By Julia Limmer
History buffs were elated when Congressman Tom Suozzi recently proposed legislation to make the Washington Spy Trail a National Historic Trail. Suozzi and Rep. Lee Zeldin, introduced the legislation to Congress on July 27. It was then referred to the Natural Resources Committee.
The Washington Spy Trail commemorates the movements of the nation’s first spy ring during the Revolutionary War. For the majority of the war, the British occupied New York City and used it as a naval base and stronghold. In order to get information on British troop movements to Gen. George Washington, in 1788 Setauket native Benjamin Tallmadge created a network of spies that would become known as the Culper Spy Ring, the first known espionage ring in the United States. Talmadge was later appointed the head of the Continental Army’s secret service.
Tallmadge began by enlisting the help of people he could truly trust: Abraham Woodhull, Caleb Brewster, Austin Roe, Robert Townsend, and Anna Smith Strong. Each had a role to play in getting intelligence from New York City, along the trail, across Long Island Sound, and then to General Washington. Every member risked their lives behind enemy lines and played a part in the defeat of the British.
The bill designating the spy trail historic has bipartisan support with Republican Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) signing on as co-sponsor. Much of the spy trail is within Zeldin’s congressional district.
“The Culper Spy Ring played a critical role in our nation’s successful fight for independence,” Zeldin said. “This proposal would ensure that the legacy of this trail, an important part of Long Island’s history, is protected and preserved. This action will also pay special tribute to the brave men and women of the Culper Spy Ring.”
The congressional bill is not the first time attempt to memorialize the trail’s significance. In 2000, the North Shore Promotion Alliance asked New York State to add signs on Route 25A to inform the public that the road once was the spy trail. It took some time, but on May 26, 2017, 26 signs were unveiled on the route. Each marker reads “Washington Spy Trail” with a depiction of the carriage Washington rode in April 1790 when he travelled the route to thank the patriots and spies who helped him to victory.
“The general public should know the unsung heroes that helped win the American Revolution,” North Shore Promotion Alliance President Gloria Roccio said.
The July 29 reveal of the legislation occurred at an open house at Suozzi’s Huntington district office as representatives of local historic societies taught visitors about the trail and the region.
Actor Ian Kahn, who plays Washington in the AMC series “TURN: Washington’s Spies,” also attended.
“One of the things I’ve learned playing General George Washington, is how desperate a situation we were actually in,” Kahn said. “We weren’t a nation. We were a band of young brothers barreling together, going forth and trying to build something.”
Establishing the route as an historic site would be fitting tribute to the spies’ sacrifice, according to Suozzi.
“We owe it to these brave Americans who risked their lives to secure our freedom to never forget the sacrifices they made on our behalf. Recognizing the sacred ground on Route 25A as a National Historic Trail is the least we can do to honor those sacrifices,” he said.