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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Thursday, March 07, 2013

“Washington’s First Spy Ring” Talk in Lincoln, 10 Mar.

On Sunday, 10 March, I’ll speak to the Friends of Minute Man National Park on “Washington’s First Spy Ring”:

One of the biggest challenges that Gen. George Washington faced when he became Continental Army commander-in-chief was gathering intelligence on the British military in Boston. This talk reveals secrets and names the names.
I’m scheduled to start at 3:00 P.M. at Bemis Hall, 15 Bedford Road in Lincoln. Thanks to the Friends, this lecture is free and open to the public.

At left is a French map of the Hudson River near West Point, New York. The Continental Army fortified this narrow point in the river to keep the Royal Navy from sailing up the Hudson to reach Lake George and Lake Champlain, thus potentially cutting New England off from the rest of the U.S. of A.

In addition to the forts on either side of the Hudson, the Americans built a barrier across it, designated on the map by the line to the right of the “ou.”

That was the Great Hudson River Chain, actually a pair of booms floating on the water, one of sharpened logs roped together and one of rafts supporting and held together by giant iron links. Any British ship trying to sail upriver would have to turn at that spot and try to break through the barriers, all under fire from both sides. From 1778 to the end of the war, no ship ever tried.

What does the defense of the Hudson River have to do with my talk this weekend? The military engineer in charge of designing, manufacturing, assembling, and maintaining that chain was Capt. Thomas Machin. He was part of Washington’s first spy ring outside Boston in July 1775, but that fact has been kept secret until now.

TOMORROW: Thomas Machin’s background.

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