Agent 355 plays a major role in my novel, The Hidden Side, but who was she besides an elusive and mysterious historical person?
“355” was simply the Culper code name for “lady.” She is mentioned only once in correspondence written by Abraham Woodhull, referred to as the certain lady “who will outwit them all.”
That statement alone hints at how important she was to the Revolutionary cause, and yet, centuries later, we still don’t know for certain who she is. In his book, Washington’s Spies, Alexander Rose states his belief that 355 was Anna Smith Strong, yet we don’t seem to have any certain proof to back up that assertion.
In his book, George Washington’s Secret Six, Brian Kilmeade outlines the identities of seven possible women who could have taken up the role. It seems that, unless history turns up new evidence, her real identity may always remain a mystery.
What we do know is Agent 355 was a brave woman. She risked much—perhaps even her life—for the sake of our country’s freedom.
I have to admit that it was fun to build a fictional character around Agent 355. Because we’re not sure of her identity, I was given freedom to create Mercy Howard. Mercy is a friend and neighbor of Abraham Woodhull. And while she feels conflicted in living a life of deceit, after watching her fiancé hung as a spy and realizing that her uncle betrayed the Patriots, Mercy takes matters into her own hands by aiding General Washington’s most famous spy ring.
What is it about Agent 355 that we find so intriguing? No doubt we’re fascinated by the mystery of her. The danger, the secrets. But more than that, we are drawn to her courage–her willingness to risk so much for that which she believed.
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