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John André. A rendering of his capture at Tarrytown, New York. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZC4-2395).

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André, John (02 May 1750–02 October 1780), British officer and spy, was born in London, England, the son of Anthony André, a merchant, and Marie Louise Girardot. His early schooling was with a tutor, the Reverend Thomas Newcomb, and he may have attended St. Paul’s School. In his teens André studied mathematics and military drawing at the University of Geneva, giving vent to his romantic temperament by dreaming of a military career. He was rudely brought back to reality by his merchant father when he was called home to work in the countinghouse before he completed a degree. Despising the family business, he nevertheless labored at it manfully for a number of years. After his father died on 14 April 1769, he felt a particular obligation as the eldest son to continue the business, even though his father had left him financially independent, with a small fortune of £5,000. In the summer of 1769 he joined a Lichfield literary group presided over by Anna Seward, a poet. The group included a young lady named Honora Sneyd, for whom he developed a passion. They became engaged and courted for a year and a half before she suddenly rejected him for another man at a Christmas party in 1770. Shattered by this betrayal, André revived his earlier ambition to become a soldier and in early 1771 bought a second lieutenant’s commission in the 23d Regiment, Royal Welsh Fusiliers. Later he purchased a first lieutenancy in the same regiment....

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Bancroft, Edward (09 January 1744–08 September 1821), physician, scientist, and spy, was born in Westfield, Massachusetts, the son of Edward Bancroft and Mary Ely, farmers. The elder Bancroft died in 1746 of an epileptic attack suffered in a pigpen, two months before the birth of his younger son, Daniel. His widow married David Bull of Westfield in 1751, and the family moved to Hartford, Connecticut, where Bull operated the Bunch of Grapes tavern. Edward Bancroft was taught for a time by the recent Yale graduate ...

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Browne, John Ross (11 February 1821–08 December 1875), writer, world traveler, and government agent, was born in Beggars Bush, near Dublin, Ireland, the son of Thomas Egerton Browne and Elana Buck. His father was a refugee from British rule. As the editor of three publications, Thomas Browne satirized British tithing measures and earned the enmity of the Crown, a fine, and a jail sentence for “seditious libel.”...

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Burke, Michael (08 June 1918–05 February 1987), intelligence operative and sports executive, was born in Enfield, Connecticut, the son of Patrick Burke, an attorney, and Mary Fleming. After Patrick Burke graduated from the Yale University Law School, the family moved to County Galway, Ireland, where they lived from 1918 to 1925. Each side of the family claimed ancestry as far back as the Norman invasion of 1169....

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Childs, Morris (10 June 1902–02 June 1991), Communist official and American intelligence double agent, was born Moishe Chilovsky in Kiev, Ukraine, the son of Joseph Chilovsky, a cobbler, and Anna Chilovsky. Joseph Chilovsky, a Jew, fled Tsarist oppression, arriving in America in 1910; he sent for the rest of his family late the next year. (In 1926 the spelling of their name was Americanized, and Morris became a naturalized citizen the following year.) In 1916 Morris went to work as an apprentice in his father's business; then he became a milkman. In 1919 he joined the Communist party in Chicago. Twice arrested for participating in street demonstrations, he soon became a protégé of future party leader ...

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Denys de la Ronde, Louis (02 August 1675–25 March 1741), French military officer, explorer, and spy, was born in Quebec City, Canada, the son of Pierre Denys de la Ronde, a landowner and merchant (the Crown had given the aristocracy in Canada permission to engage in trade), and Catherine Leneuf de la Potherie. He entered naval service in 1687 as a midshipman in France. During the war of 1689–1697 he served in exiled British king James II’s expedition to Ireland, then off the coast of England, and finally on several voyages to New France and along the coast of New England. Captured at sea in 1695, he was soon released in an exchange of prisoners of war. He served in ...

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Digges, Thomas Attwood (04 July 1742–06 December 1821), gentleman, confidential agent, ne'er-do-well, and novelist, gentleman, confidential agent, ne’er-do-well, and novelist, was born in Warburton, Maryland, the son of William Digges and Ann Attwood, the owners of “Warburton Manor.” Digges was sent abroad to be educated. Family tradition holds that he attended Oxford University, but his Catholic faith and the absence of his name in university records make this unlikely. In 1767, after being disowned by his family for reasons that are not known, Digges purportedly went to live in Portugal, where he stayed until 1773 or 1774. In a subsequent letter to ...

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Klaus Fuchs. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-102575).

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Fuchs, Klaus Emil Julius (29 December 1911–28 January 1988), physicist and spy, was born in Russelheim, near Frankfurt, Germany, the son of Emil Fuchs, a Lutheran minister, and Else Wagner. Klaus Fuchs studied mathematics and physics at Leipzig University (1928–1931) and continued his undergraduate studies in physics at Kiel University (1931–1933). As a student at Kiel University, he joined, first, the Social Democratic party and, in 1932, the German Communist party. After the Reichstag fire in February 1933, and the attendant Nazi reprisals against the political Left, Fuchs went into hiding in Berlin for a few months, then migrated to Britain in September 1933. He continued his studies in physics at Bristol University, where he secured a position as a research assistant to Neville Mott. In his research Fuchs applied quantum physics to questions of the electrical resistance of metallic films, working with Bernard Lovell, who was later knighted for his achievements in physics. In 1937 Fuchs was granted a Ph.D. in physics at Bristol. A paper that resulted from his doctoral research, “A Quantum Mechanical Calculation of the Elastic Constants of Monovalent Metals,” appeared in the ...

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Hale, Nathan (06 June 1755–22 September 1776), martyr of the American Revolution, was born in Coventry, Connecticut, the son of Richard Hale and Elizabeth Strong, successful farmers. A sickly infant, he barely survived his first year, but as he grew he became an outdoorsman and a powerful athlete. He enjoyed reading, and his father decided to prepare him for the ministry, first by hiring Rev. Joseph Huntington to tutor him and then by sending him in 1769 to Yale College. At Yale he was widely admired by his teachers and fellow students. Dr. ...

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Lafayette, James (1748–09 August 1830), patriot spy, also known to history as James Armistead, was born in slavery; little is recorded of his parentage or early life except that he belonged to William Armistead of New Kent County, Virginia. In the summer of 1781 James was attending his master while Armistead worked as a commissary in Richmond, supplying patriot forces under the command of the ...

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Gaston B. Means Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-109386).

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Means, Gaston Bullock (11 July 1879–12 December 1938), spy, swindler, and detective, was born in Blackwelder’s Spring, North Carolina, the son of William Gaston Means, an attorney, and Corallie Bullock. Means grew up in Concord, North Carolina, in a family that had lost most of its considerable wealth during the Civil War. He left the University of North Carolina in 1900, early in his third year, and served for two years as the superintendent of the elementary schools in Stanly County, adjacent to Concord. In 1902 he took a job as a salesman for the Cannon textile mills, living in New York City and traveling widely....

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Moody, James (31 December 1744–06 April 1809), British spy during the American Revolution, was born in Little Egg Harbor, New Jersey, the son of John Moody, a merchant, and a woman known only as Mrs. Holden, a widow. Although James’s parents were Anglican the community was predominantly Quaker, and he is assumed to have been educated in the community’s Quaker school. As a young adult he made his way to Knowlton Township, Sussex County. There he married Elisabeth Brittain, with whom he had three children. He farmed on five hundred acres given to him by his father, successfully raising sheep and cattle....

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Powers, Francis Gary (17 August 1929–01 August 1977), pilot and espionage agent, was born in Burdine, Kentucky, the son of Oliver Powers, a coal miner, and Ida Ford. Powers wanted to be a pilot from his first plane ride at age fourteen, yet his father, who possessed a fifth-grade education, favored medicine to ensure financial security. Sent to Milligan College in Johnson City, Tennessee, Powers dropped his premedical studies in his junior year and, after graduating in 1950, enlisted in the air force....

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See Rosenberg, Ethel

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Tallmadge, Benjamin (25 February 1754–07 March 1835), intelligence officer and congressman, was born in Setauket (now Brookhaven), New York, the son of Benjamin Tallmadge, a Congregational minister, and Susannah Smith. Yale president Naphtali Daggett admitted Tallmadge at age twelve, but Tallmadge entered in 1769. ...

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Wentworth, Paul (?– December 1793), speculator and secret agent, was born probably on the island of Barbados, the son of William Wentworth, probably a sugar planter, and Elizabeth (maiden name unknown). Little is known about Paul’s early life, but he was mentioned in his father’s will of 23 August 1750. He appears to have been well educated with a special proficiency in languages. As a teenager he surfaced in New England with letters of recommendation that he presented to Samuel Wentworth of Boston and ...