The Culper Ring was a spy ring organized by Benjamin Tallmadge under the orders of General George Washington in the summer of 1778. The Ring's task was to infiltrate British-controlled New York City and report troop dispositions and intentions. The Ring conducted covert operations until the end of the American Revolutionary War, though its heyday was between 1778 and 1781.
battle of Monmouth in late June
of 1778, British forces under General Sir Henry Clinton
retreated to Sandy Hook, New Jersey. From there, they took ship for New York City,
which they had already occupied for almost two years (since General
Washington's defeat at the Battle of Fort Washington in September 1776).
General Washington was
well aware of the need for good intelligence and he asked one of
his officers, Major Benjamin Tallmadge, to recruit people who could
be trusted to collect it in New York City.
enlisted the services of Abraham
Woodhull, a farmer from Setauket (a village on Long Island's north coast), Robert Townsend, a
merchant in Manhattan who agreed to supply much of the information,
and a Setauket tavern keeper named Austin
Roe who served as the courier.
(Jonas Hawkins also
served in this role for a short time.) Once Townsend’s reports
reached Setauket, whaleboatman Caleb
and his men ferried it across Long Island Sound where
Tallmadge’s dragoons were waiting to carry it to Washington’s
headquarters. Brewster was in New York years earlier when the
British had caught Nathan Hale
drawings of their fortifications and hanged him. Perhaps with Hale
in mind, Washington made sure that the Culper Ring spies had more
support. Through Tallmadge, he provided them with codes
, invisible ink
, and aliases
Woodhull was known in dispatches as Samuel Culper Sr. and Townsend
was referred to as Samuel Culper Jr. Secrecy was so strict that
Washington himself did not know the identity of all the operatives.
Townsend's role was finally determined in 1939 by handwriting
analysis and has since been confirmed by other evidence.
One of those who allegedly aided the Culper Ring was an operative
known only as “355
,” the group’s code for
“lady.” Some historians believe that she was the only member of the
ring arrested by the British and hanged as a spy. Others claim that
she was a prisoner aboard the British hulk, The Jersey
and gave birth to Robert Townsend's illegitimate child, though that
part of the story has been discredited. Robert Townsend did
allegedly father a child by another woman after 355's death.
Nathan Hale and Tallmadge were close friends at
Yale and Tallmadge's entry into the secret world was not
accidental, nor did it begin with the Culper Ring in 1778.
as 1777, Tallmadge acted as the operative John Clark's contact in Connecticut when Clark was based on Long Island.
that, he worked for the spymaster Nathaniel Sackett
, who was later
One of the main characters in the comic book Y: The Last Man
, by Brian K. Vaughan
, is an agent of a fictional modern
day Culper Ring
. In a direct
reference to the historical Culper Ring, the agent is only known by
her code name, 355. In the world of Y
, the Culper ring has
existed ever since the American Revolution as a secret spy ring
under the direct command of the President. A group of rogue Culper
agents, who split off from the group in 1977, are known as the
, after the town in New
York where the historical Culper ring was originally formed.One of
355's closest associates in the Culper Ring is "Agent 711"; in
response to a joke from Yorick Brown
355 states that 711 was originally George Washington's codename in
the historical Culper Ring (this information has not been
verified), and that the modern Ring conferred the number on her as
a badge of heroism.
In the BBC drama Spooks
, Series 2
Episode 900231, Tom Quinn takes on the identity of a student named
John Culper at the University of West Midlands.
is the name of an experimental music project
on Neurot Recordings
includes Steve Von Till
, a guitarist
and vocalist for the long-running Bay Area experimental metal band
The novel Shadow Patriots
by Lucia St. Clair Robson
tells the story of the Culpers and Spy 355.
The Culper Ring was mentioned in episode 2.07 of Chuck
in reference to espionage
- Washington's Spies: The Story of America's First Spy
Ring, by Alexander Rose
(Bantam Dell, May 2006).