Benjamin Tallmadge Collection
Manuscript Collection 381
George Washington's spymaster.
Autographed document, signed. Weathersfield, July 8, 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
Biographical source: Spy Letters of the American Revolution from
the Collections of the Clements Library.