The museum is the next chapter in the cottage story linked to the spy ring, George Washington

A Port Jefferson home linked to the spy ring that helped George Washington track British troop movements during the Revolutionary War will reopen next month as a full-time museum, officials have said.

Drowned Meadow Cottage, the 18th century home of Culper spy ring member Phillips Roe, will open its doors to the public in ceremonies on June 5 that will include a ribbon cutting, interactive exhibits and a re-enactment of a notorious incident of 1781 during which privateers from Connecticut plundered the house.

Village officials and local historians say the cottage will host exhibits depicting life in Port Jefferson during colonial times – when the area was known as the Drowned Meadow – as officials continue efforts to qualify the house official museum.

Port Jefferson Village Historian Chris Ryon (clockwise from left); Culper spy ring historian Mark Sternberg; village clerk Barbara Sakovich; curator and historian Georgette Grier-Key; educator Tara Penske; and Port Jefferson Mayor Margot Garant are members of the Drowned Meadow Cottage Museum Committee. They recently met to hold a planning meeting for the chalet’s opening ceremony on June 5th.
Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

“We have big plans and we are preparing and we are really excited for it. It took a long time to come,” Georgette Grier-Key, a historian and consultant on the project, told Newsday. “It’s local history that also connects to national history and even international history.”

The cottage was built in 1755 and moved twice before settling in its current location on Barnum Avenue and West Broadway. It has been closed for over two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Previously, it served as a part-time repository of local history exhibits while also being used for special events such as Santa’s Workshop during Port Jefferson’s annual Dickens Festival.

Grier-Key said the cabin will be open year-round for tours, research and school outings.

The house’s claim to history was bolstered seven years ago when historians found a 1780 letter from a British spy accusing Phillips Roe and his brother, Nathaniel, of collaborating with Setauket rebel leader Caleb Brewster.

That and ongoing efforts to host community events and bring local history to schools should help gain official recognition for the museum from state officials, Mayor Margot Garant said.

“I think we’ve done our homework and the time is right,” she said.

Plans for reopening ceremonies are still being discussed, officials said, but they expect re-enactments of historical events related to the house, including the time of May 29, 1781, when the privateers – please don’t call them pirates, officials said – looted the house.

The Drowned Meadow Cottage was built in 1755 and moved twice before...

The Drowned Meadow Cottage was built in 1755 and moved twice before settling in its current location on Barnum Avenue and West Broadway in Port Jefferson.
Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

For children, there will be a story hour presenting the story in simpler terms.

“When young children are involved, they have an interest in this story,” said Tara Penske, a volunteer educator involved in the planning.

In addition to celebrating local history, the museum will be part of ceremonies when the United States commemorates its 250th anniversary in 2026, Grier-Key said.

The cottage symbolizes the determination of local residents whose community was occupied by the British for much of the revolution and who banded together to help win the nation’s independence, Grier-Key said.

“We don’t know what the outcome would have been, if that would have been the outcome we got,” she said. “These are people who were ordinary people who came together to do something absolutely extraordinary.”

LETTERS & SPIES

Local historians say several key pieces of evidence have been found in recent years that link Port Jefferson’s Drowned Meadow Cottage to the Culper spy ring. The underground network, depicted in a highly fictionalized dramatization of the AMC series “Turn,” used letters written in invisible ink and other methods to inform General George Washington of the activities of British troops:

2015: Researchers discover a letter from December 21, 1780 in the archives from a Michigan museum of a suspected British spy accusing Drowned Meadow residents Nathaniel and Phillips Roe of aiding Setauket spy ring member Caleb Brewster.

2021: Letters linked to the Culper spy ring are found in the cabin fireplace. The cottage had been the home of Phillips Roe during the Revolutionary War.

SOURCES: Port Jefferson Village, news files

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