The Culper Spy Ring was a group that operated from 1778 to 1780. They were organized by Benjamin Tallmadge who was General George Washington’s intelligence chief. This spy ring was so secret that not even Washington himself knew who the spies were. Two of these spies are now known to be Abraham Woodhull (code name: Samuel Culper Sr.) and Robert Townsend (code name: Samuel Culper Jr.). But one spy was never known beyond the code Agent 355.
While the name of Agent 355 is not known, there are a few things that are known about them. One of the biggest facts that is known is that Agent 355 was a woman. Due to her correspondence, it is widely believed that she was socially prominent and likely lived in New York City.
There are several things that are not fact but have been speculated about pretty heavily. Agent 355 may have had contact with both Major John Andre and Benedict Arnold. There are also several women who may have been Agent 355. Anna Strong was Woodhull’s neighbor and a very strong candidate. Sarah Horton Townsend and Elizabeth Burgin were also strong choices. But there is no positive evidence for any of them and Agent 355’s identity will most likely never be known.
In the end it does not matter if we do not know who this remarkable woman was. Her impact on history is not one that will ever be forgotten. We still see her impact in pop culture today, regardless of whether people understand who Agent 355 actually was.
These roles in pop culture include:
- Y: The Last Man (Vertigo Comics)
- Assassins Creed 3
- Turn: Washington’s Spies (TV series)
- 355 (Universal Pictures film)
Common code numbers from Tallmadge’s code book influenced this agent’s code name as 355 was his code for lady. And just because I find this entire subject fascinating, I am including the original code book image and its translation below.
The translation for the code can be found at the bottom of this website in pdf form: https://www.mountvernon.org/education/primary-sources-2/article/culper-spy-ring-code/
It is fascinating how a woman with no known identity still influences our world and will likely continue to influence our world into the future.