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Benjamin Tallmadge

On Dec. 3, legends and spies from history such as Culper Spy Ring members Major Benjamin Tallmadge and Caleb Brewster, prominent shipbuilder Jonas Smith and philanthropists Ward and Dorothy Melville joined Stony Brook and neighboring residents to ring in the holiday season.

The village’s 38th annual holiday festival featured the historic characters in giant puppet form, created by Processional Arts Workshop, during the event’s Puppets Processional led by The Jazz Loft owner Tom Manuel and his band. Santa was on hand to hear all the children’s’ wishes and take photos. Additional activities at the event organized by The Ward Melville Heritage Organization included live music with WALK Radio; a performance by Roseland School of Dance; carolers; a holiday train display at the Cultural Center; and Wiggs Optician’s holiday windows.

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Copy of drawing of the Strong house in Mount Misery. This house, circa 1796, replaced the original house, which burned. Photo from Long Island Forum

By Beverly Tyler

First in a two-part series.

May 1, 1790, Selah Strong of Setauket shared his Patriot views with Robert Heaton of London.

“Almost every one is partial in favour of their own government, and perhaps you will charge me with being prejudiced in favour of ours, but it is my opinion, that this government is much better calculated for the enjoyment of our Civil Rights, than the Constitution of Great Britain.”

Strong was born Dec. 25, 1737, in a house built by his father Thomas at Mount Misery, now Belle Terre, Long Island. His mother Susannah was the daughter of Samuel Thompson, a family connection that extended from the community of Setauket to the Town of Brookhaven where Jonathan Thompson and his sons Samuel and Isaac, and Selah Strong served as town trustees before and after the Revolutionary War. Strong was elected a trustee of the Town of Brookhaven each year from 1767 to 1777, and as a representative to the first Provincial Congress of New York in 1775.

Samuel and Susannah Thompson’s son Jonathan and his son Dr. Samuel Thompson served in Long Island militia companies in 1775, and most likely as captains in the Continental Army in Connecticut during the Revolutionary War, as they were refugees to Connecticut following the British occupation of Long Island in August 1776. Strong was a captain in Colonel Josiah Smith’s regiment in 1775 and Captain of the Brookhaven minutemen in 1776. A refugee as well, Strong also most likely served as a captain in the Continental Army in Connecticut.

Jonathan Thompson was married to Mary Woodhull, Revolutionary war spy Abraham Woodhull’s aunt. To add more intrigue to the extended family lines, Jonathan Thompson’s second son Isaac, who lived in what is now Sagtikos Manor in Bay Shore, remained on Long Island during the war and is believed to have been a spy for the Culper Spy Ring in Setauket. President George Washington spent the second night of his Long Island trip in 1790, at “the home of Squire Thompson,” to thank the spies who had provided much needed intelligence during the war.

In 1760, Strong married Anna Smith, great-granddaughter of the Lord of the Manor William “Tangier” Smith. The Smith homestead was on Little Neck, now Strong’s Neck, in Setauket. After the British took control of Long Island in 1776, many Long Island patriots became refugees in Connecticut. The couple remained on Long Island with their five children, probably at Strong’s family home at Mount Misery. Strong was still a town trustee. However, in the election of 1777 he and Jonathan Thompson were replaced by more Loyalist-leaning Brookhaven Town residents.

In January of 1778, Strong was arrested and imprisoned in a sugarhouse prison in Manhattan “for surreptitious correspondence with the enemy.” Strong’s position as a Patriot captain and outspoken town leader probably made it easy for someone, possibly a Loyalist Brookhaven town trustee, to suggest that Strong might be a person of interest to the British authorities. At some point his wife Anna, known to her family and friends as “Nancy,” obtained his release by appealing to her Loyalist relative in Manhattan. Strong did not then return to his home on Long Island but became a refugee in Connecticut and probably a great help to the soon to be developed Culper Spy Ring in Setauket.

It is easy to connect Strong with the Culper Spy Ring as one of the known spies was Nathaniel Ruggles. Ruggles was placed as a spy at Old Man’s (Mt. Sinai) by Benjamin Tallmadge, General Washington’s chief of intelligence.

Long Island Historian Kate Wheeler Strong, great-great-granddaughter of Anna Smith Strong, wrote the following article in her 1941 “True Tales,” published by the Long Island Forum. “It is evident that my great-great-grandfather (Selah Strong) must have helped Nathaniel Ruggles, one of Washington’s Spies. This is shown by an abstract from a will of Ruggles dated 1793, left in my great-great-grandfather’s keeping. In appointing him one of his executors Ruggles wrote: ‘I appoint my worthy patron Selah Strong Esq. Late judge of the COUNTY of Suffolk who hath snatched me from the jaws of my adversaries and befriended me in every difficulty as far as was consistant with his duty as an honest man.’”

Beverly Tyler is Three Village Historical Society historian and author of books available from the society at 93 North Country Road, Setauket. For more information, call 631-751-3730 or visit www.tvhs.org.

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The saying, “It takes a village,” certainly applies to us here on the North Shore of Long Island. Elsewhere in today’s newspaper, you can read the article about our making a full-length historical movie (page B11). It was a fantastic adventure and something of a wild ride. From the first rushes, before color and sound correction with the addition of music, the final product looks really good.

The film, “One Life to Give,” delves into the relationship between Benjamin Tallmadge and Nathan Hale against the tense background of the Battle of Long Island and the formation of the Culper Spy network in Setauket. So much of history seems to pivot on a single turning point or a particular event, and the Revolutionary War is no exception. Because of these two men, George Washington embedded his spies behind the enemy lines and the outcome of the war took a decided turn for the better.

Speaking of turns, many of you probably watched the TURN series on AMC, about the Setauket spies, whose fourth and final year is showing on cable television presently. Though based on the scent of real events, those episodes are largely fiction, although they are nonetheless riveting. Our movie, made authentic through the attention and help of local historical societies, is as factual as the history that has come down to us through more than two centuries.

Which is to say, this is the real story and no less intense for being accurate. This film can, and we trust, will be shown to children in the schools as part of the state mandate for teaching local history. But its making would not have been possible without the help of our North Shore “village.” So many organizations, businesses and individuals teamed up to bring our local history to life.

Let me explain. There were three parts to our filming, kind of like a trifecta. First we needed the script, which was researched and written largely by TBR’s Director of Media Productions Michael Tessler and Emerson College junior Benjamin Dunaief, with help from Port Jeff alum and Brooklyn College student Dominick Famularo. Part of that first win was to bring the script to life, for which we needed a competent crew behind the camera. These dozen hard workers were brought in by my grandson Benji, who knew their work from previous film shoots. We also needed high level equipment, some of which came with the crew and the rest we rented.

The second part was to secure the historic locations, also the actors in front of the camera. Here is where the “village” came into play. The Ward Melville Heritage Organization, SPLIA (Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities), Three Village Historical Society, Miller Place-Mount Sinai Historical Society, Three Village Community Trust, LISEC boat builders and Benner’s Farm provided the settings and encouragement.

Then casting calls along with connections brought us the talented actors, who included among many others, Jeff Sanzel, Dave Morrissey Jr. (from New York City, soon to be an equity member), Jonathan Rabeno, David Gianopoulos (who was Agent Johnson in the 1997 movie “Air Force One”) and Hans Paul Hendrickson, who played Hale.

The third win was the unending assistance and support from individuals like the inexhaustible John Worrell, Tim Glynn, Margo Arceri, Fred Bryant, Charlie Lefkowitz, Michael Ardolino, Peter Moloney, Andy Pollen, the Connell family, Virginia Cash, the many battle re-enactors who traveled from near and far, and the contributions of Stony Brook University. Then there are the many local restaurants who helped us feed everybody on set like Setauket Gourmet deli, Setauket Village Diner, Via Pizza, Pasta Pasta and Eastern Pavilion.

There are many more to thank and we will do so in a more formal way, but this is just a spontaneous outburst of gratitude to all those who, with willing hands across the community, make our lives so rich.

One of the 26 signs along the Route 25A corridor from Port Jefferson To Great Neck, which now designate Route 25A as the Washington Spy Trail. Photo by Rita J. Egan

By Rita J. Egan

George Washington and the Long Island Culper Spy Ring continue to make history on the North Shore.

A press conference was held May 18 on the lawn of the Brewster House in East Setauket after the installation of 26 signs along the Route 25A corridor from Port Jefferson To Great Neck, which now designate Route 25A as the Washington Spy Trail. One of the signs, unveiled at the end of the event, is located in front of the Brewster property.

A press conference was held May 18 on the lawn of the Brewster House in East Setauket after the installation of 26 signs along the Route 25A corridor from Port Jefferson To Great Neck, which now designate Route 25A as the Washington Spy Trail. Photo by Rita J. Egan

The installation of signage and the designation comes after almost two decades of work on the part of the North Shore Promotional Alliance. The state road was chosen because President George Washington once traveled it to thank the patriots for helping him win the Revolutionary War, and it was also a route that spy Austin Roe used to pick up and deliver secret messages to military officer and spy Benjamin Tallmadge in Connecticut.

Gloria Rocchio, President of The Ward Melville Heritage Organization and North Shore Promotional Alliance, said that during the days of the Culper Spy Ring in the 1700s the Brewster House was one of only a few homes, and at the time of the American Revolution, the area was occupied by 300 British troops.

“Our community was divided between Loyalist and Patriots who supported the revolution in secret,” she said. “This history is the very history of America. Our efforts over the past 17 years have been to shine a light on our American Revolution and to encourage people to visit those important sites on the North Shore where history was made — the George Washington Spy Trail, Route 25A.

In addition to thanking her fellow members of the NSPA and others for their work, Rochhio acknowledged State Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) and State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) for introducing a legislative resolution in both the New York State Senate and Assembly that recognizes the dedication of the trail as well as the service of the spy ring members. On the same day, U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) and U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) were presenting a similar resolution in congress.

Flanagan thanked those who gave up their free time to dedicate themselves to the project. The senator said he and the other local legislatures who were on hand for the event are proud of their towns.

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright and Supervisor Ed Romaine present a proclamation to President of The Ward Melville Heritage Organization, Gloria Rocchio, making May 18 North Shore Promotion Alliance Day in Brookhaven. Photo by Rita J. Egan

“We brag about the places that we come from,” he said. “We like telling people about these types of things.”

Flanagan said he hopes that residents, as well as those who travel to the area will take advantage of the educational experiences the signs call out along the way.

When Englebright stepped up to the podium, he asked State Assemblyman Mike Fitzpatrick (R-St. James) to join him and said he appreciated the partnership with his neighboring assemblyman as well as Flanagan when it came to the legislative resolution that recognizes the area’s historical significance.

“This is a special place,” Englebright said. “Patriots lived here. People put their lives on the line as the first espionage ring for service to our nation.”

Englebright echoed Rocchio’s sentiments of the importance of the signs that pay tribute to the area’s history.

“The memorialization of that through this signage that Gloria referred to, is a chance for us to celebrate that reality, that wonderful beginning of our nation, the role that we played in it,” the assemblyman said. “It’s also important to give a sense of place and sense of context for this and future generations.”

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) presented a proclamation to Rocchio, which made May 18 North Shore Promotion Alliance Day in Brookhaven. Romaine also reflected on the historical importance of the day.

Local politicians following the enveiling of the Washington Spy Trail sign along 25A. Photo by Rita J. Egan

“Today we remember our history,” he said. “Today we remember ordinary people, living ordinary lives, who were called upon to do extraordinary things.”

John Tsunis, Chairman and CEO of Gold Coast Bank and owner of Holiday Inn Express Stony Brook, introduced Harry Janson, Sr., who was wounded in Vietnam and received the Purple Heart, a medal that originated from Washington’s Badge of Military Merit. Janson, who is on the board of the Long Island State Veterans Home at Stony Brook University, said he believed the members of the Culper Spy Ring — Tallmadge, Roe, Robert Townsend, Abraham Woodhull, Caleb Brewster and Anna Smith Strong — were worthy of the award as well.

“The difference is the example of their bravery,” Janson said. “They performed their bravery in covert, and they took their secrets to their graves.”

Before unveiling the Washington Spy Trail sign in front of the Brewster House, Janson had the same wish as others who worked on the installation of the signage.

“We hope that many of you drive the trail and learn about these brave men and women, and what they did for our country,” Janson said.

Additional Washington Spy Trail signs include ones located on the westbound side of Route 25A at West Broadway in Port Jefferson, by the Long Island Museum in Stony Brook, before the Smithtown Bull in Smithtown and at Lawrence Hill Road in Huntington Station.

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David Morrissey Jr. as Benjamin Tallmadge

By Ed Randolph

The “Culper Spy Adventure,” a special presentation by TBR News Media, is an immersive digital attraction that will allow locals and tourists alike to be recruited into the ranks of General Washington’s secret Setauket spy ring. Accessed by scanning a special QR code on a panel of the Three Village map due out later this summer, you will begin an interactive 45-minute journey that puts you into the starring role of your very own secret spy adventure! Become a time traveler as you arrive in the year 1780, crossing paths with legends and heroes: Abraham Woodhull, Anna Smith Strong, Caleb Brewster, George Washington himself!

Enjoy interactive games between each episode that are filled to the brim with intrigue, action and fun! Created with the whole family in mind, the “Culper Spy Adventure” is great for all ages. We are also offering a special American Sign Language version as well as a handicap-accessible edition! Join the revolution later this summer!

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with David Morrissey Jr. who who plays Benjamin Tallmadge in this interactive journey.

Who was Benjamin Tallmadge?

He’s the young mind who organized the Culper Spy Ring for General Washington. He originally was from Setauket and grew up with Caleb Brewster and Abraham Woodhull and acted as Washington’s direct connection with the spies. For most of the war he led a dragoon (cavalry) unit, and participated in a lot of major battles. He was brave and was the very definition of patriot.

What was the most challenging part about bringing Tallmadge to life?

I’d say it must have been acting like someone with the leadership skills to organize the Culper Spy Ring but yet still be a believable 26-year-old. Yeah, people grew up earlier back then, but it’s still so young to have done so much.

What’s your favorite memory from filming the ‘Culper Spy Adventure’?

My favorite memory is working with the reenactment soldiers (from the Third NY Regiment and the Huntington Militia), those guys are great. They know everything about the subject matter, so if you have a question about dialect or terms or anything they would definitely know it. Also, trying to get the words “whale fodder” out was a tough one for some reason, everyone on set got a good laugh about that one!

What do you think Benjamin Tallmadge would think about this project?

He’d probably think it was pretty cool, I mean you’d have to explain to him the whole film medium thing and how it works, but I’d imagine after introducing him to the concept he’d love the idea. It’d probably be pretty neat for him to relive an interpretation of things that really happened to him!

Gen. George Washington (John Galla) with his headquarter’s flag. Photo by Heidi Sutton
Gen. Benedict Arnold (Brian Cea). Photo by Heidi Sutton
Gen. Benedict Arnold (Brian Cea). Photo by Heidi Sutton

The chilly 45-degree weather did not deter almost 300 brave souls who came out for a special walk through local history last Saturday night as the Three Village Historical Society held its 21st annual Spirits Tour, “The Culper Spy Ring: From Secrecy to Victory.”

“The Culper Spy Ring has really been making news lately,” Carolyn Benson, one of the tour guides, said. This tour shows “how many people from this area were involved.”

The host of the tour, Emma S. Clark, whose name graces the library in Setauket and was portrayed by Karin Lynch, set the scene for what was to come.

“The Culper Spy Ring was a group of men known as the Secret Six who helped George Washington win the war. … Their identity was so secretive that Gen. Washington never knew their true identity. Their messages were written in code and their letters were in invisible ink,” she said. “Tonight you will meet with these patriots and some loyalists who will share their stories with you about what it was like during and after the war.”

Helen ‘Morningstar’ Sells and Nellie Edwards of the Setalcott Nation. Photo by Heidi Sutton
Helen ‘Morningstar’ Sells and Nellie Edwards of the Setalcott Nation. Photo by Heidi Sutton

The 1.5-hour tours ran throughout the evening, beginning with the Young Historian tours. Each group, carrying flashlights and lanterns, was led through the cemeteries of the Setauket Presbyterian Church [established in the late 17th century] and the Caroline Church of Brookhaven [established in 1729].

All the key players were present, from the ring’s most active operatives — Maj. Benjamin Tallmadge, Caleb Brewster, Austin Roe, Anna Smith Strong, James Rivington and Robert Townsend — to Gen. George Washington and Abraham Woodhull, the leader of the Culper Spy Ring, to Gen. Benedict Arnold, the infamous traitor. Woodhull, portrayed by Dennis O’Connor, appeared at the foot of his own grave in the Presbyterian cemetery during the tour.

Lesser-known community spirits made appearances as well, including Bette Harmon, born into slavery to the Strong family; Maj. John Andre, a British spy whose capture exposed Benedict Arnold as a traitor; loyalist Col. Benjamin Floyd; patriot Rev. Zachariah Greene; and a special appearance by  Setalcott Nation members Helen “Morning Star” Sells and Nellie Edwards. In total, 20 spirits were conjured to provide an insight into their lives during the Revolutionary War. The period costumes, provided by Nan Guzzetta, gave the entire event an eerily authentic feel.

Private David Williams (George Monez), Major John Andre (Pat DiVisconti), Private Isaac Van Wart (Sage Hardy). Photo by Heidi Sutton
Private David Williams (George Monez), Major John Andre (Pat DiVisconti), Private Isaac Van Wart (Sage Hardy). Photo by Heidi Sutton

At each stop, the spirits gave out secret codes that, when compiled and decoded, formed a secret letter for Gen. Washington, who was the last stop of the night.

Nine-year-old Alex Perrone, of Stony Brook, was experiencing the tour for the first time with his mother, Lauren, but came well prepared.

“My mom and I read a book called ‘Redcoats and Petticoats,’” he said.

Alex enjoyed the tour, especially meeting Washington and learning about the Setalcott tribe and their longhouses, and said he would definitely do it again. His mom agreed, adding, “I just thought it was really informative and I thought the actors were wonderful and I think it was a great way to learn about local history and this special place.”

In all, the 21st annual Spirits Tour was a rare historical treat. For more information, visit the historical society at www.tvhs.org.

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New York Royal Governor Tyron, on a white horse, visiting the Setauket Village Green in 1776 to have all men in Setauket sign a pledge of loyalty to the king. Loyalist Benjamin Floyd is pictured left foreground. Photo of 1951 mural by Vance Locke

By Beverly C. Tyler

During the Revolutionary War, a newspaper was published in New York City for the purpose of providing both news and gossip to British troops and American Loyalists. If such a paper existed in Setauket during the war, it might very well be called Setauket’s Loyalist Gazette and contain the following snippets of news.

Tavern keeper Austin Roe has been seen riding from Brooklyn to Setauket. It is such a long ride that he has been observed standing up in the saddle. He needs to be careful; he could fall off and break a leg.

Anna Smith Strong is raising six children by herself on Little Neck, now called Seaton’s Neck, while her husband Selah is in Connecticut. He is known to have Patriot leanings so he is smart to stay away. We don’t need any Washington rabble here on Long Island. When, and if, he does come home, he will find his wife has been doing just fine as a good Loyalist with British officers in her home (St. George’s Manor).

Abraham Woodhull is still a bachelor at age 28 in Setauket. At present [1778] he doesn’t seem to have any love interests at all. One wonders why he travels to New York City so often with Anna Smith Strong, his first cousin’s wife. They are both avid Loyalists, quite strange for Presbyterians. Maybe we should keep an eye on them as well as on all Presbyterians. And why not!

During the Battle of Setauket on Aug. 22, 1777, some of the Patriot troops had a bit of fun firing at the bell in the Anglican Caroline Church tower. The sound of the musket balls hitting the bell was quite loud. Let’s hope our Loyalist troops recover all of the lead bullets as they are now a bit short of ammunition. Get the lead out!

Loyalist Colonel Richard Hewlett has not been seen in Setauket since the fort was closed in the autumn of 1777. In the spring of ‘77, his troops barricaded the grounds around the church, tearing up and breaking off gravestones to use on the barricade. Now Rev. Tallmadge is trying to clean up the church sanctuary where the British stabled their horses. At least there is plenty of manure for Rev. Tallmadge’s garden.

Captain Caleb Brewster, a Continental Army officer, was noticed leaving Long Island’s shore near Setauket. He was obviously here with his whaleboat and crew to spy on British and Loyalist positions. Rumor has it that he has a number of Patriot contacts in Setauket and Old Mans [present-day Mount Sinai], and we do know that he is related to the Woodhulls, Strongs and Smiths in the area. Vigilance is the byword!

Benjamin Floyd, a vestryman at Caroline Church is a Loyalist lieutenant colonel and an all-around great guy. He is also now supervisor of the Town of Brookhaven [1777]. The town board is now solidly Loyalist. Floyd has been supplying vegetables and other farm products to all Setauket residents in need. Let’s hope they are all loyal Tories. Be careful Benjamin! What a guy!

Richard Woodhull, father of Loyalist farmer Abraham Woodhull, was recently attacked and beaten in his home by British soldiers looking for Abraham, who they expected to find at home working on his farm. According to the British soldiers, they really don’t like any Americans; so beating up a defenseless old man because he wouldn’t tell them where his son was is really no big deal.

A British foraging detail recently took all the cows, grain, hay, cordwood and tools from the farm of Setauket resident Jonathan Thompson and his son Samuel Thompson. The Thompsons had fled to Connecticut in 1776, following the glorious British victory at the Battle of Long Island in Brooklyn. Thompson received a chit, tacked to his door, promising payment when the British finally win.

Beverly Tyler is the Three Village Historical Society historian.

The Culper Spy Ring has gained much attention over the last 10 years from the publishing of two books and  AMC airing the television series TURN. On June 20, the Three Villages will be sharing its famous story with a day-long event, Culper Spy Day — Our Revolutionary Story. Join them to learn the real history behind the Culper Spy Ring, America’s first. Many historic locations dating as far back as 1655 will open their doors to the public and a local restaurant will offer a spy-themed lunch menu.

Sponsored by Tri-Spy Tours, the Three Village Historical Society, the Long Island Museum and the Ward Melville Heritage Organization, the event will coincide with the Long Island Convention and Visitors Bureau Path Through History Weekend. The event is from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

1. Three Village Historical Society, 93 N. Country Road, Setauket. Located in the c. 1800’s Ebenezer Bayles/Stephen Swezey house, the Three Village Historical Society is home to the interactive Culper SPIES! exhibit and the Chicken Hill: A Community Lost to Time exhibit. Stop by and meet a visiting friend from Oyster Bay, Robert Townsend, aka Samuel Culper Jr. The gift shop will also be open.
— A one-hour Tri-Spy Walking Tour will be held at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Walk your way through the history of the Revolutionary War’s Culper Spy Ring. Visit Woodhull’s Farm, the Setauket Village Green, Grist Mill, Patriot’s Rock and historic grave sites. Meet at the entrance of Frank Melville Memorial Park.
— A historic district walking tour as it pertains to the Revolutionary War will depart from the entrance of Frank Melville Memorial Park at 10 a.m., noon and 2 p.m. Visit Patriot’s Rock, the cemetery where the leader of the Setauket Spy Ring is buried and the homes of early residents. 631-751-3730.

2. Thompson House Medicinal Garden, 91 N. Country Road, Setauket. Self-guided tour. Doctor Samuel Thompson was a colonial era doctor and farmer. According to his diaries, members of the Culper Spy Ring, including Abraham Woodhull and Austin Roe, were among his patients. 631-751-2244.

3. Caroline Church of Brookhaven, 1 Dyke Road, Setauket. Docents will lead a tour of this church and its adjoining cemetery. Built in 1729, it is the oldest continuously operating Episcopal Church in the United States. The cemetery holds the graves of early settlers of the town, Revolutionary War heroes, ship captains and industry leaders. 631-941-4245.

4. Setauket Presbyterian Church, 5 Caroline Ave., Setauket. Docents will lead a tour of the historic church, circa 1812, and its adjoining cemetery, which dates back to the 1600s. Abraham Woodhull of George Washington’s Spy Ring, genre artist William Sidney Mount and early settler Richard Floyd, grandfather of William Floyd, are buried here. 631-941-4271.

5. Setauket Village Green, Main Street, Setauket. A replica of a Dutch 1768 single-sail boat will be on display here. During the Revolutionary War, the Village Green was the location of the Battle of Setauket, a skirmish between Tory and Patriot troops that took place on Aug. 22, 1777. Prior to the battle, it was called Meeting House Green where meetings were held during the early settlement period of the mid to late 1600s.

6. Emma S. Clark Memorial Library, 120 Main St., Setauket. Circa 1892. The library will present a demo of its interactive Spy Ring Tour, and materials and databases related to the Culper Spy Ring will be on the library lawn. Military paraphernalia will be on display in the Library lobby. Stop by and meet Anna Smith Strong and her “magic clothesline.” 631-941-4080.

7. Joseph Brewster House, Route 25A, Setauket. Circa 1655, it is considered to be the oldest home in the Town of Brookhaven. During the Revolutionary War, the house was owned by Joseph Brewster, first cousin of Culper Spy Caleb Brewster and neighbor of the ring’s founder, Benjamin Tallmadge. In order to preserve his home and property from confiscation, Joseph Brewster operated a tavern out of the home, hosting the occupying British forces. A colonial cooking demonstration will take place on the grounds. 631-751-2244.

8. Country House Restaurant, 1175 N. Country Road, Stony Brook. Built in 1710, the restaurant is dedicated to serving the finest food and spirits in one of Long Island’s most historic homes. The restaurant will serve a special Spy-themed menu from noon to 4 p.m.  Adult meals will range from $10 to $16 and children’s meals are $8.95, which includes a soft drink. For reservations, please call 631-751-3332.

9. Long Island Museum, 1200 Route 25A, Stony Brook. Tour the museum’s galleries as well as the outbuildings. The Nassakeag Schoolhouse, circa 1895, will be open with a docent. Two of the museum’s horse-drawn vehicles were owned by Revolutionary War hero Peter Gansevoort, grandfather of author Herman Melville. 631-751-0066.

10. Stony Brook Grist Mill, 100 Harbor Road, Stony Brook. A miller will be on hand for grinding demonstrations. Long Island’s most completely equipped and working mill, the mill, circa 1751, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. During the Revolutionary War, occupying British forces confiscated much of the grain to provision their own troops. 631-689-3238.

11. Stony Brook Village Center, 111 Main St., Stony Brook. Docents will guide visitors on a walking tour of historic Main Street. Points of interest will include the Stony Brook Village Center, Hercules and the Educational Center. Tours will depart on the hour from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. 631-751-2244.

Tickets are $20 each (children under 12 free) and can be purchased at the following locations:
• Three Village Historical Society, 93 North Country Road, Setauket. 631-751-3730 or visit www.tvhs.org.
• The Long Island Museum, 1200 Route 25A, Stony Brook. 631-751-0066  or visit www.longislandmuseum.org.
• The Ward Melville Heritage Organization, 111 Main Street, Stony Brook. 631-751-2244 or visit www.wmho.org.

Historian Beverly C. Tyler and Donna Smith, Education Director of the Three Village Historical Society, stand next to the grave of Abraham Woodhull at the Setauket Presbyterian Church. Photo by Heidi Sutton

By Barbara Russell

“By the 29th inst I expect to hear further from C_; his Dispatches shall be duly forwarded I would take the liberty to observe that a safe conveyance may be had, by the bearer, for the ink which your Excellency proposed sending to C_”

The writer was Setauket native Col. Benjamin Tallmadge, and the letter was sent to General George Washington July 25, 1779. Tallmadge is assuring the general that he is expecting information soon from C_, alias Samuel Culper, alias Abraham Woodhull, and is referring to an invisible ink provided by Washington to be used by members of the Culper Spy Ring.

Born in Setauket in 1754, Benjamin Tallmadge left Setauket as a teenager to enter Yale College, became a school teacher after graduation, and subsequently joined the Patriot forces. He served as the chief intelligence officer for General George Washington and relied on his childhood friends from Setauket for the intelligence reports so vital to Washington’s success.

The Culper Spy Ring is not a tale but a real and factual account of spying during the American Revolution. Its epicenter was nestled right here in Setauket. Benjamin Tallmadge, Abraham Woodhull, Austin Roe and Caleb Brewster all lived here and knew each other growing up. Tallmadge leaned on his trusted friends to create the web that brought information from New York City out to Long Island and across the Long Island Sound to him in Connecticut. From there, it was transmitted to General Washington.

Spying is very risky, and every person involved knew it. All but Caleb Brewster used fictitious names; invisible ink was provided; a dictionary of code words invented; and success depended on trusting that each person was committed to the fullest. The Culper Spy Ring operated from 1778 through 1783, with additional agents beyond the Setauket friends. One known agent was Robert Townsend of Oyster Bay, who had a business in New York City, allowing him to pick up information on British troop strengths and movements and then pass it on to either Austin Roe, an innkeeper, or Abraham Woodhull, a farmer and business operator. Both traveled to New York City in the course of their businesses.

The residents of Brookhaven attempted to carry on with their lives, while British soldiers were assigned to the Setauket area, following the disastrous Battle of Long Island in August 1776. Town board minutes of the time do not refer to the war but to the general running of a municipality with tax collecting, electing officials, land ownership, and responsibility for the indigent. Newspapers of the time did report unpleasant raids and indignities imposed on the residents. In December 1776, William Tryon, provincial governor of New York, traveled to Setauket to secure the support of Brookhaven residents for his majesty’s government.

Eight hundred one men pledged their support for the British Crown on the Setauket Village Green, then Brookhaven’s central meeting place. Among the signers was Abraham Woodhull, perhaps a move that would reduce suspicion for his intelligence work. Some residents, who feared for their safety, did flee to Connecticut, and remained for the duration of the war. Those who stayed were subjected to British occupation, often having soldiers billeted in their homes, and their livestock and crops seized for use by the British.

Woodhull and Roe continued to live in Setauket throughout the war years, settling into their occupations and carrying on their intelligence work, probably not without fear of being discovered. Brewster, a determined and fearless man, made many trips across Long Island Sound to support the Patriot cause but never returned to Setauket to live.  Tallmadge owed the success of his intelligence work to his friends and likely to others whose names are still unknown or unconfirmed.

Although the information about the Culpers was publicized over 80 years ago by former Suffolk County historian, Morton Pennypacker, it has received national attention in the last 10 years. Its rightful place among the history of the American Revolution was aided by the publication of “Washington’s Spies: The Story of America’s First Spy Ring” by Alexander Rose in 2006, “George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution” by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger in 2013 and the AMC series “TURN,” now in its second season. And it all happened here.

Lucky is the child who listens to a story from an elder and cherishes it for years. Margo Arceri first heard the Culper Spy Ring story from her Strong’s Neck neighbor and local historian, Kate W. Strong in the 1970s.

“Kate W. Strong, Anna Smith Strong’s great-great-grandaughter, originally told me this story as a child when I used to visit her with my neighbor and Strong descendant Raymond Brewster Strong lll,” said Arceri. “She wrote for The Long Island Forum ‘The True Tales of the Early Days on Long Island.’ One of her stories was about Nancy [Anna Smith Strong’s nickname} and her magic clothesline. That’s where I first heard about the Spy Ring and my love grew from there.”

Today Arceri runs Tri-Spy Tours to share her knowledge of George Washington’s Long Island intelligence during the American Revolution. Her perseverance has inspired the upcoming Culper Spy Day — Our Revolutionary Story, on Saturday, June 20.

Barbara Russell is the Town of Brookhaven’s historian.

Washington, D.C., trip ties pieces of nation’s past to North Shore, including famed Culper Spy Ring

A panda enjoys bamboo at the National Zoo. Photo from Beverly Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

What do spy codes, a Setauket officer’s saber, cherry blossoms, pandas and a postal museum have in common?

This past weekend my family, including eight grandchildren, traveled to Washington, D.C. to visit our nation’s capital together and discover new things. The trip began with a visit to the National Cryptologic Museum about 30 minutes north of Washington.

Here, the story of the secret world of intelligence is detailed with interactive displays and cipher technology from the 16th century to today. One section details the activity of spies during the Revolutionary War, especially General Washington’s Culper Spy Ring, and allows visitors, especially children, to “Create Your Own Secret Cipher,” “Hidden Message,” “Invisible Ink Secrets” and “Make a Secret Code with a Dictionary.”

There is also a “CrypoKids Challenge,” with messages to decode throughout the museum. There is, of course, much more to see here, including captured German and Japanese code machines.

Cherry blossoms at the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C. Photo from Beverly Tyler
Cherry blossoms at the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C. Photo from Beverly Tyler

The recently renovated Smithsonian National History Museum along the National Mall includes the exhibit “The Price of Freedom: Americans at War.”

Covering the period from the French and Indian War to the present, “exploring ways in which wars have been defining episodes in American history,” the exhibit includes a stunning array of artifacts, including a dragoon saber belonging to our own Major Benjamin Tallmadge, General Washington’s chief of intelligence and son of the Setauket Presbyterian Church minister.

A late spring provided an April 11 blooming for the cherry trees around the Tidal Basin at the Jefferson Memorial. More than one million people attended the cherry blossom festival in Washington, D.C., however we all went to the National Zoo to watch the pandas play and eat bamboo. A great choice considering the crowds and we did get wonderful pictures of the blossoms the day before.

We spent one morning at the National Postal Museum across the street from Union Station. This may be the best museum in D.C.; it is definitely the most interactive Smithsonian museum.

Visitors can sort mail in a postal train car, ride in a postal truck, select routes to deliver mail across the country and follow a new mail route from New York City to Boston in the 17th century, which became the Boston Post Road decades later. Other activities include letters written home during the many wars and conflicts of the past three centuries and the opportunity to follow these letters as they travel from place to place.

In one simulation of a post office, people come up to the postal window and interact with the clerk. One young girl came up to the window and asked that the Christmas list she was carrying be sent to Santa at the South Pole.

The clerk responded that Santa was actually at the North Pole. The young girl said, “Oh, that’s all right, this is my brother’s list.”

There are many other wonderful stories in the postal museum, including poignant letters written home during the Civil War. There are also real stories about mail fraud, letter bombs and how the security system of the United States Post Office Department dealt with crime.

And not to ignore the Hollywood approach, there are stories about all the movies made about every postal subject from the Pony Express to prohibition.

All in all, it was an experience for visitors of all ages.

In four days, we also visited the Natural History Museum, the Air and Space Museum, and walked around the Washington monument and Lincoln Memorial. All the Smithsonian museums belong to all Americans and admission is free.

Beverly Tyler is the Three Village Historical Society historian.

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