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A Moment of Greatness with George Washington

When No One is Watching…
The Great ones live their lives with integrity.

This past year, I have had the privilege of working on a book that is somewhat different from my past projects, but has illustrated Greatness in a whole new way to me. George Washington’s Secret Six, which I co-authored with Brian Kilmeade of FOX News and is being released today, tells the true story of America’s first spy ring and the lives of the men and women who made it possible. This is my first big non-sports book and I’m excited to see how the story is received!

Culper Spy Ring. Click to enlarge!

When General George Washington needed covert intelligence to recapture New York City from the British, he worked with his spymaster, Major Benjamin Tallmadge, to organize a group of ordinary people—a farmer, a longshoreman, a tavern-keeper, a store owner, a socialite, and a journalist— and formed what was called “The Culper Spy Ring,” based on the codename of the leader. Their professions and social engagements allowed the members to obtain reports of troop movements, naval codes, and general gossip from the British soldiers occupying the city and to carry that sensitive information out of British-controlled areas to Washington’s camps.

Co-authors Don Yaeger and Brian Kilmeade discuss George Washington’s Secret Six.

Click here to listen (18:50)

Together, their spying efforts uncovered a plot to bring about economic collapse to the struggling nation, enabled a fleet of French ships carrying reinforcements to land safely, helped to unmask Benedict Arnold as a traitor in the nick of time, and even contributed to the British defeat at Yorktown, Virginia, which brought the war to a close. It is not a stretch to say that these five men and one woman were a key factor in American independence. In fact, one of the most enjoyable days of reporting for this book came in a visit to CIA headquarters, where they readily acknowledged the Culper ring as among this nation’s most important spy networks.

Co-authors Tiffany Yecke Brooks and Brian Kilmeade discuss George Washington’s Secret Six.

Click here to listen (10:08)

But the Culpers didn’t do it for the glory. Espionage in the 18th century was hardly the sexy, dashing world that James Bond has painted for us; it was looked down upon as an ignoble and dishonorable profession. They didn’t do it for money either. The payment the Continental Army was able to scrape together often did not even cover their expenses. And they certainly didn’t do it for fun. The sentence for a convicted spy was death.

George Washington

No, the members of the Culper Spy Ring risked their reputations and their lives because it was the right thing to do. And when their job was done and the war was over, they returned to their everyday lives. Most talked very little about their wartime heroics—some never mentioned them at all. The true identities of a few of the Culpers were not even known until the 20th century. In fact, the female member of the Ring is still only known as Agent 355. Her name has been lost to history, but the impact of her efforts, and those of her compatriots, can be felt today.

They did the job that needed to be done—not for the applause, but for the satisfaction of knowing that their actions mattered. They lived with integrity when no one was watching…even though, at the same time, everyone was watching. Not only was there danger at every turn and the constant risk of being unmasked, but the eyes of the world were upon the fledgling American nation as it dared to take on the mightiest army in the world for the sake of liberty and justice for all.

Tips from the Great Ones

What decisions are you making each day that are the right ones—even if no one is watching to applaud you? What if no one will ever know how hard you are working? What if doing the right thing can mean personal risk?

Thank goodness for men and women in our lives and in our history who have chosen to act according to their moral dictates. Their actions are determined by nothing more than the urging of their own conscience—not steered by personal interest or a desire to gain anything other than the satisfaction of having done the right thing.

Sure, there are famous heroes in history, whose names dot monuments and history books; but there are also the quiet heroes—the ordinary ones who hear the call to serve and answer it without fanfare. They are the ones who do not shy away when something great is asked of them. These are the men and women, who, like the Culpers, are a different kind of hero. They are the Great ones—and they have the power to change the world.

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Certified Speaking Professional (CSP)

About Don Yaeger

Don Yaeger

Don Yaeger is a Certified Speaking Professional (CSP), longtime Associate Editor for Sports Illustrated, 11-time New York Times best-selling author, leadership expert and executive coach.

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