In Season 2, Episode 9, following his release from prison, Abe immediately makes his way back to Robert Townsend’s boarding house and discovers Robert has sold the property, leaving only a bill for Abe. Later, at the Townsend home in Oyster Bay, Long Island, Abe learns the Townsends were the victims of a raid by Simcoe’s Rangers that resulted in the beating of Robert’s father, Samuel, and the torching of the Townsends’ stables.
Samuel tells Abe that Robert was so upset by the raid that “it lit a fire in him” and made him vow to “get justice,” and that Robert sent a message to Abe that “only you can read” (leading Abe to realize his bill contains a secret message written in invisible ink). It appears that, finally, Robert Townsend is ready to become a spy — but how exactly did he come to this point?
Subterfuge is defined as using deceit to accomplish a goal. Because spies must often achieve goals that are in direct opposition to the motivations of those whose help they need in order to accomplish their mission, at times spies must present an asset with an altered version of reality. The idea is to get the asset to view a situation though a particular lens — and, as a result, become willing to lend their help to the spy’s cause.
In Abe’s case, he needs an access agent, a man inside New York who has an appropriate cover to explain his presence there, freeing him to covertly gather intelligence without the strained excuses Abe himself has needed to make. Townsend is that man — but his Quaker belief in abstaining from violence has kept him out of the war, regardless of his disapproval of the actions of the British in the colonies. Abe realizes Townsend needs a push, something that will escalate his negative thoughts toward the British to the point that he is finally willing to rise up against them.
Inexplicably, Townsend’s change of heart comes while Abe is locked up in a sugar house prison. What caused Robert’s catharsis? As more details come to light, it will become apparent that the answer is subterfuge: Abe has manipulated Robert’s interpretation of reality in order to push him into action on behalf of the Culper Ring.
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