Thomas B. Allen, George Washington, Spymaster (Washington D. C: National Geographic, 2004) In Thomas B. Allen’s George Washington, Spymaster, George Washington quickly realized that he had to lead the American people to victory against King George even if it meant playing dirty. Having intelligence over the enemy was essential during the time of the revolutionary war, so both the Americans and the British were trying to get each other’s plans. George Washington started recruiting agents to work for him and then recruiting others who would set up spy rings in different areas as they were needed.
He and those who worked for him had to become sneaky, secretive, and they had to develop new ways of getting the information that they needed. Thomas B. Allen told the stories of how agents working for the Americans and the British, affected the outcome of the Revolutionary War. He began the book before the war even started. Washington learned the value of spy craft when he was in the French and Indian Wars. Ironically, he was fighting for the British at the time, but that’s where he made his reputation that led to his being chosen to lead the Revolutionary forces.
During the years leading up to the war, both sides of the war were focused on discovering the other side’s plans. As the war started, Washington faced an army that was much more powerful than his own. The British had better supplies and a better trained army altogether, but Washington had land and time in his favor. He fought battles only when needed or when the odds were in his favor. Information became that much more important in a fight like this.
There were many devices that George Washington used to defeat the British, many of which are still in use today; invisible ink, codes and ciphers, drop boxes, double agents, and much more. It was very risky to use these different devices. It was always a race to keep ahead of the enemy and there was always pressure knowing that so many people relied on you to get the needed information which could save lives or even win battles. In this book, Allen recounts many stories of the men and women who risked their lives to aid the American war effort; many of which died while trying.
For example, one agent’s wife, Anna Smith Strong, used her back yard clothesline as a signal. If she hung a black petticoat on her clothesline, then that meant that another member of the spy ring had arrived; the number of white handkerchiefs that she also hung on the clothesline corresponded to which of six coves the spy was hiding in awaiting a meeting. (Allen, 56) Another story involved a double agent who managed to convince the Hessians camped across the Delaware River that the Americans who were just on the other side of the river were tired farmers who wouldn’t fight even among themselves.
This information led to Washington’s victories at Trenton and Princeton and restored faith in the American cause. Also, another time, Washington managed to plant information in the British camp, suggesting that a large American force was going to attack soon, but the Americans were really miles away and had very few men. The deception worked exactly as he had planned it to; the British commander panicked and moved his troops away from what would have been a British victory.
This book is written in an entertaining style; it urges the reader to keep on turning pages, until the entire book is finished. It’s a small book, in size, but it is packed full with information and stories. This is not the usual story of the American Revolutionary War, full of battles and heroic events like you would see in a normal HOA class reading. These are acts of the heroism of spies who helped George Washington and the other patriots beat the British. This book tells the story of dozens of spies, some successful and some disastrous, performed by both sides in the Revolutionary War.
The focus is on the American side, of course, which makes it a bit biased against the British. Allen is telling the reader about the triumphant victory of the American colonies, not telling the tragic story of the British loss. Even though the book is mainly about American spies, there is some information on the British trickery as well. For example, Allen spends some time telling the story of benedict Arnold and how he betrayed Washington. (Allen, 126) The British also had a lot of the same devices that we had, like codes and spies.
There is a large cast of characters in this book, which can be confusing if you have not previously learned about them in a history class. Even though there is this confusion, Allen clearly identifies each person and why they are important throughout the book. To resolve any other confusion, he added a war time line of all the events that took place throughout the book. Some of the things included in this timeline were the Boston Tea Party, the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and the final battle at Yorktown. Allen, 151) He also added a section called Sky Talk. This section explains how to decipher and use the secret code George Washington used during the Revolutionary war. (Allen, 157) The usage of illustration was also done well. The illustrations give the reader a clear image of what a certain event looked like as it was happening. You can almost imagine yourself living through these events as you read. Finally, the last section goes through each chapter and gives additional information about the people and events in this book. (Allen, 167)
Using old letters, documents and spy codes that survived the war, author of George Washington, Spymaster Thomas B. Allen follows Washington’s life as a spymaster, beginning with the French and Indian War and ending with the victory of the American Revolution. Allen patiently traces the work of spies and the role played by spying and deception in significant Revolutionary War battles. Because of George Washington and all of the brave citizens that helped, America was able to defeat the British in the American Revolutionary War.