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 decrypted 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) appears in a letter from Abraham Woodhull ("Samuel Culper Sr.") to General George Washington, where Woodhull describes her as "one who hath been ever serviceable to this correspondence."
The true identity of Agent 355 remains unknown, but some facts about her seem clear. She worked with the American Patriots during the Revolutionary War as a spy, and was likely 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 at the time, and at some point had contact with Major John André and Benedict Arnold. One person who has been named as the possible identity of Agent 355 was Anna Strong, Woodhull's neighbor. Strong allegedly helped the Culper Ring by signaling to its members the location of Caleb Brewster, who raided British shipments in his whaleboat around Long Island Sound after he was given a secure location by 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 at all, but rather that the code indicated a woman who had useful information but was not "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 as a defector and in the arrest of André, who was hanged in Tappan, New York. She may have been a member of a prominent Loyalist family, which would have put her within easy reach of British commanders.
Agent 355 was arrested in 1780 when Benedict Arnold defected 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 Anna's 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 herself imprisoned there.
In popular culture
This section needs additional citations for verification. (July 2020)
Agent 355 has become a part of popular fiction.
- One of the main characters in Y: The Last Man from Vertigo Comics is a modern spy that goes by Agent 355. She is part of a fictionalized Culper Ring that has remained active into modern times.
- Idara Victor plays fictional Agent 355 in the television series Turn: Washington's Spies. In the show, Agent 355 is the code name of a former slave named Abigail. She had been owned by Anna Strong until the British army seized Selah's property upon his imprisonment. Though technically free, she is coerced into working for John André. Abigail sends Anna information she overhears in André's home hidden in gifts to her son, whom she was forced to leave behind in Anna's care.
- In Season 4, Episode 6 (Identity Crisis) of the USA show White Collar, the show's main characters chase after a Culper Spy Ring conspiracy theory centered around the letters owned by a descendant of 355 who, along with others, continued the legacy of the Ring.
- Rebel Spy by Veronica Rossi, a young adult novel reimagining the story behind Agent 355, was published in 2020.
- The 355 is an upcoming female-led spy film from Universal Pictures. A group of women from different international spy agencies create a faction code-named 355 in honor of Agent 355.
- Intelligence in the American Revolutionary War
- Intelligence operations in the American Revolutionary War
- McCarthy, Linda (2002). "355". National Women's History Museum. Retrieved 19 April 2016.
- Casey 2015, p. 76.
- "Agent 355 – History of American Women". Retrieved 2019-11-21.
- Phelps, Mark Anthony (2013). "Agent 355". In Frank, Lisa Tendrich (ed.). An Encyclopedia of American Women at War: From the Home Front to the Battlefields. 1. ABC-CLIO. p. 529. ISBN 9781598844436.
- "Personalities". CIA. United States Government. 15 March 2007. Archived from the original on 12 March 2008. Retrieved 18 April 2016.
- Casey 2015, p. 77.
- "David W. Jacobs: Who Was Agent 355?". History News Network. 21 November 2006. Retrieved 18 April 2016.
- Rose 2006.
- Allen, Thomas B.; Harness, Cheryl (2004). George Washington, Spymaster: How the Americans Outspied the British and Won the Revolutionary War. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic. p. 60. ISBN 9781426300417.
- Burke, John A.; Meyer, Andrea (2009). "Spies of the Revolution". New York Archives. 9 (2). Archived from the original on 23 February 2011. Retrieved 18 April 2016.
- Kilmeade, Brian (5 November 2014). "Women at War: The 'Lady' and George Washington's Secret Six". Fox News. Retrieved 18 April 2016.
- Kilmeade & Yaeger 2013, Afterword, p.1.
- Mafe, Diana Adesola (2015). "'We Don't Need Another Hero': Agent 355 as an Original Black Female Hero in Y: The Last Man". African American Review. 48 (1): 33. doi:10.1353/afa.2015.0009. S2CID 161247862.
- Deerwester, Jayme (August 13, 2017). "'Turn: Washington's Spies' finale: What became of all the characters?". USA Today. Archived from the original on 2017-08-13.
- McNary, Dave (August 20, 2019). "Jessica Chastain, Lupita Nyong'o Spy Thriller '355' Gets 2021 Release Date". Variety. Archived from the original on 2019-08-20.
- Casey, Susan (2015). Women Heroes of the American Revolution. Chicago Review Press. ISBN 9781613745830.
- Kilmeade, Brian; Yaeger, Don (2013). George Washington's Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution. New York: Penguin. ISBN 9780698137653.
- Rose, Alexander (2006). Washington's Spies: The Story of America's First Spy Ring. New York: Bantam. ISBN 9780307418708.