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LI’s Revolutionary War history celebrated with Culper Spy Day

Haden Pepe, 11, and Genesy Leite, 6, both

Haden Pepe, 11, and Genesy Leite, 6, both of Setauket, watch as Charles Eckert shows how colonists sharpened knives during the time the Culper spy ring was active on Long Island. Eckert, of Ridge, participated in Culper Spy Day on July 23, 2016 in the Three Village area. Credit: Ed Betz

Like many people who grew up on Long Island, Mary DiMuzio had never heard of the Culper spy ring, which was organized in Setauket during the Revolutionary War at the request of Gen. George Washington.

Then she “got hooked” on the AMC series “Turn: Washington’s Spies,” which mixes fact and fiction to tell the story of the 1778-83 spy ring that provided the colonists critical information about British military forces.

DiMuzio was one of hundreds of people Saturday who wandered around the Three Village area to find out more about the spies and Revolutionary War-era Long Island history during the second annual Culper Spy Day.

She had been to other places associated with early U.S. history “but never to somewhere like this on Long Island, where we grew up,” said DiMuzio, 69, who traveled from her home in Lakeland, Florida, to visit sites associated with the ring.

More than 700 people took part in the spy day celebration, said John Yantz, president of the Three Village Historical Society, which organized the event with the Long Island Museum and Ward Melville Heritage Organization. That’s up from more than 400 last year.

Yantz credits the TV show with more than doubling attendance at the museum, and interest in it helped spur local historian Margo Arceri to create Culper Spy Day.

Volunteers dressed in clothing typical of the era explained the history at locations associated with it, including the Setauket cemetery where spy Abraham Woodhull is buried, and the site of the Setauket schoolhouse that five of the six spies attended, Arceri said. (Some historians have different counts of the number of spies).

The name of the ring comes from Culpeper County, Virginia, where Washington worked as a surveyor. Samuel Culper Sr. was Woodhull’s alias; fellow spy Robert Townsend went by Samuel Culper Jr.

Liz Olson, 53, of Medford, is a fan of the TV show.

“I wanted to find out what was fact and what was artistic license,” Olson said after she and her husband enjoyed samples of a bacon-and-cabbage soup that was popular during the era. “You want the truth.”

Anna Flack of Stony Brook said she knows much of the show is fictional. But, she said, the show lures viewers who might not watch a documentary about the spy ring.

“The drama, the romance, the adventure draws people in and, by default, they’re learning about the history of events that occurred on Long Island,” she said.

Flack was standing on the Setauket Village Green — site of a British military camp — with her niece, Erica Rossi, 30, of Smithtown, and Rossi’s 3-month-old son, Connor.

Rossi, a teacher, said she has delved into spy ring history with her sixth-graders at Robert Frost Middle School in Deer Park. The local history lesson captivates them.

“It’s right in their backyard,” she said.


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