Lincoln’s Spymaster

Lincoln's Spymaster


Grade Level: 7th Grade

Lincoln’s Spymaster: Allan Pinkerton, America’s First Private Eye by Samantha Seiple is an engaging read. Similar to that of The Hour of Peril, Lincoln’s Spymaster focuses on the detective agency started by Allan Pinkerton. This book starts a few days before the plot to assassinate Lincoln on his way to the White House. Seiple uses this plot as an introduction to Pinkerton’s skills. She continues on through Pinkerton’s career discussing his involvement with Union General George McClellan as well as his experiences fighting the Reno Brothers’ Gang and the James-Younger Gang.

Seiple does a great job of introducing vocabulary to the reader. She presents the facts in short spurts that are easily digested and followed by the reader. She keeps the story short and sweet outlining all of Pinkerton’s cases.

I enjoyed this book for several reasons. One, she uses a lot of pictures. It is always fun to see pictures of the people being discussed in the book. The images used give the reader a chance to better visualize this time in history. One particular image on page 166 shows the Younger brothers. I found it fascinating because they do not look like what one might think outlaws would look like. The author also mentions that they came from a wealthy family. I found this interesting. I thought both the picture and that particular fact opened up the possibilities of conversation with kids. You could talk about how we cannot always tell things about people by their outsides. It also lent itself to a conversation about greed.

Two, this book lends itself to Civil War research. It talks about the Battle of Ft. Sumter ( page 53), the Battle of Antietam (page 112) and Bleeding Kansas (page 154). All three of these events are listed in the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) under 8.8B. Seiple does a great job of introducing these events and the role the difference characters in the book played in them.

Three, this book is a great introduction to Wild Rose and The Hour of Peril. All three of these books are set during the mid to late 1800s. Many of the characters are seen in all three of these novels. I think this would be a great book to start with and if your child shows continued interest in Pinkerton or the issues surrounding the Civil War, they could look into the other two books.

Part I of the book is really child friendly. Part II is a little more violent. The second part of the book focuses on Pinkerton’s hunt of outlaws. This particular topic lends itself to a little more violence. On pages 140 & 147, Seiple describes the hanging of a group of outlaws. These lynchings are at the hands of a vigilante mob. For example, at the bottom of page 139 and continuing on page 140 she writes, “The nooses were tightened around each one of their necks. The barrels they were standing on were kicked away. Instantly, they were hanging by their necks, their bodies flailing until finally limp.” The scene on 147 is a little more graphic because she describes the assault on the sheriff before the mob kidnaps the robbers and hangs them. Chapters 13 and 14 also contain graphic information. Several Pinkerton guards are killed while investigating the James-Younger Gang. An example of one of the deaths described can be found on page 171: “There was a dead man lying in the road. His hands and feet were tied. The dead man’s body was shot all to pieces.”

I really enjoyed this book. It was very interesting to think about the issues West of the Mississippi in the late 19th century. While the level of this book is 7th grade, I encourage you to think about the maturity of your child. I do believe this book opens up discussion about the development of the US. Many people don’t think about the development of law enforcement. It’s hard to imagine a time where people really believed in an “eye for an eye”. Outlaws and vigilante forces are a fact in American History and should not be overlooked, but this book may not be the best choice for your child depending on their age or maturity.


Lesson Plan Ideas:

*Read all of Lincoln’s Inaugural Address and summarize his thoughts on secession.

*Read Jefferson Davis’ Inaugural Address and fill out a Venn Diagram comparing and contrasting his thoughts on the Union and secession with Lincoln’s. (This is TEKS 8.8C)

*List and define all vocabulary mentioned in the book.

*Create a wanted poster for a member of one of the gangs.

*Write an obituary for Pinkerton.

The Hour of Peril

The Hour of Peril

Grade Level: Upper Middle/High School


“We never sleep” was the motto of the first private eye in the United States. Allan Pinkerton, an immigrant from Scotland, made a name for himself as Chicago’s best and only private eye. The Hour of Peril by Daniel Stashower follows the early years of Pinkerton and ultimately outlines how he came to Baltimore to uncover a plot to kill the newly elected President: Abraham Lincoln.


The book is divided into three parts. Part one does an outstanding job of describing the life of Allan Pinkerton. The reader is taken all the way to Scotland during a time of civil unrest and introduced to the fiercely passionate Allan. Stashower brings us into the story of a youngman caught up in the Chartist movement of his day. So much so, that he will become a fugitive and board a boat to America with his new wife.


Stashower gives the reader many details depicting the early life of Pinkerton in the United States. Using many of Allan Pinkerton’s own words, Stashower portrays the story of the unlikely detective.


The meat of the story really develops in part two. There, Stashower introduces the reader to the turmoils of America in the late 1850s. After Lincoln was elected president, there was an outcry from the Southern states, many of which seceded. Maryland is what we call a border state. It did not secede and housed both pro-slavery and anti-slavery sentiments. It is discovered that there is a plot to kill Lincoln to his way through Baltimore en route to DC. Allan Pinkerton is hired by a railroad owner to investigate these rumors and foil the plot to kill the president-elect.


Part three ultimately wraps up the plot and ends with the installation of Lincoln in the White House.


This book is well written and plays out like an old fashioned mystery. I was eager to continue reading to learn the details. Daniel Stashower moves back and forth between Pinkerton’s investigation in Baltimore and Lincoln’s travels to the capital. Because of the back and forth, the reader is constantly wondering if Pinkerton will foil the plot in time for Lincoln to safely pass through Baltimore on his way to the White House.


This book would be a great read if your child already has some basic understanding of the tension in the United States at this time. It is a rather lengthy book at 340 pages, but is well researched. The use of primary sources is outstanding and really allows the reader into the thoughts and feelings of all of those involved at the time. There are two specific instances to be aware of: on page 123 there is a description of one of the plotters spending time with a woman of ill repute. The gentlemen is said to have “hugged and kissed” this woman for over an hour. That is as far as the description of the scene goes. The other area to be aware of is the use of the word G–D— in the primary sources. These particular sources, found on page 83, are addressed to the president and written by southern sympathizers.  


Lesson Ideas:


  1. Draw Pinkerton & Lincoln’s heads and create a conversation between the two of them.
  2. OR create a text message conversation between Lincoln & Pinkerton. (Or any two characters)
  3. Since the book moves forward and back through time, creating a timeline might be really helpful. Timelines are a great way to practice chronology.
  4. Create biographies for some of the minor characters like Pinkerton’s detectives or Lincoln’s travel companions.
  5. Create a biography/backstory for the detective’s characters.
  6. Create a facebook or instagram for any of the characters in the book.