[Patriot spies] The Culper Spy Ring oper­ated in the New York City tri-state area for five years, and they were very successful—no spy was ever unmasked. Wash­ing­ton him­self didn’t know their iden­ti­ties. To pro­tect his spies iden­ti­ties, Major Ben­jamin Tall­madge, whom Wash­ing­ton appointed as head of the intelligence-gathering oper­a­tion (the Culper Spy Ring), used a num­ber sys­tem and pseu­do­nyms in doc­u­ments rather than their real names. The num­bers per­tained to words only dis­cern­able if one had the code­book divulging them.

Tall­madge used John Entick’s New Latin and Eng­lish Dic­tio­nary (1771). Only four copies of the code­book were made—one for him, one for Wash­ing­ton, and the oth­ers for the Culpers. His codes, for exam­ple, included Gen­eral Wash­ing­ton as 711, Culper Jr. was 723, and 727 was used for New York. Over­all, more than 760 num­bers were used in his codebook.

Patriots, Redcoats, & Spies
by Robert J. Skead with Robert A. Skead
Zonderkidz, $15.00
Middle-grade historical fiction, The Culper Spy Ring, George Washington, Revolutionary War, Adventure, great for boys and reluctant readers, Ages 8-12

Tremen­dous suc­cess and secret codes

Rob Skead

The year –

The war –
The American Revolution
The secret weapon –
Twin boys

Submarines, Secrets & A Daring Rescue
by Robert J. Skead with Robert A. Skead
Zonderkidz, $15.00, August 2015
Middle-grade historical fiction, The Culper Spy Ring, George Washington, Revolutionary War, Adventure, great for boys and reluctant readers, Ages 8-12

When Patriot Lamberton Clark is shot by a British Redcoat soldier, he has only two hopes of getting the secret message he’s carrying to General George Washington: his 14-year-old twin boys. Upon discovering that their father is a spy and express rider for the Culper Spy Ring, the boys accept their mission. They set off to find the general, but the road to the commander-in-chief of the Continental Army is full of obstacles including the man who shot their father who is hot on their trail.
The Storytellers
The story was created by Robert Skead and his father, also Robert Skead (now 89-years-old). Both are members of the Sons of the American Revolution. Their ancestor, Lamberton Clark, one of the main characters in the story, fought in the Revolutionary War as a member of the Connecticut Militia and the Continental Army. The book includes many historical facts about the war and features events that took place in 1777 in Bergen County, New Jersey, where the Skeads live.

The best part about writ­ing Patri­ots, Red­coats & Spies, an Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War adven­ture, was liv­ing in 1777—and becom­ing a teenage spy. You see, our pro­tag­o­nists were twin teenage boys, John and Ambrose Clark. And key to mak­ing their adven­ture real for the reader was the research involved, par­tic­u­larly involv­ing the Culper Spy Ring.

The twins’ father, Lam­ber­ton, is a spy/courier for the Culper Ring, and when he is shot by British sol­diers while on a mis­sion, he has only two hopes of get­ting the secret mes­sage he’s car­ry­ing to Gen­eral George Wash­ing­ton: his 14-year-old twin boys John and Ambrose.

The boys accept their mis­sion with­out a clue about what they may be up against. They set off from Con­necti­cut to New Jer­sey to find Gen­eral Wash­ing­ton, but the road to the commander-in-chief of the Con­ti­nen­tal Army is full of obstacles—including the man who shot their father, who is hot on their trail.

I had plenty of help in the research about the Culper Spy Ring in the form of my father, Robert A. Skead (now 89-years-old and a mem­ber of the Sons of the Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion), who crafted the story with me. In the story, all the twins know is that the let­ter they carry is from Culper Jr. and is writ­ten in invis­i­ble ink—and that it’s imper­a­tive they trust no one and place that let­ter in the general’s hand, fast.

Culper Jr.’s real name was Robert Townsend. He oper­ated in New York City, gath­er­ing infor­ma­tion about British troop move­ments for Gen­eral Wash­ing­ton. He made his fel­low spy Abra­ham Wood­hull, also known as Samuel Culper, pledge never to tell his name to any­one, not even to George Wash­ing­ton. Townsend posed as a Tory cof­fee shop owner and soci­ety reporter, which helped him gain infor­ma­tion from British loy­al­ists and sol­diers at fel­low­ship gatherings.

Invis­i­ble ink did exist dur­ing colo­nial times, and was used by the Culper Spy Ring with their mes­sag­ing. The ink was devel­oped by James and John (future chief jus­tice of the U.S. Supreme Court) Jay. It was made of a mix­ture of water and fer­rous sul­fate, and could be read when acti­vated by heat or when in con­tact with a reagent. Secret sen­tences were often crafted between the lines of real let­ters. That is the device we used in our story.

Rob Skead on writing the American Revolutionary War Adventure Series