The Godfather of American Intelligence - Nathaniel Sackett

The Godfather of American Intelligence - Nathaniel Sackett

Let’s piggy back off yesterday’s article about the Culper Spy Ring with the man who might be considered the ‘godfather’ of American intelligence: Nathaniel Sackett.

Nathaniel Sackett is another Founder whose part in the television show TURN diverges wildly from his real life. 

Sackett did not invent all the espionage devices which the show gave him credit for, nor was he murdered in camp.

Sackett did, however, train Benjamin Tallmadge (leader of the now-famous Culper Ring) in the art of spying.

Nathaniel Sackett

By 1777, Nathaniel Sackett was serving in the New York Provincial Congress.

During his participation on this wartime government, Sackett was assigned to the Committee for Detecting and Defeating Conspiracies. This body acted as a counterintelligence agency which aimed at suppressing Loyalist resistance in the State.

Nathaniel’s work on this committee was respected and, on the recommendation of William Duer, he was approached by George Washington.

Founding American Intelligence

Washington tasked Sackett with the creation of an intelligence agency...the first Secret Service.

Nathaniel emphasized many points of strategy and safety to the Commander-in-Chief. This included the use of code names, though Washington wrote to Sackett in April 1777, “I have forgot the name & must be reminded of it again.”

Undoubtedly Sackett’s most important contribution to the American Revolution was his training of a young Officer by the name of Benjamin Tallmadge. Nathaniel taught Tallmadge the ways of espionage and soon Benjamin would take over the task of running intelligence for the Continental Army.


Unfortunately for Sackett, he was relieved of his duties shortly after Tallmadge demonstrated his superior ability.

As time wore on, it appears his mental faculties began to elude him, though Washington gave Nathaniel permission to work as a sutler in the waning days of the Revolutionary War.

A sutler was a person who followed the army and sold goods directly to the soldiers. This implies that Sackett fell on hard times, having dropped from a Representative and important operative to an army follower.

Going for Broke

Several years later, in one last effort to make a fortune, Nathaniel unsuccessfully attempted to start a new State in and around modern Ohio.

When Washington first took office as President, Sackett was one of the many people who wrote him looking for a position in the new government.

The long, rambling letter he sent describes how his time as a sutler had ruined him because the men had either purchased on credit which was never repaid or with Continentals which decreased in value immediately.

Washington did not give Sackett a job (rightfully so, as he was slowly losing his marbles).

Nathaniel Sackett died a poor many, both financially and mentally.

More Spies?

OK, here you go:

Hercules Mulligan Tailors Intelligence for the Continental Army

Austin Roe - Washington’s Spy on Horseback

James Armistead Is Not Another Face in the Crowd

Nathaniel Sackett is another person who appears in the great book ‘Washington’s Spies.’

This effort by Alexander Rose (who also wrote the TV show TURN, where he took A LOT of liberties) is a really fun, easy read which describes how Washington snuck information out of New York City.

If you’d like a copy you can get one through the Amazon affiliate link below (you’ll support this site, but don’t worry, Amazon pays me while your price stays the same).

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Samuel Thompson's War - Maine Enters The Revolution

Samuel Thompson's War - Maine Enters The Revolution

After Espionage - Benjamin Tallmadge's Last Stand

After Espionage - Benjamin Tallmadge's Last Stand