Of Spies, Guys and Dainty Pirates

Hard Drive Finger PrintAfter finishing with the scurvy pirates a few days ago I started Sulick’s new book on espionage in America. It seems promising. The introduction informs us that there was no established part of the U.S. Government responsible for counter-espionage until 1939. During times of war, a group of officials was cobbled together to catch spies but when hostilities ceased they were disbanded. This meant that every new outbreak caused the whole department to be recreated from scratch, a very inefficient process. The author goes on to point out that the U.S. has had a rather false sense of security from espionage because of the psychological protection of the yawning oceans that lie between us and our combatants. Add to that the unusual level of personal freedom we enjoy and you get a country very susceptible to spies.

Espionage during the Revolutionary War was rife because, honestly, not everybody agreed with the idea of revolt in the first place. The first convicted spy against the U.S. was Dr. Benjamin Church, a well respected physician and member of the inner circle of the revolutionaries. Even as a surgeon his earnings were a paltry $4 a day but no one found it surprising when he suddenly started living a lavish lifestyle well above his means. He was considered above suspicion until a coded letter to his handlers was intercepted (he had entrusted it to one of his mistresses for delivery) and decoded. When confronted he claimed to be just pulling the legs of the British but was still found guilty. Unfortunately for the revolutionaries there was no law for espionage so there was some legal problem with what exactly to DO with the guy. He was eventually imprisoned and sent to the West Indies.

In the fictional realm, I highly recommend Bernay’s The Man on the Third Floor. Our protagonist is a gay book editor in the 1930s with a wife and family. His male lover lives on the third floor and acts as chauffeur. I think I need say no more.

Finally, a short dangling participle from the land of Pringle’s Pirates. In 1720 a group of pirates was captured, convicted and sentenced to death by hanging (and maybe some drawing and quartering after that). Two of the pirates stepped forward and declared that they could not be executed with the phrase: “We plead our bellies!” Pregnant women could not be executed and Anne Bonny and Mary Read had lived among the pirates and some of the pirate’s kind attentions had taken root. There is some speculation that the entire story may be apocryphal but also a fair amount that it is true and that the women were smuggled aboard as “wives” for two of the male pirates. Unfortunately, privacy is pretty hard to come by on a pirate ship. Once the cat was out of the bag, so to speak, the cat was shared amongst the crew.

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