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Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
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George Washington’s Long Island Spy Ring

Manhattan is filled with landmarks chronicling the nation’s origins, whether it is the statue of George Washington on Wall Street, or Fort Tryon Park, named after William Tryon, the last British governor of New York.

Less well known are the names of the previously unsung heroes featured in George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution (Sentinel), the engaging, just-published book co-written by Brian Kilmeade, a Massapequa resident and co-host of Fox News Channel’s Fox & Friends program, and Don Yaeger, an accomplished writer best known for his work at Sports Illustrated.

Kilmeade’s promotional tour took him on Tuesday, Nov. 12 to Huntington’s Book Revue for a talk and book-signing, and on Thursday, Nov. 14, at 7 p.m., he’ll be at Bookends, 211 East Ridgewood Ave., Ridgewood, N.J., to discuss his book, which features previously unpublished research, as well.

The British Army occupied Manhattan and Long Island long after the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, only leaving New York completely in 1783, when the Treaty of Paris ended British rule of the colonies. Early in that seven-year period, when an American victory seemed highly unlikely, Benjamin Tallmadge, a Connecticut-based intelligence officer in the Continental Army with direct access to General Washington, recruited his one-time neighbor from Setauket, Abraham Woodhull, to spy on the British. Known as the Culper Ring, Woodhull’s team grew to include Robert Townsend of Oyster Bay who, in turn, recruited James Rivington, a printer and newspaper publisher. Both Townsend and Rivington operated businesses in Manhattan, giving them access to high-ranking British military officials. Caleb Brewster, Austin Roe, and Agent 355, a woman whose name has been lost to history, rounded out the group of six, all of whom managed information up the chain of command to Tallmadge.

Kilmeade and Yaeger capture vividly the Culper Ring’s role in tipping Washington off to what the British knew about the Rhode Island arrival of French ships aimed at helping the American cause, how they intercepted a British naval codebook and made sure it arrived in Yorktown prior to a decisive battle in Virginia, and the group’s intimations that Benedict Arnold might not be the most trustworthy person to protect American interests at West Point, a pivotal location along the Hudson River.

“The more I studied them, the more I was in awe of what they accomplished,” Kilmeade said. “If you don’t have a spy ring, you don’t win.”

Moreover, Brooklyn was, and is, a part of Long Island, something to keep in mind if you’re resisting a trip to Barclays Center, because it is soon going to be home to two professional sports teams with roots in Nassau County.

“Washington thought Brooklyn was the one place on Long Island that the British would regard as indispensable,” Kilmeade and Yaeger write. “Because the Culper Ring’s route of conveying messages passed directly from Manhattan to Brooklyn, before continuing on to Setauket and across the Sound to Connecticut, the courier would have an excellent opportunity to observe military activity in Brooklyn and could add any relevant information to the letter he was carrying from [Robert] Townsend. In short, the route seemed as close to an ideal arrangement as Washington could hope for at the time.”

Given the success Hollywood has had with history-based films, such as Titanic and Saving Private Ryan, I imagine there will be interest in adapting George Washington’s Secret Six into a movie. But I’m thinking the title needs to be changed, and Sylvester Stallone has provided guidance. His 2010 box office hit, The Expendables, offered a fictitious look at U.S.-based soldiers for hire who liberate a foreign country, even though the soldiers are deemed “expendable.” Perhaps The Culper Ring could become The Indispensables.

Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism. Email: