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Spy Letters of the American Revolution

Sir Henry Clinton’s trunk. The Henry Clinton Papers arrived in the United States in the mid-1920s and a decade and a half later they were opened for research at the William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

The Revolutionary War was not fought by proclamations and battles alone.  A major component of the war was the challenge of organizing military strategies over thousands of miles of battlefield.  From the very beginning of the war, a complex network of spies, double agents, and traitors began to emerge in an effort to learn the plans of the enemy before they were enacted.  The preservation and availability of the Sir Henry Clinton collection at the Clements Library provides an amazingly complete look at the everyday intelligence operations of both the British and American armies.  Many of the letters highlighted in this digital exhibit were pivotal to the success and failures of sieges, battles, and surprise attacks.

The exhibit aims to showcase the spy letters of the Sir Henry Clinton Papers and to situate them in an educational framework. The letters form the core of the exhibit. Because the exhibit provides large, readable images of the letters as well as transcriptions, the letters may be used substantively in the classroom. Furthermore, the letters may be accessed and understood in multiple ways. The letters may be reached through their stories, their methods, a timeline, biographies, or a map. The stories provide background contextual information about each letter; while the methods describe their techniques and formats. The map provides a visual representation of the letters’ travels. Biographies and a timeline provide supplementary information for further reference. Prints, portraits, and maps also supply additional background to the contents of the letters.