355 (died after 1780) was the supposed code name of a female spy during the American Revolution who was part of the Culper Ring spy network. She 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." Her story is considered part of national myth, as there is very little evidence that 355 even existed, although many continue to assert that she was a real historical figure.
The only direct reference to 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."
While the true identity of 355 remains unknown, 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 355 may have been Robert Townsend's common-law wife. Stories about Townsend state that he was in love with 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.
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.
The then pregnant 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
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 collects information overheard in André's home and hides it in gifts sent to her son, left in Anna's care.
- In Season 4, Episode 6 (Identity Crisis) of the US TV show White Collar, the show's main characters investigate a Culper conspiracy theory based on letters owned by a descendant of 355.
- Rebel Spy by Veronica Rossi, a young adult novel reimagining the story behind Agent 355, was published in 2020.
- The 355 is a female-led spy film released by Universal Pictures on January 7, 2022. A group of women from different international spy agencies create a faction code-named 355 in honor of Agent 355.
- McCarthy, Linda (2002). "355". National Women's History Museum. Archived from the original on 8 March 2017. Retrieved 19 April 2016.
- Casey 2015, p. 76.
- Bleyer, Bill (March 21, 2022). "The Myth of Agent 355, the Woman Spy Who Supposedly Helped Win the Revolutionary War". Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved 2023-09-14.
No proof of 355's adventures in espionage actually exists. The sole mention of her in the historical record simply states that she was a lady—not necessarily a spy—who could help the Patriots "outwit them all." Unfortunately, this lack of evidence hasn't stopped authors and television and movie producers from inventing tales of her exploits.
- "Agent 355: The American Revolution's Most Mysterious Female Spy". Mental Floss. 2022-02-02. Retrieved 2023-09-14.
- Bleyer, Bill. "The Myth of Agent 355, the Woman Spy Who Supposedly Helped Win the Revolutionary War". Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved 2023-09-14.
Other writers picked up the story and further embellished it. Chief among them is Fox News co-host Brian Kilmeade, who lives on Long Island. In George Washington's Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved The American Revolution, the 2013 bestseller he wrote with Don Yaeger, he names 355 as one of six members of the spy ring. (Kilmeade offers no explanation for his exclusion of widely accepted members like Brewster.)
Without documentation—Secret Six is not footnoted but does include a list of selected sources—Kilmeade places 355 in the social circle of British spymaster and legendary party-thrower John André. "One agent remains unidentified," the book states. "Though her name cannot be verified, and many details about her life are unclear, her presence and her courage undoubtedly made a difference."
- "Agent 355 – History of American Women". 4 December 2011. 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. Vol. 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.