Anna Strong (spy)

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Anna Nancy Smith Strong
Anna Nancy Smith

April 14, 1740
DiedAugust 12, 1812(1812-08-12) (aged 72)
Burial placeEast Setauket, Suffolk County, New York, United States
Occupationspy, homemaker
Spouse(s)Selah Strong
Espionage activity
Allegiance United States of America
Service branchspy

Anna Smith Strong (April 14, 1740 – August 12, 1812)[1]:202 of Setauket, New York was an American Patriot, and she may have been one of the only female members of the Culper Spy Ring during the American Revolution. Her perceived main contribution in the ring was to relay signals to a courier who ran smuggling and military missions for General George Washington. No information has been found concerning Anna's activities after the war other than that she and her husband, Selah Strong, lived quietly in Setauket for the rest of their lives.[2] She died on August 12, 1812.[1]:202


Anna married Selah Strong (December 25, 1737 – July 4, 1812) who was a delegate to the first three provincial congresses in colonial New York. He also was a captain in the New York militia in 1776.[2]:83, 173 He was imprisoned in the sugar house at New York City as a presumed spy, according to Rivington's Gazette of January 3, 1778.[3]:582 Family knowledge has him later imprisoned on the prison ship HMS Jersey (1736).[3]:582 Other works only mention his imprisonment on the prison ship,[4]:124 and previously mentioned family knowledge claims that Anna brought him food.[5]:529 Author Ryan Ann Hunter states that Anna eventually got Selah paroled through the influence of Tory relatives.[6]:41 Upon his release, he spent the rest of the war in Connecticut with the family's younger children while Anna stayed on Long Island.[6]:41

The Strongs' children were Keturah S. (married James W. Woodhull), Thomas Shepherd (married Hanna Brewster), Margaret, Benjamin, Mary, William Smith, Joseph, George Washington, and another Joseph. Mary and the first Joseph both died young. Thomas became a judge and fathered Selah B. Strong who authored an article about his grandparents hosting then-President George Washington in 1790.[1]:202 He was oblivious to his grandmother's involvement in the Culper Spy Ring.[7]

Anna's father was Colonel William Smith, son of Henry Smith and grandson of Colonel William Smith, a justice of the supreme court established in New York in 1691.[8]:503 He was clerk of Suffolk County, New York and judge of the Common Pleas court for the county for several years before the American Revolution.[8]:503 Anna's mother was Margaret Lloyd Smith, daughter of Henry Lloyd of Lloyd's Neck.[8]:503

The Culper Ring[edit]

Continental Army Major Benjamin Tallmadge began working with Abraham Woodhull in the summer of 1778 at the height of the American Revolutionary War to create what became known as the Culper spy ring. According to tradition, Anna Strong's role in the ring was to relay signals to a courier who ran a whaleboat across Long Island Sound on smuggling and military missions. She did this by hanging a black petticoat on her clothesline at Strong Point in Setauket, which was easily visible from a boat in the Sound, and also by Woodhull from his nearby farm.[4]:124[9]:217[10]:38[11]:83 She would add a number of handkerchiefs for one of six coves where the courier would bring his boat and Woodhull would meet him.[5]:172[6]:42[12]:21 [13] Historian Richard Welch writes that the tradition of the clothesline signal is unverifiable, but it is known that the British suspected a woman at Setauket who fit Anna's profile.[14]:37 Conversely, authors Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger suggest that she was an unlikely candidate to be the woman member of the Culper Ring. They claim that British law provided for lands to be confiscated if left abandoned, and they speculate that this forced Anna to remain on Long Island when her husband left for Connecticut. They further state that she had her children with her and her arrest would have left them parentless.[15]:130–131

Selah Strong was on Washington's list to be reimbursed for expenses incurred in connection with activities for the Culper Ring. Rose and Phelps speculate that the reimbursement must have been for expenses incurred by Anna, since Selah was imprisoned for much of the relevant time period.[2]:265[5]:529

Agent 355[edit]

Abraham Woodhull wrote a message to Benjamin Tallmadge to say that he would be visiting New York again and, "by the assistance of a [lady] of my acquaintance, shall be able to outwit them all."[2]:173 Several historians surmise that Anna Strong was the lady identified as "a 355" (Tallmadge's code for the word "lady").[2]:173[5]:529[16]:189 She might have had her own reason to visit New York to see her husband aboard the prison ship where he was confined and to bring him food.[2]:173[5]:529 If she was the one referred to, her main service on their trips would have been to divert attention from Woodhull.[2]:173 Again, Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger suggest that Anna Strong was an unlikely candidate to be the woman member of the Culper Ring. It is speculated by Kilmeade and Yaeger that a young woman connected to a prominent Loyalist family, who was staying in the city with her Tory relations, may also be referred to as "355". This young woman may have even had encounters with Major John André and was able to retrieve information for the Culper Ring as well.[15]

In popular culture[edit]

AMC's Revolutionary War period drama TURN: Washington's Spies was based on Washington's Spies: The Story of America's First Spy Ring (2007) by Alexander Rose.[17] Heather Lind plays Anna Strong in the series. In the show she is depicted as a young woman in her early thirties who has no children of her own. She is also depicted as agent 355, who is the ruse for Abraham when traveling to and from Long Island, NY. However, she was in her early 40s during this time period and authors state that she had children but they were being cared for elsewhere by her husband, Selah Strong after his release from the prison ship.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Robison, Jeannie Floyd Jones; Bartlett, Henrietta Collins (1917). Genealogical Records: Manuscript Entries of Births, Deaths and Marriages Taken from Family Bibles, 1581-1917. New York: Colonial Dames of the State of New York. Retrieved 22 Apr 2015.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Rose, Alexander (2007). Washington's Spies: The Story of America's First Spy Ring. New York: Bantam Dell. ISBN 9780553383294. Retrieved 22 Apr 2015. First published in hardcover in 2006.
  3. ^ a b Mather, Frederic Gregory (1913). The Refugees of 1776 from Long Island to Connecticut. Albany, NY: J. B. Lyon Company. p. 582. ISBN 9781556133428. Retrieved 22 Apr 2015.
  4. ^ a b Baker, Mark Allen (2014). Spies of Revolutionary Connecticut: From Benedict Arnold to Nathan Hale. Charleston, SC: The History Press. ISBN 9781626194076. Retrieved 22 Apr 2015.
  5. ^ a b c d e Frank, Lisa Tendrich (2013). An Encyclopedia of American Women at War: From the Home Front to the Battlefields. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. ISBN 9781598844443. Retrieved 22 Apr 2015.
  6. ^ a b c Hunter, Ryan Ann (2013). In Disguise!: Undercover with Real Women Spies. New York: Simon and Schuster. ISBN 9781442467262. Retrieved 22 Apr 2015.
  7. ^ a b "History of American Women: Anna Smith Strong". History of American Women Blog. Retrieved December 3, 2018.
  8. ^ a b c Thompson, Benjamin Franklin (1839). History of Long Island: Containing an Account of the Discovery and Settlement; with Other Important and Interesting Matters to the Present Time. Long Island, NY: E. French. p. 503. Retrieved 22 Apr 2015.
  9. ^ Hastedt, Glenn P. (2011). Spies, Wiretaps, and Secret Operations: A-J. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. ISBN 9781851098071. Retrieved 22 Apr 2015.
  10. ^ Naylor, Natalie A. (2012). Women in Long Island's Past: A History of Eminent Ladies and Everyday Lives. Charleston, SC: The History Press. ISBN 9781609494995. Retrieved 22 Apr 2015.
  11. ^ Crowdy, Terry (2011). The Enemy Within: A History of Spies, Spymasters and Espionage. New York, NY: Osprey Publishing. ISBN 9781780962245. Retrieved 22 Apr 2015.
  12. ^ Owen, David (2002). Hidden Secrets. Buffalo, NY: Firefly Books. ISBN 9781552975640. Retrieved 22 Apr 2015.
  13. ^ Howat, Kenna (2017), "Revolutionary Spies: Women Spies of the American Revolution", National Women's History Museum
  14. ^ Welch, Richard F. (2014). General Washington's Commando: Benjamin Tallmadge in the Revolutionary War. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc. ISBN 9780786479634. Retrieved 22 Apr 2015.
  15. ^ a b Kilmeade, Brian; Yaeger, Don (2013). George Washington's Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution. New York, NY: Penguin. ISBN 9780698137653. Retrieved 22 Apr 2015.
  16. ^ Daigler, Kenneth A. (2014). Spies, Patriots, and Traitors: American Intelligence in the Revolutionary War. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press. ISBN 9781626160507. Retrieved 22 Apr 2015.
  17. ^ Andreeva, Nellie. "TCA: AMC Picks Up 'Halt & Catch Fire' & 'Turn' To Series". Retrieved 22 Apr 2015.

External links[edit]

Anna Strong at Find a Grave