Spies in the American Revolution

The Continental Army didn't fight the war alone: they received information, supplies, and men from allies across the globe. France offered its navy, Spain fought in the southern colonies, and different Native American groups assisted battalions, hoping their alliances would help preserve land and resources in the future. Scroll to learn more about these alliances, and how they changed the outcome of the war. 

James Armistead Lafayette

James Armistead Lafayette

James Armistead Lafayette was an enslaved individual who spied for the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. He was a double agent, which meant the British thought Lafayette was spying for the British. Instead, he would take the British secret information and give it to the Continental side.

Learn more about Lafayette
Benjamin Tallmadge

Benjamin Tallmadge

Benjamin Tallmadge was a member of the Culper Spy Ring, a group that gathered intelligence for the Continental Army. He discovered a British plot to stop Continental and French troops from arriving in Rhode Island in 1780 and quickly told George Washington, who changed the plans.

Learn about Tallmadge

Spying in the American Revolution

1775
1783
The American Revolution breaks out
Information in Philadelphia
The Culper Spy Ring is created
Johh Jay creates Invisible Ink
A Spy Captured
Plans in Rhode Island Change
The War Ends

April 17, 1775

The American Revolution breaks out

The Revolutionary War began with the battles of Lexington and Concord. The British were expected to have a quick victory but lost more men and equipment than they had predicted.

Information in Philadelphia

Benjamin Tallmadge, a leader in the Continental Army, sent a woman to Philadelphia, which was taken over by the British. The woman sold eggs to British soldiers and listened for secrets, which she then repeated to Continental Army leaders.

The Culper Spy Ring is created

George Washington and Benjamin Tallmadge created the Culper Spy Ring in order to gather secret information about the British. Tallmadge was appointed Director of Military Intelligence in November of 1778.

Johh Jay creates Invisible Ink

George Washington asked John Jay to produce invisible ink. This helped hide important information in letters and papers. John Jay could only create a small amount of invisible ink at a time to avoid being caught by the British.

A Spy Captured

A letter between Washington and Tallmadge was captured by the British. It was not written in code or invisible ink and mentioned the name of George Higday, a spy in the Continental Army. Higday was immediately taken prisoner by the British. From then on, Washington insisted on using invisible ink or codes for important information.

Plans in Rhode Island Change

The Culper Spy Ring found out that a British fleet was going to sail for Rhode Island and stop French troops from arriving. Washington quickly created a plan of misinformation - he tricked the British into thinking that the Continentals were going to attack New York, which convinced the British to keep their ships far away from Rhode Island.

The War Ends

The Revolutionary War ended with the Treaty of Paris. Every member of the Culper Spy Ring kept their identity a secret throughout the war.

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