Is ‘The 355’ based on a true story?
The 355 may be 2022’s first box office bomb, with some outlets going so far as to call it “Meh-ssion Impossible,” but the story behind it is actually one for the books.
For those who don’t know, the recently released spy film from director Simon Kinberg stars Jessica Chastain alongside a variety of women from different intelligence agencies who team up to stop a Third World War. It has a 25 percent positive critical reception on Rotten Tomatoes as of this writing and was inspired by a heroic and legendary American woman.
Anyone who paid extra close attention during history class might recall that a real agent known only by the number 355 was active during the American Revolution. She was a member of the Culper Ring ⏤ which has been depicted on Turn: Washington’s Spies ⏤ and was purportedly responsible for some key developments in the war.
“[She was] one who hath been ever serviceable to this correspondence,” spymaster Abraham Woodhull wrote in a letter to George Washington.
These actions included exposing Benedict Arnold as a traitor and the arrest of another figure working against the colonial effort in New York. Other correspondence from those working against the British noted that with her help, they would be able to “outwit them all,” but, as is the case in any conflict, walking off into the sunset was not guaranteed.
Agent 355 was arrested during a sweep of anti-British suspects when the nation controlled New York City and died on a prison ship anchored in the harbor. Disease and starvation killed off most in custody and by the time the conflict came to an end in 1783, more than 10,000 Americans had died after being in these very decrepit and decayed facilities.
“Here was a motley crew, covered with rags and filth,” one Ebenezer Fox wrote of his experience seeing the inside of one. “[They were] visages pallid with disease, emaciated with hunger and hardly a trace of original appearance.”
In the centuries since her death, a number of theories have emerged as to who she truly was. Some say she was Woodhull’s neighbor Anna Strong, who had the title and tasks tied to it, while others debate whether there was an actual 355 at all. Regardless, the legend and influence remains today in the form of media mentioned above and has a presence in the acclaimed Y: The Last Man comic series. May she inspire others as the years continue to unfold.