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George Washington and the Culper Spy Ring: Home

Research Materials about George Washington, The Culper Spy Ring, and the American Revolutionary War

History of the Culper Spy Ring

The Culper Spy Ring was assembled in 1778 by Major Benjamin Tallmadge (alias, John Bolton/721) at the request of General George Washington (711) and operated on Long Island (728) and New York City (727) during the Revolutionary War. Codes and aliases were used to conceal the identities of the members.

Washington to Tallmadge, Sept. 1780.

Robert Townsend (alias, Samuel Culper, Jr./723) and Abraham Woodhull (alias, Samuel Culper, Sr./722) gathered intelligence in British (72) occupied New York City (727). It was then passed to Austin Roe (724) for transport to Setauket (729), Long Island (728). Once in Setauket, the intelligence was carried across the sound by Caleb Brewster (725) to Major Tallmadge in Connecticut (735).

Washington thought highly of Townsend's (723) reports, according to letters he later wrote to Tallmadge (721). Although the British (72) captured a Washington (711) letter to spy Abraham Woodhull (722) that referred to "Culper," they never figured out his identity and Townsend (723) took his secret with him to the grave in 1838. 

His double life remained a secret until the 20th century when Long Island historian Morton Pennypacker sought to match the handwriting in "Culper Jr's" letters to Washington (711) with the script contained in ledgers and other documents found in Oyster Bay, belonging to an obscure New York and Long Island merchant, who turned out to be Townsend.

Pennypacker retained the services of graphologist Albert S. Osborn to make this determination. This discovery by Pennypacker was first announced at a meeting of the New York State Historical Society on September 27, 1930, when he read a paper that he prepared on Nathan Hale and Robert Townsend (723) (source: The New York Times, September 28, 1930).

Culper Spy Ring Codes

Benjamin Tallmadge: alias John Bolton, code number 721

Robert Townsend: alias Samuel Culper Junior, code number 723

Abraham Woodhull: alias Samuel Culper Senior, code number 722

Austin Roe: code number 724

Caleb Brewster: code number 725

George Washington: code number 711

Access the Culper code book at the official website of George Washington's Mount Vernon.

About This Guide

LibGuide by Kristen Nyitray, Director, Special Collections and University Archives, University Archivist and Lisa Patterson ( intern). Last updated by Kristen Nyitray in September 2017.

View the George Washington Letters at Stony Brook University

Special Collections acquired two exciting American Revolutionary War-era letters authored by George Washington that document spy activities in Setauket, NY during 1779 and 1780. The letters can be viewed here online or in person by appointment.

Acquired through the generosity of Dr. Henry and Marsha Laufer,  the letters laid the foundation for the establishment of a Long Island Historic Documents Collection. The collection includes primary and secondary source material on the history of Long Island from the earliest settlers through the present, with a strong emphasis on the period of the American Revolution through the War of 1812 (1764-1812).

George Washington letter, September 24, 1779

George Washington letter, September 16, 1780

To view more letters, please consult the new LibGuide titled: Long Island Collection: Digitized Documents and Books from Special Collections.

2017 Culper Spy Day: Our Revolutionary Story


Read about Culper Spy Day and Special Collections, SBU Libraries' participation here.
EVENT: SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 16, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The Three Village area is full of hidden intrigue and stories of how America's first spy ring secretly came together to provide George Washington the information he needed to turn the tide of the American Revolution. On Culper Spy Day, you will have the chance to visit the places where history was made and visit with area groups to learn about the patriots who risked their lives. Follow Culper Spy Day on Facebook.

Special Collections and University Archives at SBU

Special Collections and University Archives at Stony Brook University select, acquire, preserve and provide access to rare, valuable, and scarce primary and secondary materials  in a variety of formats in support of the educational and research endeavors of Stony Brook University's students, faculty, and staff.

The department also extends its services to researchers in the wider geographic region, nationally, and internationally. The collection includes: books, manuscripts, and maps dating from the 17th century; the University Archives; audio/visual materials;  and a digital repository.  All are welcome to explore the library's unique collections.

Long Island North Shore Heritage Area

Special Collections is an official destination on the Culper Spy Ring audio tour by LINSHA (Long Island North Shore Heritage Area). Click here to learn more.

One of the University's George Washington letters (1779) made a special trip off-campus and was viewed by over 500 children and their parents at Setauket Elementary School. The event was covered by News 12 Long Island, The Village Times Herald, and the Three Village Patch.


"The Truth Behind the Spies: Decoding AMC’s Turn.Interview with Three Village Historian Bev Tyler conducted by Chris Kretz for the Long Island History Project. 

NARA Launches Founders Online

The National Archives, through its National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), has entered into a cooperative agreement with The University of Virginia Press to create Founders Online and make freely available the historical documents of the Founders of the United States of America.

Through this website, you can read and search through thousands of records from George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison and see firsthand the growth of democracy and the birth of the Republic. In this initial phase, Founders Online contains nearly 120,000 fully searchable documents.  As work continues on each of the ongoing publishing projects, newly annotated and edited records will be added. When it is complete, Founders Online will include approximately 175,000 documents.
Visit Founders Online.

Director & Associate Librarian

Kristen J. Nyitray's picture
Kristen J. Nyitray
Director, Special Collections & University Archives
University Archivist
Associate Librarian
E-2320, Melville Library
Stony Brook University
Stony Brook, NY 11794-3323
t: 631.632.7119
f: 631.632.1829
Website / Blog Page

Members and Associates of the Culper Spy Ring

Members were organized by Benjamin Tallmadge and included: Robert Townsend, Abraham Woodhull, Austin Roe, and Caleb Brewster; sub-agents, associates and informants were Selah Strong and Anna (Nancy) Smith Strong, James Rivington, Jonas Hawkins, Amos Underhill, Zachariah Hawkins, "John Cork," and Hercules Mulligan.

Spies of the Revolution

The Spies of the Revolution: A Historical Documentary by Gerard Sztabnik (2007). Location: Melville Library, Third Floor Stacks/DVD 2147.

Washington's Spies

George Washington's Secret Six