Agent 355 – George Washington’s Unknown Female Spy


    Agent 355 is the protagonist of a story where the main actor identity still remains unknown nowadays.

    The Culper Ring (Culper Spy Ring), was an American intelligence organisation. General George Washington set up this organisation and Major Benjamin Tallmadge supervised it during the American Revolution. This network of spies was active from the British-occupied New York City to Northern Connecticut between 1778 and 1780.

    The group was employing a set of codes and invisible inks to provide to General Washington timely and accurate information. The information that the Ring supplied to the General was often related to surprise attacks from the enemy. Sometimes this intelligence also dealt with British plans to counter or weaken the strength of the Americans.

    Most of the members of the group were acquaintances and friends of Tallmadge. The Culper Ring gave all of the agents a secret identity, which corresponded to a number. Tallmadge was 721, Abraham Woodhull 722, Robert Townsend 723, and 711 was George Washington. Within the group, there was also a woman, Agent 355, but her identity is still unknown.

    Agent 355

    Agent 355

    355 was the cypher for “lady” in Tallmadge’s codebook. Only once did the Culper Ring’s correspondence in 1779 mention Agent 355. The message from Woodhull said: “I intended to visit 727 (codename for New York) before long and think by the assistance of a 355 of my acquaintance, shall be able to out wit them all.”

    Most say that Woodhull recruited Agent 355. She was part of an important Tory family who was able to gain information about British commanders and politicians from various gatherings within New York’s British society. It was easier for a woman to get information in these circumstances. Soldiers and politicians talked freely in front of them, not considering them a threat. She was friend with Major John Andre, who was the Chief of British Intelligence, and she probably knew Benedict Arnold, an American military officer. Some believed that Major John was the one responsible for Andre’s arrest and for exposing Benedict Arnold’s treason.

    In 1780, the authorities arrested and then hanged Andre since he helped Arnold with the attempt to surrender the West Point’s fort in New York. Arnold managed to escape, and the British arrested Agent 355. In October 1780, a letter that Woodhull wrote was found, reporting that “several friends were captured”. One who had been ever serviceable to this correspondence.”, which some believed to be Agent 355.

    After the authorities interrogated her many times, they took her to the HMS Jersey, a British prison ship located in the New York harbour, despite her being pregnant. Some say, that she gave birth on the ship, but both she and her son died, due to the poor condition aboard and various mistreatments.

    Possible identities

    Even though the identity of Agent 355 is still unknown, many hypotheses were made.

    Anna Strong is one of the women considered to be Agent 355. She was Woodhull’s neighbour, and she supported and helped the Culper Ring, by signalling the location of Caleb Brewster, Agent 725, and by sending coded messages through her laundry line. Brewster was the agent responsible for carrying secret messages between Tallmadge and the network of spies.

    Supporting the idea of Anna Strong being Agent 355 was that Strong’s husband was imprisoned on HMS Jersey and that she was bringing him food on the ship. This would explain her presence on the ship, and maybe her later imprisonment.

    Another theory regarding Agent 355’s identity was Sally Townsend, the wife of Robert Townsend, also known as Agent 723. Mostly everyone believed that Agent 723 and Agent 355 were in a relationship and that she was pregnant with his child.

    Despite her identity is unknown, Agent 355’s legacy keeps living on. Her strength, determination, and her sacrifices were of great value to her country. Because of the nature of their job, these spies did not leave many traces behind. On the other hand, there is enough intelligence to prove that the Culper Spy Ring and its members played a significant role during the American Revolution.

    Rachele Momi
    Rachele Momi
    Rachele Momi is a graduate in Intelligence & Security Studies at Brunel University and in Middle East Politics at SOAS. Her research is mainly focused on the Middle East region, tradecraft, and defence issues.

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