Freedom Timeline: An Unlikely Spy

Drawing of the American Flag

Gathering information or "intelligence" has been a part of defending freedom from the beginning of our nation. During America's War of Independence, a woman in Philadelphia found herself in a unique position to help the cause of freedom.

What is the Freedom Timeline?
The American Response to Terrorism is being fought in many ways. You may be hearing new words on television and at school such as intelligence, diplomacy and humanitarian relief. These words have served as markers on America's timeline of freedom over many years, and these stories show the courage and strength of Americans who made a contribution in the quest for freedom.

On December 2, 1777 a British officer knocked on Lydia's door. He asked her if he and a few guests could meet in her home that evening. Lydia agreed but became suspicious of his plans when he also asked her to make sure her family was asleep before the meeting began.

Lydia welcomed the British officer and his guests into her house and then returned to her bedroom. Unable to sleep, she crept through the house and hid in the room next to the parlor where the men were meeting. She put her ear to the keyhole so she could listen to their conversation. One of the soldiers read out loud an order for the British troops to engage in a sneak attack on George Washington and his troops at their camp at Valley Forge in two days.

When Lydia heard about the plans for the suprise attack, she became afraid and crept back to her room. In a little while, the British officer knocked on her bedroom door. Lydia ignored him and pretended she was asleep. He knocked again, and Lydia ignored him. After three knocks, she answered the door and the officer told her she could put out the candles because the men had left. Drawing of Fife and Drum corps

Lydia had a choice to make. She made the decision to personally warn General Washington about the British plans. To protect herself and her family, Lydia did not tell anyone, not even her husband, about the attack. Instead, she told her family she was riding out of town to pickup a sack of flour from a flour mill. Lydia crossed the British lines, passed the flour mill and rode through the snow toward Valley Forge, where she met one of George Washington's officers. Lydia told him about the British plans to attack the next day, and then headed home, retrieving a full sack of flour on her way.

A few days later, the British officer knocked again on Lydia's door. He asked Lydia if anyone in her family had been awake the night of the meeting. The officer said he was confident Lydia had been asleep because he knocked on her bedroom door three times before waking her. Lydia truthfully answered that "no one in her family" had been awake, and the officer thanked her for her time and left. She later learned that when the British arrived at Valley Forge on December 4, 1777 to launch a sneak attack, they found General Washington's men armed and waiting for them. The British soldiers left without attacking.

The British officer never knew Lydia had "spied" on his meeting that evening and ridden on horseback the next day to warn General Washington's troops at Valley Forge about the attack. By being alert and brave, Lydia became an unlikely spy.

Freedom Timeline: Historical Stories of Freedom
1777-Intelligence An Unlikely Spy
1831-liberty Underground Railroad
Statue of Liberty
March of Dimes
Berlin Airlift: Candy Bomber
Vocabulary List
Timeline quiz
Teacher's Guide