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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


Join us on September 12 and 13, 2020 for Virtual Culper Spy Weekend! FREE this year!  
Launching soon:

Over the course of Virtual Culper Spy Weekend, you will have the chance to visit many cultural organizations in a virtual format. 

  • Take a close look at the George Washington spy letters at Stony Brook University's Special Collections and Archives (lecture, website, and research guide)

  • Join Margo Arceri from Tri-Spy Tours live from the Village Green at 9 a.m.

  • Meet Big Bill the Tory live at the Sherwood-Jayne House

  • Take a Virtual Spies! Exhibit Tour with TVHS Historian Bev Tyler

  • Visit the famous Brewster House with Ward Melville Heritage Organization Education Director Deborah Boudreau

  • View a resource guide to everything Culper Spy Day courtesy of the Emma S. Clark Memorial Library

  • Watch a short film on Long Island's South Shore from the Ketcham Inn Foundation

  • Make your very own periscope with Gallery North

  • Read up on the Revolutionary War History from Caroline Church of Brookhaven

  • Look back at the festivities from our 2016 Culper Spy Day

  • Don't miss the 5 part virtual spy tour series with Bev Tyler

  • Find out who Agent 355 was from Bev Tyler

  • Listen to the story of Nancy's Magic Clothesline, written by Kate Wheeler Strong, told by Margo Arceri

Special Collections, SBU Libraries: Documenting and Preserving the History of the Culper Spy Ring

Special Collections, a division of Stony Brook University Libraries (SBU Libraries) is the owner and steward of two American Revolutionary War-era, Culper Spy Ring letters authored by George Washington. This research guide has detailed information about the university's two Washington letters and provides pathways to research materials on the spy ring. Significant to regional and national historical narratives, SBU's letters were authored in 1779 and 1780 and document espionage activities in the Three Village area of Long Island, New York, the site of a impactful war effort known as the Culper Spy Ring. 

Assembled in 1778 by Major Benjamin Tallmadge at the request of Washington, the Culper Spy Ring operated on Long Island (concentrated in Setauket, NY) and in New York City and Connecticut during the American Revolutionary War. Credible reports about British activities were needed, and as an intelligence officer Tallmadge turned to his trusted childhood friends and family in Setauket. Spycraft including codes, aliases, and the “sympathetic stain” (invisible ink) was used to conceal information and the identities of the ring’s members. Abraham Woodhull (alias, Samuel Culper Sr.) and Robert Townsend (alias, Samuel Culper Jr.) gathered intelligence in British occupied territories. Although Washington did not want to know the true identities of the spies, he was profoundly involved in giving directives and highly regarded reports from Townsend as evidenced in his letters to Tallmadge.

Long Island history is a collecting focus of Special Collections. The acquisition of the Washington 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).​ A fund was established in 2009 to support the acquisition of related documents and research collections. 

Outreach & Engagement 
The department collaborates and engages with the university and external communities through a wide array of activities. Collaborators include the Three Village Historical Society (TVHS), the Ward Melville Heritage Organization (WMHO), and Raynham Hall Museum. Read more...

With the acquisition of the two Washington letters, Special Collections carved its niche as an archive of record for primary source material about the Culper Spy Ring. Public recognition for leading engagement and educational activities has been bestowed on the department and the university.

In February 2020, the department was awarded the Kate Wheeler Strong Memorial Award from Three Village Historical Society, New York "in recognition of significant contributions toward fostering of interest in local history and a fuller appreciation of the rich historical and cultural heritage of this community.

In December 2009, Special Collections and University Archives received from the New York Board of Regents and New York State Archives the Annual Archives Award for Program Excellence in a Historical Records Repository for "its outstanding archival program that contributes significantly to understanding the region’s history.” The university was lauded for its “well managed archives” and “its efforts to provide access to the country’s documentary heritage."

The Three Village Historical Society presented the Kate Wheeler Strong Award in 2007 to Assemblyman Steven Englebright, Dr. and Mrs. Henry Laufer, and Stony Brook University “for their unique efforts surrounding the acquisition of the 1779 George Washington Culper Spy letter.” 

About the Department
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 include books manuscripts, maps; University Archives, audio/visual materials, and digital collections. 


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

Culper Spy Day 2021



More information is available here.

About this Guide

This guide was originally created by Kristen Nyitray and Lisa Patterson, intern, in 2011.
Expanded and maintained by Kristen J. Nyitray from 2011 to the present.
Last update: September 5, 2020.