Alex Rose and the Culper Spy Ring

There's something about spies that captures the imagination of all people - young and old. I'm not sure what it is, but it is there. Waiting to be discovered. Waiting to come to life.

Alex Rose does just that in his book, Washington's Spies.

Everyone knows the big names of the American Revolution...George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Benedict Arnold etc.. But what about the more obscure names? The names of the spies who risked everything and lived without public recognition and fame. The names of those whose task it was to oversee, protect, and instruct those spies. These are the names and lives that Alex Rose masterfully brings to light.

I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about each of these individuals and just how important they were to the American cause. Their work radically changed the war.

It was the Culper Spy Ring who uncovered some of the most crucial information that helped Washington foil the British plans.

Had it not been for Washington's spies, America would most definitely have lost the war.


Just a few things they were responsible for uncovering before disaster hit:

* Benedict Arnold was a traitor who was planning on turning over West Point and George Washington to the British.

* The British were planning on counterfeiting colonist currency and flooding the economy with fake bills- further devastating the financially struggling colonies.

* The British were planning to ambush the newly arrived French troops who ultimately helped bring America victory.


Alex Rose not only tells the story of just how vital the Culper Ring was, he goes into detail about each member. This book goes beyond just giving a name and job:

Benjamin Tallmadge -

  • George Washington's Director of Military Intelligence. Head of Culper Spy Ring.

Abraham Woodhull -

  • Leading Member of Culper Spy Ring.

Caleb Brewster -

  • Spy/Courier Between the Ring and Tallmadge

Robert Townsend -

  • Primary Spy in New York City

Austin Roe -

  • Spy/Courier Between the Ring

Anna Strong -

  • Spy/Relay Signals to Courier For Meetings

The book shows that a majority of these were childhood friends who grew up with each other. They knew each other intimately and this was reflected in the way that the ring was run. Rose explains that before this ring, spies typically would go to a location, stay for a short time (like a couple days), and return with their information. It was a long process that often gave incomplete or late intelligence. Washington desired to have a permanent spy network set up behind enemy lines in order to speed up the process and provide better intelligence. Benjamin Tallmadge was in charge making that happen. A permanent spy network would require cover stories and lives that didn't stand out.

The genius of the Culper Spy Ring was that Tallmadge recruited his friends.

They did not need to invent fake lives or cover stories. He simply used what they were already doing. Abraham Woodhull was a farmer who would travel to sell his produce. Caleb Brewster ran military and smuggling operations back and forth across the sound. Robert Townsend was a Quaker merchant who worked in the city. Austin Roe would travel to the city to buy supplies for his business. Anna Strong was just hanging up laundry and would send signals with how she hung it up. Ultimately, this permanent network was successful because Tallmadge wasn't just using random strangers and giving them a cover story. The cover story was their lives. He was using his friends and in doing so, he had an intimate motivation to make sure they stayed safe. He was able to instruct, coddle, and manage them exactly the way each of them needed.

Rose gave insight into each individual - what their flaws, concerns, personalities, and motivations seemed to have been. In essence, he didn't leave the people as simply two dimensional characters who are unrelatable. He made them seem more real, because he brought up their humanness. By doing this, he allowed the reader to move past the feeling of reading just facts to reading a story that was interlaced with historical references and explanations.

In short, it is easy to see how this book was the basis for a television series. Alex Rose brings these spies to life. His research is intriguing and very thorough. If you want to learn more about the spy ring that helped win America's independence and the methods that they used, this is a must read.

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