David W. Jacobs: Who Was Agent 355? (Am Rev)

Roundup: Talking About History

At our October meeting, Round Tablers had occasion to be proud as well as fascinated. Two of our members, Andrea Meyer and John Burke, told us about their research into one of the mysteries of the Revolution, the identity of the woman known only as 355. It is a puzzle they have probed, singly and together, for many years. What they found was electrifying. 355 was a member of the so-called Culper spy ring, based on Long Island with agents in New York. She was almost certainly a friend of Major John Andre, chief of British intelligence. When Andre was in New York, the Culpers's information was rich; when he was away with Sir Henry Clinton on his invasion of South Carolina, General Washington was soon grousing that they were wasting money on the Culpers. Then came the bonanza -- the report that an American major general was about to betray the American cause. How much Agent 355 told the Americans will never be known in detail. But it soon became apparent that they knew a great deal. When the trap closed on Andre, and Arnold escaped to New York, the traitor triggered a roundup of suspects in British-occupied territory. Agent 355 was arrested and apparently died aboard one of the vile prison ships in New York harbor. This assumption was challenged by an historian who claimed that no women were sent to the prison ships. John Burke read his way through the 14,000 names in the British archives and found several women. Who was 355? Our speakers ventured a well-educated guess: Betty Floyd, a cousin of the Townsends who ran the Culper ring. Whereupon our two speakers left us with a breathless question: was the whole story of Andre being captured by accident in Westchester County disinformation to cover how totally the Americans had penetrated the plot? We all went home musing -- and doubly proud of our homegrown speakers.

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lucia st. clair robson - 3/19/2007

I wanted to add that I was pleased to see that you all did not claim 355 gave birth aboard the prison ship Jersey, a tale that's been much-repeated.

lucia st. clair robson - 3/19/2007

Fascinating discussion about 355. Wish I had been there. I researched the Culpers in order to write a book about them, Shadow Patriots:A Novel of the Revolution.