Saturday, September 18, 2021

George Washington’s Culper Spy Ring

 From Journal of the American Revolution:

Historians have long been fascinated by the intelligence efforts undertaken by enthusiastic amateurs. In more than a dozen books, researchers have tried to sort out who was involved and exactly what their roles were. The biggest mystery was the identity of Culper Junior, the chief spy in Manhattan in the later years of the war. Most of the spy ring operatives identified themselves or were identified after the war, but not Culper Junior. So when Long Island historian Morton Pennypacker revealed him to have been Robert Townsend of Oyster Bay in 1930 and then proved it with document analysis nine years later, it generated considerable attention.

Interest in the Patriots’ intelligence network soared when the AMC television series Turn: Washingtons Spies aired for four seasons between 2014 and 2017. Unfortunately, it took great liberties with the facts. These included having the ring created in 1776 rather than two years later, depicting Setauket as a neighborhood of stately stone homes rather than wooden structures, having the hamlet occupied by regular army redcoats rather than Loyalist troops, portraying Abraham Woodhull’s minister father as a Tory socializing with the occupiers rather than showing the reality of him being a Patriot sympathizer badly beaten by soldiers trying to find and arrest his son and, most ludicrously, having Woodhull and the happily married and older Anna Strong engage in a secret affair. But the series did get people reading and talking about espionage during the war. (Read more.)


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