New York State Office of Cultural Education: Museum Library Archives
Join authors Claire Bellerjeau and Tiffany Yecke Brooks for a talk about their new book, Espionage and Enslavement in the Revolution: The True Story of Robert Townsend and Elizabeth. In January 1785, a young enslaved woman from Oyster Bay 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 member of an early anti-slavery group. Robert Townsend is best known as one of George Washington’s most trusted spies, but few know about how he sought to end slavery. Elizabeth’s bold and daring struggle for freedom introduces a new historic narrative for African Americans in general and women in particular. As Robert and Elizabeth’s story unfolds, prominent figures from history cross their path, including George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Jupiter Hammon, John Jay, Benedict Arnold, John André and John Adams; as well as the Culper Spy Ring, the Boston Massacre, the Sons of Liberty, the Battle of Long Island, Franklin’s Paris negotiations, and the Benedict Arnold treason plot.