Agent 355 and The Culper Ring



Agent 355 (died after 1780) was the code name of a female spy during the American Revolution, part of the Culper Ring. Agent 355 was one of the first spies for the United States, but her real identity is unknown. The number, 355, could be de-crypted from the system the Culper Ring used to mean “lady.”

The only direct reference to Agent 355 in any of the Culper Ring‘s missives (1778-1780) was from Abraham Woodhull (“Samuel Culper Sr.”), to General George Washington. Woodhull described her as “one who hath been ever serviceable to this correspondence.”

The true identity of Agent 355 is still unknown, but some facts about her seem clear. She worked with the American Patriots during the Revolutionary War as a spy. She would have been recruited by Woodhull into the spy ring. The way the code is constructed indicates that she may have had “some degree of social prominence.” She was likely living in New York City, and at some point had contact with Major John André and Benedict Arnold. One person who may have been Agent 355 was Anna Strong, Woodhull’s neighbor. Anna Strong helped by signaling to the Ring the location of Caleb Brewster who raided British shipments in his whaleboat around the Long Island Sound after he was given a secure location by Anna Strong. Another theory is that Agent 355 may have been Robert Townsend’s common-law wife. Stories about Townsend state that he was in love with Agent 355. John Burke and Andrea Meyer have made a different case for 355’s involvement in the spy ring using circumstantial evidence that she may have been close to Major John André and also to Benjamin Tallmadge, thereby protecting Woodhull from accusations of being a spy. Other possible candidates for 355 include Sarah Horton Townsend and Elizabeth Burgin.

It is also occasionally believed that there was no Agent 355, but rather that the code indicated a woman who had useful information, but wasn’t “formally connected to the ring.” The code itself may have referred to “a woman,” not an agent who was a woman.

Agent 355 is thought to have played a major role in exposing Arnold and the arrest of Major John André, who was hanged in Tappan, New York. She may have been member of a prominent Loyalist family which would put her within easy reach of British commanders.

Agent 355 was arrested in 1780 when Benedict Arnold went to the Loyalists. She was imprisoned on HMS Jersey, a prison ship, where she may have given birth to a boy named Robert Townsend, Jr. She later died on the prison ship. However, Alexander Rose disagrees with this narrative, stating that “females were not kept aboard prison ships,” and that “there’s no record whatsoever of a birth.” Strengthening the idea that Agent 355 may have been Anna Strong is the fact that her husband Selah Strong was imprisoned on Jersey and she was supposedly allowed to bring him food. Her presence on the ship may have led to the legend that Agent 355 was imprisoned there.


Thanks to Dean Albenze and Albenze Inc.


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