Raynham Hall, built in 1740, was the family home of...

Raynham Hall, built in 1740, was the family home of Robert Townsend -- one of George Washington's spies. Credit: NEWSDAY/BILL DAVIS

Codes. Letters written in invisible ink. Clandestine information drops.

These were elements of a Long Island spy ring used by Gen. George Washington to help win the American Revolution. Top secret at the time and little-known through history, details about the operation are now available for the public.

The Muttontown-based nonprofit Long Island North Shore Heritage Area Wednesday unveils a Culper Spy Ring audio tour that covers 12 sites from Roslyn to East Setauket. Those who call a dedicated phone number can listen to an overview of the espionage network and as much as five minutes of details about each location where the spy ring operated.

"This is a wonderful way to learn about Long Island history," John Coraor, president of the 3-year-old organization. The recording can be accessed by calling 631-498-4740 and is designed to be used once visitors arrive at the sites.

The tour was conceived two years ago by board member Ira Costell of Port Jefferson Station after he saw a letter Washington wrote about the spy ring. The letter had been purchased by Stony Brook University. Costell spent the last year doing research with local historical societies, librarians and historians to write up the narrations voiced by Larry Weiss of Plainview, whose company supplied the phone technology.

The tour describes how, in 1778, Washington asked his chief of intelligence, Maj. Benjamin Tallmadge, to form a spy network to operate in Manhattan and on Long Island. Its principal spy was Robert Townsend, whose family home in Oyster Bay is now the Raynham Hall Museum, the tour's first stop.

The information that merchant Townsend gathered in New York was passed to Austin Roe, owner of a Setauket tavern. Back in Setauket, Roe forwarded his information to Abraham Woodhull, whose code name was known as Samuel Culper. The information was sometimes relayed by burying the message in a container in Woodhull's field.

The intelligence was then carried by whaleboat captain Caleb Brewster across Long Island Sound to Connecticut, where Tallmadge sent it to Washington at West Point.

Stops on the tour include the Nathan Hale Memorial in Huntington; Setauket Elementary School's outdoor statues of Tallmadge and Woodhull, and the site of Woodhull's house. Audio also is available for a stop at Strong's Neck, where Anna Smith Strong reportedly hung laundry in a pattern to signal Brewster that he should meet Woodhull; the Smith-Strong family cemetery, where Strong is buried, and the site of Roe's tavern.

"I think it will help bring people to the museum who might not have known about the spy ring," said Harriet Gerard Clark, director of Raynham Hall, which attracts about 10,000 visitors a year. "This puts us on the map."

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