Claire Bellerjeau and Tiffany Yecke Brooks

Jun 28, 2022

Espionage and Enslavement in the Revolution

The True Story of Robert Townsend and Elizabeth

Lyons Press 2021

Today I talked to Claire Bellerjeau about her book (co-authored with Tiffany Yecke Brooks) Espionage and Enslavement in the Revolution: The True Story of Robert Townsend and Elizabeth (Lyons Press, 2021).

In January 1785, a young African American woman named Elizabeth was put on board the Lucretia in New York Harbor, bound for Charleston, where she would be sold to her fifth master in just twenty-two years. Leaving behind a small child she had little hope of ever seeing again, Elizabeth was faced with the stark reality of being sold south to a life quite different from any she had known before. She had no idea that Robert Townsend, a son of the family she was enslaved by, would locate her, safeguard her child, and return her to New York—nor how her story would help turn one of America’s first spies into an abolitionist. Robert Townsend is best known as one of George Washington’s most trusted spies, but few know about how he worked to end slavery. As Robert and Elizabeth’s story unfolds, prominent figures from history cross their path, including Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, Benedict Arnold, John André, and John Adams, as well as participants in the Boston Massacre, the Sons of Liberty, the Battle of Long Island, Franklin’s Paris negotiations, and the Benedict Arnold treason plot.

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Katrina Anderson

Katrina Anderson is a doctoral candidate at the University of Delaware.

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