September 12, 1747
|Died||February 13, 1827 (aged 79)|
|Burial place||Fairfield Cemetery, Fairfield, Connecticut|
|Service branch||Continental Army |
Caleb Brewster (September 12, 1747 – February 13, 1827) was a member of the Culper spy ring during the American Revolutionary War, reporting to General George Washington through Major Benjamin Tallmadge. He carried messages across Long Island Sound between Major Tallmadge and the ring's main spies on Long Island, New York, and in New York City. He also made direct reports to Washington concerning naval activities in the New York City area.
Brewster was born in Setauket, New York, a hamlet of Brookhaven, and was a descendant of Mayflower passenger William Brewster. After the Revolutionary War, he was a blacksmith, an officer in the United States Revenue Cutter Service for 20 years, and a farmer.
Major Benjamin Tallmadge convinced General George Washington on August 25, 1778, that Abraham Woodhull of Setauket, Long Island, would make a good agent to gather intelligence in New York City, the British Army's headquarters and base of operations during the American Revolutionary War. Brewster served as a courier in what became the Culper spy ring, carrying messages between Woodhull and Tallmadge, and he ran regular trips in whaleboats across the Sound on a variety of smuggling and military missions. Woodhull and Robert Townsend were the main agents in the Ring, alias "Samuel Culper, Sr." and "Samuel Culper, Jr." respectively. Brewster also participated in military actions as a Continental Army officer serving under Tallmadge.
Anna Strong's role in the Ring was to signal Brewster that a message was ready, according to widely accepted local and family tradition. She did this by hanging a black petticoat on her clothesline at Strong Point in Setauket, which Brewster could see from a boat in the Sound and Woodhull could see from his nearby farm. She would add a number of handkerchiefs for one of six coves where Brewster would bring his boat and Woodhull would meet him.
In February 1778, Brewster sent a message of his own through the Culper channel which concerned flat-bottomed boats being built in New York which could be used to ferry troops, and Loyalist privateers being outfitted. On another trip, he was waiting for Woodhull in Anna Strong's back garden when he surprised a passing British lieutenant. Brewster pulled him off his horse and had the opportunity to capture or kill him, but he refrained from doing either in order to avoid drawing suspicion on Anna as a member of the Ring, and instead pretended that he and his men were thieves.
After the war
In 1793, he joined the United States Revenue Cutter Service, predecessor of the United States Coast Guard. He took three years off from the service because he disagreed with policies of President John Adams, and he commanded the revenue cutter USRC Active (1812) from 1812 to 1816. He retired to his farm in Black Rock, Connecticut.
Brewster died February 13, 1827, aged 79, and is buried in Fairfield Cemetery.
In popular culture
- Intelligence in the American Revolutionary War
- Intelligence operations in the American Revolutionary War
- Caleb Brewster Papers, 1755-1976.
- Caleb Brewster Papers, 1755–1976. sfn error: no target: CITEREFCaleb_Brewster_Papers,_1755–1976 (help)
- Mather (1913), pp. 278–279.
- Rose (2007), p. 75.
- Rose (2007), p. 101.
- Baker (2014), p. 124.
- Nelson (2011b), p. 763.
- Naylor (2012), p. 38, .
- Hunter, 2013, p. 42.
- Owen (2002), p. 21.
- Brady (2013), p. 172.
- Rose (2007), p. 103.
- Phelps (2013), p. 529.
- Rose (2007), p. 234.
- Rose (2007), p. 273.
- Rose (2007), p. 278.
- Baker, Mark Allen (2014). Spies of Revolutionary Connecticut: From Benedict Arnold to Nathan Hale. Charleston, South Carolina: The History Press. ISBN 978-1-62619-407-6.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Brady, Kevin M. (2013). Frank, Lisa Tendrich (ed.). Culper Spy Ring. An Encyclopedia of American Women at War: From the Home Front to the Battlefields. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO. ISBN 978-1-59884-444-3.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Brewster, Caleb. "Caleb Brewster Papers, 1755-1976". Fairfield Museum and History Center. MS 33. Retrieved March 17, 2013.
- Mather, Frederic Gregory (1913). The Refugees of 1776 from Long Island to Connecticut. Albany, New York: J. B. Lyon. p. 278. ISBN 978-1-55613-342-8.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Naylor, Natalie A. (2012). Women in Long Island's Past: A History of Eminent Ladies and Everyday Lives. Charleston, South Carolina: The History Press. ISBN 978-1-60949-499-5.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Nelson, David Paul (2011a). Hastedt, Glenn, P. (ed.). Culper Ring. Spies, Wiretaps, and Secret Operations: A-J. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO. ISBN 978-1-85109-807-1.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Nelson, David Paul (2011b). Hastedt, Glenn, P. (ed.). Robert Townsend. Spies, Wiretaps, and Secret Operations: A-J. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO. ISBN 978-1-85109-807-1.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Owen, David (2002). Hidden Secrets. Toronto: Firefly Books. ISBN 978-1-55297-564-0.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Phelps, Mark Anthony (2013). Frank, Lisa Tendrich (ed.). 355. An Encyclopedia of American Women at War: From the Home Front to the Battlefields. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO. ISBN 978-1-59884-444-3.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Rose, Alexander (2007) . Washington's Spies: The Story of America's First Spy Ring. New York: Bantam Dell. ISBN 978-0-553-38329-4.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Welch, Richard F. (2014). General Washington's Commando: Benjamin Tallmadge in the Revolutionary War. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland. ISBN 978-0-7864-7963-4.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)