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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!

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