It wasn't always a matter of stealing the designs or the parts for a specific technology, Harris explains: "…the arts never pass by writing from one country to another," he quotes from a French official writing in 1752. "The eye and practice alone train men in these activities" (Harris, 43).
In 18th Century Italy Pope Innocent XII had set up a hospice in Laterano for the poor, and the Pope instituted reforms that were designed to "…convince the wealthy to give up direct almsgiving and contribute only to the official collectors" (Grell, et al., 2004, p. 255). In other words, there was an attitude against panhandlers profiting from begging in the streets. Indeed, those with financial means (if they followed the rules) would not be giving directly to beggars, but instead a network would be set up so the wealthy could contribute to a "hospice" where the poor were locked up and needed to learn trades. Hence, some of the poor would be released to their homes. And "…the poor were encouraged to spy on one another and denounce those who cheated" (Grell, 256).
Cheating in this instance meant taking money directly from wealthy people instead of using the network set up. Spies reported on cheaters, and those spies, "…if eligible for relief, would receive the benefits denied to the defrauding poor" (Grell, 256). So it paid the poor to spy on other poor people who were caught asking for handouts on the street.
Meanwhile humans weren't the only spies in 18th Century Europe. According to Claudia Miclaus writing in Buzzle, "…Parrots have been largely used [as spies] in the 18th Century Europe, particularly in France" (Miclaus, 2011, p. 2). Parrots were popular pets during that time period, and had a "power of speech" that made them useful for people who needed to "…fulfill their desire of spying on others" (Miclaus, p. 2).
George Washington and Spying
There is no doubt whatever that George Washington's attitude was to use whatever spies he could to give him an advantage over the enemy. If a contemporary or politician disagreed with Washington on strategy, the General went about his business as best he knew how, and that included spying on the enemy. Entire books have been published based on the use of spies that Washington employed. In the book, Washington's Spies: The Story of America's First Spy Ring, in 1776 General Washington and his troops needed information about what the British were going to do; were they going to attack New York? Washington sent a spy into the British camp (named Lawrence Mascoll) on August 23, and Mascoll brought back "…useful intelligence" including the news that "…Tories on the island [Long Island] are very illy treated lately" and that the British would attack New Jersey" (Rose, 2006). That intelligence turned out to be incorrect.
Still, Rose writes that "Washington focused nearly exclusively on obtaining military intelligence… an activity he had himself performed as a young officer during the French and Indian War, and which was regarded in Europe as a respectable pursuit for a gentleman" -- but was not yet fully appreciated by members of the American military. Hence, Washington's attitude was different from American officers' viewpoints on spying early in the 18th Century (Rose).
In conclusion, the bulk of the literature on spying in Europe in the 18th Century is focused on industrial spying, which is revealing when one gives consideration to the importance of emerging industrial technologies during that era. And as to George Washington, he was an alert and innovative military person, even at a young age, and the fact that he was coy and smart enough to be able to send spies to find out what the British were doing next says a lot about how advanced his strategies truly were in those years.
Harris, John. (1986). Spies who sparked the Industrial Revolution. New Scientist, 110(1509).
42-43. ISSN 0262-4079.
Grell, Ole Peter, Cunningham, Andres, and Roeck, Bernd. (2005). Health Care and Poor Relief
In the 18th and 19th Century Southern Europe. Surry, UK: Ashgate Publishing, Ltd.
Miclaus, Claudia. (2011). Spying Birds. Buzzle. Retrieved August 22, 2012, from http://www.buzzle.com/articles/spying-birds.html.