The Macksey Journal


During the War for Independence, the American Commander in Chief, George Washington, relied heavily on a secret correspondence with his assets on the ground, both from members of his clandestine service and ordinary pro-American colonials, while commanding the Continental Army and deciding on his next move. Why did so many colonials betray their families, social status, religious values, or overlook their apparent differences, such as ethnicity, gender, or race, and risk being hanged to participate in something where the outcome was not certain? Could they have sensed that their moment in history was larger than they were and felt a premonition of the new country before it was born? By analyzing the operations of the most successful American Revolutionary intelligence ring, the Culper Ring, I provide answer to these questions. I conclude that spying not only provided colonials with a venue where they could freely express their dissent and fight oppressive policies incognito, but also allowed them to dissociate itself from the British politics, culture, and language, and come hand in hand with their fellow countrymen and test their “Americanness,” or rather whether they were worthy of being “initiated” into the American family. The notion of liminality was in the center of this process. Hopefully, this research will provide a foundation for future scholarship on the American Revolutionary Intelligence and invite scholars of espionage to investigate other areas of spycraft and not solely focus on techniques employed and other logistical questions.