Self Guided Spies! Exhibit Tour
We begin here in the gift shop with General George Washington. In 1756, just two months after the Royal Governor of Virginia appointed Washington as commander-in-chief of Virginia forces, Washington, age 23, wrote to the governor of Pennsylvania.
“Honourable Sir, . . There is nothing more necessary than good intelligence to frustrate a designing Enemy: and nothing that requires greater pains to obtain.” Washington kept close control of spying both before and after the organization of the Setauket-based Culper Spy Ring.
This is a Revolutionary War map of the thirteen colonies, from Massachusetts to Georgia. Here, on the New England coast is Boston, where Washington, in the spring of 1775, assumed command of the Continental Army.
At the time, British forces controlled Boston and Washington planned to establish control of Boston. To accomplish this, Washington sent Colonel Henry Knox and a force of artillerymen three hundred miles west to Fort Ticonderoga to bring the fort’s cannon back to Boston.
Here is a map of the Battle of Long Island in Brooklyn. From the end of June through August 1776, about 400 British warships, troop ships and supply ships came and went into New York Harbor. The troop ships brought about thirty two thousand British and Hessian troops.
Most of the troops disembarked on Staten Island. Not knowing where the British would attack, Washington fortified the southern tip of Manhattan, now called The Battery. and placed about half his troops on Brooklyn Heights.
Passing by the image of General Washington we see a map of the route that our first spy, Nathan Hale, took from Norwalk, Connecticut to Long Island, then west past Flushing into Brooklyn and across the East River to Manhattan.
However, we first need to understand how Hale’s spy mission came about.
Let's move into the main room. The central panel on the west wall shows a current map of the Three Village area. From here, at the Three Village Historical Society’s History Center, trace north on Main Street, the original North Country Road.
It follows the Setauket Mill Pond, turns right and curves around the Setauket Village Green. This is the area where the Setauket spies operated. If you look at the bottom section below the map, you'll see pictures of some of their homes with corresponding numbers.
Now move right to the 1776 map of Manhattan. By June, 1779 Woodhull was able to recruit Robert Townsend to be his spy in New York. Townsend was also staying at Amos Underhill’s boarding house in New York City.
Both Robert Townsend’s and Amos Underhill’s family homes were in Oyster Bay. Townsend ran a store in Manhattan where British soldiers shopped.
Move to the right again to the panel on Anna Smith Strong, known to her friends and relatives as Nancy. She continued to live on Strong’s Neck with her six children after her husband Selah was arrested and confined in the New York City Sugar House Prison.
With the assistance of her Tory relatives, Nancy was able to get him released and he fled to Connecticut.
To the right above the fireplace is a monitor with an image of a two-thirds-size reproduction of a colonial whaleboat with a crew of re-enactors. Caleb Brewster was an artillery officer in the Continental Army.
In spite of his service designation, one of Brewster’s tasks throughout the war was to command a fleet of fast sailing whaleboats, operating from the Connecticut shore against British and Loyalist shipping on Long Island Sound (known as the Devil’s Belt).
Look to your right. The 1776 map in front of you shows, in red, the location of Middle Country Road, one of the routes Austin Roe traveled on horseback from Brooklyn Ferry to Setauket. The black line above it is North Country Road.
The line to the south begins as Jamaica Road becoming South Country Road further east (now called Montauk Highway). Roe probably traveled all three roads depending on weather conditions, the number and location of British troops, or the presence of highwaymen (thieves).
In the corner to your right is the costume worn by actor Jamie Bell, who portrayed Abraham Woodhull in the TV show Turn. The costume is, of course, of contemporary materials made to appear authentic 18th century. The buttons, for example are plastic, colored to appear wooden.
Location 11 - French Fleet Warning
To the right is a map that shows the area from Newport, Rhode Island to Yorktown, Virginia. On July 10th and 11th the French Fleet, with almost 6,000 troops under the Comte de Rochambeau, arrived in Newport to support General Washington and the Continental Army
The troops on the newly arrived French ships were vulnerable to attack after the long sea voyage. Having been informed by Benedict Arnold of the fleet’s arrival, British General Henry Clinton made plans to ambush the French before they could recover from the trip and organize their defenses.
Look to the left of the doorway to the code room. Here are copies of the two original letters described in the story of the French Fleet Warning. On the right is the July 20th letter from Robert Townsend (Samuel Culper, Jr.) to Setauket Loyalist Benjamin Floyd.
At the top of the letter Townsend wrote in invisible ink to General Washington telling him that the British were planning on attacking the French fleet in Newport. The visible portion of the letter to Floyd was written as a way to get the letter past British checkpoints.
Walk through the doorway into the code room. Coding and invisible ink were two methods used by the Culper Spy Ring. The letter on your left from General George Washington to Major Benjamin Tallmadge is in the Special Collections, a division of Stony Brook University Libraries.
This copy of the letter was made prior to conservation. Some of the ink is coming through each page from the other side as the ink actually eats into the paper and partially destroys it. The ink had to be neutralized and the paper conserved.