Virtual Parlor Chat: Espionage and Enslavement


Wed. March 15, 7:00 - 8:00 PM


Free; Eventbrite registration required


Join historian and author Claire Bellerjeau in a discussion about the incredible life of an enslaved Black woman from New York named Elizabeth, or Liss. Liss was enslaved by the Townsend family of Oyster Bay, Long Island, whose son, Robert Townsend (aka “Culper, Jr.”), was George Washington’s lead spy in Manhattan during the Revolutionary War. As the Culper Spy Ring used secret codes and invisible ink to smuggle vital information to Washington, evidence suggests Liss may also have engaged in intelligence gathering for the Patriot cause. Liss’ complex struggle for freedom sheds new light on the lives of thousands of other forgotten African Americans during the founding era.

Bellerjeau’s ongoing research began 18 years ago, as she scoured archives from Long Island and New York City to South Carolina, Michigan, Canada, and Connecticut. Newly digitized newspapers from the 18th and early 19th centuries provided a trail of breadcrumbs that helped to illuminate the lives of many of those connected to the narrative. As her research progressed, Liss’ incredible life, once hidden from view, came into sharper focus.

Bellerjeau’s work and the book she co-authored, Espionage and Enslavement in the Revolution: The True Story of Robert Townsend & Elizabeth, tie into Morris-Jumel Mansion’s mission of sharing stories previously excluded from historical narratives. To receive the link for this event, please register on Eventbrite.