Greetings, readers! Despite the relative silence of the past several days (on the blog, anyway — fun things are always happening on tumblr), things have been quite busy here behind the scenes at TURN to a Historian. After much deliberation on how to best address the curious chronology of the TURN universe, I decided to add a Timeline feature to the site — as evidenced by the new “Timeline” button on the site main menu.
Many viewers of TURN who already possess some background knowledge about the American Revolution have already noticed a large number of “temporal anomalies” in the show so far. People and events are showing up in the first two episodes of TURN that, historically, shouldn’t be there in 1776. These “anomalies” run the gamut from small details (e.g. uniform details that are several months premature) to major plot devices (the Woodhull family tree) central to the show.
To be fair, it’s not unusual for movies and TV shows to heavily adapt a real-life timeline of events to fit their own goals and time constraints — after all, since TURN is a historical drama and not a documentary, the showrunners’ primary concern is creating an entertaining story or narrative arc. Historical timelines are often compressed or shuffled around in order to create a more dramatic pace suitable for a modern audience. Therefore, it’s reasonable to expect that a show like TURN will contain some “chronological flexibility.”
What really came as a surprise upon viewing the pilot episode, however, was the executive decision to set the beginning of the series in 1776, instead of 1778. Most of the early promotional descriptions of TURN described the series as taking place in 1778 – which would have made a lot more sense from a historical standpoint. Several critical events depicted in the show don’t actually happen until well after 1776, including:
- The existence of Tallmadge’s (Second Regiment of) Continental Dragoons (first fielded in early 1777)
- The imprisonment of Selah Strong (end of 1777)
- The capture of John Graves Simcoe (1779)
- The involvement of John Andre in British intelligence (1779)
- And even the very creation of the Culper Spy Ring (1778).
You can see the proper plotting of these events on the historical timeline above. We’ll likely go into more detail about each of these events in future blog posts.
However, you might also notice that the last few episodes of TURN have increasingly mentioned topics that are appropriate for mid to late 1776, including: the creation of the Queen’s American Rangers under Robert Rogers, the fall of Forts Washington and Lee, and the capture of General Charles Lee — and in the preview for next week’s episode, “Epiphany,” we see scenes foreshadowing Washington crossing the Delaware. Clearly, the showrunners have made some very deliberate chronological compromises in order to include iconic events that pre-date the 1778 creation of TURN’s Long Island-based spy ring. (The scene depicted in the GIF at left, taken from the TURN opening credits, also hints at an innovative event that happened in late 1776. If you’re not already familiar with the scene, I won’t let the cat out of the bag just yet.)
The new Timeline feature is this site’s humble attempt to untangle the curious chronology of the TURN universe. On it, you will see events that have already been mentioned in the show plotted on a historically accurate timeline. Some of the “real” dates might come as a shock! The timeline will be updated every week to reflect the major historical events depicted in the show as each episode airs — meaning that graphic will be pretty darn full by the end of this first season.
Is there something mentioned on the show that you want to see plotted on the timeline? Suggestions for timeline additions are welcome, as long as they are events that have already been discussed in the show! Eventually, on the Timeline page, I plan to add a (text) list of the historical events mentioned with links to primary and reliable secondary sources for those who want to learn more about each one. There’s also a long-overdue update of the Links and Resources pages coming, and another Reader Request post in the works. No doubt about it — I’ve swapped out my gray cap for a hard hat this week, metaphorically speaking. Stay tuned!