YC History Professor Tim McNeese will give a public lecture on the topic of Revolutionary War era-spying on Monday, December 7, 2015, on the York College campus. All are invited to attend this free event, from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. in the Mackey Center's Miller Room (second floor).

McNeese is the author of more than 100 books. His latest title is "Revolutionary Spies: Intelligence and Espionage in America's First War." The text focuses on spycraft as practiced during the 18th Century, tactics that included elaborate codes, dead drops, invisible ink, and secret identities, as well as the personal stories of spies and secret agents, including George Washington, who served as a spymaster.

“I suspect that most people know little about spying during the American Revolution,” notes McNeese, “with the exception of Nathan Hale, the famed American spy who was caught and hanged by the British.” McNeese says that Hale was, in fact, not a particularly skilled spy and accomplished very little. Hale is generally remembered for the deathless phrase he allegedly said before he was hanged: “I only regret that I have but one life to give to my country.”

“Because of Hale’s failures, General Washington decided to create a covert spy ring that operated out of New York City,” says McNeese. “It involved five men and one female, whose name we still do not know for certain. The shadowy female spy is still known today only as Agent 355.”

Revolutionary War spying is a popular topic, says McNeese, noting the AMC television series, Turn, which ran its second season this past summer. The series focuses on the Secret Six, the New York City group of spies known at the time as the Culper Ring.

“They are taking a lot of liberties on the television series about the Secret Six,” says McNeese, “so it is important that people get an accurate version of what really happened and of who these people were who risked their lives for the cause of the American Revolution.”

The story of spies during the Revolutionary War is much more involved than most people think, says McNeese. Not only did Washington’s Secret Six operate out of New York, there were other agents, as well, including Paul Revere in Boston, who ran a spy ring called the Mechanics prior to the outbreak of the war in 1775. The infamous traitor Benedict Arnold’s story is one involving spies, including a British handler, Major John Andre, whose capture tipped off Patriots that Arnold had passed off the plans to West Point to the British in exchange for several thousand pounds.

"It really is an involved story of secrets, cloak-and-dagger missions, coded messages, and the like; the kinds of things that we associate with spies and spying,” says McNeese. “And it’s interesting how many of the techniques used by Revolutionary War-era spies are still utilized by spies today. What’s changed largely is the element of technology.”