Austin Roe

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Austin Roe
Artistic depiction of Roe
Born(1748-03-02)March 2, 1748
DiedNovember 28, 1830(1830-11-28) (aged 82)
Burial placeCedar Grove Cemetery, Patchogue
Tavern owner
Inn Keeper
Espionage activity
Allegiance United States
AgencyCulper Ring
Codename(Agent) 724
OperationsCulper spy ring

Austin Roe (March 2, 1748 – November 28, 1830) was a member of the Culper Ring, a successful spy network during the American War of Independence that was organized in 1778 by George Washington.

Early life[edit]

Austin Roe was born March 2, 1748, in Port Jefferson, New York. He married Catherine Jones, and the couple had eight children.[1] His great-grandson, Justus Roe, was the inventor of the modern day retractable carpenter's tape measure.[2]


Roe was the owner of a tavern in East Setauket.[1] "Roe's Tavern" is an extant structure (now a privately owned residence) where George Washington stayed overnight during his 1790 tour of Long Island.[3]

Culper ring[edit]


In December 1778, General George Washington's chief of intelligence—and Culper Ring spymaster Major Benjamin Tallmadge—recruited Jonas Hawkins as a clandestine courier to bring messages to Setuaket from New York City, where the group's leader, Abraham Woodhull was gathering information. From there, the coded correspondence could be relatively easily forwarded to Tallmadge.[3] At first, the ring employed just Hawkins in the role, but by early summer, Roe had joined the group as an alternate rider, who would take messages the 55 miles (89 km) between the group's two major centers of operation, Setauket, New York, and New York City.[1] At the time, both cities were occupied by the British.

Work as spy[edit]

Roe and Hawkins passed the messages from New York City to operative Caleb Brewster on Long Island.[3] Brewster would take them across the Sound to Tallmadge at Fairfield, Connecticut. From there, Tallmadge forwarded the messages to Washington.[4]

Roe served the Culper spy ring as a courier by secretly relaying its messages beginning in early 1779. He claimed to be conducting business as a merchant in order to avoid suspicion and pass through the British check-points.[3] Roe became the sole dispatch carrier for the ring after July 1779, when Tallmadge gave Roe–but not Hawkins–a code number in his code index.[3] Hawkins increasing paranoia had led him to abandon the mission at that time.[3]

In historical records[edit]

Because Roe traveled over 1000 miles on horseback performing his missions during the war, he has been called the "Paul Revere of Long Island."[citation needed] In 2015, a letter written by loyalist soldier Nehemiah Marks to Adjutant General Oliver De Lancey, head of British Army Intelligence following Major John Andre’s capture and execution, was uncovered.[5] The document contained information that brothers Nathaniel and Phillip Roe were part of the "Long Island spy network," but the allegations were neither investigated nor acted upon.[1]

Later life[edit]

After the war, Roe continued to operate his tavern in Setauket.[1] He became a captain in Lieutenant Colonel David Pierson's New York militia regiment in Suffolk County, New York,[6] in 1787.[1] He and his family settled the area which would become the town of Patchogue on Long Island's south shore in 1798.[1] He opened an inn there, where for three decades he regaled his patrons with tales of his exploits during the war.[1]

Roe died in Suffolk County in 1830 at the age of 82;[1] and was buried in the family graveyard. His body was eventually re-interred in the Cedar Grove Cemetery, in Patchogue, after the town was founded by a descendant.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Leuzzi, Linda A Letter of Significance Archived 2015-11-20 at the Wayback Machine; Long Island Advance, accessed October 22, 2015
  2. ^ NOTE: Justus Roe and Sons Co. produced the 'Roe Electric Reel Tape Measures' during the 1890s and early 1900s when they started marking increments and numbers on the tapes. See U.S. Patent number 387541, 8/7/1888, reel for tape measure.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Rose, Alexander; Washington's Spies: The Story of America's First Spy Ring; New York: Bantam Dell, a division of Random House; (20067); ISBN 978-0-553-38329-4; Pp. 172
  4. ^ Nelson, David Paul. Culper Ring in Hastedt, Glenn, P., ed. Spies, Wiretaps, and Secret Operations: A-J. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2011. ISBN 978-1-85109-807-1. p. 217.
  5. ^ Long Island's Austin Roe, American Spy; New York Almanac online; accessed May 2020
  6. ^ Documents of the Senate of the State of New York; compiled and edited by Hastings, Hugh; state historian; New York State; Military Minutes of the Council of Appointment of the State or New York, 1783–1821 (Volume 9); Albany: James B. Lyon, State Printer; (1901); p. 84.

Further reading[edit]

  • Rose, Alexander. Washington's Spies: The Story of America's First Spy Ring. New York: Bantam Dell, a division of Random House, 2007. First published in hardcover in 2006. ISBN 978-0-553-38329-4.

External links[edit]