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The Setauket Spy Ring One of the best kept secrets of the American Revolution was the spy system that operated out of Setauket and kept Gen. Washington supplied with important information about the movements of the British troops in New York and on Long Island. Major BenjaminTallmadge was head of the spy ring in 1778, and all of its members were Setauket people except one. Mr. Tallmadge was born in Setauket in 1754, so it was natural he turned to his Setauket neighbors for help. For five years he and the men picked out by him operated this spy ring so successfully that they were never caught, even though Long Island was under control of the British forces during that time. Even Gen. Washington never knew who the members of the spy chain were, except for his head man, Major Tallmadge. News of the British plans and movements around New York were gath- ered in New York by Robert Townsend, who operated a coffee shop near Wall Street. He was known to Washington only as "Culper Jr." Informa- tion gathered by him was taken to Setauket by a messenger on horseback, who was Austin Roe of Setauket. He in turn left it in a secret hiding place on the farm of Abraham Woodhull, who was the middleman in the spy sys- tem, and operated under the name of "Culper Sr." He turned it over to Caleb Brewster, who took it across the Sound in one of his boats and de- livered it to Major Tallmadge's headquarters in Connecticut. From there it was delivered to Gen. Washington, wherever he might be. Robert Town- send posed as a young Tory merchant and in partnership with James Riving- ton, operated a general merchandise store and coffee shop. Mr. Townsend was a well educated young man and soon became widely acquainted in British circles. Austin Roe operated a store and tavern in Setauket, and disguised as a country merchant, travelled back and forth without detection. It is difficult to imagine what Roe had to contend with as he rode from Setauket to New York every week through the enemy's territory. Abraham Woodhull, who was the middleman in the spy ring, was a young farmer of Setauket, and because his house was fullofBritish soldiers, arranged for Austin Roe to pasture his cattle on his land, which gave him a place to hide his messages. Abraham-Woodhull then picked up the mess- ages from the secret hiding place and later turned them over to an ex- whaler by the name of Caleb Brewster, who carried them across the Sound to Major Tallmadge's headquarters. Caleb Brewster, with his lightly armed whale boats, several times captured British supply ships headed for New York, and he led the attack on the British fort St. George at Mastic in November 1780. One of the most interesting stories concerns Ann Smith Strong, (she was called Nancy in the spy records) wife of Judge Selah Strong of Setauket, She gave Austin Roe excuses for his trips to New York by giving him large orders for goods to be purchased in New York. As Caleb Brewster was a well known figure in Setauket, it was not safe for him to always land his boat in the same spot, so he had six landing places. Abraham Woodhull could not always know whether Brewster was in the village, or at which landing place his boat was hid, so Nancy made it her business to keep track ofhim and passed this information onto Woodhull through her clothes- line. Most of the petticoats worn by the women in those days were red, so if Woodhull saw a black petticoat waving on Nancy's clothesline, he knew Brewster was in town. Each of the landing places had a number, so by counting the handkerchiefs hanging on Nancy's clothesline he knew at which landing Brewster's boat was hidden. Nancy's place in the spy ring was an important one, and she deserves a front place in the line of Colonial Amer- ica's great women. Later on in the war, Gen. Benedict Arnold who was in charge of the fort at West Point, planned to turn it over to the British, and arrangements between him and the British officer, Major John Andre, were almost com- pleted in September 1780, when Robert Townsend discovered the plot. Word was passed along through Austin Roe and the spy chain at Setauket to Major Tallmadge. Major Andre was captured, convicted as a spy and hanged on October 2, 1780. The surrender of West Point was prevented by the fast work of the Se- tauket spy ring, and the course of history changed through their activities.
|Title||Setauket Spy Ring|
Revolutionary War, American, 1775-1783
|Description||1 page 16 cm x 34 cm, text only.|
|Creator||Bayles, Thomas R.|
|Publisher||Thomas R. Bayles|
|Type||image and text|
|Source||Longwood Public Library, Thomas R. Bayles Collection, Pamphlets|
|Coverage||New York - Long Island|
|Rights||This digital image may be freely used for educational uses, as long as it is not altered in any way. No commercial reproduction or distribution of this digital image is permitted without written permission of Longwood Public Library, 800 Middle Country Rd., Middle Island, NY 11953. A high-quality version of this file may be obtained for a fee for personal use by contacting the Longwood Public Library.|