As International Women’s History Month winds down, there are two more women you ought to know. Both served the United States in the intelligence field, though hundreds of years apart.
As the family of James and Charity Ferris gathered for breakfast on the morning of Oct. 12, 1776, they were greeted by a terrifying sight. British troops were disembarking from warships just off the coast of their home on Throgs Neck. All knew that the home would be one of the first targets for the invaders since the family was prominent in the Westchester militia, the movement for American independence and in their support of General Washington and the Continental Army.
The eldest son, Thomas, was in mortal danger. He was given a fast horse, a bundle of clothing and some food and sent off at a gallop towards the encampment of Washington’s Army. Chased by the redcoats, they sent him on his way with a volley of musketry. He rode off, and into his own story of heroism as a spy and guerrilla for the Patriot cause.
James and Charity judged that he was too old and infirm to be taken by the enemy. As the troops arrived, they found that they were mistaken. James was clapped in irons and taken to prison in the infamous “old sugar house” in New York City.
General Howe confiscated the family’s home and their slaves. British officers were quartered in the large and well-appointed house. Charity and her family, ten more children, were turned out to take refuge with relatives.
from slave to spy
One of the slaves, quite loyal to Charity, began to journey back and forth, bearing reports of the indignities being inflicted on her home. Each story of muddy boot prints on the floor, broken dishes, drunkenness and wenching, hardened her resolve. Knowing that the British officers treated the servants as invisible, Charity instructed the servant to listen to the soldiers, and to bring her what was overheard.
Thus began a most dangerous intelligence gathering operation. As the overheard conversations were reported to Charity, she would then send the information on to General Washington. The danger was extreme.
Not all of the Ferris relatives or their neighbors had abandoned king and country. If the slave was seen listening, or traveling where they did not belong, the scheme would be over. The slave would pay with their life. Charity was also well within striking distance of a determined British patrol or the local Tory militia if things fell apart. But nothing went wrong, and the op continued until the British withdrew from the area.
From Throgs Neck to Tikrit
Fast forward to March 16, 2006, in Tikrit, Iraq. Enemy indirect fire struck the U.S. base there, killing two soldiers. One was Sgt. Amanda N. Pinson, 21, of St. Louis, Mo.
Amanda wanted to do something with her life. She was an active teen, a true “All American” girl. She joined the Army in 2003 and became a 98C Signals Intelligence Analyst with the 101st Airborne Division, Task Force Band of Brothers. Her story is told in the words of her family and fellow soldiers.
Stuart K. Bailey, the senior 98C, had this to say. “Amanda set the example for all to live by. If only all people conducted themselves in this manner we would all be in a better place.”
SFC Billy Cook, who worked with Amanda daily, said he “was blessed with serving with SGT Amanda Pinson. She was much more than a soldier that I worked with, she was a little sister to me. She was, and always will be an angel. She could brighten anyone’s day with a quick “smile”, or “we love you SGT Cook”. I am definitely a better person for being able to work with her.”
CW2 David Moreland, her boss in G2, said “She was deeply concerned for soldiers’ safety and news of soldiers that had been injured or worse only increased her energy for her job. She was inexhaustible in her work. She was an expert and I continually called on her to take on some of the hardest work due to her abilities and love for her job. Due to this Hero’s skills and hard work, soldiers’ lives were saved. Soldiers in this Division and the ones that worked with her will benefit from her work for a long time.”
From waiting tables to electronic intelligence
After graduation, she briefly attended community college and worked at a local restaurant. She soon decided, however, that waiting tables “was not something I want to do for the rest of my life.” In 2003, she joined the U.S. Army with the intent to “become my own person.” After enlisting, Amanda would receive training in the art of electronic intelligence at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. It was there that she would learn the critical role cryptology could play in achieving victory on the battlefield and in saving lives.
Charity Ferris and Amanda Pinson are separated by over 200 years of American history. Yet, the two are linked, as sisters in the intelligence community and as defenders of the United States.