Eric Boss reviews THE FIRST CONSPIRACY
Best known for his NYT bestselling thrillers, the author has produced a fine piece of historical writing that adds materially to the chronicle of our country’s revolution, and particularly our first president. It is ground well covered but the title incident is not. Using a no-nonsense style and meticulous reportage, we are made privy to little-known correspondence, trial transcripts, and scholarly speculation regarding an elaborate plot to disrupt the revolution and assassinate its leaders, most notably George Washington. The careful exposition of facts, piece by piece is especially compelling.
Notably unsuccessful in its first years, the continental army is nonetheless a tangible threat to British supremacy in North America and is considered a danger to the monarchy of that nation. Vastly outnumbered, outgunned and without any viable navy, the rebels have, regardless of these handicaps, managed to keep the King’s armies out of New York, our country’s second largest city and perhaps the most strategically important port in the colonies. As the loyalist supporters of the empire are identified and hobbled, numerous enemies of the revolutionaries are still at large even in positions of power. Led by William Tryon, appointed governor of New York, who has been sequestered in a British ship anchored in New York harbor, a complex network of spies and saboteurs have been recruiting Americans and even members of the continental army into the ranks of those pledged to aid England when the inevitable invasion commences. In addition to preparing this host of supporters, Tryon and his minions hatch a scheme to eliminate the leaders of the rebellion, but especially its charismatic leader, Washington.
Something must be done, and what is determined to be necessary is what will, in later times, come to be known as counterintelligence. Ill-suited toward this kind of clandestine warfare, Washington nonetheless sees the necessity and empowers its development, even becoming adept at these unfamiliar tactics himself. What came of it all was of utmost importance to the success of the revolution and creation of the United States of America.
Using careful research and scrupulous adherence to verifiable accounts the authors have, in a responsible fashion, filled in gaps of data with well-considered speculation, always clearly stated and without resorting to undue theorizing. The text reads as a journalistic account of the facts buoyed by intelligent hypotheses about motives, actions and outcomes. It is a remarkable work and one which will interest most readers of nonfiction, specifically those whose interest is in our country’s history. It deserves a place with the works of Ron Chernow and Nathaniel Philbrick, in my opinion.
Shelf Talker: A careful and reasoned examination of a little-known aspect of Revolutionary history, one that could have altered our country’s path. Readable and quickly-paced, it will appeal to nonfiction readers, especially lovers of American history.