J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

How Not to Do Counterintelligence

James Duane. Digital ID: 1224407. New York Public LibraryChristopher Marshall (1709-1797) was an Irish-born Philadelphia merchant active in Revolutionary politics, for which he was eventually expelled from his Quaker meeting.

Here’s the entry from his diary on 9 Jan 1776, which begins as Marshall hears some disturbing news about a valet to a member of the Continental CongressJames Duane, shown here courtesy of the New York Public Library. At the time the royal governor of New York, William Tryon, had chosen to move onto a ship in New York harbor for better security:

At breakfast, I was visited by Paul Fooks’s housekeeper, who informed that their boy, Neal, had heard his sister Rosanna Thompson, who lived at [Richard] Bache’s, [state] that James Brattle, servant man to James Duane, one of [the New] York delegates, was employed by Governor Tryon, to collect and send him all the news he could find, on board the Asia, for which he should be well rewarded and also be preferred to some post, in consequence of which, he had written to him, and in particular the day our fleet sailed with their number, &c.

On this information, I called upon some of our Committee at the Coffee-House. Joseph Dean went with me, but could gain nothing. We returned. Then John Bayard went with me to Joseph Reed’s he not at home; thence to see him at the Committee of Safety; not there; thence to the Court-House; found him.

After taking his advice, went to Halls printing-office; took Richard Bache home with us; called his maid; examined her. She seemed confounded, but, on the whole, denied it. From thence to the Coffee-House, where, consulting Major Cox, he joined us two.

We went to the State-House; called out Mr. Duane informed him; he seemed confounded; requested us to attend him to his house. We did. He called his man, examined him; took him up stairs and made search, all to no purpose.

We then went, took him with us to Paul Fooks’s; examined the boy who persisted. We brought the boy back to Duane’s lodgings; sent for the young woman, who, upon seeing her brother, confessed that what he had said was true.

James was called and interrogated, but all to no purpose. Then Major Cox and Mr. Duane took him upstairs again, and while they were employed at that business, he slipped down stairs, out through the yard, and have seen no more of him. Major Bayard and myself waited for them in the parlor. Thus he escaped.
An 1857 volume of Documents Relative to the Colonial History of the State of New York says in a footnote:
James Brattle, who had formerly lived with [i.e., was a servant for] Governor Tryon, was at this time servant to James Duane, a member of Congress, whose minutes he was in the habit of purloining, on his master retiring to bed, and afterwards sending them and other information to Governor Tryon. On being discovered he absconded, and was sent to England by his employer.
Among the intelligence Brattle was able to supply was news of the Americans’ top-secret submarine—which was promptly ignored by the Royal Navy.

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