06 March 2014

Anna Smith Strong (1740-1812)

Anna Smith, daughter of Col. William Smith and Margaret Lloyd, was descended from colonial elites and closely related to other Culper Ring members. Described in an 1839 book by Benjamin Thompson as "a lady of much amiability and worth," she was born on 14 Apr 1740 in New York and died on 12 Aug 1812 in Setauket, NY.

In 1760 she married Judge Selah Strong with whom she had ten children: Keturah, James Woodhull, Thomas, Margaret, Benjamin, Mary, William Smith, Joseph, George Washington and Joseph.

None Known

In 1778 Judge Strong was arrested and confined on the British prison ship Jersey in New York harbor for "surreptitious correspondence with the enemy." The conditions on those ships were terrible, and she finally got permission to bring him food, which evidently saved his life. Anna's wealthy Tory relatives (British supporters) helped her bribe British officials to parole her husband to Connecticut, where he stayed for the remainder of the war, taking their children with him.

Therefore, Anna was alone on Strong's Neck in Setauket, LI, throughout the rest of the war. She stayed behind to take care of the family home because empty homes were subject to greater destruction and abuse. Many women did this during the Revolution because they were seen as non-combatants. Woodhull needed his neighbor Anna Smith Strong to advise him of Caleb Brewster's location.

Caleb Brewster came periodically across the Devil's Belt (Long Island Sound) to deliver or retrieve the Spy Ring's messages. Brewster, one of the most daring of the group, was also the only member whom the British had definitely identified as a spy. Brewster and his crew rowed his whaleboat across the Long Island Sound to and from Connecticut. They were in constant danger because there were British frigates constantly patrolling the Sound, so he hid his boat in the willows of the bay.

Anna Smith Strong's assignment in the Culper Ring was to signal Brewster's arrival to Abraham Woodhull. She did this by hanging laundry on her clothesline in pre-arranged configurations, a system that fooled all by the wisdom of its simplicity. If she hung up a black petticoat, it meant that Brewster was in town.

By counting the number of white handkerchiefs scattered through her wash, Woodhull knew in which of six coves Brewster hid his boat. Under cover of darkness, Woodhull then rendezvoused with Brewster and passed along the secret messages. Brewster and his men then crossed Long Island Sound to Connecticut and passed the information to Tallmadge who passed it on to Washington's headquarters in Westchester County, NY.

Strong is not referred to in the dispatches, although there are several references to her property and the British movements around her home. Later, when British officers occupied the Manor House, she lived in a small cottage across the Bay from Woodhull's farm to keep an eye on the farm and main house. 

On 4 Feb 1781, the double agent (or simple self-dealing mercenary)) William Heron told British intelligence chief Maj. Oliver De Lancey of the 17th Light Dragoons that private dispatches were being sent from New York City by some traitors to Seutaken "where a certain Brewster received them near a certain woman's (home)." Since the British were never able to catch Brewster and get him to disclose the woman's name, Anna's identity remained secret.

After the war, Anna and Selah were reunited, and had their last child, George Washington Strong. Their home survived the war safely, and the Strong Family remained there. Anna is buried in the graveyard on Strong's Neck. The house is no longer standing, but around 1845 a new house was built on the same site as the family home that the British occupied during the war. 

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