Today, I want to present to you the 3rd part of my capstone.
I hope you are enjoying it.
Today, We look at two female spies. Anna Smith Strong (if you watch TURN then you may be familiar with her) and Lydia Darragh. These two brave women helped the Colonies.
American Revolution Spies
American Revolution was a war of great distances. The collection and
deliverance of timely intelligence regarding the numbers and the location of
the enemy was very vital to both sides. Several Men and Women were involved on
both sides collecting and passing information. Some of the more well-known
spies include: Nathan Hale, Benjamin Tallmadge, and Abraham Woodhull. These are
the men that are most identified when looking at Espionage and the American
Revolution. These men and others in espionage inspired the hit AMC TV show,
Turn: Washington’s Spies. This television show is inspired by the Culper Spy
Ring. One of the most informative Patriot spy ring during the American
The Mersereau Spy Ring is not one that has been written
about extensively about. It is not as well-known as the Culper Spy Ring. The Mersereau’s included: Joshua Sr. and his two sons John
and Joshua. In the beginning of July 1776, they were living in Staten Island.
New York fell to the British at this time. By this happening Joshua’s property
had been destroyed. He had avoided capture. His brother, John had turned over
the horses that they had been using for a stagecoach business over to General
Washington to use.
was retreating through New Jersey he asked Joshua Sr. if John, who was now 19
years old if he could assist in spy activities. This is where we see the
beginnings of the Mersereau spy ring. John was able to collect successful espionage
for approximately 18 months. Washington was grateful that he could count on information
that Mersereau had collected to relay to the Continental Congress. It was when
he fell under suspicion that he escaped and joined the American Army.
of the American Revolution spies’ identities were never uncovered. They never
divulged their identities even after the Revolution was over. They may have
done so out of fear. (Especially if they had neighbors and relatives that
supported the other side) Some of the women that are discussed never were
named. There has been speculation to who they may be but their identity has not
While first looking at the American Revolution Spies there
was one woman that kept popping up. Her name is Anna Smith Strong. Born on
April 14, 1740. According to Daigler, Strong was: “A local Setauket housewife…
who capably handled this role through a series of signals using her laundry
drying line” She was married to
American Patriot, Judge Selah Strong III in 1760. Her husband had been accused
by the British of resistance of authority in 1778. This led to his imprisonment
in New York City. “Anna’s family, like many families in Setauket and other
towns, were split in their loyalties.” With her
background, some of her Tory relatives were able to secure the release of
Anna’s husband. Research has shown that the family member responsible for
helping secure his release was Colonel Benjamin Floyd,
who was also thought to have assisted the Culper Spy ring with emergency
Strong was from a strong bloodline of colonial elites. With her husband a
well-known and leading Patriot judge they controlled some of Long Island’s
manors that are comparable to what Southern Plantations were before the Civil
War. She was referred to by her friends as “Nancy”. Nancy Strong certainly
understood her family responsibility for both the Smith family and the Strong
family. Women knew that the connection between families that they married into
and their positions in the community was important. This would dictate their
life before, during and after the Revolutionary War. Anna Smith married Selah
Strong in November 1760 and they lived on what was called Little Neck (now
Strong’s Neck) in Setauket.
Anna and Selah had eight children. Their first child, Keturah had married a
cousin of Abraham Woodhull. Unfortunately for Keturah she died at age 28. This
was not the only child they had to bury. Their fifth child, Mary who was born
in 1773 only lived to be about 3 weeks old. Their last child, number 8 was born
in 1783 and he was named George Washington Strong.
Strong is believed to have been a part of the Culper Spy ring that was headed
by George Washington and Benjamin Tallmadge. One of the things that she helped
to do was pass information between Caleb Brewster and Abraham Woodhull. Anna
stayed behind at the family home where she felt that she would be safe. Women
in general during the war were seen as non-combatants. If she were to leave her home this would
subject the Strong’s beautiful home to looting, destruction and abuse. While
she stayed behind she would embark on great assistance to General Washington.
would be responsible for letting the other know where to find them. “From his
base in Fairfield, with the assistance of a telescope, Brewster watched the
laundry that Strong put up to dry. The prearranged signals were communicated
through the items and number on the line. For example, when a report was ready
to be picked up, a black petticoat was hung out. At the same time, the number
of handkerchiefs also would indicate at which cove or inlet Brewster was to
land to await the report.” This
was a clever and easy way to pass information without being suspected. While
she did not collect the information herself, she was vital to the Culper Spy
Ring – she was able to let Brewster know when there was a report that was ready
for pick up. This report was then delivered to the proper authorities including
General George Washington.
not always been easy during this time. While Women were generally left alone
and not considered threats there were still issues. Most women were in homes
alone or with other female members of family and children. Their husbands were
usually involved in the war in some aspect or another. Anna was no exception.
“Anna Strong was stooped and gaunt, and the candle held in her hand accented
the hollows of her cheeks and her sunken eyes. Tallmadge embraced her without
speaking, and he and Brewster entered, and Anna Strong bolted the door securely
behind them. She led them into the musty-smelling front room, emptied of most
of its furnishings and set the candle on a bare table. “The Rangers have
plundered me twice,” she said, “and when I heard your knock.” She
had already been through a lot. With her husband being detailed and eventually
freed. Having lost property I am sure was heartbreaking and inspired her to
collect information more.
Strong’s identity was not referred to in the dispatches. But there are several
reference to her property and the British movements around her home. “While
Tory reporting from Connecticut identified that a woman was involved in
signaling Brewster regarding his travel to Long Island, the British never
learned her identity.” One
of the British spies who was referred to as: Hiram the spy revealed that there
was a Setauket woman who had been working with the Patriots. The woman he
described matched the description of Strong. After the war her husband returned
to their home and they were able to live out life together.
Another woman that assisted the Americans was:
Lydia Barrington Darragh. She was born in the year 1728. She was born in
Dublin, Ireland. She married her husband William Darragh in 1753. After a few
months of marriage they decided to move to the American Colonies. Lydia and her
husband were heavily involved in the Quaker Community. Once they were settled
in the American Colonies, William took a job as a tutor and Lydia worked as a
midwife. Together they had 9 children. Five she was able to raise to adulthood,
and four died in infancy .
claim to “fame” was when the British were occupying Philadelphia where her
family lived. The British troops had shown up in 1777 and demanded the use of
their home. Since they were Quakers they were not supposed to be supporting
anything in regards to warfare. They were supposed to be neutral. Secretly,
Lydia supported the Colonists push for freedom.
the night of December 2, 1777, they even held a conference there with top
British officers. There, General William Howe finalized plans for an attack on Whitemarsh on the 4th.
The other officers listened intently to his story. Unbeknownst to them, so did
Lydia Darragh... Hurriedly, she made notes, rolled up the paper she wrote them
on, stuffed them in the pocket of a book, and rushed to the Rising Sun Tavern,
where Elias Boudinot was serving as Commissary of Prisoners. There, as many
other women did, she asked permission to leave the city in order to go the
countryside and purchase flour. Unlike other women, she also pressed a needle
book into his hands with many pockets.”
Some of the stories differ. This source says that the book was handed over
before going out of town. Others stated that she had to request to get a pass
to go out of town and move to the Rising Sun Tavern to be able to pass the
information. She was able to obtain a pass to go and purchase flour. She was
not stopped along the way. She was headed to the Rising Sun Tavern. This is
where colonists would go to pass messages.
she was able to get this information passed this allowed General Washington and
his army to prepare for the attack. They were able to prepare and fend off the
attack on Whitemarsh. Another reason why it was important to send the
information forward and act on it quickly.
Casey, Susan. Women Heroes of the
American Revolution: 20 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Defiance, and Rescue.
Ford, Corey. A Peculiar Service.
Boston: Little, Brown and, 1965. Pg. 151
"Lydia Darragh: Quaker,
Pacifist, and American Spy." Lydia Darragh: Quaker, Pacifist, and American
Spy. Accessed June 18, 2016.