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Steganography and Revolutionary War Spies

Steganography comes from the Greek for hidden messages or writing.

Around 440 BC, a Greek ruler shaved the head of a slave, tattooed a message on his scalp, waited for the hair to grow back, and sent the slave to deliver the message. Of course, shaving the slave’s head again was necessary to uncover the message. The story goes that a return message was delivered the same way.

A more conventional use of hiding messages was to carve the message into a wooden tablet. Covering it with wax hid it, and scraping the wax away was the big reveal.

This undercover way of sending secrets doesn’t involve codes that have to be memorized, which makes it easier.

During the Revolutionary War, George Washington and his spies, the Culper Ring, as well as the British, used this method for hidden communications. In between the lines of a letter would be hidden lines that only could be seen if heated.

Benjamin Tallmadge’s leadership assisted George Washington in creating a strong and successful chain of spies throughout the New York area, beginning the secret service in America.

On Sunday nights, a new series has started on AMC called TURN, and it is about the Culper Ring. It is based on the book, WASHINGTON’S SPIES: THE STORY of AMERICA’S FIRST SPY RING. I would like to recommend both for your entertainment.

Just to set the record straight, steganography is not being used in this post. But it might be fun to try!

Lucy Knox and Martha Washington

Following the Drum

The image of Revolutionary War soldiers suffering in winter encampments remains strong in our national consciousness, thanks to the diaries and letters of Continental Army officers and soldiers as well as evocative works by authors and artists like Washington Irving and William B.T. Trego. Largely forgotten in these accounts and images are “camp followers”–the civilians who accompanied General Washington’s army and shared in its struggles. In Nancy K. Loane’s book, Following the Drum, she focuses on female camp followers during the American Revolution: among them nurses, cooks, laundresses, and even ladies of privilege, like Lucy Knox. Knox’s presence at numerous encampments not only kept her family together during the war, but also facilitated a lasting friendship with a fellow camp follower: Martha Washington.

“At twenty-two, Lucy Flucker Knox was one of the youngest of the officers’ wives to come to Valley Forge. Social, audacious, and officious, she was sure of her place and let everyone know it. ‘I hope you will not consider yourself as commander in chief of your own house,’ she wrote to her new husband soon after they were married, ‘but be convinced… there is such a thing as equal command.’ General Henry Knox, who commanded the Continental Army’s artillery, adored his big, bossy, brilliant wife.

“Lucy Flucker, who came from one of Massachusetts’ leading families, grew up surrounded by affluence and high style. Still she set her heart on Henry Knox, a bookseller with no imposing ancestors and no fortune, soon after she saw him in his Boston store… But there was a problem. Lucy’s parents were Loyalists, and wealthy, prominent ones at that… He and his wife ‘exploded in wrath’ when they realized their pampered and privileged seventeen-year-old daughter was smitten with the twenty-four-year-old shop owner. Not only was the man–oh the horror of it!–’in trade,’ but, worse, he actively supported the rebel colonists…

“The American Revolution has been called the ‘First Civil War.’ Families were ripped apart when loyalties split between the British and Americans. Lucy’s parents, staunch Tories, sailed to England from Boston early in the war, and she never saw or heard from them again…

“Henry Knox and their children were all the family Lucy Knox had in America. This prompted Lucy, unusual among the wives of the American officers, to habitually follow her husband as he moved up and down the eastern coast during the war. For a woman born of privilege and wealth, living conditions with the Continental Army undoubtedly seemed primitive. Yet Lady Knox remained devoted to the cause and to ‘her ever dear Harry,’ her ‘only friend… in the world.’

“Little is known of Lady Knox’s activities once she arrived at Valley Forge. She came to camp after the celebration of both the May 6 French Alliance and the memorable performance of Cato, so did not participate in those festivities. Although Catharine Greene had already left for Rhode Island, Martha Washington was still in camp. In spite of differences in their ages–Martha celebrated her forty-seventh birthday at Valley Forge, Lucy was just twenty-two–the two ladies became friends, and they would have visited back and forth during the few weeks they spent together in Pennsylvania…

“Lucy Knox spent considerably more time at the fourth encampment, at Middlebrook, New Jersey, than she had at Valley Forge. The Continental Army’s 1778-79 winter camp became a far livelier place than Valley Forge had been. Henry and Lucy Knox did their part by staging an extravagant ‘entertainment’ to celebrate the anniversary of the French Alliance–a gala event attended by Mrs. Washington, Mrs. Greene, and a ‘vast concourse of spectators from every part of the Jersies.’ Henry Knox proudly wrote his brother that seventy ladies and about four hundred officers and gentlemen attended the festive frisk.

“Guests were greeted by a thirteen-cannon salute. Dinner was sumptuous and ‘would have done honour to the taste and opulence of the most flourishing cities.’ The magnificent display of fireworks, which was set off by the officers, lasted for over an hour and illuminated the façade of a specially constructed Greek temple… The fireworks over, the guests proceeded to an elegant ballroom, where Washington led a pregnant Lucy Knox in the first dance. ‘The power of description,’ gushed the New Jersey Journal on February 23, 1779, of the Knox’s extravaganza, ‘is too languid to do justice to the whole of this grand entertainment…’

“A few other snippets of information about Lucy Knox during the Revolutionary War survive. We know, for example, that during the 1779-80 Morristown encampment Lucy and Henry Knox and their two children lived on a farm near camp. According to [France's principle liaison officer Jean de Beauvoir, Marquis de] Chastellux, Lucy and the little ones made up a ‘real family’ for General Knox, as she ‘never leaves her husband.’ In February 1780 General Washington and Lucy Knox opened the first Morristown Assembly ball. This was to have been another extravaganza, but hostile weather intervened and only sixteen ladies and sixty officers attended. And, as mentioned previously, Chastellux noted seeing General and Mrs. Washington riding out in a carriage to pay a social call on Lucy Knox at the New Windsor encampment.

“Martha Washington and Lucy Knox consoled and comforted each other at Mount Vernon during the siege of Yorktown. It is reported that, in later years, Lucy described to her children the suspense, trembling, fear, and hope that gripped the two friends as they waited for the daily express with news of the battle. After the Yorktown victory, a jubilant Henry Knox took the first opportunity to write his wife, ‘the charmer of my soul.’ ‘A glorious moment for America!’ Knox exalted. ‘This day Lord Cornwallis and his army march out and pile their arms in the face of our victorious army…’

“When the Treaty of Paris was finally signed and the long war over, Congress appointed Henry Knox as the first secretary of the war (the title was originally ‘secretary at war’). The Knox home became a favorite salon for the fashionable, the intellectual, and the cultivated. A contemporary of Lucy Knox described her as a ‘lively and meddlesome person but an amiable leader of society, without whose cooperation it was believed by many besides herself that nothing could be properly done in the drawing room or ballroom or an place indeed where fashionable men and women sought enjoyment.’”

Nancy K. Loane. Following the Drum: Women at the Valley Forge Encampment. (Washington, DC: Potomac Books, 2009), 78-84.

Grandmother Julie

John has been telling me as much as he knows about his grandmother Julie who died before he was born.

She was born in 1890 and died in 1939. Julie worked in both the Pacolet and Cowpens mills in South Carolina. All her brothers and sisters, as well as her parents, were mill workers. From around age 9 until the day she died, she was a weaver.

Her husband Tom was one of the Rough Riders. also called “Uncle Sam’s 1-2-3 Boys” and was badly hurt in the Battle of Manila Bay. In between his service times in both the Army and the Navy, he also was a mill worker.

They were active members of Central Baptist Church in Cowpens and raised two daughters.

Yesterday John’s brother gave him a wooden box of Julie and Tom’s things. Piece by piece, John looked at their history through a grandson’s eyes. A half a dozen .22 shorts were a surprise. There was a small leather coin purse and a twig toothbrush. A ledger full of their expenses and earnings. One year Tom received a raise from $15 a month to $25; they must have celebrated. Tom’s hand-woven lanyard was there, and John figured he must have been a boatswain mate like his grandfather. Interesting connectedness between generations. Julie had a beautiful handwriting; she had filled in pages in the family Bible, and her cursive script swirls.

Several weeks ago, I started writing a short story about Julie. We drove to Cowpens, saw where their house was, and followed the sidewalk she walked to work. Julie is more than a beautiful photograph now; I have held things she used and gazed at the ruins of Cowpens Mill.

I have two, soft leather coin purses of my grandmother’s. and now we have Julie’s. These small, everyday items are new treasures to us, because we treasured our grandmothers.

Maybe you, too, have treasures that you have inherited. Aren’t we blessed?

What is a Doodle Bug?

Sandy soil is the home of doodle bugs; they like underneath houses, where it is dry and soft. They construct traps to catch their food, like small insects and ants. These small, carnivorous worms or bugs are a favored- food of chickens.

They have heads that are all penchers. After they build those inverted come traps, they hide under them in the sand. When “food” drops into the cone, their penchers are on-ready.

When a chicken finds a doodle bug, it inhales the whole bug. In protest, the bug bites the chicken’s throat. When this happens, the chicken can’t swallow the bug. Hence, the name of these doodle bugs are also chicken chokers.

And you are thinking why in the Sam hill am I talking about doodle bugs and chicken chokers?

John and I were over at Brattonsville for the day this past Saturday; it was Children’s Day at the Farm. Children of all ages were planting seeds, petting sheep, plowed a garden behind two horses, etc. They had a fun day.

One of the interpreters watched the children and the chickens. When he came by our table, he and John started this conversation about doodle bugs. I needed an interpreter, so John filled me in. I was amazed at these creatures and their place in the food chain.

The two men went on to talk about playing with the doodle bugs as children. They would entice the bugs by putting a blade of grass in their traps. Of course, the bug grabbed the grass and entertained the boys. (In this digital world we live in, I would think that this would still be a good time,)

Oddly enough, I used to call one of my brothers “doodle bug.” It was purely a term of endearment and affection. Looking back with new information today, maybe I would have chosen another word.

Some of you might might remember that the Volkswagon Beetle of the 1960′s was called a doodle bug. I knew about that definition, also.

I can see John and his brothers playing with doodle bugs underneath their house. It gives me another picture of his growing-up years and his love for nature.

But I don’t think I will look for doodle bugs around our house; I am not on the friendliest of terms with bugs, doodle or otherwise.

“The books transported her into new worlds and introduced her to amazing people who lived exciting lives. She went on olden-day sailing ships with Joseph Conrad. She went to Africa with Ernest Hemingway and to India with Rudyard Kipling. She travelld all over the world while sitting in her little room in an English village.”
― Roald Dahl, Matilda

Women Writers and Storytellers

I have just finished rereading the third mystery novel by Patricia D. Cornwell. Her stories keep me turning the pages at a fast clip, and “All That Remains” did it again. There is no plodding plot, and the twists are probable.

A graduate of Davidson College with a degree in English, she published her first novel, “Postmortem,” in 1990, and her next novel will be released in November, 2014. As of last year, Cornwell’s books have sold some 100 million copies in thirty-six languages in over 120 countries. She’s authored twenty-six New York Times bestsellers.

An interesting fact about Patricia Cornwell I just found out is that she is a descendant of Harriet Beecher Stowe.

Others obviously are her followers, also; she is a master writer of crime novels. She leads her readers, as well as her characters, on time-sensitive chases to find criminals. It is in the microscopic details that Dr. Kay Scarpetta unties each crime.

Cromwell’s title of “queen of crime” is well-deserved. “Do no harm & leave the world a better place than you found it.”
said Cromwell, and her writing continues to roll out the red carpet to her readers.

Gwen Bristow was born in Manning, SC in 1903, and her protagonists are all strong and independent women who were not afraid of adventures.

The sassy heroine Celia Garth helps the Continental forces by spying for their cause working in a Tory dress shop in Charleston, SC during the Revolutionary War. Fear of the enemy stimulates

A New York City debutante marries a prairie trader in “Jubilee Trail,” and this is only the beginning of a saga about the old west.

Garnet, that debutante, is described by her father, “He thought about the people who had come before them. The Huguenots, the Scottish Dissenters, the English pirates who had stormed up and down the coasts of the American colonies until they got old and virtuous and finally settled down on shore. [He] thought sometimes that a good many of the people who were heroes after they were dead must have been great nuisances while they were alive.”

Who would ever have thought that heroes might have been nuisances at one time? Characters are thoughtful in their observations of others in her writing.

Bristow’s historical novels paint our country with defining strokes in its history. “You are not required to start over, but you are required to keep going., said Bristow. Her characters give readers a snippet of advice on how this is done.

If you haven’t read either of these authors, I recommend them both. Women’s History Month is a good time to start!

Women to Remember

This is Women’s History Month, and I thought I might share some stories about influential women in my life.

Last week, I shared Elizabeth Timothy’s story with you. When women had a secure place in society in their homes during the colonial period, she ran her husband’s newspaper after he died and then started her own business in Charleston in the 18th century.

I have a friend that encourages others to do the next thing and “party on.” It is good advice, and she follows it herself. Whether it is crawling on the floor happily playing with her grandchildren or sharing a cup of coffee and encouragement with a friend, she makes an average day a better day.

Eleanor Roosevelt said, “A woman is like a tea bag – you can’t tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water.” This is a vivid comparison, and I believe she knew whereof she spoke.

Mom was what I called her; she was my mother-in-law. In the midst of WW II, she raised four sons and worked in Union Mill. My father-in-law built the house they lived in, and he worked a different mill shift, so there would be supervision at home. Besides baking delicious biscuits, making beautiful quilts, knitting and crocheting gifts, canning vegetables from her garden, and making many of the family’s clothes, she was a good shot. One day she eased her .22 rifle to the head of a copperhead in her home and blew him to kingdom come, as the saying goes. She was a woman of many talents.

I fell in love with Louisa May Alcott’s books at an early age. This Pennsylvania-born women described a family that had high ideals and lived them out. Unbelievably, printed in 1868, “Little Women” is still read today. How she wrote this book in two six-week time frames is amazing to me. Her family perpetually was fighting poverty but was generous in sharing with those less fortunate, both in reality and in “Little Women.” They lived out what they believed. Louisa, aka Jo. passionately predicted at age 15, “I will do something by and by. Don’t care what, teach, sew, act, write, anything to help the family; and I’ll be rich and famous and happy before I die, see if I don’t.”

Discovering radium, which changed science, and then dying from its effects, Marie Curie proclaimed, “Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood.”

So if today is the day you find yourself in hot water, keep swimming.

Elizabeth Timothy, the First Newspaper Owner and Publisher in America

I have always been excited to learn about women who were first at something, and Elizabeth Timothy wins in that category in South Carolina.

When her publisher husband died in 1738, Elizabeth Timothy became the first female newspaper publisher and editor in America.

Elizabeth was born in Holland and immigrated to America in 1731 with her husband and four children. They sailed with other French Huguenots fleeing persecution.

Timothy met Benjamin Franklin, who hired him to be librarian of Franklin’s Philadelphia Library Company. Then Franklin trained him in the printing business at the Pennsylvania Gazette.

Franklin had helped establish the South Carolina Gazette in Charlestown. When the publisher died, Timothy took his place in 1733. They signed a six year contract with Timothy’s son Peter as the next in line as publisher. The Gazette became the South Carolina’s first permanent newspaper under Timothy.

The family joined St. Philip’s Anglican Church and became quite active. Timothy organized a subscription postal system that originated in his printing office. In 1736, he obtained 600 acres and a town lot.

Lewis died in 1739, and Elizabeth took over. She was the mother of five children and momentarily expecting the sixth, but she took on another job. She ran the Gazette under the name of her 13-year-old son Peter. There was a year left on the contract, but not an issue was missed.

Elizabeth added a personal touch to the Gazette by adding woodcuts for illustration and advertisements. In the first issue after her husband’s death, she included a sentimental message asking for continued support from their customers.

Besides the Gazette, she printed books, pamphlets, tracts, and other publications. Franklin said that she was superior to her husband in her accounts; she “continu’d to account with the greatesr Regularity and Exactitude every Quarter afterwards; and manag’d the Business with such Success that she not only brought up reputably a Family of Children, but at the Expiration of the Term was able to purchase of me the Printing House and establish her Son in it.”

When her son Peter turned 21 in 1746, he assumed the operation of the Gazette from his mother. She turned right around and opened her own business, a book and stationery store next door to the printing office on King Street. Of course, she advertised in the Gazette. (I wonder if she had to pay?) In an ad in October, 1746, she announce that she had books available like pocket Bibles, spellers, primers, and books titled Reflections on Courtship and Marriage, Armstrong’s Poem  on Health, The Westminister Confession of Faith, and Watt’s Psalms and Hymns. She also sold bills of lading mortgages, bills of sale, writs, ink powder, and quills to local Charlestonians for reasonable prices.

Elizabeth ran her business for about a year before she left Charlestown for a season. She was back by 1756. She died in 1757, and her estate included three houses, a tract of land, and eight slaves. She was a wealthy woman.

As the mother of six children and the wife of a wealthy and influential publisher, Elizabeth Timothy enjoyed a social position attained by only a few women printers of the colonial period. But her success of the newspaper and printing business after Lewis Timothy’s death can only be attributed to her own business acumen and management skills.

As the first woman in America to own and publish a newspaper, she played a vital role in the development of Charleston and South Carolina. As official printer to the colony, she was closely associated with the South Carolina Assembly and colony’s government. And as the proprietor of a commercial printing business and bookstore, she printed, published, and offered for sale numerous books and pamphlets, and was at the center of the colony’s cultural and literary life.

In 1973, Elizabeth Timothy was inducted into the South Carolina Press Association Hall of fame. She was inducted into the South Carolina Business Hall of Fame in 2000.

Mark Twain once said, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore.  Dream. Discover.”

Elizabeth Timothy was a South Carolina woman who didn’t need these encouraging words. In reading about her life, I believe she had some similar words as her motto.




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