Let’s be clear off the bat: the AMC show, TURN: Washington’s Spies, about the Culper Spy Ring that was based in Setauket, Long Island, is filmed in Richmond, Virginia. Given that Setauket has evolved from a small hamlet to a town of over 15,000, finding film locations that look 1776 bucolic are difficult. But, many of the homes and buildings referenced in the show are still standing, in this town that has always celebrated its history. These days, that sense of pride is heightened, with spy ring tours, new historic markers and Revolutionary War talks. In this article, we’ll compare and contrast the actual locations in the show with their cinematic counterparts in both Setauket and New York City.
Untapped Cities founder, Michelle Young, was born in Setauket and lived on Strong’s Neck (a name you’ll recognize if you watch the show). She tells us, “Looking back, it’s quite incredible to grow up in a town where history is all around you. The names Woodhull, Brewster and Strong are names I’ve known since childhood, as we learned tales of the spy ring. I can trace my love of history and architecture from growing up there. Coming full circle, a friend from growing up ended up being an extra in the first episode of the show.”
During the Revolutionary War, British soldiers used the Setauket Presbyterian church as a stable, destroying its pulpit and interior. As shown in the show, tombstones from the cemetery were used as fortification by the British, though the role of Abraham Woodhull’s father, Judge Richard Woodhull as an appeaser of the British is fabricated. In real life he was beaten by the dreaded Colonel John Simcoe of the Queens Rangers, who has a role in the series, also slightly modified.
Setauket Presbyterian Church today
The Setauket Presbyterian church was led by Reverend Benjamin Tallmadge, father to Major Benjamin Tallmadge who was head of General Washington’s spy ring. Though damaged by bullets and canons during the war, the church stood until 1811 after which it was replaced by the current building.
Abraham Woodhull, childhood friend to Tallmadge and the key Setauket link of the spy ring, is buried in the cemetery here. A memorial around his tombstone was erected in 1936 by the Daughters of the American Revolution.
Abraham Woodhull grave and memorial