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Anna Smith Strong

By David Streater, Ph.D.

Burke CountyDavid Streater Burke County foundation forward charters of freedom


This is an American history educational moment of those who made a difference during the Revolutionary War era and how they served our Country.

Anna [Smith] Strong was born on April 4, 1740, in Setauket, New York.  She and Selah Strong married in 1760.  During the Revolutionary War, the British controlled Long Island, New York, and forcibly occupied the Strong’s manor home.

Anna and her children were compelled to move into their cottage, and Selah was imprisoned for being an assumed spy.  Ironically, it was Anna who was the spy.  She was a member of the Culper Spy Ring and was given the moniker of [agent] 355.

George Washington established the Culper Spy Ring to convey information mainly to him.  The spies were to report the movement of British troops and matériel between New York City, Long Island Sound, and Connecticut, then pass the findings to George Washington.

Anna’s duty was to signal others when information was ready to be retrieved and passed to another spy.  She accomplished this by hanging a petticoat on her clothesline.  This signaled that other spies were in place to provide and receive awaiting messages.  Anna also hung handkerchiefs scattered among all the other drying clothes.  The number of handkerchiefs coincided with the pre-numbered coves where a messenger was waiting in the Long Island Sound.

Anna’s messaging system was simple, discreet, and effective.  The Culper Spy Ring was also responsible for passing information about many essential actions, including treason by Benedict Arnold.  Through unassuming efforts, this covert process carried inherent grave dangers.  If the inconspicuous clothes drying method had been discovered and deciphered by the British, they would have hanged Anna like other captured spies, such as Nathan Hale.

When the Revolutionary War ended, Anna and her family regained their property and moved back into their estate house.  Several years after the War, spies such as Austin, Roe, and Brewster conducted a gathering at the Roe Tavern in Setauket to reunite the Culper Spy Ring members.  Not only did Selah escort Anna to the Tavern, but George Washington also attended the reunion to recognize, praise, and honor the Culper spies.

In time, it was learned that “The Culper Spies achieved more than any other intelligence network during the War.”  As a singular and forgotten patriot, it is now known that Anna placed herself and her family in peril because of her absolute love for America.

Please visit your Charters of Freedom setting in most western North Carolina counties.  A Charters of Freedom setting consists of the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.  They are on permanent display analogous to the Charters of Freedom in the National Archives, Washington, DC.  Please visit our website ( to learn more about our existing settings.

All teachers are encouraged to contact Dr. Streater for information and complementary student education materials to enhance experiential field trips to a Charter of Freedom settings.  Everyone is welcome and urged to obtain a personalized engraved legacy paver for placement at their local Charters of Freedom setting.  Please contact Dr. Streater ( for engraved legacy paver information and complementary educational materials.


Dr. David Streater is the director of education for Foundation Forward.  He is a retired college instructor and administrator, and a retired probation and parole officer/administrator.  David is a criminologist who has an acute history interest, served in the Navy, and is a resident of Burke County, NC.

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