The Setauket Spy Ring remained a well-kept secret throughout the American Revolution — an operation so well concealed that its daring members, who went by the code name Culper, were never caught and hanged like fellow patriot Nathan Hale. Nowadays, their secret is not only out, it’s openly celebrated.
On Sept. 15, Setauket and Stony Brook will be bustling with Culper Spy Day activities, including walking tours around historic sites and actors roaming the streets dressed in period garb and impersonating legendary spies -- Maj. Benjamin Tallmadge, Abraham Woodhull and Anna Smith Strong. All three were major characters in AMC’s “Turn: Washington’s Spies,” which concluded last year after four seasons.
“Everybody’s interested in the Culper spies. The series, ‘Turn,’ really brought us out into the public eye,” says Susie Roberts, office assistant at the Three Village Historical Society in Setauket. The society is organizing Culper Spy Day activities with a number of other institutions, including Stony Brook’s Long Island Museum of American Art, History and Carriages, and the Ward Melville Heritage Organization.
Here are five intriguing ways to learn about Washington’s LI-based secret agents:
READ THE SPY LETTERS
History buffs who buy Spy Day tickets can see two original letters from Washington to Tallmadge, which are usually seen only by appointment. They will be displayed under glass in viewing sessions from 11 a.m. to noon and 1 to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 15.
The 1779 and 1780 letters, in which Washington gives espionage tips to his spies, provide evidence of “the Three Village’s critical role and contributions during the American Revolution and to the founding of the nation,” says Stony Brook University library’s special collections director Kristen Nyitray.
FOLLOW THE SPY TRAIL
Culper Spy Day walking tours will delve into how the spies operated under the British Redcoats’ noses by taking you to their old haunts. Three Village Historical Society walking tours begin at the Setauket Village Green, and visit churches that survived the British occupation. Roberts says that on the tour, participants will learn how Strong sent spy messages by hanging laundry on her clothesline.
A REVOLUTIONARY COOK-OUT
The sights and smells of a patriot encampment will be re-created on the grounds of the Long Island Museum by the Boy Scouts of The Benjamin Tallmadge District. Ten local youngsters, ages 11 to 17, will cook up stew and hardtack biscuits on a campfire. They will be bivouacked for the day in three tents they’ve sewn together, in the style of the time from duck cloth canvas, says district committee member Christian Buzzanca, 56, of Setauket.
Buzzanca says the Scouts have studied the Culper Spy Ring so they can answer questions about Tallmadge, who “led a raid from Mount Sinai that burned hay the British officers had been saving for their horses.”
DINE OUT COLONIAL-STYLE
At two historic restaurants serving Culper Spy Day specials, the menus will be a bit tastier than hardtack, if not as authentic. The Three Village Inn in Stony Brook, built in 1751 by early-American millionaire Jonas Smith, will set out a “spy ring” breakfast buffet of scrambled eggs, French toast, bacon, home fries and fruit. ($10 a person, reservations required, lessings.com or 631-751-0555.) The Country House Restaurant, inside a former Stony Brook farmhouse built in 1710, is making a spy-themed lunch with a special menu the kids need to decode. Call 631-751-3332 or go to countryhouserestaurant.com for reservations.
BID ON TV HISTORY
The Three Village Historical Society will host an auction and sale of TV memorabilia from “Turn: Washington’s Spies” at Gallery North, 90 N. Country Rd., Setauket. (Requires purchase of Culper Spy Day tickets; sale, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; auction, 2 p.m.)
Correction: In an earlier version of this story, Kristen Nyitray's first name was misspelled
Culper Spy Day
WHEN | WHERE Sept. 15, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Stony Brook and Setauket. Pick up tickets, map and event listings at the Three Village Historical Society, 93 N. Country Rd., Setauket
INFO 631-751-3730, tvhs.org