Archive for the ‘American Revolution’ Category

Miss Jenny is an interesting little mystery. Not as interesting nor as tragic as the drama surrounding Agent 355, but a nice little mystery all its own.

Miss Jenny, as we understand, was a French-speaking Loyalist during the American Revolutionary War who infiltrated the French camps during 1781 and passed information along to the British. Acting on intel that the French were moving troops in an impending attack on New York City, Miss Jenny was out and about trying to confirm the information when she was caught by a French guard.

The little minx held to her story that she was looking for her French-Canadian father, a story which did not appear to go over well, and consequently, Miss Jenny was turned over to none other than George Washington. Further questioning achieved nothing because she stuck to her story despite rigorous questioning. Washington handed her back over the French, who in a last ditch effort, attempted to make her talk but to no avail.

The French carried out a traditional punishment of the time, lobbing off a gal’s coif, as more stringent forms of punishment without proof would be unthinkable and mostly because the “wisdom” of the era saw women as not being intelligent enough to be spies. Hair cutting as punishment has a long and distinguished history in the Arab and Islamic world, the Europeans during the witch hunts in Medieval times, and the French and Dutch during World War II when humiliating female Nazi sympathizers.

Miss Jenny, sans hair, was released and immediately made her way back to the British camp in New York where she reported her findings. The British responded by holding their position in New York rather than the original plan to move on.

Luckily, the French and Americans switched gears and launched an attack on Yorktown, which proved a pivotal battle in the war. To date, the real-life identity of Miss Jenny has never been confirmed.

We only know of Miss Jenny due to the meticulous nature of the British and their OCD-like abilities in record keeping. Baron Ottendorf, a German mercenary whom Washington gave the boot thus inducing him to switch sides in the war, relayed the tale of Miss Jenny to Sir Henry Clinton, a British military commander, in the form of a letter which is in the keeping of the Clements Library at the University of Michigan.

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plateYou have to appreciate that the roots of American freedom is so squarely based on an excellent intelligence system overseen by George Washington…and that a lady hanging her drawers out to dry assisting in the cause.

One of the ladies involved in these efforts was Anna “Nancy” Smith Strong. The only other female member of the famous Culper Spy Ring in New York (alongside the mysterious Agent 355). Nancy was responsible for sending signals out to other members of the ring when a certain gentleman informant was crossing Long Island Sound.

Nancy would hang a black petticoat out on her laundry line to announce the agent’s arrival. A series of other garments hung in specific order detailed where the agent could be found so that information could be passed along the chain.

It is unfortunate that we don’t know more about Nancy, her life, and her exploits, but one would assume that the best spies are always the members of an anonymous club.

To honor the heritage of the region, the Setauket, New York chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution have named themselves the Anna Smith Strong Chapter. The plate pictured above serves as their insignia.

No name. No family. No picture. All because, quite frankly, we haven’t a damn clue who this chick is. Which is a shame, really, that Agent 355 should go down in history as a nameless number when she paid the ultimately spy-dame price for her country during the American Revolution.

So here is what we do know:

She was part of the famous Culper Spy Ring and was based in New York where she had contact with Major John Andre and Benedict Arnold. “355” was numerical code for the word “Lady”. She was most likely part of a well-regarded Loyalist family that afforded her this access to those at the top (as Andre was known to be a bit of ladies’ man).

After the arrest of Andre and disappearing act of Arnold, Agent 355 herself was taken into custody by the British, possibly for having fingered Arnold as a traitor (a little retribution by the said same Arnold?). She was pregnant at the time and all we know of the father is that he was “Dear Robert”. It is speculated that this may be Robert Townsend of the Culper Spy Ring. She was imprisoned on the HMS Jersey where she refused to give up her cohorts. She stayed aboard the prison boat eventually giving birth to a son under some truly heinous conditions and dying as a result.

There are some theories bouncing around regarding Agent 355’s true identity and others that say she never existed. The fact that she is specifically referenced in coded intelligence documentation written by the scrupulous Abraham Woodhull regarding Agent 355’s invaluable activities suggests to this Agent that the skirt not only existed but was of great aid to her country.

Perhaps this smack about Agent 355’s “non-existence” is to cover the abject shame of the men-folk for having left this spy-dame without the precious gift of identity for the last 228 years?

Benedict Arnold, the most infamous traitor in American history, has been undergoing a bit of transformation as late: one from being a nefarious turn-coat to that of being an under-appreciated, brilliant leader who was duped by love.

Now I’m all for calling spade a spade, if nothing else, this blogs shows the wily and wonderful acts women are truly capable of, but I’m not at all for playing “Blame A Dame” as what appears to be happening with Arnold. Serious scholarship does need to apply, thank you.

Peggy Shippen Arnold (1760-1836) was Arnold’s second wife and and fully half her husband’s age. She belonged to a prominent Philadelphia family of the law which remained staunchly neutral during the American Revolution. Prior to meeting Arnold, young Peggy had a bit of a flirtation with British spy, Major John Andre, who was later hung, reportedly, in retaliation for the execution of Nathan “I regret I only have one life to give for my country” Hale.

But Peggy married Arnold who was notoriously thin-skinned, self-righteous, and incapable of living within his means. The new theory on Arnold is that Peggy was herself a spy for the British and was employed to “turn” Arnold on behalf of Peggy’s “lover”, Major Andre.

If you’ll remember the little chat we had about Bond Girl, Vesper Lynd, and the MICE theory, Arnold is 2 for 4 on the Richter Scale of treason. He needed Money, and his Ego was bruised by lack of promotion. Whether this makes him an easy mark for 19 year old Peggy to convert, we don’t know.

So was the Shippen family secretly Loyalists? Was Peggy tasked by her spy-love, Major Andre, to target Arnold? Was Arnold just a pawn in Peggy’s game of espionage?

Or is all of this just another case of Eve getting the rap for the expulsion from Eden?