Part 2: The Culper Ring: The Greatest Spies of the American Revolution

Austin Roe, tavern keeper and member of the Culper Ring. Public Domain.

Austin Roe, tavern keeper and member of the Culper Ring. Public Domain.

If you missed Part 1, check it out here!: Part 1: The Culper Ring.

The Culper Ring used various methods to keep their agents safe and their messages secure, so even if messages fell into the wrong hands, no harm would be done. Without the Culper Ring and its members, two important events in the duration of the war could have ended much differently.

In July 1780, 7,600 French soldiers arrived in Newport, Rhode Island to help the American cause. Having the French fight on the American side greatly helped Washington to win the war. General Sir Henry Clinton of the British Army had spies in France and America that alerted him of the French preparing to arrive in America to aid Washington. General Clinton knew he had to stop the French, so he planned to send 8,000 soldiers to Newport. Culper Jr. (Robert Townsend) discovered this information, and the ring sent this information to Washington in record time. Washington did not have the time to physically stop Clinton, but he was able to trick General Clinton into believing that he was sending 12,000 Americans to attack New York City. Since New York City was British headquarters, this was not an ideal situation for the British. Clinton called his soldiers back and the French arrived safely.

The Culper Ring’s leader, Benjamin Tallmadge, also played a vital role in discovering the traitorous intentions of Benedict Arnold. In Philadelphia, Benedict Arnold married Peggy Shippen, whose wealthy parents seemed to sympathize with the British. Arnold was in a rough spot as he had several accusations put against him in military court, his financial situation was not very bright, and he felt as if the American Army severely undervalued him. Around this time it is believed he opened communications with British officer Major John Andre through his wife, Peggy Shippen. Peggy is said to have known Andre in Philadelphia, but the status of their friendship/relationship is mainly speculation. Arnold offered his services to the British-but with a price.

In Arnold’s communications with Andre, it seems Arnold promised the British West Point. West Point was an American fort located on a vital point on the Hudson River. Whoever controlled West Point, controlled the Hudson River, which had many advantages. West Point could be the key to winning the war, which is why the British wanted it. Benedict Arnold convinced George Washington to give him the West Point command, where unknowingly for the Americans, Arnold and the British were plotting the downfall of the American army.

About this time, George Washington received word from the Culper Ring that the British were planning some secret undertaking. That undertaking was the planning of a secret meeting between Arnold and Andre, who would be disguised as a civilian named John Anderson, to discuss the turning over of West Point to the British. Andre made it to the meeting but on his way back, he was caught by several American militiamen, who found suspicious papers in his boots. They took Andre to an American outpost, where they sent him to General Arnold. Tallmadge was in the area and heard of John Anderson being transferred to Arnold. Only a while ago, Arnold had written Tallmadge about expecting a John Anderson from New York. Tallmadge requested to question him, and soon discovered that this was Major John Andre and that Benedict Arnold was a traitor to the Continental Army.

Thanks to the Culper Ring, and the brave exploits of its members, they helped to win the Revolutionary War. Part of the success of the Americans winning the Revolutionary War can be attributed to the Culper Ring, and other known and unknown American spies. By spying, these men and women risked their lives, reputations, and more because they believed in the cause of freedom.