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Main Title:
Benjamin Tallmadge Collection

Type of Material: Document
Personal Name: Benjamin Tallmadge
Collection ID: Collection 381
Creator: Benjamin Tallmadge
Extent: 1 leaf; 14 cm. x 21 cm.
Span Dates: 8 July 1781

Benjamin Tallmadge Collection

Collection Description
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.

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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.

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