UPDATED! This article was updated on 9/17/21 to reflect a change to the schedule of events (in bold).
By Heidi Sutton
On Saturday, Sept. 18 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., the Three Village Historical Society, Tri-Spy Tours and the Long Island Museum will host a day of spy-related tours and activities for the 7th annual Culper Spy Day, named for the Culper Spy Ring founded by Benjamin Tallmadge, George Washington’s chief intelligence officer during the Revolutionary War.
The annual event is the brainchild of Margo Arceri, who first heard about George Washington’s Setauket spies (including her favorite spy Anna Smith Strong) from her Strong’s Neck neighbor and local historian, Kate W. Strong, in the early 1970s.
“Kate W. Strong, Anna Smith Strong’s great-great-granddaughter, originally told me about the Culper Spy Ring when I used to visit her with my neighbor and Strong descendant Raymond Brewster Strong III. One of her stories was about Nancy (Anna Smith Strong’s nickname) and her magic clothesline. My love of history grew from there,” she said in an interview in 2015.
Seven years ago Arceri approached the Three Village Historical Society’s President Steve Hintze and the board about conducting walking, biking and kayaking tours while sharing her knowledge of George Washington’s Long Island intelligence during the American Revolution.
Today, Arceri runs the popular Tri-Spy Tours in the Three Village area, which follows in the actual footsteps of the Culper Spy Ring. “I have to thank AMC’s miniseries Turn because 80 percent of the people who sign up for the tour do so because of that show. And now that Turn has come to Netflix it has taken this community to an entirely other level,” she said.
It was during one of those tours that Arceri came up with the idea of having a Culper Spy Day, a day to honor the members of Long Island’s brave Patriot spy ring who helped change the course of history and helped Washington win the Revolutionary War. After a successful five-year run, last year’s event was sideswiped by COVID-19 and was presented virtually on Facebook Live.
This year the family-friendly event returns but on a smaller, more intimate scale as participants will have the opportunity to visit eight locations in Setauket, Stony Brook and Port Jefferson to learn about the patriots who risked their lives through tours, spy stories, colonial cooking demonstrations, historic letters, musical performances, and many children activities.
Escorted by Arceri, Mrs. Q of Karen Q. Patriot Tours of NYC will be on location live on social media and in costume visiting many of the locations. With the exception of the Sherwood Jayne House, all events are free.
While the Three Village Historical Society has remained closed since last January, it will reopen for the one-day event. Mari Irizarry, Outreach and Communications Manager at the Society is ready to welcome visitors. “We miss our community. There is so much rich history, heritage and culture that is part of the Three Villages and beyond and we are excited to share it on Culper Spy Day,” she said.
Arceri’s favorite part of the day is “seeing all these organizations coming together as a whole. It really is our Revolutionary story,” she said. “Everywhere you turn in the Three Villages you are looking at an artifact, and as the historical society believes, the community is our museum and I would really love to put that on the forefront of people’s minds.”
Schedule of Events:
1. THREE VILLAGE HISTORICAL SOCIETY, 93 North Country Road, Setauket. Located in the circa 1800 Bayles-Swezey House. Here you can take part in oudoor events including an invisible ink demonstration; Spy Stories on the TVHS Porch from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m.; view a patriotic quilt display and demonstration and take part in colonial crafts with the Daughters of the American Revolution Anna Smith Strong Chapter; Author’s Row: come meet authors Beverly C. Tyler, Selene Castrovilla and, Claire Bellerjeau, available for book signings; view Revolutionary War letters from Stony Brook University’s Special Collections; take part in spy games and meet costumed docents who will talk about Raynham Hall, Culper Jr. and their Culper Spy connections; and enjoy a live colonial cooking demonstration and samples with Diane Schwindt of Stirring Up History. 631-751-3730.
2. THE STUDIO AT GALLERY NORTH, 84 North Country Road, Setauket. Visit The Studio to enjoy free Revolutionary War era arts and crafts for children throughout the day. Guests will have an opportunity to create a Tin Punch ornament or a chance to create a decoder & color a quilt square. Activities will occur on the patio, just outside the Studio. 631-751-2676.
3. EMMA S. CLARK MEMORIAL LIBRARY, 120 Main St., Setauket. The library (circa 1892) will present a concert featuring 18th century songs the trio Rose Tree from 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m. on the Library lawn. View Revolutionary military paraphernalia from the collection of Art Billadello in the Library’s lobby. Kids can enjoy a craft from noon to 3 p.m. 631-941-4080. Please note the previously scheduled bubble and comedy show on the lawn from 11 a.m. to noon has been canceled.
4. CAROLINE CHURCH AND CEMETERY, 1 Dyke Road, Setauket. Built in 1729, this timber frame building has maintained its Colonial appearance. Now an Episcopal church, during the Revolutionary War the Caroline Church was Anglican and a Colonial extension of the Church of England. The graveyard contains the remains of six Patriot soldiers as well as soldiers from World War I and II. View the inside of the church from the vestibule and tour the cemetery with docents from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Just added! Setauket Presbyterian church next door will be offering tours of their cemetery from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.. 631-941-4245.
5. PATRIOTS ROCK HISTORIC SITE, Main Street, Setauket (across from the Setauket Post Office). This glacial erratic boulder is said to be the location of the Battle of Setauket on Aug. 22, 1777. Stop here between 10 a.m. and noon to meet representatives from the Three Village Community Trust who will discuss the importance of Patriots Rock and its local and environmental history. 631-689-0225.
6. THE LONG ISLAND MUSEUM, 1200 Route 25A, Stony Brook. The museum is a Smithsonian Affiliate with permanent and changing exhibitions on American history and art, along with the finest collection of horse-drawn carriages in the country, some of which belonged to Revolutionary War heroes. Visit the History Museum between noon and 5 p.m. to view the newly uncovered Culper Spy Ring letter and see LIMarts Collaborative Art Group doing a plein air painting / sketching on the grounds that day. 631-751-0066.
7. SHERWOOD-JAYNE HOUSE, 55 Old Post Road, East Setauket. Originally built around 1730 as a lean-to saltbox dwelling, the house and farm were maintained as an operational farmstead for over 150 years by members of the Jayne family. Visit with Big Bill the Tory aka William Jayne III, who will explain the noble intentions and virtuosities of King George III and tells you the TRUTH about Washington’s pesky band of renegade spies! Program runs continuously from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Masks must be worn inside. $5 per person, children under 5 free. Pre-registration is recommended at www.preservationlongisland.org.
8. DROWNED MEADOW COTTAGE MUSEUM, corner of West Broadway and Barnum Avenue, Port Jefferson. The Revolutionary War-era Roe House was originally constructed circa 1755 and Phillips Roe, a member of the Culper Spy Ring along with his brother Nathaniel and cousin Austin, was known to have lived there. Visit the cottage between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. and attend an unveiling with Mayor Margot Garant at 11 a.m.
Participating organizations for the 7th annual Culper Spy Day include Tri-Spy Tours, Three Village Historical Society, Stony Brook University Special Collections, Emma S. Clark Memorial Library, The Long Island Museum, Raynham Hall, Drowned Meadow Cottage, Preservation Long Island, Gallery North, Karen Q’s Patriot Tours NYC, Anna Smith Strong Chapter of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution, Stirring Up History, Three Village Community Trust, and Caroline Church of Brookhaven
For more information, call 631-751-3730 or visit www.tvhs.org