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Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Gambling On A Cowboy and the Rise of the Pinkerton Agency

My entry into this compilation of cowboy stories features a gambler who spent his miliary career as a spy for the Union. He enlisted as one of the Confederacy, which turned many a person against him, since he had grown up in Pennsylvania, which was firmly within the Union camp. They couldn't understand why James turned his back on his country, to join forces with the opposition. As you can imagine, this caused a lot of hurt, which he is trying to overcome, now that the war has ended.
The Civil War was the most different war America ever fought, since there was no clear-cut way to tell friend from foe. No bright red uniforms, no British or French accents. Everyone was an American. They looked the same and sounded the same. The ability of a man from the north to infiltrate into southern society was relatively easy to accomplish. But easy or not, a spy needed a network to operate within, and have the ability to pass information along via a channel to the north.
Since there was no central military intelligence organization at the time, the Union generals formed their own operations. General George B. McClellan hired an already prominent detective, Allan Pinkerton, to create an espionage agency. At the time, Pinkerton was head of a well-known detective agency in Chicago, and had supplied McClellan with information during the early months of the war, so McClellan had reason to rely on Pinkerton to set up an agency in early 1861. Pinkerton assembled a group of spies to infiltrate the southern forces in Richmond. One of these gentlemen was Timothy Webster.
Webster came to America from England in 1830 with his parents, and settled in Princeton, NJ. He was eight years old at the time. He joined the police force in New York City as an adult, where he had occasion to meet Allan Pinkerton. He then joined the Pinkerton establishment in 1856. In 1861, Pinkerton sent Webster south with another spy, a female named Hattie Lawton. They posed as a married couple and infiltrated a pro-Southern group where they were privy to details on the south’s activities and plans. Through this pair, a plot to assassinate President Lincoln at his inauguration was uncovered and thwarted. Webster also managed to gain the attention of the Confederate Secretary of War, Judah P. Benjamin, who recruited him to act as a courier of Confederate missives between Baltimore and Richmond, so he became, in effect, the first double agent in America. He copied the letters and passed them to his Union affiliates at Pinkerton.
Webster continued to work for Pinkerton through 1862, remaining in Richmond, where he fell ill. Pinkerton sent two other men to find Webster, who had ceased sending reports north. The two men were recognized as Union spies, and captured. One of them gave up the goods on Webster, who by this time had worked his way into the Confederacy. They were very embarrassed when his true leanings were uncovered and the court-martial was swift. The two men who exposed him were released, but Webster was arrested, tried, and court martialed. Hattie Lawson was also imprisoned but later released.
"The Court having maturely considered the evidence adduced, and two-thirds concurring therein, they find the prisoner guilty of the charge." "Whereupon, two-thirds the Court concurring, it was adjustment that the accused 'Suffer death by hanging.' "
When Pinkerton heard of the capture and the death sentence, he asked President Lincoln to send a message to the Confederacy that if Webster was sent to his death, the north would reciprocate by hanging one of the Confederate spies they had in their jails. Undeterred, the Confederacy hanged Webster, but he did not go down without a fight. The first rope was faulty and only partially hung him. The stunned man was quickly walked up the gallows a second time. It took two tries of hanging by a rope before his life was finally extinguished.
Pinkerton would later say, "No braver nor truer man died during the War of the Rebellion than Timothy Webster."
Lincoln removed General McClellan from his command in November, 1862, and Pinkerton resigned in solidarity, where he returned to his detective agency in Chicago.
In the 1870s, Franklin Gowan, president of the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad, hired the agency to investigate the labor unions cropping up among the railroad employees. And famously, in 1874, agents were hired to track outlaws Jesse James, The Reno Gang and The Wild Bunch, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’s gang, which launched the agency into fame. Pinkerton agents were hired as muscle when transporting money and high quality merchandise throughout the west, which made them prime targets for outlaws. They were well paid and well-armed men.
As America evolved, so did the Pinkerton Agency. In the 1960s, the word “detective” disappeared from the company logo, as they performed more protective services. Today, the focus is on threat intelligence, risk management, and executive protection. In 1999, the firm was purchased by a Swedish security company, for $384 million.

15 comments:

  1. Wonderful piece. Thanks for writing it. Hattie Lawson was not only an early female Pinkerton, but she was also the first female mixed race agent, probably in the world, but certainly in the USA. She was also known as Carrie Lawton, and Kitty Brackett, and was able to pass as white. As in most of these ladies, nothing is known of them after they leave the agency, yet male agents usually have a substantially-documented life story.

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  2. I had to double-check who was writing this article because I'm familiar with Christine's Innocence series involving two Pinkerton detectives. This is fabulous research, Becky, and invites all kinds of interesting stories to be written. What a courageous woman, Hattie was, working in a man's field, and with such a dangerous mission. I love reading mystery/ detective stores and have since I first learned to read. I look forward to reading your story.

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    1. I love uncovering the forgotten heroines in both the Revolutionary and the Civil War. Hattie was a great find for me.

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  3. Becky, I enjoyed this post very much! I can't even imagine being hanged once, much less multiple times! UGH! This was really interesting--and you know how much I loved your story GAMBLING ON FOREVER! James and Elise were so perfect for one another!

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    1. Thanks, Cheryl. I really enjoyed these two characters as well.

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  4. Hi, Becky! Your post interested me so much I had to go look up Timothy Webster and Hattie Lawson to see what they looked like--proof that you got me intrigued. You've made me want to explore more about spies during the Civil War. Great research and what character inspiration. I have this collection on my kindle and I look forward to reading your story.

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    1. Thanks, Patti. One of the joys of writing historical romances is unearthing interesting characters like these.

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  5. Thank you for uninteresting post. I had not realized that Pinkerton was involved supplying spies during the Civil War. It isn't something I have ever heard associated with the name. His agents did work undercover in their detective work, so it rally isn't much of a stretch to spying during the war.

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    1. I guess every good business venture has to start somewhere, and the Pinkertons are no exception. Thanks for stopping by and reading my post.

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  6. Becky,

    The Pinkerton Detective Agency is a fascinating organization. So many 'real' stories and so many stories for fodder for authors to write.

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    1. I agree, Kaye. This is the stuff that makes our stories so realistic.

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  7. I'd actually come across Hattie in some of my research, but not Webster. I do love this type of history and thank you for finding and sharing it with us. Doris

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    1. Thanks, Doris. I love finding real life heroes and heroines that have been overlooked by history.

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  8. The Gambling series looks so enticing and stories by fantastic authors who write great westerns.
    I love the cover for Gambling on Forever.
    Your post was packed with some fascinating details about the history of the Pinkertons. I see you really got into some research.
    Before my sister went into nursing, she worked for Pinkertons for a while. She didn't like it, but I thought it was so cool.
    I wish you all the best, Becky, and I apologize for getting here so late.

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