Who was agent 355?
The Culper Ring was a group of spies and espionage agents, officially run by Benjamin Talmadge but in many instances managed by Washington himself, which operated in and around New York City throughout the Revolutionary War. The ring itself was led by Abraham Woodhull, a Long Island farmer who operated under the alias Samuel Culper.
Culper and Talmadge (who were neighbors before the war) used several agents and a complex system of communication to keep Washington informed of activities and plans of the British occupying troops in and around New York. Agent 355 was recruited by Woodhull, and her identity was not revealed to any other members. This has led to more than two centuries of often conflicting speculation as to who she was, or even that she was possibly more than one person.
Agent 355 provided Culper, and through Culper Talmadge and eventually Washington, the information that a high ranking American officer was negotiating with the British to hand over the American stronghold at West Point. Although Benedict Arnold’s involvement was not suspected prior to his involvement being revealed, Washington’s increased scrutiny of the post was an indication that he was aware of something amiss. Agent 355 and the Culper Ring were also responsible for informing the Americans of British plans to counterfeit Continental currency, and of British plans to attack French forces in Newport, Rhode Island.
In 1780, reports from Agent 355 ceased. This has led some to believe that she had been captured by the British and placed aboard one of the prison ships in New York Harbor, with some historians speculating that she gave birth aboard the vessel. Neither seems likely, especially if one subscribes to the theory that 355 was in fact more than one person.
That her identity was never revealed, including after the war, lends credence to the theory that she was the daughter of a prominent Loyalist, desirous of remaining anonymous even after the issue had been decided. There is little likelihood of the true identity of Agent 355 ever being revealed, since the caution exercised by Woodhull and Talmadge to protect her identity has held for more than two centuries.