Benjamin Tallmadge Collection
Autographed document, signed. Weathersfield, 8 July 1781.
Docketed and endorsed on verso. 1 leaf, 14 x 21 cm.
Processed by Kristen J. Nyitray, August 2004.
View this document at: http://sunysb.libguides.com/long_island
Benjamin Tallmadge (1754-1835) acted as principal director of George Washington's
secret service from 1778-1783, after the death of Nathan Hale. He won distinction
as a field officer, notably at the capture of Fort St. George, Long Island, in 1780.
With his leadership, Washington was able to create a strong and successful chain of
spies throughout the New York area, beginning the secret service in America. These
agents, primarily the Culper Gang, gathered countless amounts of information for Washington,
which greatly aided in winning the war.
Tallmadge was born in Setauket, Long Island. He was extremely bright and attended
Yale University at the age of fifteen. He embarked on a career in education and soon
became a headmaster of a school in Wethersfield, CT. When war broke out, Tallmadge
became interested and decided to join. He began his army career as 1st lieutenant
in Colonel John Chester's Regiment of Wadsworth's Connecticut Brigade, and eventually
rose up the ladder to become Brigade Major and then captain of a troop in the 2nd
Continental Light Dragoon Regiment. In the summer of 1778, his dragoons were assigned
under Brigadier General Charles Scott, who was Washington's intelligence chief. Tallmadge's
new job was to recruit intelligence sources throughout the Connecticut and New York
area. He contacted old friends from Long Island and New York City, gradually forming
the Culper ring. When Charles Scott had to go home because of family problems in the
Fall of 1778, Tallmadge was promoted once again and began to report directly to Washington.
Tallmadge is now remembered as one of the founders of the first organized espionage
operations in America. He developed a numerical substitution code that effectively
withstood British attempts to decipher it. After his successful career during the
war, he was elected to Congress, where he served eight terms.
The document in our collection does not appear to be a coded message, although the
numerical term "Five Pounds 8" may sustain hidden meaning.
Biographical source: Spy Letters of the American Revolution from the Collections of
the Clements Library.