A Student of History

January 25, 2012

“Marital Infidelity and Espionage in the Siege of Boston”

Filed under: Early America,Wars — John Maass @ 9:02 am

Tuesday, February 7, 2012, at 5:15 p.m.,

Massachusetts Historical Society

Mr. J.L. Bell, Boston 1775, will present:

“Marital Infidelity and Espionage in the Siege of Boston”

Comment: Robert Allison, Suffolk University


This paper will examine patterns in the popular linkage between marital and political infidelities over a range of espionage cases from the start of the Revolutionary War. Drawing on new findings about such spies as Dr. Benjamin Church, Benjamin Thompson, and the Rev. John Carnes, it will address the topic from multiple perspectives, including actual cases, the use of marital disloyalty as a metaphor for political disloyalty, and how stories of family splits were hidden, preserved, or retold.

Each side of the political conflict tried to portray the other’s leaders, up to and including Thomas Gage and George Washington, as unfaithful husbands. Betrayal in the home, such reports suggested, led to betrayal of the public. Some men involved in espionage did indeed make a habit of extramarital affairs, but others appear to have undertaken their risky ventures to support their wives and children.

Both at the time and in later generations, Americans have been selective about which family splits they recorded, and thus which side’s agents appeared most treacherous.

RSVP to seminars@masshist.org<mailto:seminars@masshist.org or call 617-646-0568. In case of inclement weather, please phone 617-536-1608 for information.

All seminars take place at the Society, 1154 Boylston St., Boston, MA, and commence at 5:15 p.m. Each seminar consists of a discussion of a pre-circulated paper provided to our subscribers. (Papers will be available at the event for those who choose not to subscribe.) Afterwards the Society will provide a light buffet supper.

All seminars are free and open to the public. As in the past, we are making the essays available to subscribers as .pdfs through the seminar’s webpage, http://www.masshist.org/2012/calendar/seminars/early-american-history.

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