Subject Area



Despite the staunch support that British occupiers enjoyed in New York and Long Island amongst Anglicans, there still remained plenty of citizens whose disdain for their new overseers provided Tallmadge with a large pool to recruit agents. In Patriot super spy Benjamin Tallmadge’s home of Suffolk County, Presbyterians endured an oppressive occupation at the hands of the British Army as many became wartime refugees following the destruction of their farms. This made many of them eager participants in Tallmadge’s schemes and some would even accompany Tallmadge on his whaleboat raids. Although none of these skirmishes proved decisive in tipping the war in the Patriots’ favor, the constant irritation which Tallmadge’s Presbyterian band caused British officials would ultimately prove crucial in distracting British forces while the Franco-American army marched south towards Yorktown at the war’s end. Had it not been for the intelligence and espionage of Tallmadge’s Culper Spy Ring, the victory at Yorktown might not have been possible as Cornwallis would be reinforced and the war would continue for several years; instead, Tallmadge’s deeds were enough to convince the British army that Washington’s main attack was centered on New York City and thereby allow Washington to march south unopposed.

What one finds when they investigate the Culper Spy Ring within the context of religious animosity between sects is that the actions of the Ring were not only instrumental in achieving American independence, but they also point towards the religious undertones of the American Revolution. The latter aspect of their work has been particularly difficult to uncover, largely due to the secrecy of the ring members’ identities which Tallmadge and Washington believed was of utmost importance. Another difficulty in sharing this story was that most of the letters which Tallmadge and his Long Island compatriots wrote in their personal correspondence made little if any explicit reference to their religious beliefs. However, thanks to recent scholarship into the true identities of the ring members, historians may now place their similar upbringings as New York Dissenters during the mid-18th century within the context of the divide between Anglicans and Dissenters in colonial New York.


Providence College

Academic Year



Spring 2021





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