Fox News host Brian Kilmeade never knew Gen. George Washington had spies on Long Island during the Revolutionary War, even though he grew up in and still lives in Massapequa.
But after learning of the Culper Spy Ring in 1990, he began researching. And in the fall, Kilmeade and sportswriter friend Don Yaeger's "George Washington's Secret Six -- The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution" was published. It has been lodged for the past eight weeks in the top 10 of The New York Times nonfiction bestseller list.
Kilmeade discussed the book Sunday at an event sponsored by Oyster Bay's Raynham Hall Museum, the home of Robert Townsend, whom the authors judge the most important of the spies.
Saying in an interview that he's been interested in history since childhood, Kilmeade explained that he read published accounts on the ring and consulted local historians and librarians, finding a lot of unpublished information.
The ring was the idea of Washington's intelligence chief, Maj. Benjamin Tallmadge, who recruited Setauket farmer Abraham Woodhull. He recruited three neighbors and Townsend, who worked as a merchant in Manhattan and recruited newspaper publisher James Rivington. Townsend's coded reports written in invisible ink were carried by riders from Manhattan to Setauket and then rowed across Long Island Sound to a courier who would take them to Washington's headquarters north of the city.
Kilmeade thought the story would make a great movie -- still under discussion -- until Yaeger suggested three years ago they do a book together, Kilmeade's third.
They concluded that the ring helped prove Gen. Benedict Arnold was trying to hand the garrison at West Point over to the enemy, and that British Maj. John André was a spy collaborating with Arnold.
"With the ability to get the intelligence that they did and with their efficiency in relaying the information, they allowed Washington to anticipate the British moves," Kilmeade said. "So they helped break the back of the British military."