BookPick: Across the Pond, a Double Helping
I’m crossing the Pond for this Double Helping of BookPicks! I became fascinated with espionage during research for the Kydd series, in particular for my book Treachery, so I was exercised to read John A. Nagy’s ‘Spies in the Continental Capital’ on the critical role of intelligence operations across Pennsylvania in the eighteenth century and was not disappointed. And in another field of interest for me, Michael G Laramie’s book ‘By Wind and Iron’ provided me valuable insight into America’s rich maritime history, focusing on a natural invasion route into the heart of North America from the seventeenth century through to the early nineteenth century.
Spies in the Continental Capital
It did not take long after the Seven Years War, the French and Indian War in North America, for France to return spies to America in order to determine the likelihood of regaining the territory they lost to Britain. One of the key places of French espionage was the colony of Pennsylvania since its frontier had been an important crossroads of French influence in North America. The French recognized that there was a real possibility that the colonies would seek their independence from Britain. Against this backdrop, Nagy begins his investigation of espionage in colonial Pennsylvania.
Philadelphia played a key role in the history of spying during the American Revolution because it was the main location for the Continental Congress, was seized by the British, and then returned to Continental control. Philadelphia became a centre of spies for the British and Americans as well as a number of double agents. George Washington was a firm believer in reliable military intelligence but after evacuating New York City, he neglected to put a spy network in place: when the British took over Philadelphia, he didn’t make the same mistake, and he was able to keep well abreast of British troop strengths and intentions. Likewise, the British used the large Loyalist community around Philadelphia to assess the abilities of their Continental foes, as well as the resolve of Congress. In addition to describing techniques used by spies and specific events, Nagy has accessed rare primary source documents to provide new and compelling information about intelligence operations on both sides, a fascinating study for those like me who sympathise with both sides.
By Wind and Iron
For more than 150 years, the natural invasion route along the waterways of the Champlain and Richelieu valleys into northeastern North America was among the most fiercely contested in the history of the continent.
Whether the French and their Indian allies attacking British forts and settlements during the Seven Years’ War, the American Continentals striking north into Canada during the American Revolution or the British battling French and later American forces in these wars and the War of 1812, it was clear to policy makers in Quebec, London, Paris, Philadelphia, and Washington that whoever controlled this corridor and its lakes and rivers, controlled the heart of the continent.
Laramie details the maritime history of this region from the first French fortifications along the Richelieu River in the late seventeenth century through the American victory over the British at the Battle of Plattsburgh on Lake Champlain in 1814. Using period letters, journals, and other primary source materials, he examines the north-eastern waterways and their tributaries within the framework of the soldiers and sailors who faced the perils of the campaigns, while at the same time clarifying the key role played by this region in the greater struggle for North America and American independence.
John A Nagy Spies in the Continental Capital
Published by Westholme. ISBN 978 1 59416 133 9
Michael G Laramie By Wind and Iron
Published by Westholme. ISBN 978 1 59416 198 8
Both books are also published by Pen & Sword