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Washington's Spies; a Comicbook with History

Robert J. Sodaro is an American born writer, editor, and digital graphic artist, who loves writing about comics, movies, and literature.

The Culper Ring: The Spies of George Washington

A comicbook about real life American heroes.

A comicbook about real life American heroes.

Meet Agent 355

Currently (as we pen this review), there is a film in theaters entitled The 355 about a quartet of female spies from four global agencies go up against a cadre of international terrorists. The film derives its name from a female member of President George Washington’s spy network (The Culper Ring – brought to light by the TV show, Turn: Washington’s Spys). At tend of the film, one of the characters makes an oblique reference to Washington’s agent (thus giving credence to the film’s title). More recently, a female spy code-named 355 also turns up in the Netflix short-lived series Y the Last Man.

Turn: Washington's Spies was a TV series, that aired from April 6, 2014 to August 12, 2017 on AMC. It is based on the novel, Washington's Spies: It currently can be seen on Netflix.

Turn: Washington's Spies was a TV series, that aired from April 6, 2014 to August 12, 2017 on AMC. It is based on the novel, Washington's Spies: It currently can be seen on Netflix.

The Culper Ring: The Spies of George Washington

All of which brings us to The Culper Ring: The Spies of George Washington, a comicbook produced and published by the Fa6 irfield Museum (Fairfield, CT) illustrated by Kirk Manley. The comic (available for sale in the museum’s gift shop). Given how much of The Culper Ring operated in and around Fairfield, the Museum commissioned the work so as to bring this part of local history to light, and to do so in a way that would be not only accessible but accessible to younger readers. In this regard the Museum, with financial support from CT Humanities, succeeded.

Turn: Washington's Spies Season 1 [Blu-ray]

The war for American independence

The comic tells the dramatic story of the spy ring that operated between New York City, Long Island, and Fairfield during the Revolutionary War. Manley’s artwork conveys the drama of espionage during the war, underscoring the challenges faced by Patriot forces. View the risks through the eyes of specific historical characters that both military officers and ordinary civilians were willing to take to help their cause and to secure and transmit intelligence. With support from CT Humanities.

Comicbooks as history

Not all comics are about men in tights.

Not all comics are about men in tights.

The birth of a spy network

The comic starts out with what we already know, then informing the reader that sometimes, history informs us of the major facts, while (inadvertently) overlooking the smaller details. Then quickly moves from Washington himself to Major Benjamin Tallmadge who helped create the spy ring. We next learn a little bit of Tallmadge’s background and how he in turn recruited Abraham Woodhill a farmer who began spying on the British in New York.

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The Culper Ring

Washington recruited civilian help to defeat the British.

Washington recruited civilian help to defeat the British.

Spies all across Connecticut

The comic goes on to relate several of the exploits of the Culper Ring over the course of the Revolutionary war. Telling tales of how Tallmadge ran a coffee shop in NY that catered to British officers (so he could spy on them), to how the Ring thwarted an attempt by the British to counterfeit colonial money, to the British burning of New Haven and Fairfield, to the Ring’s development and use of an “invisible” ink in order to safely transmit messages.

1766 map of British Colony of Connecticut Colonial America

1766 MAP of Connecticut DIGITAL DOWNLOAD British Colony of Connecticut Colonial America

1766 MAP of Connecticut DIGITAL DOWNLOAD British Colony of Connecticut Colonial America

Anna Strong, Agent 355

The comic even touches on Anna Strong, who (historically speaking) has been long suspected to have been Agent 355 (the identity of 355 has never been revealed). According to the comic, “355” was Culper Ring code for “woman”. Anna, her husband Selah, Caleb Brewster, and Abraham Woodhull – all of whom were childhood friends – wound up spying for Washington.

Anna Strong

While no one actually knows, historically speaking, Agent 355 is generally considered to have been Anna Strong.

While no one actually knows, historically speaking, Agent 355 is generally considered to have been Anna Strong.

A spy ring finally uncovered

The comic goes on to talk about how the French joined with the colonists against the British, and how the British recruited General Benedict Arnold to spy for them. According to the comic, the work that the Ring did was so secretive that it wasn’t until the 1930s that Morton Pennypacker, an historian from Long Island discovered Robert Townsend’s involvement with the Culper Ring, and uncovered much of the work that they did.

Meet Morton Pennypacker

It was Long Island historian Morton Pennypacker who finally uncovered the secrets of the Culper Ring.

It was Long Island historian Morton Pennypacker who finally uncovered the secrets of the Culper Ring.

Comicbooks as historical teaching tools

All-in-all the comic is a brief, but fairly comprehensive primer to the Culper Ring and the work they did in support of Washington’s army, proving, once again that comicbooks as a genre, are more than just Spandex-clad, muscle-bound individuals intent on world domination and who wrap I-beams around each other’s heads. They can be powerful teaching tools capable of opening whole new worlds to a new generation of readers.

AMC's "Turn": Everything Historians Need To Know

© 2022 Robert J Sodaro

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