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George Washington, Spymaster

George Washington, Spymaster takes you into the shadowy world of double agents and covert operations, of codes and ciphers, a world so secret that the spymaster himself doesn’t know the identities of some of his agents. Even today we do not know the names of these patriots, men and women who risked their necks to spy for their country.

The book reveals new finds: a previously unpublished account of the capture of Nathan Hale, who regretted he had only one life to give to his country; and the complete word code Washington (Agent 711) used to run the Culper Ring, one of the most successful spy networks in espionage history.

The New York Public Library selected the book as one of the 100 best children's books of 2004.


Front cover: George Washington's code name, Agent 711, is printed in the banner just above the eye in the artwork.

Back cover: Benjamin Tallmadge is the name of the spy who gave George Washington his code name. Tallmadge's name appears in code below the barcode.

Top edge of front case cover: Who is the mole?
Bottom edge of front case cover: The Culper Ring lives!

Page 5:
Did you know? By the age of 16 George Washington was a spelunker.

Page 14:
Did you know? George Washington had a dog named Sweet Lips.

Page 16:
The French and Indian War was also known as the Seven Years War.

Page 29:
Have you figured out who the mole is?

Page 40:
Today's Army Rangers, Special Forces, and Delta Force trace their origins to Knowlton's Rangers.

Page 46:
Did you know? George Washington loved cream of peanut soup.

Page 53:
The real name of "Culper Jr." was not discovered until 1930, when a man named Morton Pennypacker figured it out.

Page 67:
George Washington's teeth nearly gave him away!

Page 103:
Some thought Old Mom was a witch!

Page 123:
Benedict Arnold's code name was Monk.

Page 148:
Did you know? George Washington powdered his hair to make it look white.

Page 721:
Answer to why the page is numbered 721:
Agent Benjamin Tallmadge's code name was 721.

Answer to the book code message:
Good work, agent! You have cracked the code. You should be a spy! Now you can use this book code to make and exchange messages with your friends who also have this book, just as secret agents like George Washington did.


Washington Post Book World:

Slip the dust jacket off this handsome little book, and you will be holding what looks like a battered old tract from some dusty library. The typeface, too, had a Colonial-era look about it. All this is part of an effort to “take you back,” a Allen puts it, “to the days when George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and others were using printed leaflets to spread the word about the revolution they were leading against England”—and doing their best to tap its secrets. Espionage, it seems, with its codes and cipher, dead drops and moles, was alive and well back in 1775, when Gen. Washington realized he could never win the coming war by arms alone. A fascinating and original book by a local author.

Social Studies For Kids:

Once in a while, a book comes along that makes you the reader sit up and take notice, both for the engaging subject matter and for the way it is written. Throw in a healthy dose of "I never knew that," and you have the response to George Washington, Spymaster, the excellent new book by Thomas B. Allen.

The stories of Washington's ragtag army somehow defeating the vaunted British Army and Navy are commonplace and familiar. So are the stories of Nathan Hale and Benedict Arnold. But who knew that Washington himself was a spymaster, directing dozens of espionage elements up and down the Atlantic coast throughout the Revolutionary War?

First of all, the book is written in an entertaining style, one that urges the reader to keep on turning pages, until the entire book is finished. It's a small book, in size, and so the relatively few words on each page makes the reading even more engrossing. The illustrations, by fellow American history author Cheryl Harness, seem lifted out of another time, so period-accurate and compelling are they.

This wonderful little book tells the story of dozens of spy escapades—some successful and some disastrous—performed by both sides in the Revolutionary War. The focus is on the American side, of course. Washington is revealed to be Agent 711, so named in a coded scheme to prevent detection should a coded message be intercepted. Agent 711 it is who directs double agents, single agents, and even wives of agents. 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.

Another telling incident involved a double agent who managed to "escape" and convince the Hessians camped across the Delaware River in late December, 1776, 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 directly to Washington's daring victories at Trenton and Princeton and restored faith in the American cause.Yet another time, Washington managed to "plant" information in the British camp, suggesting that a large American force was going to attack soon, when, in reality, the Americans were miles away and had very few men. The deception worked to perfection, as the British commander panicked and moved his troops away from would have been a sure British victory.

Espionage is not often mentioned when talk turns to the Revolutionary War. As this book shows, however, it was a vital part of the goings-on, the ups and the downs, the successes and failures, and the ingenuity displayed by that singular first of American wars.

Starred Review from School Library Journal:

Codes and ciphers, invisible ink and secret messages, spies and counterspies! Covert operations win the Revolutionary War under mastermind Washington in this intriguing take on early American history. Allen presents the facts with a gleeful edge, clearly enjoying his subject and writing with vigor. The author relates the main events of the Revolution chronologically, consistently revealing the shadowy role of intelligence and counterintelligence. Members of the Culper Ring, the “mole” in the Sons of Liberty, and daring women worked as spies, fighting on the secret front where Patriots and Tories looked and sounded alike. Washington’s role as spymaster adds a fascinating and fresh perspective on the life of this revered founding father who did far more than cross the Delaware.

This small-format book looks like a publication from the 1700s. Set in an antique typeface, it is well illustrated with black-and-white reproductions of archival art and Harness’s charming pen-and-ink sketches. Messages written in the Talmadge code (1783) appear throughout, with a key in the appendix. Even the chapter titles are historically appropriate, such as “Franklin’s French Friends. IN WHICH a wise man from Philadelphia goes to Paris and outfoxes spies of two nations.”

This is well-documented, appealing history. …

Children’s Literature:

This fascinating account of espionage during the Revolutionary War should be gobbled up by young history buffs as well as anyone delighted by codes and ciphers and the elaborate ruses of devious and daring spies. "One if by land, two if by sea" is only the most famous of the Revolutionary War's exploits of espionage and counter-espionage. Readers will learn about messages coded on laundry lines (where black petticoats and white handkerchiefs carried secret meanings), different kinds of invisible ink, masked messages hidden within ordinary-seeming missives, "accidentally" dropped balls of yarn, and a message swallowed in a silver ball.

George Washington was an accomplished spymaster, as was Benjamin Franklin, from his post in Paris; Benedict Arnold's treacherous espionage has made his name synonymous with “traitor.” The book is produced to look like an eighteenth-century printed leaflet, complete with the use of an (updated) period typeface. The fun continues with a glossary of spy terms, appendix on how to decipher one important Revolutionary War code, lively and engaging footnotes often directing readers to relevant websites, and guide to the various secret codes hidden throughout the book itself. This one is a winner—or should I say, borrowing Major Talmadge's letter-substitution cipher, a "ycppil"!

The Orange County Reader:

This isn’t the usual story of the American Revolutionary War, full of battles and heroic events. This is heroism of a secretive, shadowy sort – the real-life spies who helped George Washington and the other patriots beat the British.

Using old letters, documents and spy codes that survived the war, author Thomas B. Allen follows Washington’s evolution as a spymaster, beginning with the French and Indian War in the 1750s. Allen patiently traces the work of spies and the role played by spying and deception in significant Revolutionary War battles – and we see how Paul Revere’s famous ride fits into this spy web – right up to Washington’s final victory in the war.

There’s a big cast of characters, which can be confusing. But there’s fun, too, with spy codes for readers to decipher scattered throughout the book. And for those who want to know more, there are numerous notes, sources and references at the end of the book.

Book Views:

The books National Geographic publishes for younger readers are consistently of high quality, so it is always a pleasure to recommend them. George Washington, Spymaster: How the Americans Outspied the British and Won the Revolutionary War by Thomas B. Allen ($16.95) will evoke a greater interest in this essential chapter of our nation’s history. The best part of this book is how interesting it is! Washington learned the value of spycraft when he first participated 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. This book is ideal for the younger readers, aged twelve and up. It worked for me and I am a lot older than that!