From 1778 – 1780 a group of spies operated in the New York area under the orders of General George Washington, the spies collectively was known as the Culper Ring. The ring was tasked with sending messages to General Washington on British activities in New York City. The Culper ring was one of the most successful intelligence networks during the American Revolution. Some of the greatest accomplishments of the ring include when they uncovered British plans to ambush the French army and when they discovered the treason of Benedict Arnold.
It wasn’t just men who participated in revolutionary era espionage, women played an important role in the ring either as active participants or informants for the spy network. Some of the women agents included including Anna Strong, Sally Townsend, Mary Underhill, and one of the most successful spies of all time – Agent 355.
What makes Agent 355 one of the most successful spies in history? It is the fact that over 200 years later we still don’t know her true identity or name. So what do we know about Agent 355?
- The number 355 translates to the word ‘Lady’ when decrypted by the system used by the Culper Spy Ring.
- Abraham Woodhull recruited her into the ring and he referred to her in a letter to Washington as the “one who hath been serviceable to this correspondence”.
- She was from a prominent, most likely British Loyalist, family in New York, which allowed her to move freely around the city.
- She helped expose the treason of Benedict Arnold at the surrender at West Point.
- She Facilitated the arrest of John Andre, the head of English Intelligence
This Independence Day let us remember that women did not just sit around and wait for the men to return home during the American Revolution. Women played an active role in the formation of our country whether it was on the battlefield like Deborah Sampson, in political propaganda like Mercy Otis Warren, or in intelligence gathering like the women of the Culper Spy Ring. We may not know all their names but we know they exist and what they did, it is thanks to the great women of the Revolution that we get to celebrate our Independence Day every July.
Who are your favorite women from the American Revolution? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter @WMofC