“The advantage of obtaining the earliest and best Intelligence of the designs of the Enemy … have induced me to entrust the management of this business to your care.” So wrote Gen. George Washington in 1777 from his headquarters in Morristown, New Jersey, to New York merchant Nathaniel Sackett.
Yes, the father of our country and namesake of our nation’s capital was also America’s original spymaster.
Tales of spies and espionage continue to intrigue the average citizen, perhaps more than ever. To be a spy is to inhabit “a wilderness of mirrors,” a phrase attributed to James Jesus Angleton, oracle of the Central Intelligence Agency. It is to blend in — not at all to be like a James Bond or a Mata Hari.
It is generally agreed that there are more spies in Washington, D.C., than in any other city in the world. The International Spy Museum, now located at L’Enfant Plaza, estimates there are 10,000 spies in D.C. — meaning not just official operators but their numerous associates and various contractors involved with a foreign power The museum’s collection is serious and extensive, but also gives a nod to popular culture; James Bond’s Aston Martin is near the entrance.
Two popular recent TV series, “Turn: Washington’s Spies,” about spy circles in Revolutionary-era Long Island, and “The Americans,” about a Russian spy team acting the part of an American couple during the Cold War, complete the picture.
Today, former spy Amaryllis Fox is on a book tour for her memoir “Life Undercover: Coming of Age in the CIA,” offering her up-to-date version of spycraft in the War on Terror. Fox went to graduate school at Georgetown University while learning CIA techniques in Virginia at the age of 21.
Spies have been around the District since its founding in 1790. Our assignment today — should you choose to accept it — is focused on the oldest D.C. neighborhood, Georgetown. Let’s name some names that walked along the sidewalks and drove down the streets. The list is likely incomplete (which we neither confirm nor deny).
GEORGETOWN’S SPOOKS — FROM THE CIVIL WAR TO THE CYBER AGE
During the Civil War, Georgetown was a hotbed of Southern sympathizers, notably businessman William Corcoran and Britannia Peter Kennon of Tudor Place. Some homes’ shutters were drawn so as not to view the U.S. flag.
Rose O’Neal Greenhow, who lived downtown, was the Confederates’ most famous spy in D.C., regularly under surveillance by Allan Pinkerton’s guards. She had some helpers, of course, including Betty Duvall, who rode through Georgetown to Chain Bridge and escaped to Fairfax, Virginia, as well as Ann Lillie Mackall, who transported some notes to the South. Duvall and Mackall are buried in Oak Hill Cemetery.