1700s continental army
Continental Army in New York
Photo Credit: NY Public Library,
digital ID: 808876
Click on image to see larger view


During the American Revolution, the colonies were both the home front and the battlefield, drawing women from all backgrounds into the conflict.  As their husbands, sons, brothers, fathers, uncles, and masters took up arms, these women served as the eyes and ears for military leaders, providing invaluable intelligence information throughout the war.

Allied with either the British loyalist or American patriot cause, spy networks sprang up throughout the colonies.  On November 29, 1775, the Continental Congress established the first organized intelligence-gathering network in the colonies, the Committee of Secret Correspondence.  Benjamin Franklin, who supervised the Committee’s work, worked closely with General George Washington, interpreting and directing foreign and military intelligence activities.  In and around the strategically important New York battle theater, the Culper Spy Ring continually provided critical intelligence to General Washington; many of the organization’s undercover operatives were women.


“355” (Female Agent)

  • “355” was the numeric substitution code designation used by the Culper Spy Ring to represent the word woman.
  • This agent was referred to simply as 355 to protect her work and life.
  • Supplied timely and accurate information to General Washington.
  • Played an important role in counterintelligence missions that uncovered Benedict Arnold’s treason.
  • Facilitated the arrest of Major John André, head of England’s Intelligence Operations in New York.
  • Her true identity remains a mystery even today.

 

unknown woman 1780
Portrait of an unknown woman from the 1780s
Photo credit: NY Public Library,
digital ID: 421392
Click on image to see larger view
clothesline
Painting of a clothesline
Photo Credit: Judy Vorfeld

Anna “Nancy” Smith Strong

  • Member of the Culper Spy Ring.
  • Worked from her farm in the New York area. 
  • Used laundry on her clothesline to secretly signal other undercover operatives.

 

 

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