Forgotten History: The Culper Spy Ring
I absolutely love the History Channel, and one of my favorite shows is Brad Meltzer's Decoded. On the show, author Brad Meltzer and his crack team of friends investigate mysteries and strange history of the United States. On a recent episode, the team researched the Culper Ring and interviewed experts about it's history and weather or not it exists today. I had never heard of the Culper Ring but I found it fascinating because I am generally interested in espionage and the like.
The Culper Ring
The Culper Ring was a spy ring under the orders of General George Washington during the American Revolution. Washington asked Major Benjamin Tallmadge to organize a group of ordinary people who could covertly send messages to him about the whereabouts and plans of the British in New York City.
To form an intelligence-gathering team, Tallmadge enlisted Abraham Woodhull, a farmer from Setauket, Robert Townsend, a Manhattan merchant and society page reporter, and Austin Roe, a tavern keeper. Townsend would gather reports at social gatherings and give them to Roe. Roe, in turn, would ride to Setauket and drop the report off in a secret place. Woodhull would pick up the report, add his own information to it, and hand it off to Caleb Brewster. A whaleboatman, Brewster, would ferry the information across Long Island Sound. Tallmadge's men would be waiting for the hand-off to bring the reports, in the form of codes or invisible ink, to Washington's headquarters.
The Culper Ring was so secretive, not even Washington knew everyone who was in the group. Each agent was assigned a code name which was a three-digit number in most cases, while Woodhull was known as Culper Sr. and Townsend was known as Culper Jr.
Women were seen as critical members of the group. Anna Strong of Long Island used her laundry line as a code. If she hung a black petticoat on the clothesline, that meant that Brewster had arrived in his boat. The number of white handkerchiefs on the lie indicated which cove he docked in.
Another alleged member of the ring was a woman identified as "lady" or "355". On Decoded , a historian suggested that she may have been the girlfriend of a high ranking officer in the British military and used him to collect information preventing Benedict Arnold's treacherous plan from coming to fruition. Her true identity has never been discovered and she is thought to be the only member of the ring to be caught and executed by the British.
Check out my other hub about forgotten history!
- Forgotten History: The Amber Room
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- Forgotten History: Lost Confederate Gold
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