Deceit. Sacrifice. Bravery masquerading as stupidity. A lady‘s work is never done.
Nor is the work of the Culper Ring.
If you don’t know The Culper Ring, have never heard of Nathan Hale, George Washington, John Andre, Benedict Arnold, black petticoats, or TURN: Washington’s Spies [which AMC created and now streams its four seasons on Netflix], click “lady” above. Read on below.
The Culper Ring was Washington’s needed intelligence network. An intelligence network needed to combat the spies and double agents Britain sprinkled throughout its theatres of war as it battled the Americans for their independence.
The Culper Ring was not commonly known until [as I understand it] an attic in Long Island was being cleared out in the 1920s and 1930s and a discovery was made of an old, odd book with numbers matched to words: The Culper Ring’s cypher book, orchestrated by a New York 25-ish year old named Benjamin Tallmadge in 1779.
Tallmadge and others of the Culper Ring matched the subject needed to be communicated to Washington, to the subject’s number in their cypher book.
[i.e., Write the number, not the word.]
So then, if these numbered letters were intercepted by British spies [paging James Bond’s 5th great-grandfather], so long as British intelligence never discovered the Culper’s cypher book and distributed such valuable findings to their individual agents, the cypher would never be undone and the Americans would buy themselves at least one more month of rebellion.
In the Culper’s cypher book you find the numerical equivalent of everything from “my” [“379”], to “infantry” [“309”], “ignorant” [“304”], and “ear” [“159”]. I think even “love” is written in as “348.” And there is “355,” simply meaning “lady.”
“I intend to visit 727 [“New York”] before long and think by the assistance of a 355 [“lady”] of my acquaintance, shall be able to outwit them all.”
– August 15, 1779. Abraham Woodhull [“Samuel Culper” or “722”] to Major Benjamin Tallmadge, Sheldon’s Horse, 2nd Regiment, Continental Light Dragoons [“John Bolton” or “721”].
Rumors have been tossed around since the cypher book’s discovery as to whether “355” was a specific lady, devoted to this American fellowship of the Ring, or if this was a lady who was doing a one-time sting for the Ring.
Rumors still abound.
In our 21st century the words lady and woman are nearly interchangeable in daily conversation. In the 18th century, i.e. 1779 when Benjamin Tallmadge crafts the Culper Ring’s cypher, one never dares to call a lady a woman. You did not dare, and neither did the cypher.
A “woman,” as written “701” in the Culper’s cypher book, would be a female who we may classify as middle-class or lower-class. Since Culper writes not “701,” but “355,” I assume the Ring means a lady, a female who we would classify as upper-class: either wealthy in power or in resources, and if she’s trusted by the Ring, rich with valuable information.
Regardless of who she was, she is presently one of the many nameless who we owe our present and future to; one of the many nameless who were braver and stupider than we, and so put themselves through horrible dangers to gain what is never absolutely defined, but what absolutely none of us can survive without: liberty.
Stupid for putting herself in such horrors, likely ending her days rotting aboard a British prison ship. Effectively floating in a cesspit of disease and dead men that bobbed along in New York harbor until the British evacuated New York, November 25 of 1783; four years after Benjamin Tallmadge and The Culper Ring launched their cypher book into their closely watched circulation.
Brave and daring that she would end her days rotting for us who have no hope of knowing who she was or why she lied and deceived for 304 [“ignorant”] and ungrateful posterity.
May we all be so stupid if it means we are also brave.
Our freedom, our future dies in fear. A lady and a Ring would not accept fear. But to “outwit them” who would spread fear, they instead spread much-needed and far more valuable information, and information sustained America’s rebellion.
Rule “355”: “Outwit them all.”
Dear 355, whoever you be, we 348 you. And the Culper Ring.
copyright Off The Porch History 2018