Area of Study
Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Why would some people choose to overlook their apparent differences, ethnicity, religion, gender, and race, and risked being hung to participate in something (spying) where the outcome was not certain? Could they have sensed a moment in history was larger than they were and felt premonition of the new country before it was born?
Due to the complex and vibrant environment, a single answer is not possible. The Anglo-American conflict was not as French nor Russian Revolution; instead, it was a gradual transformation of individual social and political views, as Bernard Bailyn argues. The British aggressive imperial policies had a significant impact on the colonial routine. The quasi-independent political environment and accustomed economic dealings were suddenly coming under stricter control of the Westminster. These actions were the antithesis to the constitutional rights of the British subjects and personal want, and people started wondering whether they held the same status as the residents of the British Isles. In good faith, the colonial legislatures, acting for the whole dominion, sent numerous grievances to the Crown, but the ignorance, stubbornness, and want for mastery prevented London from grasping and accepting colonial reasoning. In this environment, the radical ideas, championed by a small group of people, were slowly gaining momentum and becoming a refuge from, and shortly an alternative to, British imperialistic policies. This process would not stop when the new American life was conceptualized in 1776; instead, the British atrocities on the battlefield and conditions in the occupied territory would keep it alive. The Revolution and War for Independence were ideological, but, at the same time, interwoven with personal motivations and experience. Almost all colonials were driven to consider joining the cause by the dominant psychological adjustments, but their own internal motivations pushed them to cut their ties with the Crown permanently.
Therefore, if we must distill a single factor for spying during the Revolution, the traditional motives—money, ideology, coercion, and ego (“MICE”)—would be the most accurate. With the ideological motivation more dominant on the side of George Washington and fellow Patriots, and monetary on the British. However, these factors should not be seen as singular motivators. They were entwined with spies’ personal experiences, desires, and grievances.
Leskovar, Fran, "The Setauket Gang: The American Revolutionary Spy Ring you've never heard about" (2019). Summer Research. 340.
University of Puget Sound