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Revolutionary War

Major Benjamin Tallmadge (Art Billadello) gives visitors a brief history about the Culper Spy Ring at a previous event.

On Saturday, Sept. 15 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., The Long Island Museum and The Ward Melville Heritage Organization in Stony Brook and the Three Village Historical Society and Tri-Spy Tours in Setauket will host a day of spy-related tours and activities for the 4th annual Culper Spy Day. 

The event is named for the Culper Spy Ring founded by Benjamin Tallmadge of Setauket, which provided Gen. George Washington with the information he needed to turn the tide of the American Revolution.

The Setauket Presbyterian Church will be open for tours during the event.

Visitors can learn what really happened while enjoying docent-led tours of historic homes, churches and cemeteries, Colonial cooking and blacksmithing demonstrations, reenactments, walking and bicycle tours, Anna Smith Strong’s famed clothesline, invisible ink demonstrations, a children’s book signing, time period music, military drills, a TURN memorabilia live auction and sale, mill grinding demonstrations and many more family-friendly activities in the Three Villages and along the North Shore.

In addition, Revolutionary War artifacts, including George Washington’s original letters to members of his spy ring will be on display in the Stony Brook University Library Special Collections. Ticket holders will have a chance to meet Benjamin Tallmadge, Abraham Woodhull, Samuel Culper Sr. and Anna Smith Strong as well.  

The Three Village Inn in Stony Brook will feature a spy breakfast (cost is $10 per person plus tax and tip and reservations are required)  and the Country House Restaurant, also in Stony Brook, will serve up a spy-themed lunch (not included in Spy Day ticket price). Call 631-751-0555 for breakfast and 631-751-3332 for lunch reservations. The Three Village Historical Society will also be offering snacks and lunch at its Tavern on the Field. 

Build your own Revolutionary War story and see history come to life at this fun-filled event. 

Tickets, which may be purchased at www.tvhs.org, are $25 for adults and $5 for children ages 6 to 12. Children under the age of 6 and veterans will receive free admission. Wristbands for entry and maps with the event listings and a schedule of activities can be picked up at the Three Village Historical Society at 93 North Country Road in Setauket from Sept. 10 through Sept. 15. Tickets are good for admission to most participating organizations for Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 15 and 16, and at The Long Island Museum through Sept. 23.

For more information, please visit www.culperspyday.com.

Many residents know about the Culper spies that operated along the North Shore of Long Island and gave invaluable intelligence about British troop movements and plans to Gen. George Washington during the Revolutionary War. But perhaps not so many know that two of Washington’s letters to his chief spymaster Major Benjamin Tallmadge, of Setauket, are on display locally and are available for viewing by the public. They are part of the Special Collections & University Archives of Stony Brook University Libraries, and how we got them is itself a story, as was told by Kristen Nyitray, SBU’s Special Collections director, at the Three Village Historical Society meeting Monday night.

The letters, written by Washington in 1779 and 1780, were part of the estate of Malcolm Forbes, the publishing magnate, and were put up for auction by Christie’s at two separate times. Forbes was proud of the fact that he had collected artifacts from each American president. Where those letters were for some 200 years before he got them is a deep mystery, but they are here now, thanks to the alacrity of local history-minded leaders, like state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), members of the historical society and philanthropist Henry Laufer.

On May 24, 2006, Frank Turano, then president of the historical society, Nyitray and Englebright took the train to New York City for the auction. Armed with a modest amount of money, given how much historical memorabilia sold for, they hoped to purchase the first letter and return it to the place where history happened. Nyitray was the paddle wielder, indicating a willing purchaser at the auctioneer’s bidding, and the three nervously awaited the sale of Lot 31, the first coveted letter. As parts of the estate sold ahead of the desired letter for much more than the resources of the triumvirate, they became increasingly nervous. Paddles were waving and telephones ringing with high bids all around them. Finally the letter, in Washington’s elegant hand, written from West Point on Sept. 24, 1779, and arriving in Setauket Sept. 26, was offered and miraculously the phones fell silent and the paddles went down. Only Nyitray’s was visible and, unchallenged, she won the bid.

The winning price was $80,000. Add in the commission for the auction house and other incidentals, and the final cost for the precious letter was almost $100,000. They had enough money.

The three were ecstatic. They were going to bring that letter back to Setauket where “The Father of our Country” had originally sent it. Within the month, after paperwork was completed, they were able to carry their treasure back to SBU in a brown shopping bag.

Once safely ensconced, the letter had to be cleaned and preserved by experts, and framed and mounted for suitable viewing. That proved to be an arduous and lengthy series of tasks. The group returned to Christie’s for the second letter written Sept. 16, 1780, on Feb. 12, 2009, which coincidentally is the same day as Lincoln’s birthdate. The quality of paper on which the letters were written was good rag paper, but the ink was made from oak gall, which was high in tannic acid, and was corrosive. The ink had to be treated to preserve the letters.

The initial viewing for the first letter was in October 2006, and the letters have done some traveling since, having been seen in Southampton and by people in Florida, California and Minnesota. They are accessible to all.

The 1779 letter deals with advice on how “Culper Junr.” — who was Robert Townsend — could go about his business as a freelance writer and merchant and also function as a spy. Washington gives specific instructions on how Townsend should write secret information among the leaves of a pamphlet or even between the lines of a newsy letter to a friend with special invisible ink. We know that ink was fabricated by Founding Father John Jay’s elder brother, James, who was a physician, and was referred to by the spies as “medicine.”

The letter is signed, “I am Sir Your most obedient and humble servt. Go. Washington.” What a thrill.

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A 1780 map depicts Long Island during Revolutionary War times. Image from the Library of Congress

By Beverly C. Tyler

As we prepare to celebrate Independence Day, July 4, it is fitting to reflect on the actions of some of the men and women who helped win our independence.

The Revolutionary War had a great effect on the residents of Long Island. After the Declaration of Independence was signed July 4, 1776, many Long Islanders, especially in Suffolk County, received it enthusiastically. Their enthusiasm was short-lived, however, for on Aug. 27, 1776, the British took possession of New York City, following the Battle of Long Island in Brooklyn, and with its possession of all of Long Island. The residents were to be under British control for the next seven years.

“Since my arrival at camp I have had as large an allowance of fighting as I could, in a serious mood, wish for.”

— Benjamin Tallmadge

A large number of Long Island Patriots fled to Connecticut and became refugees, giving up their lands, homes and most of their possessions. Those who stayed lived under often harsh, military rule. The residents were forced to provide whatever His Majesty’s forces needed. Cattle, feed, grains, food, wagons and horses, especially cordwood for fuel was taken, and in most cases, not paid for. Long Island was virtually stripped of its mature trees during the first three to five years of the war to supply lumber and fuel for New York City.

In addition to suffering at the hands of the British, many Long Islanders were also considered fair game by their former friends and neighbors in Connecticut who would cross the Sound to harass the British, steal supplies, destroy material the British might use and take captives. The captives were often taken in exchange for the Patriots captured by the British.

Benjamin Tallmadge, Gen. George Washington’s chief of intelligence from the summer of 1778 until the end of the Revolutionary War, was born and spent his youth in Setauket, Long Island. Following four years at Yale College in New Haven and a year teaching in Wethersfield, Connecticut, Tallmadge joined the Continental Army. He took an active part in the Battle of Brooklyn and progressed rapidly in rank. As a captain in the 2nd Regiment of Continental Light Dragoons — Washington’s first fast attack force mounted on horses — Tallmadge came under Washington’s notice. By December of 1776, Washington had asked Tallmadge, in addition to his dragoon responsibilities, to gather intelligence from various spies on Long Island. In 1777 Tallmadge coordinated and received intelligence from individual spies on Long Island. (See History Close at Hand article published in The Village Times Herald May 10 edition.)

To memorialize one of the Culper spies, a polychrome statue of Benjamin Tallmadge sits on the peak of the Setauket School gymnasium. Photo by Beverly C. Tyler

Tallmadge was promoted to the rank of major April 7, 1777. In June Tallmadge’s troop, composed entirely of dapple gray horses, left their base at Litchfield, Connecticut, and proceeded to New Jersey where Washington reviewed the detachment and complimented Tallmadge on the appearance of his horsemen.

Washington gave the troops of the 2nd Regiment little chance to rest after they came to headquarters, and Tallmadge wrote, “Since my arrival at camp I have had as large an allowance of fighting as I could, in a serious mood, wish for.”

In September and October, Tallmadge took part in the Battle of Germantown. In November of 1777, when the American army finally went into winter quarters at Valley Forge, Tallmadge was ordered, “with a respectable detachment of dragoons,” to act as an advance corps of observation.

During these maneuvers into the no-mans-land area between the American and British lines around Philadelphia, Tallmadge again engaged in obtaining intelligence of the enemy’s movements and plans.

In January of 1778, the 2nd Regiment of Light Dragoons was ordered to Trenton, New Jersey, where the other cavalry regiments were assembling to spend the winter. Throughout the spring, Tallmadge waited for action. In June the 2nd Regiment was assigned to take up a position in advance of the American lines near Dobbs Ferry. In July Washington returned to the Hudson Valley with most of his army. With the arrival of the French fleet under Count d’Estaing in July, the pressing need for organized military intelligence could no longer be avoided. Officers, and especially dragoon officers, were encouraged to find intelligent correspondents who could furnish reliable information to American headquarters.

During the summer of 1778, Tallmadge was able to establish, with Washington’s approval, a chain of American spies on Long Island and in New York, the now recognized Culper Spy Ring, feeding information through Setauket, across Long Island Sound to Fairfield, Connecticut, and by mounted dragoon to Washington’s headquarters. Despite Tallmadge’s important role in the formation of the spying operation, his duties as field officer of the 2nd Regiment took most of his time during the summer and fall of 1778. The men and women who made the spy ring function lived in constant danger in both British and Patriot territory. We owe them the greatest respect and honor we can offer, especially on July 4.

Beverly C. 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 mural at Setauket Elementary School shows the American cannon set by Patriot’s rock to fire on the fortifications around the Setauket Presbyterian Church. Photo from Beverly C. Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

Early in 1777, Queens County Loyalist troops, under the command of Loyalist Lieutenant Colonel Richard Hewlett, took possession of the Setauket Presbyterian Church. They turned the church into a barrack and fortified the area around the building with an earthwork topped with sharpened wooden poles. They placed bundles of branches along the top of the fortification as protection from musket fire and more sharpened poles facing outward along the earthwork to repel a frontal attack. They also set swivel guns in the window openings to fire down on attackers. The resultant fort in the middle of the small settlement of Setauket was then ready to provide protection and safety for the small force of Tory troops.

The stationing of troops in Setauket was part of a British plan to provide a series of observation points on Long Island, which would keep an eye peeled for any movement of rebel troops from Connecticut that might threaten British positions on Long Island and in New York City.

On Aug. 16, 1777, Brigadier General Samuel Parsons was ordered by General Israel Putnam, to gather Continental Army troops in Connecticut, procure boats, “and such small armed or other vessels as you find necessary and proper … You are to make a descent on Long Island and deplete and destroy such parties of the enemy as are found at Huntington and Setauket.”

Parsons, born in Lyme Connecticut in 1737 and educated at Harvard, was by 1777 a veteran of two major battles. As an effective strategist under General George Washington, Parsons was familiar with the conditions on Long Island and with the plight of both the refugees who fled to Connecticut and the Americans who remained on Long Island under the rule of the British military governor.

On Aug. 21, the day before his troops were to attack the Loyalists at Setauket, Parsons issued the following order. “On the present expedition … ‘tis not to distress the helpless women or honest citizen we draw our swords, but from the noble and generous principle of maintaining the right of humanity and vindicating the liberties of freemen. The officers and soldiers are therefore most earnestly exhorted and strictly commanded to forbear all violation of personal property; not the least article is to be taken but by orders; we are to convince our enemies we despise their practices and scorn to follow their example. But should any person be so lost to all virtue and honor as to infringe this order, he or they may depend on the most exemplary punishment … and the greatest silence on the march is to be observed.”

“On the present expedition … ‘tis not to distress the helpless women or honest citizen we draw our swords.”

—General Samuel Parsons

The expedition left Fairfield Harbor that night under cover of darkness. Parsons knew that the success of the mission depended on surprise. Care was taken to avoid detection, but it was to no avail. The force was spotted from shore as it crossed the Sound and landed at Crane Neck Bend early in the morning.

The alarm was quickly spread and the Loyalist officers and men assembled at the fort. Hewlett was staying at the home of Benjamin Floyd. He arrived at the fort just ahead of the Americans. The element of surprise was gone and with it any chance of capturing the fort.

Parsons set up his cannon behind the large rock on what was then part of the Village Green. He sent a message to Hewlett demanding the surrender of the fort. Hewlett asked for a half hour to consult with his officers. Parsons said he would give them ten minutes. The reply came back, “Colonel Hewlett’s compliments to General Parsons, and is determined to defend the fort while he has a man left.”

The artillery officer was Continental Army Lieutenant Caleb Brewster, a refugee from Setauket. Parsons knew that a frontal attack would be suicide so he attempted to breach the walls of the fort with cannon fire. The two sides fired at each other for about four hours with little effect. Then Parsons, fearing that British warships on the Sound would cut off his return route to Connecticut, broke off the attack and headed back to the vessels at Crane Neck. The Patriot troops took with them some horses, blankets and other supplies belonging to the loyalists.

The attack had failed to accomplish its primary purpose, but the residents in Setauket now knew that Washington and the Continental Army had not forgotten the plight of the Patriots in enemy territory on Long Island. However, this is not the end of the story, which continues next with Hewlett, Parsons, Brewster and the Culper Spy Ring.

Beverly C. 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.

The 265-year-old Arthur House, located on the corner of New York Avenue and Main Street, has historic ties to Long Island’s Culper Spy Ring. Photo by Kevin Redding

A neglected, pre-Revolutionary War house on the corner of New York Avenue and Main Street in Smithtown and other historically significant structures in the area could help boost the town’s future, according to a Smithtown historian.

Smithtown scholar Corey Victoria Geske urged for Supervisor Patrick Vecchio (R) and town council members to draft a resolution to start a Town Hall National Register Historic District in the downtown area at the Aug. 8 town board meeting, which, according to her, would serve to benefit the region’s economy. 

She asked the resolution be expedited by the Town Planning Department in cooperation with the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities as well as the community.

The proposed historic district, which Geske first proposed to the board about eight months ago, would center on the town hall building — built in 1912 by St. James architect Lawrence Smith Butler — and include the 106-year-old Trinity AME Church on New York Avenue, the 105-year-old Byzantine Catholic Church of the Resurrection on Juniper Avenue and the 265-year-old Arthur House.

The Arthur House is located at the corner of New York Avenue and Main Street in Smithtown. Photo by Kevin Redding

The Arthur House is the only Revolutionary War-era house on the Route 25A Spy Trail, Geske said, and currently sits on the grounds of the Smithtown Central School District. It’s a property she has pushed in the past to be included on the National Register of Historic Places.

Geske informed the board that the house, built in 1752, was once inhabited by Mary Woodhull Arthur, the daughter of Abraham Woodhull — better known as Samuel Culper Sr. — George Washington’s chief operative during the famous spy ring. The intelligence he provided helped win the American Revolution.

Her recent call for the historic district coincided with the July 27 bipartisan legislation introduced by Congressman Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) and Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) designating the Washington Spy Ring National Historic Trail. The trail runs through towns and villages in both Nassau and Suffolk counties, including Smithtown along Route 25A.

“Let Smithtown lead the way in a big way by capitalizing on its own special history and world-class architecture added to the heritage now being recognized at the state and national levels for all towns along the Route 25A Washington Spy Trail from Great Neck to Port Jefferson,” Geske said at the board meeting. “The Washington Spy Trail wouldn’t exist if not for the father of Mary Woodhull Arthur of Smithtown, a true daughter of the American Revolution.”

She also noted The Ward Melville Heritage Organization and North Shore Promotion Alliance were granted funds from the state to install signs along the trail in May.

The Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities has listed the Arthur House as endangered for more than 10 years. Photo by Kevin Redding

Geske said registering the Arthur House would be beneficial to the town as it could bring about possible grants from the state for the restoration and stabilization of old properties and promote more tourism in that area.

“The Arthur House was on the SPLIA’s endangered list over 10 years ago and it’s a building that’s been proposed for demolition,” she said. “These are the buildings that have been cast off in the past. [But] they actually could become the cornerstone for revitalizing downtown Smithtown. The history can actually bring to life a new future for downtown, it would be amazing.”

Sarah Kautz, director of preservation for SPLIA, said she hopes the town will involve its vast history into the downtown revitalization efforts. The town’s comprehensive revitalization plans came to the conclusion its historic buildings were an important component, according to Kautz, but did not provide concrete plans to address them.

“The town has never really incorporated preservation in a systematic way that would bring it into the wider plan for revitalization,” Kautz said. “The Arthur House is important because it’s an early property and is part of Smithtown’s really interesting early history going back into the 18th century. We would love to see a real clear approach for how those historic properties are going to fit into the revitalization and there’s a great potential for them to do so.”

The town board is in the process of evaluating Geske’s proposal, according to Councilman Tom McCarthy (R).

“We’ve asked the planning department to see how feasible it is … we’ll have to look at the pluses and minuses, do due diligence, but it could be a benefit to the township as a whole,” McCarthy said. “We have so much history [and] it’s very important to preserve it but now we have to look at everything surrounding it. We don’t want to shoot from the hip.”

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These days, with the chaos in politics, it is no wonder that many people are showing a renewed interest in our history and the goals of our Founding Fathers some 240 years ago that define who we want to be today. Many residents seem surprised by the significant role our Long Island area played in the Revolutionary War and are delighted to learn about the Culper Spy Ring that was centered in Setauket and led by Benjamin Tallmadge, a resident. “TURN: Washington’s Spies,” the AMC cable series now in its fourth and final year, has done much to popularize the spy story, speaking to our past.

All of which serves to bring history to the fore. This is a good result because history is part of the glue that defines a community and strengthens its roots. Since we at the newspaper believe this, we run regular columns by local historians telling our history, and we have now just finished a full-length film, “One Life to Give,” as I have previously mentioned, about how the Culper Spy Ring started. Its premiere is scheduled for Sept. 17.

Now there is more good news to make us proud of the place in which we live. In a refreshing show of bipartisanship, two of our congressmen, Democrat Tom Suozzi of Glen Cove and Lee Zeldin, Republican of Shirley, have introduced legislation in the House to bestow upon the George Washington Spy Trail national historic status.

The spy trail is essentially Route 25A, the road that was used by the spies during the war to travel behind enemy lines between Long Island and New York City, gaining vital intelligence about the British and their troop movements and strategy. Long Island was an occupied territory, the breadbasket of food and supplies for the British, who were headquartered in New York City. All along the trail’s about 50-mile route was the high-wire danger for the spies of being discovered and hung. Indeed, the British trapped Nathan Hale, whose purported last words were about his one regret being that he had but one life to give for his country.

Washington well knew the enormous debt he owed to the spies, and to honor them he traveled in an elegant coach along the 25A route after the war in slow, celebratory fashion from Great Neck to Port Jefferson — then known as Drowned Meadow — staying at the inn owned by one of the spies, Austin Roe of Setauket.

But at that time the purpose of his trip was known only to the tiny band of spies. Spies were then thought of as lowly deceivers by the people and not at all cloaked in the glamour of James Bond.

So these courageous, remarkable men — and women, like Anna Strong — took their secret to their graves for fear of being ostracized by their countrymen. And Washington kept their secret. Only in the middle of the last century were papers discovered by historians that revealed the bravery of the Culper Spies. Today, there are original letters written by Washington to the spies, with an addition on one by Benjamin Tallmadge, that can be viewed at the library of Stony Brook University. They were bought by Old Field resident Henry Laufer and donated to the university for that purpose.

The spy trail is the result of an intense effort over some 20 years by Gloria Rocchio of Stony Brook and the North Shore Promotion Alliance to bring awareness of this historic road and its role in American history. A total of 26 signs, which they secured and installed, depict Washington’s coach and line his route.

A national historic designation, under the auspices of the National Park Service, would not only honor these heroes but also perhaps bring federal grant money, and not insignificantly promote tourism to help our economy.

So the Culper Spies live on and continue to serve.

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Kate Strong sits on her front porch on Strong’s Neck in December 1899. Photo from Beverly C. Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

Kate Wheeler Strong was born in Setauket March 21, 1879. She was the daughter of Judge Selah Strong and a descendant of Revolutionary War spy Anna Smith Strong, as well as of Setauket settler William “Tangier” Smith. As Dr. Percy Bailey wrote in October, 1977, “As a historian, ‘Miss Kate’ has probably done more than any other in popularizing and humanizing the history of this beautiful Long Island which she loved.”

Kate Strong wrote local history articles for the Long Island Forum from 1939 through 1976. Most of these articles she had published in small booklets which she sold or gave away to friends over the years. These booklets, called “True Tales,” have provided a special look into the past for many generations of Three Village residents. Kate Strong died at her home The Cedars on Strong’s Neck July 22, 1977. In 1992, William B. Minuse (1908-2002) wrote about Kate Strong in the 1992 Three Village Historian:

A photo of Strong taken in May of 1897. Photo from Bev Tyler.

“Miss Kate Wheeler Strong was one of the most remarkable persons I have ever known … Miss Kate loved young people. For many years, she told stories to groups of children at the Emma S. Clark Memorial Library. When the Stony Brook School opened, she organized a stamp club there.

“Her chief interest over the years was local and family history … She wrote extensively, most of her articles being based on family papers and information gathered from older residents … Even after she lost her sight she persisted. We will always be in her debt for the wonderful anecdotes and the invaluable accounts she left us of our Long Island communities and people.

“From time to time she gave me artifacts for the Three Village Historical Society. Among them were a pair of snow shoes her father had used during the blizzard of ‘88.

“Toward the end of her life her neighbors celebrated each of her birthdays, and I was always invited. I shall always remember her most fondly. She was kind and generous.”

After Kate Strong’s death, her personal papers and her family papers going back to her second-great-grandfather were donated to the Three Village Historical Society. The Strong collection contains more than 3,000 papers of the Strong family of Setauket, dating from 1703 to 1977. Included in the collection are deeds, diaries, 224 handwritten pages of court cases by State Supreme Court Justice Selah Strong, letters about their daily lives, politics, travels, farm matters, business records, school records, payments, receipts, Setauket Presbyterian Church records and weather bureau records. There are approximately 2,250 photographs of families, friends, relatives, places
and scenes.

In the 1980s and ‘90s, I was the editor for yearly publications of The Three Village Historian: Journal of the Three Village Historical Society. The issue of 1992 included nine of Kate Wheeler Strong’s “True Tales,” and a complete listing of the 38 years of “True Tales” booklets she produced between 1940 and 1976. This 24-page publication is still available for $1 at the Three Village Historical Society History Center and Gift Shop.

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

Claire Belllerjeau presents a lecture at the Setauket Neighborhood House. Photo by Beverly Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

“Spies” Nest: Major John André’s Activities at Raynham Hall in Oyster Bay, was the featured program for the Three Village Historical Society’s free lecture series at the Setauket Neighborhood House Feb. 27.

Historian Claire Bellerjeau presented her famed lecture on the British Revolutionary War spymaster John André to an eager audience of historians, history buffs, society members and the general public. Bellerjeau began her dramatic presentation by reminding the audience that there has been a great deal of misinformation written and presented as fact about the people and events of the Revolutionary War over the past two-and-a-half centuries. Many of the stories and tales surrounding the activities of British officers and their relationships with the Townsend family in Oyster Bay have grown with the telling and were perpetuated by writer after writer using the same undocumented sources that became the justification around which a dramatic story was created.

Bellerjeau, presently an historian for the Raynham Hall Museum in Oyster Bay, the ancestral home of General George Washington’s Culper Spy Robert Townsend, traveled to the archives of the New York Historical Society, the William L. Clements Library in Michigan and to Toronto, Canada to research the Revolutionary War era documents that tell a more accurate, and no less dramatic story of the events surrounding the life and death of Major John André, the chief of British intelligence in New York City who worked secretly to assist Continental Army General Benedict Arnold in his effort to turn the American fortress at West Point over to the British.

André visited the British headquarters of British Major John Graves Simcoe at the Townsend home, now Raynham Hall, in Oyster Bay a number of times as the two British officers were friends who corresponded with each other regularly. However, the story of Sally Townsend overhearing a conversation about General Benedict Arnold between the two officers and informing her brother Robert Townsend­­—­alias Samuel Culper Jr. of the Culper Spy Ring­—is just that, a story, as the facts uncovered by Bellerjeau definitely place them in other locations at that critical time.

Bellerjeau’s enthusiastic presentation featured the actual documentary evidence she uncovered which also included material by Long Island historian Benjamin Franklin Thompson of Setauket and other historians, as well as original documentary evidence in the archival collection of the East Hampton Library.

For additional information on the Setauket-based Revolutionary War Culper Spy Ring and the role of British spy Major John André, visit the Raynham Hall Museum in Oyster Bay and the SPIES! Exhibit at the Three Village Historical Society History Center on North Country Road in Setauket.

The next Three Village Historical Society lecture series presentation will be a pot luck supper and lecture “The Witchcraft of Goody Garlick” presented by Tata Rider at the Setauket Neighborhood House Monday, April 17 at 7:00 p.m. The public is invited to this free program, just bring a covered-dish entree that serves six. A wine and cheese reception at 6:00 p.m. will precede the supper and program. Sponsored jointly by the society and the Setauket Neighborhood House Association.            

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

Members of the Third NY Regiment, 22nd Regiment of Foot, and the cast of ‘A Tale of Gold’. Photo by Jameson Wessels

By Ed Randolph

It was a hot but beautiful afternoon when a regiment of British soldiers and loyalists arrived to harass Coram local and former patriot minuteman, Gold Smith Davis. Spectators stood in surprise and suspense awaiting his fate as the infamous “Long Island Lobsterback” and members of the 22nd Regiment of Foot tied Mr. Davis to a wooden column on the porch, beating him with the butt end of a musket and stabbing him with a disjointed bayonet.

Though blood was splattered on Mrs. Davis’s pristine white porch, Mr. Davis survived the ordeal and was rescued by Setauket local and hometown hero Colonel Benjamin Tallmadge. Accompanied by members of the Third NY Regiment, he surrounded the British forces in a tactical ambush.

Musket fire was exchanged between the rivaling forces. Outgunned and cornered, the lobsterbacks were forced to retreat in haste as the patriots secured an unlikely victory in the heart of Long Island. Other eyewitness reports suggest Mr. Davis was hung upside down over a well, but these claims remain unconfirmed. Both reports suggest he was reunited with his wife Elizabeth.

Unsuspecting visitors found themselves thrust into the middle of an 18th-century reenactment battlefield as a volley of musket fire echoed through the crisp summer air. After the spectacle, those in attendance enjoyed the Davis Meeting House Society’s outdoor Yard Sale and Craft Fair. Numerous vendors and visitors were in attendance and enjoyed the splendid sound of fife and drum. This event was hosted by the Davis Meeting House Society on Sept. 10 and was made possible by the Robert D.L. Gardiner Foundation.

For more information on Gold Smith Davis visit www.davistownmeetinghouse.org.

For more information on becoming a Revolutionary War reenactor visit www.3rdny.com.

The Brewster House in Setauket will host ‘To Spy or Not to Spy’ on June 18. Photo by Dr. Ira D. Koeppel

By Michael Tessler

“I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country” are the immortal words (supposedly) spoken by American hero and spy Nathan Hale. After he was hung by the British in 1776 for treason and espionage, his words of resilience and patriotism inspired our young nation.

No one was inspired more than his best friend, Yale classmate and Setauket local — Benjamin Tallmadge. This well-educated student turned Continental soldier used the death of his friend to inspire the creation of a secret spy ring that played an important role in the American Revolution and helped bring the British Empire to its knees.

In conjunction with the I LOVE NY Path Through History weekend, the Ward Melville Heritage Organization’s Youth Corps Theater Troupe will present a theatrical performance on Saturday, June 18, showing the creation of the Culper Spy Ring in, fittingly, the oldest standing home in the Town of Brookhaven, the Brewster House, circa 1665, in Setauket which was home to six generations of Brewsters.

According to the WMHO’s website, Joseph Brewster operated the house as a tavern and general store during the American Revolution, entertaining British troops. American Patriot Caleb Brewster, cousin of Joseph Brewster and presumably a frequent visitor to the house, was a member of George Washington’s Culper Spy Ring.

Deborah Bourdeau, the coordinator of the project, has been helping this wonderful company of young teens in their production of “To Spy or Not to Spy: That Is the Question!” originally written in 2012 by Professor Lauren Kaushansky of Stony Brook University.

Though the title sounds simple enough, the premise is both fascinating and enlightening. The production explores the annals of local lore while delving into the moral dilemmas of the time. Simply put: How does one abandon one’s country, while assuming the role of traitor and secret agent? This internal dialogue comes to life in a well-paced theatrical skit that resurrects some of our greatest local heroes: Benjamin Tallmadge (Amanda Dagnelli), Abraham Woodhull (Suraj Singh), Anna Smith Strong (Leah Cussen), Austin Roe (Aleena Siddiqui), Caleb Brewster (Ethan Winters) and Joseph Brewster (Emily Wicks).

Though the actors are young, they bring incredible talent to this living history stage show. Emily Wicks, a member of the Ward Melville Heritage Organization Youth Corps, had the great idea of bringing the show from its original stage at the Educational & Cultural Center in Stony Brook Village to the historic Brewster House. This venue adds a wonderful depth to the show, as the home and tavern have been returned to their former glory. Their setup is unique (unintentionally inspired by the Tony-winning production “Fun Home”) in that you’re looking in rather than at. It makes for a very special viewing experience.

What’s so inspiring about this production is that it’s almost entirely led by youth. Young people coming together to tell an important and often forgotten part of our national story and local history. There’s a maturity well beyond their years that left me feeling both prideful and impressed. It’s a show you won’t want to miss and a story that needs to be heard.

Performances of “To Spy or Not to Spy: That Is the Question!” will be held in the Brewster House, 18 Runs Road, Setauket, on June 18 at 1 p.m. and again at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $4 adults, $2 children under 12. Promptly after the show, teen tour guides will provide free tours of the Brewster House. For reservations, call 631-751-2244 or visit www.wmho.org.

The Ward Melville Heritage Organization’s Youth Corps, based in Stony Brook, is a volunteer group for youth ages 11 to 17 who participate in stewardship projects in historic and environmental preservation. For more information on how to join or help visit them at: wmho.org/youth-corps.

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