Test Your Knowledge of One of the First Spies in American History

On December 2, 1777, a local Philadelphia housewife and nurse named Lydia Barrington Darragh changed the course of history by aiding the Continental Army as one of the first spies in American history. Test your knowledge of the events surrounding this unsung Revolutionary War heroine with these trivia questions...


Who Did Lydia Barrington Darragh Spy On? # A portrait of Lydia Barrington Darragh. Image Source: Library of Congress After British General William Howe defeated the Continental Army at the Battle of Brandywine on September 11, 1777, the British Army took control of Philadelphia. General Howe stationed his headquarters across the street from the Darragh home, which proved to be a costly mistake, though Howe had no way of knowing at the time. The Darraghs were prominent members of the local Quaker community in Philadelphia and believed to be pacificists, unwilling to support either side during the Revolutionary War. But, spoiler alert: the Darragh family secretly supported the Continental Army and their cause. In fact, unbeknownst to General Howe, the oldest Darragh son, Charles, was actually a Patriot soldier. Which means the sweet nurse across the street was really a spy for General Washington. 

What Critical Information Did Garragh Gather From General Howe? # General William Howe, Commander-in-Chief of British forces during the Revolutionary War. Image Source: New York Public Library Space was scarce at the British Army headquarters across the street from the Garragh household. So, sometime in late fall 1777, General Howe and his team commandeered the upstairs of the Garragh home. Though the small children were sent away to stay with relatives (it's hard to halt a revolution with a bunch of screaming kids running around), Lydia was permitted to stay in her home. On the night of December 2, 1777, Lydia hid in a closet during a top-secret meeting between Howe and his officers where plans were discussed to sneak attack General Washington and his Continental Army a few days later.


How Did Garragh Get the News to General Washington? The next morning, Lydia made up an excuse (about needing flour) to gain permission from General Howe to cross enemy lines and visit the Frankford mill. With a sack full of flour and a coded message sewed into her clothing, Lydia stopped off at the Rising Sun Tavern on her way home. Lydia recognized a Patriot soldier in the tavern and passed along her note. Accounts differ about what happened from there, but one thing's for sure: Washington received the message. Several days later, when Howe and his troops descended upon Whitemarsh where the Continental Army was stationed, they found quite the surprise awaiting them.

What Happened When General Howe Attempted His Attack? Washington was ready. Instead of an attack that likely would have left the Continental Army without a Commander, Washington and his troops made a stand that lasted about three days before Howe retreated back to Philadelphia. Howe would resign from his post soon after, and in June 1778, the British Army withdrew from Philadelphia and Lydia Darragh was reunited with her family. 

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