Spies in the Archive: Acquiring Revolutionary War Spy Letters Through Community Engagement

Kristen J. Nyitray, Sally Stieglitz

Abstract

Special Collections, a division of Stony Brook University Libraries (SBU Libraries), acquired at auction two American Revolutionary War–era spy letters authored by George Washington. Significant to regional and national historical narratives, the letters document espionage activities in the Three Village area of Long Island, New York, the site of an important war effort known as the Culper Spy Ring. The letters were obtained through a collaborative acquisition project established in the months preceding the first auction. A private-public partnership was initially formed to secure funding. Next, mindful of the spy ring’s strong link to community identity, library representatives cultivated relationships with local cultural institutions to foster inclusiveness. Key to the process was articulating and reaffirming the shared goals to repatriate the letters, conserve them, and make them accessible at the university.

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