by Nick Merullo
This activity is based on a page from the coding index used by the Culper Spy Ring, a group of colonist civilians working as spies who gathered and reported intelligence to George Washington during the Revolutionary War. Caleb Brewster was a key member of the organization. Brewster served as a courier delivering messages to agents in Connecticut and Long Island across the Long Island Sound. His long-standing friendship with Benjamin Tallmadge, Washington’s chief intelligence officer, and his reputation as an expert seaman made him the perfect man for the job.
D1: Potential Compelling Question
D1: POTENTIAL SUPPORTING QUESTIONS
- Why did the Continental army rely on contributions from civilians?
- How did women contribute to the Revolution?
D2: TOOL KIT
Sample page of the Culper Spy Ring Code – Library of Congress. Additional pages are available at MountVernon.org.
D3: INQUIRY ACTIVITY
Have students do a close reading of the page and consider:
- What words can they recognize on the page?
- Why might some of these words need to be written in code?
- What are some benefits of using numbers instead of words?
- How might the results of the Revolution changed if these messages were discovered by the enemy?
D4: COMMUNICATING CONCLUSIONS
Have students research the Culper Ring and present findings:
- Create a map detailing one of Brewster’s excursions from the coast of Connecticut to Long Island.
- Write a letter from the perspective of General Washington to Caleb Brewster.
- Have students create their own coding system and write a secret message between spies.
Place to GO
Things To DO
Research the Caleb Brewster Papers: Fairfield Museum and History Center
Read more pages or download the pdf of the Culper Spy Ring Code: MountVernon.org
Websites to VISIT
Articles to READ
ConnecticutHistory.org: Caleb Brewster and the Culper Spy Ring by Andy Piascik.