Ciphers, Codes, and Spies, Oh My!

Saturday, October 18 at Centerra

Join us and bring your magic decoder rings. You will explore the wide-spread use of codes in US history, examine some math behind ciphers, decipher coded letters, join Pinkerton’s spy agency, and analyze legislation about espionage.  Experience hands-on activities and develop materials for your own classrooms.

Pre--requisite: Essentials Exploration workshop.

Class is full. Please email to be notified regarding when Ciphers, Codes, and Spies, Oh My! will be reoffered.


8:30 a.m.


Sign in; Introductions

Overview of today’s program

In-class assignment

In-Class Worksheet

Strategies:  Close Reading, Analysis, Questioning,

Activity:   Ciphers: From Caesar to Thomas Jefferson

  • Alphabet analysis
  • Visual displays



10 minute break

Strategies:  Close Reading, Analysis, Compare and Contrast

Activity:  Culper Ring

  • Creating a cipher mathematically
  • Mapping the Culper Ring’s route


Strategies:  Close Reading of multiple texts, Analysis, Summary

Activity:  You are a Pinkerton Agent


12:30-1:00 Lunch

Credit information and day’s assignment


Strategies:  Close Reading, Analysis, Text-dependent- hypothesis testing

Activity: The Patriot Act and today’s “I Spy”


Take a break as needed

Individual Work:

  • Introduction to applicable Library of Congress Sites
  • Finding primary sources, getting help and feedback from facilitators

For Credit:

Everyone complete the workshop assignment.

3:30 – 4:00

Wrap up


Ciphers, Codes, and Spies Workshop Resources

Revolutionary War timeline w/ GW letter in code presentationsandactivities/presentations/timeline/amrev/peace/ngreene.html

Jefferson’s Invention

Thomas Jefferson, no date, Cipher Wheel, Notes and Copy and pages following

Info on Jefferson’s cipher and his “secret” message to Congress

The Thomas Jefferson Papers Series 1. General Correspondence. 1651-1827
Thomas Jefferson, no date, Printed Numerical Cipher Results for "jefferson's cipher" and the actual cipher:

Transcript: Jefferson's Secret Message to Congress

Used for letter frequency worksheet.


Cipher Sleuths Lesson on  Ciphers with the Caesar Key Circle

George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress, 1741-1799: Series 4. General Correspondence. 1697-1799
Samuel Culper Jr. to John Bolton, August 6, 1779, in Code with Translation

(Two  important Culper Ring members)

Results for "The Committee of Secret Correspondence"

Used for letter frequency worksheet.  Jefferson’s “secret” letter

Caleb Brewster to George Washington, July 30, 1781


Map of the southern part of the state of New York including Long Island, the Sound, the state of Connecticut, part of the state of New Jersey, and islands adjacent : compiled from actual late surveys

Spy routes—for map exercise

Lesson plan “borrowed” from this plan—this map on p. 6

Math and algebra Culper lessons from this site

CIA intelligence cycle

Civil War stereographs from the collection of William A. Pinkerton

The Culper Spy Ring and Benedict Arnold

Spy Letters of the American Revolution: From the Collections of the Clements Library

  George Washington, Spymaster

Women Soldiers in the Civil War, Part 2: Their Service Remembered in Library of Congress Primary Sources  

February 21, 2013 by Cheryl Lederle

The Female Spy of the Union Army; The Thrilling Adventures, Experiences and Escapes of a Woman as Nurse , Spy and Scout in Hospitals, Camps and Battlefields by S. Emma E. Edmonds 1864 - USA PATRIOT Act (National Security v. Civil Liberties)

(USA Patriot ACT - Status of Legislation (Became Law) and sorted for the years 2001-2002, 2007-2008 and 2011-2012)

(H.B. 3162 - The Original USA PATRIOT Act)

(S. 990 - PATRIOT Sunsets Extension Act of 2011)

Humor's Edge; Cartoons by Ann Telnaes

(Guide to Identifying People by their Headgear 9/26/01)

(I Want Your Civil Liberties 12/18/01)

(Patriotic Surveillance 6/3/03)

(For the New Year I've Decided to Give Up Smoking, Drinking and My Civil Rights 12/6/01)

Freedom of Information Act and Amendments of 1974 (P. L. 93-502) source book : legislative history, texts, and other documents




Current News

New resource: Book Backdrops developed by our summer institue participants.

Calendar of Events:

Coming this Fall 2015

Transforming America: America in the Gilded Age (Date to be announced soon)

Other offerings this fall will be Essentials Exploration and a Special Topics workhop focused on WWII