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The Secret Culper Spy Ring of the Revolutionary War

Culper Spy Ring

Culper Spy Ring

Routes of The Spies of The Culper Spy Ring

Routes of The Spies of The Culper Spy Ring

The Secret Culper Spy Ring of The Revolutionary War

In 1778, General George Washington and Major Benjamin Tallmadge organized the Culper Spy Ring, a secret group of patriots to infiltrate the British troops to obtain their numbers, units, movements, and defenses.

General Washington adapted the name Culper from his days as a surveyor in Culpeper, Virginia. Washington was in dire need to assess the British, enabling him with their movements. Washington was desperate about the activities of the British and sent volunteer Nathan Hale, a young inexperienced patriot, to spy in New York in September 1776.

Nathan, a graduate of Yale, working as a teacher, had joined Washington's Continental Army and readily volunteered to spy. This would be his first and last mission. He was betrayed as a spy by Robert Rogers, commander of Rogers Rangers, known for his deceptions and ambushes.

Hale was arrested as a spy on September 21, 1776, and hanged the next day without any trial. It is said that his last words were:

"I regret that I have but one life to lose for my country. Hale was later named Hero of the State of Connecticut, with several statues erected of him along with schools and streets named after him.

Hanging of Nathan Hale

Hanging of Nathan Hale

Key Players of The Culper Spy Ring

It was a blow to Washington when Nathan Hale was hanged by the British, and he was acutely aware of the need for espionage in November 1778. He appointed Benjamin Tallmadge to administer and lead a spy ring. It would be highly secretive to use numerical code names instead of names and invisible ink within the documents and maps.

Key Players Of The Culper Spy Ring

Key Players Of The Culper Spy Ring

Dangers For The Culper Spy Ring

There was constant danger of using spies, but they were critical during the war, and messages had to be transported through British territory. Austin Roe road from Setauket, Long Island to New York City and would stop at Robert Townsend's place of business to place his orders. Townsend would then place coded messages hidden in the goods. Roe would then take them back to Setauket and hide them on Abraham Woodhull's farm.

Anna Strong's farm was close by, and by hanging a black petticoat on her clothesline, Caleb Brewster knew that was his signal to retrieve the documents. Caleb would then ferry the message in his boats across the sound to be delivered to Washington.

The messages were in code to avert detection if captured. For example, Washington was #711, England was #745, and New York was #721. Tallmadge was very organized and protective of his spies and couriers.

Benjamin Tallmadge

Benjamin Tallmadge

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The Culper Spy Ring After The War

After the war was over, the British surrendered at Yorktown on October 19, 1781, as the last battle of the American Revolution. Hours after the surrender, the defeated troops marched out of Yorktown with the tune "The World Turned Upside Down." The British now put their efforts in the Caribbean, at Gibraltar, and fought the French to a draw in India.

  • Benjamin Tallmadge, his wife, and seven children moved to Connecticut, where he worked as a banker and was elected to Congress.
  • Abraham Woodhull remained in Setauket, working on his farm, and became the first judge in Suffolk County.
  • Caleb Brewster with his wife and eight children on Long Island, where he worked as a blacksmith and the Reserve Cutter Service, the front runner for the U.S. Coast Guard.
  • Austin Roe continued running Roe's Tavern.
  • Robert Townsend never married and lived in the family home with his sister in Oyster Bay. Instead, he took his secret about his work in the Culper Spy Ring to his grave.

It was until 1929 when historian Morton Pennypacker (1872-1956) uncovered and later documented some of the events and names of the Culper Spy Ring. He proved that Sam Culper, Jr. was, in fact, Robert Townsend, one of the greatest American Spies.


Notes on The Culper Spy Ring

Long Island has a unique and essential place in the history of the Revolution War. Today, Route 25A is designated the Washington Spy Trail.

With renewed interest in our history, AMC has a Turn series. However, some liberties were written in the series that was not always historically accurate. Nevertheless, the Culper Spy Ring was so essential and historical that it is worth watching. TURN can be streamed on AMC, iTunes, Amazon Instant Videos, and Vudu.

The Culper Spy Ring was so secretive and cautious that it is difficult for historians to validate many of the participants and actions.

The Baynham Hall Museum was the home of the Robert Townsend family, renamed Raynham Hall and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. The museum is located at 30 W. Main St., Oyster Bay, NY, 516-922-6808.

In 1790, now President George Washington visited New York to view the damage the British had done. He stopped at Roe Tavern to thank the members of the Culper Spy Ring, telling them that without them, they couldn't have won the war. As a result, a historical marker was placed at Roe Tavern in 1938.

Roe Tavern Historical Marker

Roe Tavern Historical Marker

Sources Used

https://www.hstory.com/topics/american-revolution

https://allthatsinteresting.com/2021/06/georgewashington-culper-spy

https://www.thought.com/the-culper-ring

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/culper-ring


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