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Culper Spy Ring Part 2


Here is part two of the Culper spy ring, it deals with the people who were in the ring. These were all very prominent people in their areas.




Robert Townsend whose code name was Samuel Culper Jr., was a patriot who pretended he was a Loyalist living in New York City. He needed everyone to believe that he wanted the British to win the war. As a merchant, storekeeper, and reporter, he was able for years to collect, coordinate and dispatch intelligence from Manhattan to Washington’s headquarters in New Jersey. The ring’s efforts led directly to the victory at Yorktown and the foiling of Benedict Arnold’s plan to hand over to the British the fort at West Point and possibly even George Washington himself. In 1780, the British were ready to disseminate counterfeit money with such accuracy and volume as likely to collapse the American economy. Townsend was able to get the details to Washington in time for Congress to thwart the plot.


Austin Roe was a tavern owner in Setauket. He would ride to New York City and exchange information with Robert Townsend. Though Long Island was occupied by the British, Austin Roe was never caught because he would often go to New York City to get supplies for his tavern. The soldiers thought he was just doing his business. He would then bring the information back to Setauket and give it to Abraham Woodhull.


In 1756, Abraham Woodhull began attending school in Setauket--- a one room schoolhouse located where the Caroline Church carriage shed is today. Three of his classmates, Austin Roe, Caleb Brewster and Benjamin Tallmadge, also later became members of George Washington’s spy operation in Setauket. Woodhull was 27 when the spy ring started but he was considered the leader of the Long Island Spies. Even though he was skinny and small for a spy, he was very good at his job. His code name was Samuel Culper, Sr. His job was to decide which information needed to be moved along the spy ring and then exchange that information with Austin Roe and then with Caleb Brewster or vice versa. Abraham Woodhull would know where to find Brewster by Anna Strong’s clothesline.


Anna Strong whose name was Nancy Smith, lived on Strong’s Neck. Her husband, Selah Strong, was on a British prison ship, so she wanted to help the Long Island Spies. She would help Abraham Woodhull find Caleb Brewster and his crew. She did this by hanging certain clothes on her clothesline. If she hung her black petticoat on the line that would tell Woodhull that Brewster was in Setauket. There were six possible coves for Brewster in which to bring his whaleboat and each was assigned a number. To tell which cove he was in, she hung one to six handkerchiefs on the line. She did this because Abraham Woodhull couldn’t see Brewster from where he lived but he could see Anna’s clothesline. The British never suspected her to be a spy because she was a woman.


Caleb Brewster grew up in Setauket and also had a very important job in the spy ring. He would either give or get information from Major Tallmadge in Fairfield, Connecticut or Abraham Woodhull in Setauket. He and his crew would secretly row whaleboats across Long Island Sound to and from Connecticut. They had to be cautious because they were in constant danger. When Caleb Brewster pulled into Setauket he had to be sneaky because he was well known there. He had to hide his whaleboats in the willows in Connecticut Bay, which is why Abraham Woodhull needed Anna Strong and her clothesline.

End Part Two


There is one part still remaining in this article, I do hope you are enjoying the information Brother Jay has so kindly been sharing with us. Please remember if you have a piece of history about our past pass it on to me and I will make sure it gets onto our website. My e-mail is This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .   Drop me a line or two.


W Nicholas Isabella

Queens District Historian



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