Ann Bates: The Schoolteacher Spy

The Schoolteacher Spy

A Philadelphia schoolteacher with Loyalist sympathies, Ann Bates was one of the most successful British spies of the war.

Her espionage began in 1778, shortly after she accompanied her husband, a British soldier and gunsmith, to his post in New York. At the British camp, she met Major Duncan Drummond, the intelligence chief for the British commanding general, who preceded Major John André in that capacity. Drummond proposed to employ Bates as a spy for the British Army.

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A Philadelphia schoolteacher with Loyalist sympathies, Ann Bates was one of the most successful British spies of the war.

Her espionage began in 1778, shortly after she accompanied her husband, a British soldier and gunsmith, to his post in New York. At the British camp, she met Major Duncan Drummond, the intelligence chief for the British commanding general, who preceded Major John André in that capacity. Drummond proposed to employ Bates as a spy for the British Army.

At the time, women were largely considered incapable of understanding military matters or the significance of what they saw or heard, and thus many were allowed unfettered access to military camps. That allowed Bates to easily cross into Continental Army lines and report back to the British on troop movements, supplies, and planning of future operations. She even received passes from two notable figures: General Benedict Arnold, prior to his own espionage, and General Charles Scott, then serving as Washington’s intelligence chief.

Breaching Washington’s Headquarters

Even with limited training, Bates managed to gain access to Washington’s headquarters on multiple occasions. Disguised as a peddler, she roamed freely through the Continental Army camp in White Plains, New York, eavesdropping on conversations among the officers and enlisted men. Following one such mission in 1778, Bates warned the British about Continental troops advancing toward Rhode Island, spoiling the American plan.

Letter discussing the employment of Ann Bates as a British spy camera icon - click to open modal with more details Letter discussing the employment of Ann Bates as a British spy
The Miller farm was used at one time by Washington as his headquarters in White Plains, New York.
Old farm house used by George Washington as a headquarters

A Lonely Retirement

Bates’ espionage ended in 1780, when her husband was assigned a new post in South Carolina. She travelled with him to England the following year, where he subsequently abandoned her. Facing financial hardship, the American-born Bates convinced the British government to provide her with a small pension as payment for her wartime spying.

A 1937 image of the Miller farm once used by Washington as his headquarters in White Plains, New York.
Old farm house used by George Washington as a headquarters camera icon - click to open modal with more details