A fascinating new best-selling book, George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved The American Revolution, by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yeager combines history, intrigue, and adventure. It is written in the format of a political thriller with a riveting and inspiring story. Six covert agents for the Continental Army displayed confidence, fearlessness, and leadership as they navigated through the Loyalists and British army to gain intelligence.
The six agents were Robert Townsend, a newspaper editor; Austin Roe, a bartender; Celeb Brewster, a longshoreman; Abraham Woodhull, who traveled to and from New York; James Rivington, who owned a coffeehouse; and a female socialite only known as Agent 355. It is unimaginable how these people sat behind enemy lines every day for four years, knowing they could suffer the same fate as Nathan Hale. Readers will be surprised to find out these true American heroes never wanted any credit, and only one actually met General George Washington.
A great quote in the beginning of the book, “Those men and women whose true identities are never revealed and whose stories have never been told, but who offer their service and their lives on behalf of their country. To each of them we owe an inexpressible debt.” Kilmeade stated,“I wrote it thinking of today’s military and operatives. If you try to compliment them they always deflect to someone else. They just don’t want to take credit even though they deserve it. They do great things because they are on a mission for their country. This was similar to those spies in the Culper Ring. They risked their lives because they believed in a cause. They did it for their country and they didn’t want the praise, they didn’t want to get paid. I think that’s reflective of who we are as a country. Washington said, ‘never ask their names, I will never tell.’ But he kept their letters. That allowed us to piece the puzzle together.”
Besides these six Kilmeade shows Washington as a great General and strategist. He knew that the British could not be defeated with manpower, arms, or a show of force, but with a battle of wits. With this mindset, Washington decided to implement a network of spies, working together, to undermine the British war strategy in New York and Long Island. Washington was able to push these Agents to give more detail and timely information because he was able to assess their character. A book quote from a former British military officer shows the importance of these men and woman to the American Revolution, “The Americans did not outfight us, they out spied us.”
One of the most captivating parts of the book is the description of how the Culper Ring was able to prevent Benedict Arnold from handing over West Point to the British, and the ability of Agent 355 to determine that Arnold was a traitor. Kilmeade noted, “She laid the groundwork for Benedict Arnold’s being discovered as a spy. She was able to listen to the gossip in New York City. After Arnold was nearly captured the whole crew went into mourning because she was probably killed.”
Kilmeade also explains how the Culper Ring, the American intelligence officer, Benjamin Tallmadge, and General Washington used a pre-Morse Code, with numbers representing names and places, invisible ink, encryption, and dead drops to communicate. They would send innocuous letters, and on the back would be the important information written with invisible ink. What is incredible is that they were able to come up with these ideas during the war, without any prior espionage knowledge, and understood the necessity of keeping the dispatches from being discovered by the British.
George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved The American Revolution is a book about American history that is insightful and riveting. Anyone who wants a good spy thriller should read this book. What makes it even more interesting is that this thriller is a true story.