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.]
History Camp Authors
America's Summer Roadtrip 2020
Claire Bellerjeau currently serves as historian and director of education at Raynham Hall Museum in Oyster Bay, New York, and has been researching the Townsend family and their slaves for over sixteen years, including curating a yearlong exhibit on the Townsend “Slave Bible” in 2005. In 2015, during a research visit to the New York Historical Society, she discovered what may be one of the earliest poems ever written by Jupiter Hammon, America’s first published African American writer. She has spoken internationally and published several articles in scholarly journals about life and artifacts of colonial New York. Bellerjeau lives with her husband, Chris, in Oyster Bay, New York.
Tiffany Yecke Brooks holds a PhD in American and Dramatic Literature from Florida State University and has spoken and published widely on early portrayals of race in trans-Atlantic performance as well as the emerging American identity in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. She was the lead researcher and contributing writer for the New York Times best-selling George Washington’s Secret Six, Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates, and Andrew Jackson and the Miracle at New Orleans, as well for Fear is a Choice with Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner and Limitless with Paralympic gold medalist Mallory Weggemann.