capt. was very reserved when he first came on board, but soon bragged of the great numbers they should have in the Summer, that they should conquer-in another year. Long Island was so well guarded-that it was impossible for any one to go ashore there with such like talk. Afterwards being quite mellow with wine he contradicted almost every thing he had said. Damming the Tories-as poor miserable Soldiers who were not able to stand a night on guard. That they would forsake their posts on the Island and there was no dependence upon them. By his subsequent accounts it appeared that the Island had not many Soldiers-that the Tory inhabitants are so afraid of us-as we are of the Ships...I have long sought for an opportunity to convey Capt. Winslow’s bundle to Boston or to New Haven-but in vain people on horseback do not choose to carry it, and I have seen no cart to put it in with any prospect of safety. I have now come to Grandma’s corner of information respecting the little Girls. They are well mimicry {Log’s spelling} all sorts of the various actions of a Mother. Betsey will climb into any chair or on any table in the house-and sing Jack Horner to admiration. She is a most amiable child-sensible & sprightly and does honor to the name of Elizabeth. Polly and Peggy send duty and love and I am Your dutiful son.
Andrew Eliot”

Folksy letters such as these were encouraged by General Geo. Washington so that the size of troop movements and supplies would appear to be gossip.

The succeeding quotes are excerpts from Reverend Andrew Elliot's missives:

“March 21 1777
A Deserter has arrived who informs that their intention was to have landed the night before the Alarm. About 500 men who were to have come up to town-released the prisoners & have taken off some inhabitants with as much plunder as they could have gotten. They were chiefly Tories and were commanded by a British Lieutenant Colonel.”

“June 7 1777 Last evening I received a pacquet (Sic) by Mr. J. Hancock containing a number of important letters from Nancy & a very long one from you. Mr. Bartram was by and advised me to measure the paper & send one as large and comprehensive.”

That June 7th 1777 quote creates several questions:
1. Why should Mr. Bartram advise Reverend Eliot to return a letter as large and comprehensive as that which he received if the letter was truly a family correspondence?
2. Note that the communications came from the highest source in the name of J. Hancock.
3. Nancy was the code name for Anna Strong in the not yet formed Culper Spy Ring of 1778. This quote above causes me to question if the exchange of secret missives and code names predated the Culper Spy Ring’s formation. Certainly Major Benjamin Tallmadge (appointed by General George Washington in order to combine all intelligence efforts into a cohesive functioning whole) does not attempt to take credit in his memoirs for secret confidential knowledge prior to his organization. His major coup was expeditiously co-ordinating and moving spy secrets to Washington in time for creating winning attack strategies.
Moreover, Reverend Andrew Eliot is privy to explicit information outside of his own vicinity and relays it by horse 80 miles over dirt roads to his Boston based father once and sometimes twice a week. In one letter he declares that he cannot attend to his favorite daughter Betsey’s crying for him because his letter is of too much importance to stop. What could be more important than an infant? Communications for the war effort is the most obvious answer that comes to mind. The following quote identifies that the intelligence indeed is delivered from Long Island before the It is also evident that there were co-ordinated secret service communications between Thaddeus Burr, and Reverend Andrew Eliot both living within a short distance from Reverend Andrew Eliot's church in Fairfield Connecticut.
“Feb. 24, 1778 “I am gratified with your account... and every other matter you write to me... with the greatest security. I do not divulge what you mark as private (excerpt that in one or two instances I have mentioned to Messieurs Burr and Sturges what I supposed that you would have mentioned to them yourself...” {The next comment is even more telling of the spy activities between the two Reverends’, father and son.} “...and have never given a copy of a single paragraph of any of your letters.” {This is not the first nor the last comment on security, confidentiality, secrecy and where the information is obtained and who it is safe to share it. Again the round of knowledge is gleaned from the topmost sources; he speaks of a Captain Winslow and of General Hancock who will share the same intelligence with his father in Boston as he had already done with his son.}”...to possess this much information and not share it for the good of america would be blasphemes.” { The British knew the reports were arriving my Fairfield, but they did not have a clue that it was the Reverend. They did not even burn his half-built home where he resided with his sister.}

“August 22 1777
The Sound is now pretty clear of ships. Intelligence has been had from the Island every night since General Parsons has been here. Probably the Islanders may have known of the matter before the arrival of our men.”

“Nov. 13 1777
President Hancock was here yesterday & set away this morning. I dined with him and spent the evening with him at Mr. Burrs. Mr. Burr has received a letter from General Parsons who is at Memaroneck informing him that he has received several Hessian deserters. They say that many more are coming.”

“July 31st 1778
I did not send you any news in my last as Gen. Hancock was the bearer, and you could have every thing by him at first hand must therefore depend on you for the best information. You shall have all I can procure from the Westward....”

In 1778 Geo. Washington decided that the secret pockets of facts arrived too late to effectively create a counter plan of attack. Therefore, he appointed twenty four year old Major Benjamin Tallmadge whose Brookhaven Long Island NewYork parents were British Loyalists (It was a civil war as well) to refine the secret service and the Culper Spy Ring was born utilizing existing patriot units.

All the participants of the spy ring were to add the gathering and transferring of information to their regular routine of business movements so that nothing would appear unusual that would attract attention to themselves. Therefore, the 24 year old, Robert Townsend, a New York City dry goods store owner (whose code name was Samuel Culper, Jr.) continued to sell supplies, but added undercover missives when his customer Austin Roe who owned a tavern in Setauket came by for his order. Austin Roe would exchange his own information and deliver the Townsend secret missives to a prearranged drop box in the middle of his cattle field. Twenty seven year old, Woodhull, code name Culper Sr. would make the pick up and then check across the small bay in the strong Neck area to see if Anna Strong (code name Nancy) had a black petticoat hanging and what number of handkerchiefs were on her laundry line. The black petticoat would identify that Caleb Brewster the whaler boatsman had arrived. The amount of handkerchiefs would identify which cove he would be in to receive the information that would be transferred to Fairfield Connecticut (The residence of both Thaddeus Burr and Reverend Andrew Eliot.)

Tallmadge's memoirs place him only occasionally at Fairfield so that he had to have had an organization that could operate without his personal direction, but with his supervision run smoothly. Tallmadge's master strategy was his ability to co-ordinate disjointed pockets of ordinary citizens (such as the conclave at Fairfield Connecticut with Thaddeus Burr and Reverend Eliot) acting as informants from the New England states all the way down to the Carolinas and swiftly dispatch it to General George Washington.

In 1779 The British discovered the secret conclave in Fairfield Connecticut which transferred data to George Washington. In retaliation they burned the town down. Thaddeus Burr’s mansion was rebuilt immediately after and still stands today. (Visit the Fairfield Connecticut museum, tour the area, the cemetery, the tavern at which Washington ate, and the Burr's mansion which is used as a catering hall today.)

After the war, England's chief of Intelligence declared about George Washington's victory, "He simply out spied us." Tallmadge won with his Culper Spy Ring performance. He was a man equal to administering salve to the scorching times.

The weekly and sometimes biweekly missives, in the book Missing Links to the Culper Spy Ring? from Reverend Andrew Eliot to his father give us the daily struggles; with fears of attack, disease, sky rocketing prices, and cannonading nearby. An abundant amount of war details overshadowed the occasional grandma’s corner where the young father tells of his year old daughter Betsey holding the song book upside down and singing so loudly that the parishioners where smirking.

After the war, very few of the spies identified themselves because spying was thought to have been an ungentlemenly task either by nobility or reverends, therefore, these attic findings represent a break through in the workings of the comprehensive communication system of the Revolutionary War.”


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