Who was Robert Townsend?
Robert Townsend, also known as, Samuel Culper Junior or Agent 723, was born in Oyster Bay on November 25, 1753.
He was the son of Samuel Townsend who bought Raynham Hall on May 6, 1738.
Now here's the thing. Robert never grew up wishing to be one of the most famous spies in the War of Independence. Being a spy back then was considered a terrible thing because people saw spying as a form of lying, being insincere or untruthful. In fact, it was difficult for General George Washington to recruit spies because it was considered a dishonorable thing to do.
Now when you also consider that Robert Townsend was initially loyal to the British crown, you may scratch your head and wonder how he became a spy for the Patriots at all.
So what changed?
Well, when the British first turned up on Long Island and Oyster Bay, they were broadly welcomed. Most people on Long Island didn't agree with the War of Independence and saw General George Washington's army as a group of rebels looking to upset the usual order of things.
But as the British settled into Long Island, specifically Oyster Bay, attitudes toward them changed.
This is because the British, on the whole, were pretty mean to the locals. They stole all their food, took over their houses and treated the people in an atrocious way. Some people said at the time they were unsure who were worst, the British or the Rebels.
For Robert Townsend, who was loyal to the British and didn't want to be a spy, things got personal. His family home, Raynham Hall, was taken over by the British in 1779. Colonel John Simcoe used Raynham Hall for his own house and displaced the Townsend family. Simcoe is also alleged to have cut down Samuel Townsend's prized apple orchard.
So, did this make Robert Towsend mad? You betcha!
Robert's old friend, Abraham Woodhull, asked Robert Townsend to be a spy. Robert, upset by the British and what was happening on Long Island, agreed. As Samuel Culper Junior, Robert helped expose some British plots to win the War of Independence. While others may disagree, I believe that without the Culper Spy Ring, General George Washington would have lost the war. The Culper Spy Ring didn't win the war by themselves, but they were instrumental in making sure it wasn't lost.
Robert Townsend died in 1838 at the age of 84. He is buried in Hill Fort Cemetery in Oyster Bay. The funny thing is, no one really knew he was involved in the Culper Spy Ring while he was alive. There are many reasons for why he kept it a secret which we will explore in other blog posts, but suffice it to say, Robert Townsend was an unknown hero in his own lifetime.