Culper Spy Tour Review - Revolutionary Site Review
This is the first in a new series of articles regarding Revolutionary sites in the United States. That being said, I will only be able to write these reviews when I have the opportunity to visit a site, so they will not appear regularly like Federalist Fridays.
I was fortunate enough to take the Culper Spy Ring tour in Setauket, NY last week.
The quick recap that follows will discuss a bit about the tour and why an interested traveler might want to visit.
This article will contain some ‘spoilers’ but, since it is a general overview, there are many details I will not recount here. Additionally, I assure you that there is something special about being in this place, and no mix of words and phrases can truly suggest how awe inspiring it is to be standing on the same ground as these particular Revolutionaries.
Setauket’s spies have recently become popular with the AMC show TURN.
In brief, the Culper Spy Ring was George Washington’s primary agency for gathering intelligence on the British in New York City.
Washington tasked Benjamin Tallmage with organizing the first spy network in United States history. Tallmage decided to use people he could trust…his old friends from high school.
Benjamin had Caleb Brewster row across the Long Island Sound from Connecticut. He would receive signals on where to meet from Anna Strong, based on how she hung laundry out on her cloths line. Brewster would then come ashore and speak with Abraham Woodhull.
Woodhull was head of the Spy Ring in Setauket. He was given the code name Culper (hence the name Culper Spy Ring) and was responsible for organizing all the information gathered within this British occupied territory.
Woodhull sent several people to and from New York City to preform recognizance. Most notably, Austin Roe who traveled under they guise of purchasing supplies for his tavern.
The Culper Spy Trail, hosted by Tri-Spy Tours, is a walking adventure through the Village of Setauket (though bike and kayak tours are also available). This beautiful little village still has an old timey feel, with many households displaying the year of construction out front.
Our guide, Margo, was extremely knowledgeable and excited to share with us the Culper story. Her passion for detail emphasizes how truly amazing it was to live as secret Revolutionaries in a small town.
We were taken through the Woodhull property, giving us the opportunity to see where Strong hung her clothesline, Roe buried his messages, and Woodhull met with Brewster. There is a certain feeling you get when standing in these places, knowing that these small town folk were risking their lives there, just trying to get George Washington any little piece of information they could.
Also on the tour, we saw the Church which was occupied by the British, as well as several sites which are relevant to the Battle of Setauket. (The Battle of Setauket was a comparatively small skirmish which gets little appreciation today.)
Additionally, Margo has a great way of including non-Revolutionary War history in the tour. She spoke about the growth of the town and preservation efforts made by many of the leading citizens which helps you understand how Setauket was able to keep its colonial feel.
If you find yourself in eastern Long Island for any reason, I strongly suggest you take the opportunity and walk, bike or kayak the Culper Spy Trail on a Tri-Spy Tour.
Since I have been anticipating this tour, the only Culper Spy I have written about on this site is Austin Roe (who went on to found my hometown later in life).
Also, the book the show TURN is based on is ‘Washington’s Spies’ by Alexander Rose. It’s a fantastic read (and way more accurate than the show). Grab yourself a copy through the Amazon affiliate link below. Purchasing through my link helps support this website and doesn’t change the Amazon price.