Agent 355

Female Spy in the American Revolution

A group of spies known as the Culper Spy Ring operated from 1778 to 1780 in an intricate network from British-occupied New York City to Setauket, Long Island, north to Connecticut, and then west to George Washington’s headquarters at Newburgh, New York. Agent 355 was the code name of a female spy in the Culper Ring. Her real identity is unknown. The spy network was particularly effective in gathering valuable information from careless conversations between the British and their sympathizers.

In 1778, Benjamin Tallmadge, a young American officer who was General George Washington’s new intelligence chief, organized an ingenious top-secret network of spies. Washington ordered that not even he himself should know who they were. For recruits, Tallmadge turned to old friends and acquaintances in his hometown of Setauket, Long Island.

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Anna Smith Strong

Member of the Culper Spy Ring

Image: Map Showing the Routes Taken by the Culper Spy Ring – Long Island, New York

The British occupied New York City in August 1776, and the city would remain a British stronghold for the duration of the Revolutionary War. The Culper Ring, also known as the Setauket Spy Ring, was a group of operatives whose purpose was General George Washington aware of the movements of the British in New York City and Long Island.

Some credit Nathan Hale’s capture and execution with having launched the Culper Spy Ring. Nathan Hale, a young Patriot, volunteered for an intelligence-gathering mission to the city, but the British captured Hale carrying drawings of their fortifications in his shoe and hanged him on September 22, 1776. He is best remembered for his last words: “I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country.” Hale’s death illustrated the grave dangers inherent in spying for the Patriots.

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Ann Bates

Spy for the British during the Revolutionary War

Ann Bates, a schoolteacher in Philadelphia, was married to Joseph Bates, a British soldier and artillery repairman in General Henry Clinton’s army. In 1778, her husband joined the British troops who evacuated Philadelphia and marched to New York City. Claiming to be a patriot, Bates passed through the American lines and followed the army to New York.

Bates felt it was her duty to seek out information on illegal colonial activity and report back to her husband’s superiors. From her husband she learned to identify the weaponry and report on important military information such as the numbers of cannons, men and supplies.

In New York, Major John Andre was appointed an aide to General Henry Clinton, the new commander-in-chief. Clinton had confidence in Andre’s resourcefulness and discretion, and assigned Andre the coordination of British intelligence activities in the New York area.

Under the cover name ‘Mrs. Barnes,’ Ann Bates became a Loyalist spy in Major Andre’s spy ring. Andre sent her to American army headquarters at White Plains, New York, where she listened in on conversations, checked gun emplacements and assessed the strength of the American units. She also taught other spies how to locate safe houses as they made their way back to British-held territory.

Bates was brazen enough to walk into the headquarters of General George Washington in White Plains. She later wrote:

I had the opportunity of going through their whole army remarking at the same time the strength and situation of each brigade, and the number of cannon, with their situation and weight of ball each cannon was charged with.

At that time women were allowed to come and go where they pleased because military authorities did not think that women could comprehend the significance of what they saw. This particular thinking gave Bates the ability to wander throughout American camps, recording vital information concerning equipment and logistics. Her information was accurate and her missions were dangerous.

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Lydia Darragh

Heroine of the Battle of Whitemarsh

Lydia Darragh was a Quaker woman who crossed enemy lines during the British occupation of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her mission was to pass information to General George Washington and the Continental Army, warning them of an impending British attack.

Lydia Barrington was born in 1729 in Dublin, Ireland. On November 2, 1753, she married the family tutor, William Darragh, the son of a clergyman. After a few years of marriage, they immigrated to the American colonies. Members of the Quaker faith, the couple settled in Philadelphia where there was a large Quaker community.

William worked as a tutor, and Lydia was a midwife. She gave birth to and raised five children: Charles, Ann, John, William, and Susannah; four others died in infancy.

Although Quakers are pacifists and against war and most were neutral during the Revolutionary War, the Darraghs were secretly in favor of the colonists’ cause, and their eldest son Charles was serving in the 2nd Pennsylvania Regiment of the Continental Army.

On September 26, 1777, after several victories over General Washington and his army, the British occupied Philadelphia. In October, Washington led an unsuccessful attempt to retake Philadelphia, and then he and his troops retreated to Whitemarsh.

Nearly one-third of Philadelphia’s population evacuated the city, and the majority of those remaining were British loyalists or were neutral in the conflict. As well-known Quakers, the Darraghs felt relatively safe remaining at their home.

Then British General Sir William Howe set up his headquarters across the street. From her vantage point, Lydia Darragh began to spy for General Washington’s army.

The following account is based on what Lydia Darragh later told to her daughter Ann.

In late fall 1777, British officers arrived on the Darraghs’ doorstep, demanding to use their large parlor for meetings. With nowhere to go, Lydia asked the soldiers if her family could stay in their home. Most of the family was allowed to remain at home; the two youngest children were sent to live with relatives outside the city. Quakers were known to be unsupportive of the war, and therefore posed no risk to the British.

On December 2, 1777, the British officers ordered the family to retire by 8 o’clock and stay in their bedrooms all evening while the British held a meeting. Darragh crept out of her room and hid in the closet of an adjoining room and listened.

She learned that British troops were to leave the city on the evening of December 4, 1777, and make a surprise attack on the Continental Army at Whitemarsh the following morning. Among those at Whitemarsh was Lydia’s son Charles.

As the meeting was breaking up, Lydia crept back to bed. One of the officers knocked on her door at two different intervals, but she did not respond. On his third knock, she opened the door, pretending to have been asleep. She followed the officers out, latched the door and blew out the candles.

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Margaret Kemble Gage

Wife of British General Thomas Gage

Image: Margaret Kemble Gage
By John Singleton Copley
Margaret began to sit for Copley within three days of his arrival in New York City in 1771. She is depicted wearing an iridescent caftan over a lace trimmed chemise with a jeweled brooch and an embroidered belt. Pearls and a turban-like swath of drapery adorn her hair. Her sleeves are held up with ropes of pearls and her hair is wrapped in a length of green silk fashioned as a turban. Her languid and informal pose, shockingly different from the upright posture of Copley’s Boston sitters, underscores the sensuality of the image.

Margaret Kemble was born into a well-known family in East Brunswick, New Jersey, in 1734. Her father, Peter Kemble, was a wealthy merchant and politician; her grandfather was Stephanus Van Cortlandt, the Mayor of New York. Margaret was related through her mother, Gertrude Bayard, to the Van Rensselaers, the de Lanceys, and other leading New York families. Her ethnic lineage included English, Greek, Dutch, and French ancestors, making her rather exotic for her day. She was considered a beautiful and intelligent woman.

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Women Spies of the Revolution

Females Gathered Intelligence for the Patriot Cause

During the Revolutionary War, both the British and American armies recruited women as cooks and maids. With their almost unrestricted access, these women could eavesdrop on conversations in soldiers’ campsites and provide the critical intelligence they gathered to military and civilian leaders. Some reported directly to General George Washington, who came to highly value the information he received from these “agents in place.”

Spying on the Enemy
As their husbands, sons, brothers, fathers and uncles took up arms, these women served as the eyes and ears for military leaders, providing invaluable intelligence information throughout the war. Allied with either the British loyalist or American patriot cause, spy networks sprang up throughout the colonies.

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