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Culper Spy Ring




This comes to us from the pen [keyboard actually] of our Brother RW Jay Austin, and it involves the first spy ring in the colonies during the American Revolution. Read on to hear how General, and Brother, George Washington turned the tide of the war and finally won our Independence:


                                      THE CULPER SPY RING




When General George Washington beat a hasty retreat from New York City in August 1776, many thought the American Revolution might soon be over. Instead, Washington rallied thanks in part to a little known, top secret group called the Culper Spy Ring.


Washington realized that he couldn’t beat the British with military might, so he recruited a sophisticated and deeply secretive intelligence network to infiltrate New York. So carefully guarded were the members identities that one spy’s name was not uncovered until the twentieth century, and one still remains unknown even today. But, by now historians have discovered enough information about the ring’s activities to piece together evidence that these six individuals turned the tide of the war.


Drawing on extensive research George Washington’s secret six were:


Robert Townsend, the reserved merchant and reporter who headed the Culper Ring, keeping his identity secret even from Washington;


Austin Roe, the tavern keeper who risked his employment and his life in order to protect the mission;


Caleb Brewster, the brash young longshoreman who loved baiting the British and agreed to ferry messages between Connecticut and New York;


Abraham Woodhull, the curmudgeonly [and surprisingly nervous] Long Island bachelor with business and family excuses for traveling to Manhattan;


James Rivington, the owner of a posh coffeehouse and print house where high ranking British officers gossiped about secret operations;


Agent 355, a women whose identity remains unknown but who seems to have used her wit and charm to coax officers to share vital secrets.


Even though Setauket was covered with British soldiers, or Redcoats, there were secret things happening only a few people knew about and those people were SPIES. Setauket was a very important place during the Revolutionary War. General Washington had a secret spy ring on Long Island and much of it took place in Setauket. It was called the “Culper Spy Ring” because the “Culper” name was suggested by Washington who devised it from Culpeper County, Virginia. The spies sent secret messages starting in New York City to Setauket and then across Long Island Sound to Connecticut where it was then brought to General Washington in New Jersey or it went from General Washington in reverse order back to New York City. Some of these messages were written in disappearing ink called Sympathetic stain.


The Culper Spy Ring started after Nathan Hale died [“I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country”] He was a young patriot spy from Connecticut who was caught and hanged by the British soldiers because he was carrying a secret message in his shoe. George Washington knew that he needed someone to get information for him and he had to make sure the spy ring worked better. Major Benjamin Tallmadge, a 24 year old from Setauket, was the man he was looking for. They organized the secret service.




                                                End Part One






This is a three part article as per RW Jay Austin, if you have an item that you feel might inspire interest or wonder, Please pass it along to me so that all the Queens Brothers can gain Light from the past or even the present so we all may benefit from it in the future. You can e-mail me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .


W Nicholas Isabella


Queens District Historian



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