Claire Bellerjeau & Tiffany Yecke Brooks, PhD
Espionage and Enslavement in the Revolution: The True Story of Robert Townsend and Elizabeth
Co-Authors Claire Bellerjeau & Tiffany Yecke Brooks on their new book, Espionage and Enslavement in the Revolution: The True Story of Robert Townsend and Elizabeth, which brings to life the story of Elizabeth, an enslaved woman who was sold and bound for Charleston when she was brought back to New York by Revolutionary War spy, Robert Townsend. Over time, Elizabeth turns Townsend into an ardent abolitionist.
In January 1785, a young African American woman 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 abolitionist.
Robert Townsend is best known as one of George Washington’s most trusted spies, but few know about how he worked to end slavery. As Robert and Elizabeth’s story unfolds, prominent figures from history cross their path, including Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, Benedict Arnold, John André, and John Adams, as well as participants in the Boston Massacre, the Sons of Liberty, the Battle of Long Island, Franklin’s Paris negotiations, and the Benedict Arnold treason plot.
[Recorded on December 30, 2021.]