Month: April 2015

Lieutenant Colonel Richard Hewlett: The Loyal-est Loyalist

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As of this point in Season 2, Major Hewlett’s character has taken a rather interesting TURN (forgive the pun). He’s undoubtedly one of the most complex characters in the entire show, and has more fans than one might expect, given the color of his coat! This week, Todd Braisted brings us yet another detailed look at one of the most influential Loyalists in the TURN universe — and who was a major player in the real-life history of Revolutionary Long Island, too! -RS

.law order authority

Often lost in the shuffle of TURN’s vision of Setauket is Richard Hewlett, played by actor Burn Gorman. The show has decided to have this Long Island-born American loyalist portrayed as only a major, but in actuality, Hewlett served his whole seven year career in the Revolutionary War as a lieutenant colonel. In TURN, Burn Gorman delivers a convincing portrayal of Hewlett as a somewhat mild-mannered professional veritably obsessed with “law, order, and authority.” On screen, Hewlett is an aloof British outsider to the Long Island community whose unflinching dedication to his duty and occasional displays of humanity and compassion make him a sympathetic character, in spite of his role as an antagonist. His likeability has prompted many TURN viewers to wonder: What was the real Richard Hewlett like?

Richard Hewlett was born on 1 November 1729 at Hempstead, Queens County, Long Island to Daniel Hewlett and Sarah Jackson. In 1753, at the age of 24, he married Mary Townsend (five years his junior) in Hempstead, and over the next twenty years they would have eleven children together, all Long Island natives just like their parents.

(Editor’s note: As you may have guessed by this point, there is nothing to substantiate any rumor of romantic interest or infatuation between Richard Hewlett and Anna Strong. They were both in lasting, stable marriages and raising very large families of their own by the 1770s, with no documented evidence of marital strain. Yet another fictional Anna Strong romance invented for the TURN storyline. When will we reach critical mass? – RS)

Soon after his marriage, Hewlett would soon be swept up in the winds of war blowing between France and Great Britain – a conflict known in America as the French and Indian War. Hewlett served as Captain in a New York regiment of Provincial (read: American) troops under Colonel Oliver DeLancey and saw plenty of action in Canada. In 1758, Hewlett’s corps helped capture Fort Frontenac from the French, the site of modern Kingston, Ontario.

Hewlett Belt Plate
Sword Belt Plate, ca. 1778. Stamped ‘L. FUETER’ Verso; Silver, Lt. Col. Richard Hewlett, 3rd Battalion, DeLancey’s Brigade. New Brunswick Museum, Saint John, 2005.42.2.2 (Click to enlarge.) For more information about the New Brunswick Museum: http://www.nbm-mnb.ca

With the end of hostilities in 1763, Richard Hewlett returned to Long Island where he became a leader in the Hempstead community and served as lieutenant colonel of the Queens County Militia. As the Revolution approached, Hewlett, through inclination and family connections, remained steadfastly loyal to the British. Indeed, Queens County by far was overwhelmingly Loyalist in its support of the British, so much so that New Jersey militia under Colonel Nathaniel Heard were sent in January 1776 to confiscate the arms of the inhabitants and render them less dangerous. Hundreds of Hempstead residents likewise signed a submission, apologizing for causing “uneasiness” in their neighbors by their politics and pledging to never take up arms against the Americans. Six members of the Hewlett family were amongst those that signed this document – but not Richard.

By August 1776, William Howe’s army had landed on Long Island and by the end of the month had routed Washington’s forces at Brooklyn Heights. Amongst the first to greet the British was a large group of Loyalists from the island, possibly including Hewlett. Within a week, these men would become the very first officers and soldiers in a brigade of three battalions to be raised by (now) Brigadier General Oliver DeLancey, Hewlett’s former commander from the French & Indian War. DeLancey’s recruits would come primarily from Loyalists in Queens and Suffolk Counties of Long Island, as well as Connecticut, with a smattering of Rebel deserters and prisoners of war.

Recruiting could be dangerous on Long Island during the war. Even the very first episode of TURN featured the murder of a British officer (Captain Joyce) as a major plot point. On September 24th, 1776, one of DeLancey’s would-be officers named Miller was shot and killed by a raiding party on their way to… yes, the town of Setauket!

But Richard Hewlett would face no such danger. To the west of Setauket, Queens County (despite Nathaniel Heard’s previous efforts) still remained predominantly loyal to the British, with hundreds of recruits flocking to the royal standard after hostilities began. Hewlett was commissioned on September 5th 1776 as lieutenant colonel of the 3rd Battalion, DeLancey’s Brigade, commanded by Colonel Gabriel G. Ludlow. Although liable for service anywhere in America, Lieutenant Colonel Hewlett never left Long Island during the war, nor did the majority of his battalion. As we have discussed in previous posts, Hewlett and his men were stationed at Setauket during Parsons’ August 1777 raid, a.k.a. the Battle of Setauket (depicted with considerable artistic license in in TURN’s Season One finale).

The Battle of Setauket, as minor as it was in the overall scope of the war, was actually Hewlett’s only moment of glory in the contest. While he received considerable praise from General Clinton for his defense of the post, Hewlett was no fan of the town itself, as evidenced by his letter to Major General William Tryon soon after the Setauket raid. Hewlett’s letter wonderfully describes the chaos of the town during Parsons’ visit, and even sheds some interesting light a certain Setauket resident viewers of TURN might recognize by name! (The letter below has been slightly edited for readability; to read a direct transcription, click here.)

 

I take the Liberty to give You an Account of the Behaviour of some of the Inhabitants of this County when lately visited by the Rebels, that Your Excellency may have an Idea what kind of Subjects many of them are.

            Our Hospital was at some Distance from the Works – as there was not a convenient House nearby – When we were attacked by the Rebels – a Party of them was sent to it – those Sick who were able [to walk], attempting to make their Escape – were fired at. Jonathon Thompson who lives next to the Hospital, seeing which Way they ran, Called out to the Rebels “here here they run” pointing with his Hand the Way they went. Samuel Thompson Son of the above at the same Time endeavoured to intimidate the Inhabitants – By telling them – Our Fort had surrendered – that the Rebels intended staying two or three Days – and had a twenty Gun Ship and [a] Number of Privateers in the Sound – Stories well calculated to prevent our having Assistance.

            Men of this ungenerous Stamp endeavour further by sly underhand Methods to defraud [the] Government. Their Young Men go over to Connecticut and enter the Rebel Service while their Fathers and Friends take Mortgages on their Estates – and secure in the Oath of Fidelity – hug themselves when they think they have saved their Property. There is a constant Correspondence between Connecticut & this Country carried on to a most daring Degree I am well convinced. The late Party that came over robbed only me and my Officers] Doctor Punderson & Mr. Hubbard of our Horses – they must have been particularly pointed out to them as they made great Inquiry after a fine Horse of Captn. Allisons on which one of our Men made his Escape that Morning…           

selah1
Selah Strong, as played by Robert Beitzel.

            I have this Instant while writing the following authentic Information lodg’d against a Justice Selah Strong by a Gentleman from Connecticut – that he [Strong] wrote to Genl. Parsons there were a Number of Vessels collecting Forage at Southold – Guarded by a fourteen Gun Schooner and fifty Men on Shore under the Command of Captn. Raymond – who might easily be surprised. That he secreted a Deserter three Weeks who went by the Name of Boyd – that he has repeatedly sent Intelligence to the Rebels in Connecticut of the Situation of the Troops in this Place by John and Cornelius Clark. This very Mr. Strong has pretended to be our Friend – and several Times given Information of the last named Persons being over – but not until they were gone. What Security can Government receive – while there are such Villains ready to stab her in secret?

            That Success may attend your Excellency’s Arms and all Traitors be discover’d is the sincere Wish of Your most oblig’d humble Servt.

            Richard Hewlett
.           Lieutenant Colonel.

The above letter deliciously gives a real look at what was going on in Setauket at the time. It also foreshadows the arrest of Selah Strong, who was detained for “treasonable correspondence with His Majesty’s enemies” and then sentenced to imprisonment on one of the infamous British Prison Ships in New York harbor. (Selah’s arrest and imprisonment is depicted over the course of several episodes in Season 1 of TURN – although, like most real events in the show, it didn’t happen until years later in the war.)

Lloyd's Neck
Map of Lloyd’s Neck, showing the fort on the left side. Courtesy Library of Congress. Click to enlarge.

For the remainder of the war, Hewlett and his battalion would garrison different posts on Long Island, only occasionally seeing combat. On September 29th, 1779 Hewlett was commanding at the major post of Lloyd’s Neck, on the north shore near Huntington, when four vessels flying British colors sailed into the harbor protected by the fort where the garrison lay. Upon sailing by the fort, the ships lowered their British flags and “Showed their Thirteen Stripes.” The four rebel privateers immediately boarded and captured a brig and three sloops before being fired on by the two small four pounder cannon within the fort. Hewlett credited this artillery with the saving of over a dozen other vessels, as the rebels “Seemed not to like our Cannon.” The ships sailed off, content with their four prizes.

tumblr_n4xw8xqAIz1qg6krdo1_1280
Major Hewlett fanart courtesy of Kiku Hughes (geniusbee.tumblr.com)

Hewlett’s last official command was the dubious honor of commanding all the Provincial regiments heading to the River Saint John, Nova Scotia in September 1783. The end of the war left thousands of Loyalists seeking asylum in what remained of British North America. For many, that translated to what is now modern Canada. Hewlett’s instructions, which must have been extremely painful, were to take charge of the remainder of the Provincial Forces in what would become the Province of New Brunswick and disband them. The war was over, their side had lost, and their services to the king were no longer needed. The lieutenant colonel would retire on half-pay and settle on a free grant of land in the small hamlet called Gagetown on the Saint John River. Here the former resident of Queens County and defender of Setauket would die in 1789, six years after the official end of the war. Judge Thomas Jones, the contemporary Loyalist historian remembered him as “a bold, spirited, resolute, intrepid man.” Another British officer, in sizing up the various Provincial field officers at the end of the war, summed up our Loyalist character simply and succinctly as a “good, useful man.”

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Todd W. Braisted is an author and researcher of Loyalist military studies. His primary focus is on Loyalist military personnel, infrastructure and campaigns throughout North America. Since 1979, Braisted has amassed and transcribed over 40,000 pages of Loyalist and related material from archives and private collections around the world. He has authored numerous journal articles and books, as well as appearing as a guest historian on episodes of Who Do You Think You Are? (CBC) and History Detectives (PBS). He is the creator of the Online Institute for Advanced Loyalist Studies (royalprovincial.com), the largest website dedicated to the subject.  Braisted is a Fellow in the Company of Military Historians, Honorary Vice President of the United Empire Loyalist Association of Canada, and a past-president of the Bergen County Historical Society. His newest book, Grand Forage 1778: The Revolutionary War’s Forgotten Campaign, will be published in 2016.

New Historical Timeline and Reviews for TURN Season 2

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Greetings, TURNcoats – and Happy Patriots Day!

Still recovering from the highly-anticipated 2-hour premiere of TURN: Washington’s Spies last week? So are we! The Season 2 premiere – which was technically two separate episodes played back-to-back – covered an awful lot of historical ground. The show’s timeline has leaped ahead several months to the fall of 1777, and viewers quickly learn that several major events of the Revolutionary War have already passed them by, including the Battle (technically, “Battles” plural) of Saratoga and the start of the British occupation of Philadelphia. And most Americans have at least heard of how King George III went “mad” later in life – but was he really starting to lose his marbles in 1777?

NOT NOW BILL

To help clear things up, we’ve updated the Historical Timeline feature with several events that will be especially interesting to TURN fans trying to sort out the events referenced in the Season 2 premiere. You can view the full-size Timeline by clicking on it below, but I recommend visiting the full Timeline page for even more useful information – including informative links!

TURN Historical Timeline version 2.0. Click graphic to enlarge, or click the “Timeline” tab at the top of the page for more information!

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Re-watch the Season 2 Premiere on AMC.com

For a limited time (of course) you can watch the Season 2 premiere of TURN on AMC.com for free with no cable subscriber login required. Better hurry — as of this posting, the free premiere (technically Episodes 1 and 2 of the second season aired together) is only available for 9 more days!

amc free premiere1.

Review Roundup

No doubt about it: TURN: Washington’s Spies has captured quite a lot of people’s attention. The heavily-promoted season premiere garnered its fair share of reviews, which range from excited and positive (IGN) to cautiously optimistic (AV Club and Wall Street Journal, who wins the ‘Best Review Title’ award) to unimpressed (Variety). Most reviewers have noted that AMC dramas have a habit of starting off very slowly, only to conclude with riveting, fast-paced drama at the end of each season – which was certainly true of Season 1 of TURN.

My favorite review, however, was written by a fellow Early American historian (shocking, I know). More specifically, written by J. L. Bell, a prolific historian of Revolutionary Boston who also covered Season 1 of TURN at Den of Geek.

While we here at TURN to a Historian opt out of episode summaries to, among other reasons, save space (our posts are lengthy enough already), Bell aptly summarizes the on-screen drama while simultaneously providing insightful commentary from a historian’s point of view. There are lots of excellent takeaways in his latest review, but the quotes that caught my eye were the ones related to the ongoing issues of historical accuracy in the show:

“…The differences between Turn’s king and the real George III, Turn’s sculptress and the real Patience Wright, are significant. Despite its producers’ claims to remaining true to the past, the series veered away from the historical record immediately and continues to follow its own path.

[In conclusion,] You can’t rely on Turn for accurate history, and you can’t read ahead in history books to know exactly how this season will play out.”

These passages hit upon one of the strangest idiosyncrasies of TURN. The show is supposed to be based on Alexander Rose’s book Washington’s Spies — and yet, because the show plays so fast and loose with historical fact, reading Rose’s own book won’t tell you anything about the direction the show will ultimately take. I’m often asked “What’s going to happen to [X character] in TURN?”

excellent question

In short: when following the historical record is option, there’s no way for a historian to tell. For example, producer Craig Silverstein has said in several interviews that he originally planned on killing off Simcoe in the circa-1776 pilot episode. You’d never find that in any history book, because it never happened.

Bell also suggests an excellent prescription for peace of mind for any Revolutionary War history buffs or historians watching the show:

“As I’ve written before, it’s best to think of the history of the Revolutionary War and Turn as two separate continuities, like the Marvel Comics universe and the Marvel movies universe.”

I couldn’t agree more! I’ve often referred to TURN as “alternate universe” myself on this blog. Frankly, this kind of attitude is standard operating procedure for most period dramas. In most cases even the most nitpicky fact-checkers understand the need to bend the truth in order to tell a compelling narrative – as long as it’s acknowledged to be fiction! It’s a shame that the writers and producers of TURN continue to adamantly promote their show as “a true story” and try to claim the mantle of authenticity and “historical truth” when an abundance of evidence (most of it basic, Google-able facts) handily proves otherwise. If only they’d embrace the fact-bending nature of their historical fiction, they’d get a lot more love from history-loving viewers who are hungry for excellent period dramas but cringe at the misrepresentation of the Revolutionary War on TV.

Why, he's barely recognizable
Robert Rogers’ new look for Season 2

Thankfully, there’s still plenty of time for that, since Season 2 is just getting started. And there have already been some notable improvements in historical accuracy – including, as you can see in the Timeline above, more 1777 events actually happening in the show’s version of 1777. Chief among the material culture improvements are Simcoe’s transition to a green-coated Loyalist uniform and Robert Rogers’ freshly-shaven visage. Let’s hope the momentum continues as Season 2 gathers steam!

Oh, and for you social media-savvy folks: Don’t forget to join us on Twitter during tomorrow night’s new episode! I’m live-tweeting at @spycurious and the hashtag to follow is #TURNamc. It’s always a rollicking good time!

-RS

“Repulsed with Disgrace”: The Battle of Setauket

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Just in time for the premiere of Season 2 of TURN: Washington’s Spies, we’ve got the real story behind the Battle of Setauket, the historical event that (very loosely) inspired the Season 1 finale. But wait… red-coated Continentals and green-coated Loyalists? How’s a TURN viewer supposed to tell the two sides apart? Thankfully, we’ve got a new post from Todd Braisted below to help set the record straight. He’s even dug up the story of a little-known likely British informant whose ability to blend in may have determined the battle’s outcome before the first boat set sail from Connecticut.  For more historically-accurate intrigue, read on — and don’t forget to tune into AMC tomorrow night for the two-hour premiere of Season 2!  -RS

The morning of August 22nd, 1777 dawned hot and humid over Long Island Sound. Through the early mist, vigilant sentries would have seen a small flotilla of different sized vessels approaching the area of Crane’s Neck, a jut of land northwest of the town of Setauket. In those vessels, sloops, whaleboats and other small craft, those same sentries would have espied scores of red coats, coming to surprise the garrison of Americans in the town.

…Except the men in red were Continental Army troops, men of Colonel Samuel B. Webb’s Additional Continental Regiment, fighting for George Washington – and the Americans garrisoning Setauket, dressed in green, were loyalists in Brigadier General Oliver DeLancey’s 3rd Battalion, fighting for King George.  Huh?

.hewlitt yeesh
When we last left our friends at TURN during the Season 1 finale, the British were holed up in a church in Setauket, Continental troops were trying to dislodge them, and the psychotically evil Simcoe was blowing some poor sod’s brains out.  This was their version of the Battle of Setauket, a real event which took place on 22 August 1777. Like most things in the show, however, what is seen on the screen is not exactly as it was in 1777.

The origins of what would become known as the Battle of Setauket started nearly a week before, when Major General Israel Putnam, commanding officer of the Continental troops guarding the Hudson Highlands, sent orders to Brigadier General Samuel Holden Parsons to gather up 400-500 Continentals from the troops under his command at Fairfield, Connecticut, joined to whatever number of Connecticut Militia he found necessary, as well as artillery, and “deplete and destroy” all parties of the enemy at Huntington and Setauket, Long Island. Besides the enemy, Parsons was to bring off or destroy all “military stores, magazines, provisions, forage or naval stores” found on Long Island. Finally, if all went swimmingly, he was to release all the U.S. officers held as prisoners on the island – which would have been no small task to accomplish, given that they were actually dozens of miles away in Brooklyn and Queens.

Samuel B. Webb, commander of the chromatically confusing Continental "redcoats."
Samuel B. Webb, commander of the chromatically-confusing Continental “redcoats.”

Parsons in turn placed the Continental troops, drawn from the Connecticut Line, under the command of Colonel Samuel B. Webb. Webb himself commanded one of the sixteen “additional regiments” of the Continental Army, so-called because they were over and above the quotas of regiments raised in specific states. Webb’s regiment would have certainly confused the majority of TURN viewers, because they were clothed in red coats with yellow facings – actual British uniforms captured en route to Canada. And given they would be fighting against green-coated Loyalists (as opposed to the red coated British depicted in the show), there is no doubt viewers without a deep knowledge of period military material culture would have been left scratching their heads trying to figure out what the hell was going on.

On the eve of the expedition, Parsons issued his orders, which in turn were read to the troops. The orders rather resembled a locker room pep talk, reminding the men of the “honor of our arms and the righteousness of our contest.” They were by no means to “distress the helpless women or honest citizen,” nor were they to plunder, leave their ranks, or talk on the march. Those violating these orders were told they would receive “the most exemplary punishment.”

"Map of Connecticut and Parts Adjacent," 1777. If you look closely you can see Suffield, CT (top center), Fairfield (central CT coast), Setauket (North shore of LI), and Crane's Point. Map courtesy of the Historical Map Collection (MAGIC) at UConn: http://magic.lib.uconn.edu/historical_maps.htm
“Map of Connecticut and Parts Adjacent,” 1777. Click for full resolution. If you look closely you can see Suffield, CT (top center), Fairfield (central CT coast), Setauket (North shore of LI), and Crane’s Point. Map courtesy of the Historical Map Collection (MAGIC) at the University of Connecticut: http://magic.lib.uconn.edu/historical_maps.htm

One of the “militiamen” that may have been mingling amongst the gathering expedition in Fairfield was a short twenty-one year old with a contracted hand and crooked finger named Stephen Pangburn. With a musket and bayonet, and wearing a brown coat and other civilian clothes, Pangburn would have looked like any other militiaman, except he was in fact a soldier in the 3rd Battalion, DeLancey’s Brigade. Pangburn was not a spy, but rather an escaped prisoner of war, captured in a raid on Sag Harbor the previous May. Lodged in a private home in Suffield, CT to assist with labor, Pangburn escaped with the arms of the house on 10 August 1777 and apparently traveled the 75 or so miles south to Fairfield, where he would have seen all the preparations for the expedition. Stealing a boat or perhaps hitching a ride with a Loyalist heading to Long Island, Pangburn returned to Setauket – and his battalion – on August 20th and no doubt gave complete intelligence of what was headed their way. Parsons’ element of surprise was gone.

While the strategic surprise was gone, the actual timing was still unknown, so when Parsons’ troops landed on Crane’s Neck, Lieutenant Colonel Richard Hewlett and his men belonging to DeLancey’s Brigade were not entirely ready to receive them. To be sure, Hewlett had taken great pains to fortify himself as best he could. The Presbyterian Church in town was indeed fortified as seen in the show – but not with gravestones.  The church had an earthen breastwork thrown around it, six feet high by six feet wide and thirty feet from the building itself, in which were mounted four swivel guns – very light artillery pieces meant for short range work. The church and the earthworks would safely accommodate Hewlett and his green-coated garrison. Where Hewlett fell short was in removing his sick men from town.  It must have been a chaotic scene, with the ill and injured making their way, running, stumbling, limping to the church while under fire, and some of the town’s residents pointing out their whereabouts to the invaders.

When all of Parsons’ troops assembled – 749 by one count, including Caleb Brewster – the general sent a summons to Colonel Hewlett, demanding the post be surrendered “to prevent the effusion of human blood.” The Loyalist officer, who had previously sent word of the invasion to his commander Brigadier General Oliver DeLancey at Huntington, sought to play for time to allow reinforcements to arrive. Hewlett sent his compliment to Parsons, and requested thirty minutes to consult with his officers on the matter. Parsons granted but ten minutes, when he received the reply that Hewlett “is determined to defend his post while he has a man left.” The battle was on.

A photo of the blue historical marker on the present-day Setauket Green.
A photo of the blue historical marker on the present-day Setauket Green.

After all the huffing and puffing, it was not much of a battle. Parsons opened fire with his artillery, which was returned by the Loyalists. There was no great charge, or glorious repulse. Some men were hit on both sides, by one American account Parsons himself was wounded in the left arm. Two Loyalists, Chambers Townsend and John Wilson, both privates in DeLancey’s, were killed in the fighting. At least one soldier under Webb was hit, and Loyalist newspapers reported “great quantities of blood [were] found on the ground the rebels occupied.”

Samuel Holden Parsons3
Brigadier General Samuel Holden Parsons. In 1780, Loyalist Judge Thomas Jones met Parsons and described him this way: “He was a plain, mean-looking old man, had more the appearance of his original occupation [shoemaker] than that of a soldier; he had long hair which hung about his ears, a brown homespun coat, buckskin breeches, a red laced waistcoat, blue yarn stockings, a pair of shoes that I fancy were made by himself, and an amazing long silver hilted sword.”
After all of three hours in the town, the firing ceased. No drama was forthcoming. Both sides were probably uncomfortably hot and tired. What was envisioned by Israel Putnam as a dramatic sweep through Suffolk County was over after it had barely begun. Parsons embarked and returned to Connecticut with his trophies: some blankets and the horses of Lieutenant Colonel Hewlett and his officers. The reinforcements sent to Hewlett’s relief, some men from the 1st Battalion DeLancey’s and Queens County Militia, never even made it to town before Parsons was safely sailing back across the Sound.

So why the hasty departure? The reason sometimes given by the Americans was that British armed vessels were in route to trap the invaders on the island, although no such ships were ever sent. The army gave the reason that their artillery fire was ineffectual against the works surrounding the church and that sound of battle would draw British reinforcements from all over. Captain Frederick Mackenzie of the British Adjutant General’s Department made note in his journal of a final letter sent by Parsons to Hewlett. Mackenzie would only comment that the entire exchange was “somewhat curious,” before transcribing in his journal: “General Parsons’s Compliments to Colonel Hewlett, and should have been happy to have done himself the pleasure of paying him a longer visit, but the extreme heat of the weather prevents him.”

For their part, the British were very pleased with the conduct of the Setauket garrison. Sir Henry Clinton, commanding at New York, issued orders saying he “desired particularly to Express his Approbation of the Spirited behaviour and good Conduct of Lieutenant Colonel Hewlet, and the Officers and Men under his Command in defence of the Redoubts at Satauket on Long Island, in which Lieutenant Coll. Hewlet was attacked by a large body of the enemy with Cannon, whom he repulsed with disgrace.”

It should be noted that, purely by coincidence, there ended up being three major attacks on the British around New York City that day, all completely coincidental and entirely uncoordinated. That fact of course was not known by the British. Some of Hewlett’s compatriots in the 2nd Battalion of DeLancey’s were engaged in fierce though small fight at Valentine’s Hill, north of Kingsbridge, who likewise drove off their attackers. Most seriously, two thousand Continentals under Major General John Sullivan landed on Staten Island, capturing about 130 Loyalist New Jersey Volunteers, but losing over 270 badly needed troops intended to reinforce Washington in Pennsylvania. And speaking of Pennsylvania… At the time of the Battle of Setauket, Captain John Graves Simcoe of the 40th Regiment of Foot was at that moment on board a transport ship with the rest of Sir William Howe’s Army nearing the Head of Elk, Maryland. It is not believe the captain arbitrarily executed any civilians on board during the voyage.

Myth busted: Simcoe was in Pennsylvania when the real Battle of Setauket occurred. (With half-hearted apologies to what is perhaps TURN's most iconic scream.)
Myth busted: John Graves Simcoe was off the coast of Maryland when the real Battle of Setauket occurred. (With half-hearted apologies to what is perhaps TURN’s most iconic scream.)

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Todd W. Braisted is an author and researcher of Loyalist military studies. His primary focus is on Loyalist military personnel, infrastructure and campaigns throughout North America. Since 1979, Braisted has amassed and transcribed over 40,000 pages of Loyalist and related material from archives and private collections around the world. He has authored numerous journal articles and books, as well as appearing as a guest historian on episodes of Who Do You Think You Are? (CBC) and History Detectives (PBS). He is the creator of the Online Institute for Advanced Loyalist Studies (royalprovincial.com), the largest website dedicated to the subject.  Braisted is a Fellow in the Company of Military Historians, Honorary Vice President of the United Empire Loyalist Association of Canada, and a past-president of the Bergen County Historical Society. His newest book, Grand Forage 1778: The Revolutionary War’s Forgotten Campaign, will be published in 2016.

 

Abraham Woodhull and Anna Strong Revisited

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Greetings, TURNcoats new and old – abeanna1and a special welcome to the scores of new spy-curious readers that found this site after binge-watching Season 1 on Netflix!  The hardest part about finishing a good TV show binge is waiting for new episodes to start airing again — but thankfully, you won’t have long to wait.  The two hour premiere of TURN Season 2 airs in less than a week from today!

Thanks in no small part to TURN’s debut on Netflix, I’ve recently received an avalanche of queries (either through the ‘Ask a Question’ feature, via Twitter, or via search engine click-throughs) about the historical accuracy of the on-screen romance between Abraham Woodhull and Anna Strong.  For obvious reasons, it’s one of the most frequently-asked questions surrounding the show.  Now, we did feature a short discussion about Abe and Anna last season, but it was tacked onto the end of a much longer blog post, which means it’s easy for new readers to miss.  And given the amount of questions we’ve received on this single topic, it seems like readers are hungry for more details than a simple “Nope, didn’t happen.”  Ask and ye shall receive! (No, really, go ahead and ask us a question!  The submit feature had some issues during the off season, but those should be fixed now. Ask away!)

A whole lot of “shipping” going on

Not to be confused, of course, with Shippen (although there will definitely be a whole lot of Shippen going on in Season 2, according to AMC).

urbandictionaryshipping

For readers who many be unfamiliar with the latest in internet slang, I refer you to the definition above. In the context of TURN, “shipping” is an especially appropriate term to use for Abraham Woodhull and Anna Smith Strong, because their forceful on-screen romance is completely lacking any basis whatsoever in historical fact.

(For the record, I’ve tried to find some kind of proper “ship” name for Abe and Anna, but just can’t make it work. Neither “Abeanna” or “Annabe” has a lot of staying power, and if I start dropping references to “WoodStrong” all over the place, the internet is definitely going to get the wrong impression about this blog.)

So, in the TURN universe (which really does read like historical fanfiction, now that you mention it), both the TV show and TURN Origins comic (pictured below) claim that Abe and Anna, roughly the same age, grew up together as neighbors and best friends in the village of Setauket.  But even that simple description of their childhood background is misleading. A little basic biographical information should help set the record straight. (Nearly all of the genealogical info cited in this post is freely accessible by searching longislandsurnames.com.)

Anna Strong 101: A Primer

Let’s start by addressing the simple premise above. Yes, both Abe and Anna were Setauket born and raised – but in reality, Anna was ten years Abraham’s senior. Born on 14 April 1740, she would have just turned 35 years old when the first shots of the Revolutionary War were fired at Lexington and Concord in 1775. (Interestingly enough, Heather Lind – the actress who plays Anna Strong – is currently 32 years old, making her pretty close to the age of the historical Anna at the beginning of the war.)

Anna married Selah Strong, another Setauket native, in November of 1760, when she was 20 and he was a month away from his 23rd birthday. Abraham Woodhull was only ten years old at the time. (While the Woodhull family likely participated in the wedding festivities, I doubt little Abe had much to drink that day, even after taking colonial America’s lax attitudes toward alcohol consumption into consideration.) Needless to say, there was never any kind of engagement or betrothal between Abraham Woodhull and Anna Smith. Anna was happily married and the mother to a handful of children before Abe even hit puberty. In fact, by the time the historical Culper Ring began its operations in 1778 (two years later than the fictional date of 1776 given in TURN), Anna had given birth to seven children, and would have yet one more before the war’s end. (And just in case you had any doubts about where Anna and Selah’s historical loyalties lay, check out some of the names they gave their children!)

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Admittedly, for a 38 year old mother of seven, Anna looks AMAZING.

Abraham Woodhull: Single, Married, or “It’s Complicated”?

Next, let’s examine Abraham’s side of the equation. Obviously there’s no historical evidence for any kind of romantic attraction between him and Anna – but in addition to that, in TURN he is a not-so-happily married man with a young son. We’ve already pointed out in previous posts (and the Historical Timeline) that Abraham Woodhull didn’t marry until 1784, after the conclusion of the war. (Nor did he ever have a son OR an older brother named Thomas, but we’ve already covered that, too.) In the alternate universe of TURN, the fact that Abraham and Anna are married makes their affair even more dramatic, naturally. But prematurely “marrying off” Abe cancels out one of the most interesting and significant common factors between most members of the Culper Ring: their bachelorhood.

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Here we see Abraham Woodhull pictured with two very good reasons NOT to get involved with espionage.

In Season 1 of TURN, we were introduced to Abraham Woodhull, Benjamin Tallmadge, and Caleb Brewster: three major participants of the Culper Spy Ring.  These three men did marry and have families of their own… eventually. But while they were active members of the Culper Ring, they were all young bachelors with nothing left to lose, relatively speaking. They had no wives; they had no children; no one who depended on them for survival. None of them were settled and established as the head of a prosperous business or farm, or even as the head of their own independent household (which was not uncommon for unmarried men in the Northern colonies in their early 20s). For obvious reasons, unattached young men like Tallmadge, Woodhull, and Brewster made much more attractive recruiting targets for intelligence activities that, in the case of failure, often led to death or financial ruin. To put it plainly: single men “only” put their own lives and fortunes at risk, whereas family men incurred more casualties. This rather cold and calculating fact still carries a lot of weight in the intelligence communities of today – both actual and fictional. (Spy movie fans might recall M’s blunt remark to James Bond in Skyfall: “Orphans always make the best recruits.”)

Obviously, giving Abraham Woodhull a wife and son multiplies the level of dramatic tension and nail-biting suspense in the show on both the espionage and romantic fronts. But historically, that’s exactly the kind of family situation that would have likely ruled him out as a participant in the Culper Ring in the first place.

Finally, I should emphasize that none of our favorite young spies had any kind of aversion to the institution of marriage itself — rather, in all likelihood, they solemnly realized that a stable and secure marriage was incompatible with their wartime line of work. In fact, 1784 was quite a banner year for the old Setauket gang, with Woodhull, Tallmadge, and Brewster all tying the knot! The timing seems to underscore their awareness of the dangers of espionage: they were only ready to settle down after they were convinced that the War of American Independence was truly over and that their services would no longer be needed. (The Treaty of Paris that officially ended the war was signed in September 1783.)

In conclusion: The romantic drama between Abraham Woodhull and Anna Strong seen in TURN may be totally made up — but that’s not to say the real Culper saga is lacking in historical romance!

 -RS