Anna Smith Strong (April 14, 1740 – August 12, 1812) of Setauket, New York was an American Patriot, and she may have been one of the only female members of the Culper Spy Ring during the American Revolution. Her perceived main contribution in the ring was to relay signals to a courier who ran smuggling and military missions for General George Washington. No information has been found concerning Anna's activities after the war other than that she and her husband, Selah Strong, lived quietly in Setauket for the rest of their lives. She died on August 12, 1812.
Anna married Selah Strong (December 25, 1737 – July 4, 1812) who was a delegate to the first three provincial congresses in colonial New York. He also was a captain in the New York militia in 1776. He was imprisoned in the sugar house at New York City as a presumed spy, according to Rivington's Gazette of January 3, 1778. Family knowledge has him later imprisoned on the prison ship HMS Jersey. Other works only mention his imprisonment on the prison ship, and previously mentioned family knowledge claims that Anna brought him food. Author Ryan Ann Hunter states that Anna eventually got Selah paroled through the influence of Tory relatives. Upon his release, he spent the rest of the war in Connecticut with the family's younger children while Anna stayed on Long Island.
The Strongs' children were Keturah S. (married James W. Woodhull), Thomas Shepherd (married Hanna Brewster), Margaret, Benjamin, Mary, William Smith, Joseph, George Washington, and another Joseph. Mary and the first Joseph both died young. Thomas became a judge and fathered Selah B. Strong who authored an article about his grandparents hosting then-President George Washington in 1790. He was oblivious to his grandmother's involvement in the Culper Spy Ring.
Anna's father was Colonel William Smith, son of Henry Smith and grandson of Colonel William Smith, a justice of the supreme court established in New York in 1691. He was clerk of Suffolk County, New York and judge of the Common Pleas court for the county for several years before the American Revolution. Anna's mother was Margaret Lloyd Smith, daughter of Henry Lloyd of Lloyd's Neck.
The Culper Ring
Continental Army Major Benjamin Tallmadge began working with Abraham Woodhull in the summer of 1778 at the height of the American Revolutionary War to create what became known as the Culper spy ring. According to tradition, Anna Strong's role in the ring was to relay signals to a courier who ran a whaleboat across Long Island Sound on smuggling and military missions. She did this by hanging a black petticoat on her clothesline at Strong Point in Setauket, which was easily visible from a boat in the Sound, and also by Woodhull from his nearby farm. She would add a number of handkerchiefs for one of six coves where the courier would bring his boat and Woodhull would meet him. Historian Richard Welch writes that the tradition of the clothesline signal is unverifiable, but it is known that the British suspected a woman at Setauket who fit Anna's profile. Conversely, authors Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger suggest that she was an unlikely candidate to be the woman member of the Culper Ring. They claim that British law provided for lands to be confiscated if left abandoned, and they speculate that this forced Anna to remain on Long Island when her husband left for Connecticut. They further state that she had her children with her and her arrest would have left them parentless.
Selah Strong was on Washington's list to be reimbursed for expenses incurred in connection with activities for the Culper Ring. Rose and Phelps speculate that the reimbursement must have been for expenses incurred by Anna, since Selah was imprisoned for much of the relevant time period.
Abraham Woodhull wrote a message to Benjamin Tallmadge to say that he would be visiting New York again and, "by the assistance of a [lady] of my acquaintance, shall be able to outwit them all." Several historians surmise that Anna Strong was the lady identified as "a 355" (Tallmadge's code for the word "lady"). She might have had her own reason to visit New York to visit her husband aboard the prison ship where he was confined and to bring him food. If she was the one referred to, her main service on their trips would have been to divert attention from Woodhull. Again, Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger suggest that Anna Strong was an unlikely candidate to be the woman member of the Culper Ring. It is speculated by Kilmeade and Yaeger that a young woman connected to a prominent Loyalist family, who was staying in the city with her Tory relations, may also be refer as "355". This young woman may have even had encounters with Major John André and was able to retrieve information for the Culper Ring as well.
In popular culture
AMC's Revolutionary War period drama TURN: Washington's Spies was based on Washington's Spies: The Story of America's First Spy Ring (2007) by Alexander Rose. Heather Lind plays Anna Strong in the series. In the show she is depicted as a young woman in her early thirties who has no children of her own. She is also depicted as agent 355, who is the ruse for Abraham when traveling to and from Long Island, NY. However, she was in her early 40s during this time period and authors state that she had children but they were being cared for elsewhere by her husband, Selah Strong after his release from the prison ship.