Agent 355

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Agent 355, as depicted in an 1863 issue of Harper's Weekly

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.[1] The number, 355, could be de-crypted from the system the Culper Ring used to mean "lady."[2]

Biography[edit]

The only direct reference to Agent 355 in any of the Culper Ring's missives (1778-1780)[3] was from Abraham Woodhull ("Samuel Culper Sr."), to General George Washington.[4] Woodhull described her as "one who hath been ever serviceable to this correspondence."[5]

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.[1] The way the code is constructed indicates that she may have had "some degree of social prominence."[2] She was likely living in New York City,[6] and at some point had contact with Major John André and Benedict Arnold.[7][8] One person who may have been Agent 355 was Anna Strong, Woodhull's neighbor.[6] 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.[3] Another theory is that Agent 355 may have been Robert Townsend's common-law wife.[1] Stories about Townsend state that he was in love with Agent 355.[9] 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.[10] Other possible candidates for 355 include Sarah Horton Townsend and Elizabeth Burgin.[11]

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."[12] The code itself may have referred to "a woman," not an agent who was a woman.[4]

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.[1] She may have been member of a prominent Loyalist family which would put her within easy reach of British commanders.[1][5]

Agent 355 was arrested in 1780 when Benedict Arnold went to the Loyalists.[5] She was imprisoned on HMS Jersey, a prison ship, where she may have given birth to a boy named Robert Townsend, Jr.[1] She later died on the prison ship.[1][7] 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."[8] 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.[4] Her presence on the ship may have led to the legend that Agent 355 was imprisoned there.[4]

In popular culture[edit]

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.[13] She is part of a fictionalized Culper Ring that has remained active into modern times.
  • 355 is mentioned in Assassins Creed 3's in-game database of historical facts, where her information was critical in helping the protagonist in discovering the British plot to capture West Point.[citation needed]
  • Idara Victor plays 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.[14] 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 descendent of 355 who, along with others, continued the legacy of the Ring.
  • 355 is a 2021 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.[15]

See also[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

Citations[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g McCarthy, Linda (2002). "355". National Women's History Museum. Retrieved 19 April 2016.
  2. ^ a b Casey 2015, p. 76.
  3. ^ a b "Agent 355 – History of American Women". Retrieved 2019-11-21.
  4. ^ a b c d 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.
  5. ^ a b c "Personalities". CIA. United States Government. 15 March 2007. Archived from the original on 12 March 2008. Retrieved 18 April 2016.
  6. ^ a b Casey 2015, p. 77.
  7. ^ a b "David W. Jacobs: Who Was Agent 355?". History News Network. 21 November 2006. Retrieved 18 April 2016.
  8. ^ a b Rose 2006.
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ Kilmeade, Brian (5 November 2014). "Women at War: The 'Lady' and George Washington's Secret Six". Fox News. Retrieved 18 April 2016.
  12. ^ Kilmeade & Yaeger 2013, Afterword, p.1.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ 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.

Sources[edit]