When the War of Independence started in 1775, General George Washington needed all the information he could gather to understand how best to beat the British.
If Washington knew what the British were doing, he could find ways to counteract their plans and defeat them. Makes perfect sense doesn’t it?
The problem is, spying in the 18th century wasn’t as advanced as it is today. There were no Jason Bourne or James Bond type heroes to save the day. You couldn’t overhear someone’s cell phone conversation because there were no phones! The CIA was over 100 years away from being formed so there was no clear direction for how a spy or group of spies should work.
Washington was, therefore, making it up as he went along. And to be honest, Washington’s first attempt to get a spy in New York ended disastrously. Nathan Hale, a young Connecticut man, accepted the daring mission to be one of Washington’s first spies. Unfortunately, he was caught by the British and hung. Nathan Hale’s famous last words being “I only regret that I have one life to lose for my country.”
Luckily General George Washington recruited the right help. Major Benjamin Tallmadge, a trusted advisor to Washington, was tasked to create a spy ring to help get the information the Continental Army needed to win the war. First, he recruited his old friend Abraham Woodhull into the spy ring, the first Samuel Culper. Shortly after, others joined. Austin Roe, Caleb Brewster, Anna Strong, Austin Roe and Robert Townsend, who became Samuel Culper Junior.
The Culper Spy Ring lived in constant fear of being discovered. We have to remember that Long Island at the time was very much in favor of British rule so it would be very easy for the Culper Ring to be named as traitors to the Crown. Every day, the Culper Spy Ring risked its life for the War of Independence and without their help, it’s almost inevitable, in my opinion, that the War of Independence would have been lost.