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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Monday, March 14, 2011

Washington’s Secrets Revealed (well, some of them)

As I’ve previously announced, at 6:00 P.M. on Thursday, 17 March, I’ll deliver an Evacuation Day lecture at Longfellow House–Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site on the topic “Washington’s First Spy Ring: Intelligence and Counterintelligence in the Siege of Boston.”

This talk grows out of research I’ve contracted to do for that site as it expands its interpretation of Revolutionary history. So far I’ve discovered some new facts about Gen. George Washington’s use of the mansion John Vassall built, established the basis for some traditions, and realized how much more there is to put on paper.

Because I’ve become a government contractor, late last year I received a letter warning me not to look at any documents on WikiLeaks. Those materials remain legally classified, and letting such files get onto my computer would put me in violation of my contract.

It seems highly unlikely that WikiLeaks contains any secret information about the American Revolution. But for the record I’ll say that when I identified the Rev. John Carnes as Gen. Washington’s secret informer inside Boston starting in July 1775, that was not based on WikiLeaks documents.

I’ve read news stories about the WikiLeaks disclosures, and even commented on how they could actually benefit the U.S. of A. by showing our diplomats to be perceptive and sincere in wishing for more democracy. Fortunately, the letter said reading such news articles wasn’t a problem.

In my Thursday talk I’ll name the redcoat who deserted in late July 1775, bringing with him detailed plans of the British fortifications. I’ll trace that man’s career in the American army, and debunk the elaborate cover story he or his family created to explain his background—the story that appears in American National Biography and other history books. But I promise that information didn’t come from WikiLeaks.

I’m also going to put forward the likely name of Dr. Benjamin Church’s mistress, the woman whom he asked to carry a ciphered letter to royal officials in Rhode Island. After she cooperated with his inquiry, Gen. Washington kept her identity secret in his report to the Continental Congress. I can’t say for sure, of course, but I think that fact isn’t even in WikiLeaks.

This lecture is free and open to the public, but reservations are necessary because of the limited space in the Longfellow carriage house. Call the site at 617-876-4491 or use this webpage to reserve seats. Due to digging in the driveway, to reach the carriage house you’ll have to go in the front gate and follow the paths around the east side of the mansion and through the colonial-revival garden.

Preceding my talk, National Park Service rangers will offer free guided tours of the mansion focusing on Washington and the siege of Boston at at 1:00, 2:00, 3:00, and 4:00 P.M. Those last about an hour.

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