Brian Kilmeade understands the importance of learning and teaching history, and he especially loves stories from the history of his native Long Island. Kilmeade, the longtime co-host of Fox and Friends, has written a book, George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution, about the band of spies during the British occupation of New York known as the Culper ring. He talks to National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez about what he learned from this story.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: Why take a break from sports books?
BRIAN KILMEADE: I’ve really been researching this project since 1989. As much as I like sports, I have five times the passion for history, with all its mystery. So when Don Yaeger asked me to collaborate on a project, I said “yes” — if it would be about the Culper Spies. He came back to me a week later and said, “We have to do this book.” And so two years later, here we are, with George Washington’s Secret Six.
: What drew you to the story of these six?
KILMEADE: These six who made up the ring risked their lives for almost four years. They knew that if they made one mistake they would likely end up like Nathan Hale — hanged. Robert Townsend worked the city. Abraham Woodhull worked Long Island and sifted all the intelligence that would be packaged to send to General Washington. Austin Roe went the 55 miles from Setauket to New York City and Caleb Brewster led his men across the Long Island Sound — 24 miles — through the British Navy, with just his muscle and a small cannon.
The man who perhaps got more information than anyone was James Rivington. He ran a loyalist newspaper, so he had a reason to interview British officers. He would write up their stories and give the classified intelligence to General Washington.
We also have to highlight Agent 355, the lone female. She jumped the social scene — got to them when their guard was down.
LOPEZ: Why is your entire introduction a brief recounting of the execution of Nathan Hale?
KILMEADE: Well, he is obviously a huge name in American history and he showed tremendous courage. He was also a failed spy. He taught Washington a lesson: You can’t just throw someone into the espionage business. He also served as an example of what can happen to any spy if he is caught — which underscores how much courage the agents in the Culper Ring needed to be successful.
LOPEZ: The Brits killed this 21-year-old and refused him a clergyman and a Bible before he died. What did that tell you about the point in the war, or what we were fighting against?
KILMEADE: At the time, the British showed the Patriots no respect — using Long Island as their supermarket and almost crushing the entire American army in New York City, as they wanted to suppress this uprising quickly and ruthlessly. That backfired on them: The ruthlessness wound up igniting the entire population and helped win the war for Washington.
LOPEZ: Why was there a need for a spy ring?
KILMEADE: Washington knew he could not win the war without New York City and also knew he could not beat the British head-on — he had to out-think them and out-spy them. After all, he had, at maximum, 10,000 men; they topped out at 80,000. Washington had to figure out their next move almost before they did. The only way to do that is to implant agents inside their brain trust — and that’s exactly what he did. He knew that he had to outlast the British, because they just wanted to go home and we wanted a home.