The Pinkertons and the Lady Spy

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carolyn (2)My guest this week is Lynna Banning, author of the recent Harlequin Historical release The Lone Sheriff. Lynna was born in Oregon but has lived in Northern California most of her life. Including her coming October novel, she has published twenty-three books!

An amateur pianist and harpsichordist, Lynna performs on harp and psaltery in a medieval music ensemble, where she also plays cortholt, recorders, and tar (drum). Given that background, you’d expect her to write Medieval historicals. Instead she focuses on the old West for her stories.

The Lone Sheriff features a female Pinkerton agent, so today she’s giving us a little background on the famous detective agency.

 

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Known as the first private eye, Allan Pinkerton set up his North-West Detective Agency in 1850. His motto We Never Sleep proved true during the Civil War, when he aborted an assassination attempt on President Lincoln in Baltimore. Lincoln, on his way to Washington for his inauguration, was so impressed with Pinkerton’s intelligence-gathering that he offered him a job.

In 1856 Pinkerton had created the Female Detective Bureau, and though his sons tried to disband the fledgling organization, the lady detectives proved their worth and thrived, particularly during the Civil War. The first female Pinkerton agents were Kate Warne, an attractive 23-year-old widow, and Hattie Lawton, also a widow. Both women were vital to Pinkerton’s intelligence gathering in the riotously amoral atmosphere of Washington where Confederate agents moved and mingled, and female supporters of Dixie flocked to the center of wartime activity and carried out astonishing feats of spying.

One unforgettable spy was the Washington socialite Rose Greenhow, known as The Wild Rose. She was the aunt of Stephen Douglas, and while his loyalty to Lincoln was never in doubt, Aunt Rose favored the South and ran Pinkerton a merry chase that ended finally in her death.

Rose moved in the very highest circles, acting as hostess for James Buchanan, but she sympathized with the South. When war broke out, she joined a Confederate ring of women spies, and her grandest coup came in July 1861 when she transmitted messages by courier giving details of General Irvin McDowell’s plans. This enabled the South to prepare for the first battle of Bull Run with an ace up its sleeve.

Rose had elegant manners and great beauty; she captivated statesmen, diplomats, legislators, and generals, and within weeks she had established a network of spies and informants extending as far as Texas. When word came to Allan Pinkerton that the society belle was leaking secrets, he put Rose under secret surveillance.

Rose behaved as if she were untouchable. She and her ladies knew they were being watched but treated it as a game. The Confederate spy tried everything she could to throw Pinkerton off her trail, but he managed to break into her mansion. While he missed a note from Confederate President Jefferson Davis, thanking her for the Bull Run information, his agents uncovered much other incriminating evidence, including her diary. He continued to watch the Greenhow mansion around the clock.

In August a civil warrant was issued for Rose’s arrest; Pinkerton and three men, accompanied by female agent Hattie Lawson, found Rose at home. She immediately tried to swallow a coded message, but Pinkerton tore it from her mouth. Rose then sat calmly while the men ransacked her house, unearthing a quantity of incriminating material: ordnance records detailing arms and ammunition, copies of troop orders, even her diary, which incriminated a broad collection of Washington citizenry.

Rose and her youngest daughter, Little Rose, were placed under house arrest. When her Confederate agents continued to pay her visits, they fell straight into Pinkerton’s hands. He then used these men (and women) as double agents, feeding false information to the Confederate capital. The spy ring was huge; scarcely a prominent Washington family remained un-implicated, and Pinkerton had a field day arresting agents.

Even in prison, Rose continued her espionage activities. She was questioned and remained in prison at Pinkerton’s insistence, but over his objections, was offered parole on condition that she sign an oath not to aid the enemy. She refused, but she was released anyway. Rose and two other women accused of spying were then handed over to the Confederacy.

In Richmond, Rose was revered. Her book, My Imprisonment and the First Year of Abolition Rule at Washington, published in London, became a bestseller. She went abroad, captivated Napoleon III and dined with Queen Victoria; then became engaged to the Earl Granville, a powerful political figure in England.

On her return to the South, her ship ran aground in a storm off Wilmington, North Carolina. Rose had sewn hundreds of gold sovereigns into her corset and underclothing; and when the lifeboat capsized she sank and was drowned

And Allan Pinkerton went on capture railroad thieves, forgers, counterfeiters, wiretappers, and illegal inside traders, etc. and also to infiltrate and arrest members of the Molly Maguires.

Source: Allan Pinkerton, The First Private Eye, by James MacKay.

 

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9780373297993.inddAs if tracking down train robbers isn’t hard enough, loner Sheriff Jericho Silver’s backup arrives and she’s a beautiful, gun-slinging, back-East proper Pinkerton lady detective who sure spells trouble.  And she won’t take No for an answer.

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“You’re here to help?” Jericho echoed.

“Of course. I am Madison O’Donnell. The Smoke River Bank hired me to help you catch the gang robbing their gold shipments.

Jericho stared at her.

“I believe you were expecting me?”

He snapped his jaw shut. The last thing he’d expected was this frilly-looking female with her ridiculous feather-bedecked hat. In her green-striped dress and twirling her parasol like that she made him think of a dish of cool mint ice cream.

Whatever is the matter, Sheriff?  You have gone quite pale. Are you ill?”

He jerked at the question.  Not ill, just gut-shot.  “Uh, yeah.  I mean, no.  I’m not ill.  Just  . . . surprised.”

She lowered her voice. “Most clients are surprised when they meet me. It will pass.”

Hell no, it won’t.

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http://www.amazon.com/Lone-Sheriff-Harlequin-Historical-ebook/dp/B00JIHATO8

Also on Barnes & Noble.

Lynna enjoys hearing from her readers; write her directly at P.O. Box 324, Felton, Ca 95018, USA, or at carowoolston@att.net.

Visit Lynna’s website at www.lynnabanning.net.
Blog: http://montereybayrwa.blogspot.com/
Facebook: www.facebook.com/lynnabanning

Categories: Civil War, Historicals, lady detectives, Pinkertons, romance, Romantic suspense, Spies, suspense, Western romance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

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12 thoughts on “The Pinkertons and the Lady Spy

  1. What a thrilling story! Those were crazy times and obviously full of crazy people, too. Thanks for the history lesson!

  2. vicki

    That was fascinating about the Pinkerton Agency and the female agents. Thanks so much for sharing.

  3. Thanks for sharing the interesting post.

  4. Wow, Thanks I learned a lot today.

  5. This history is fascinating.Too bad it isn’t well known . . . or is it and I’m just uninformed?
    Carol

    • I was a history major and knew about Pinkerton and Lincoln, but I wasn’t aware of the female agents or Wild Rose. It is fascinating.

      • Kate,
        I was really fascinated to learn that many of the “spies” that crossed from Union lines into Confederate territory were women! Some of them taped messages to the undersides of their petticoats…

    • Carol–you’re not uninformed at all. The fact that Pinkerton used female agents is not well known…that’s why I was so intrigued by my character…
      Hope you will enjoy the book!

      Lynna Banning

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