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Did George Washington have a mental breakdown at Valley Forge?

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Greeting, TURNcoats, and Happy Finale Day! As Season 2 of TURN: Washington’s Spies comes to a close, there are certainly lots of plot points both factual and fictional to reflect upon.

One of the most controversial parts of Season 2 was undoubtedly the portrayal of George Washington in the episode “Valley Forge.” In that episode, Washington has an extreme mental breakdown resulting in flashbacks, hallucinations, nonsensical outbursts, and even a violent attack on his enslaved manservant, Billy Lee. The writers of TURN justified Washington’s “madness” by having Dr. James Thatcher diagnose him with “melancholia” as brought on by extreme stress — but as the Oxford English Dictionary notes, that term was rarely used in that context in the 18th century.

melancholia
While “melancholy” was a popular adjective in the 18th century, formal diagnoses of “melancholia” as a synonym for depression mental illness were not.

Perhaps the most memorable scene of the episode featured a dramatic camera angle that directly parodied a popular 20th century portrait depicting Washington kneeling in the snow. In the original painting, titled “The Prayer at Valley Forge,” Washington is meant to be praying to God. In TURN, Washington is pleading with a hallucination of his dead half-brother Lawrence in the midst of a mental breakdown.

Needless to say, this iconoclastic treatment of Washington caused quite a stir with TURN viewers. This blog was flooded with questions about whether or not there was any historical basis for Washington having a mental breakdown at Valley Forge, e.g.:

“In a recent episode George Washington appeared to have a mental breakdown as he struggled to make a decision. Is there evidence to support that?

“Is there any basis for Washington’s breakdown and conversation with his dead half brother at Valley Forge?

Given the potentially far-reaching implications of TURN’s insinuations that Washington was mentally unstable, I knew it was time to call in reinforcements to help set the record straight. To answer those questions, we TURN to a formidable authority on the subject: Mary V. Thompson, a Research Librarian at the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington who has been researching, writing, and teaching about Washington for over thirty years at Mount Vernon.

Washington in the midst of a hallucination.
Washington in the midst of a hallucination in the TURN episode “Valley Forge.”

Mary V. Thompson writes:

All of the questions you’ve received are basically asking the same thing and would get the same answer. There is no evidence at all that George Washington was dealing any kind of mental breakdown either at Valley Forge, or any other time in his life.  Throughout that winter of 1777 – 1778, he was dealing with serious supply issues, which he was able to rectify, as well as some rather under-handed attacks on his competency as commander-in-chief (the Conway Cabal), which he handled rather deftly.

As she did for all eight years of the Revolution, Martha Washington spent the winter at Valley Forge with her husband.  In a letter to a friend she wrote about what she found in camp that year:

The letters of Martha Washington, who was with her husband at Valley Forge, provide some of the best insight into the General's mental state.
The letters of Martha Washington, who was with her husband at Valley Forge, provide some of the best insight into George Washington’s mental state.

“I came to this place about the first of February whare I found the General very well…The General is in camped in what is called the great Valley on the Banks of the Schuykill officers and men are cheifly in Hutts, which they say is tolerable comfortable; the army are as healthy as can well be expected in general – the Generals appartments is very small he has had a log cabben built to dine in which has made our quarter much more tolarable than they were at first.”

Please note that there was no mention of a crisis on the part of her husband.

This is in decided contrast to a letter she wrote two years later, after the winter at Morristown, New Jersey, which was the worst of the war, in regard to the weather.  At that time, George Washington was also dealing with soldiers angry about not being paid and threatening mutiny.  This is what Mrs. Washington had to say about that winter after it was over:

“…we were sorry that we did not see you at the Camp – there was not much pleasure thar the distress of the army and other difficultys th’o I did not know the cause, the pore General was so unhappy that it distressed me exceedingly.”

Again, her husband was unhappy and preoccupied, but nothing worse.

There were times in the early years of the war, when George Washington seems to have been feeling overwhelmed or pessimistic about the incredible burden he had taken on as head of the American army, but that is a far cry from having a mental breakdown.  I’ve pulled together some of these below.  I think it is particularly interesting that, in many of them, he turns to his religious beliefs as a way of putting the situation into context.  Although the story about Washington praying in the snow at Valley Forge has been discredited, it does seem to me that, if Washington turned to anyone about the terrible months at those winter quarters, it would have been to his God.

George Washington to Joseph Reed, January 4, 1776

“…for more than two months past, I have scarcely immerged [sic] from one difficulty before I have [been] plunged into another.  How it will end, God in his great goodness will direct.  I am thankful for his protection to this time.  We are told that we shall soon get the army completed, but I have been told so many things which have never come to pass, that I distrust every thing.”

George Washington  to Joseph Reed, January 14, 1776

“…If I shall be able to rise superior to these and many other difficulties, which might be enumerated, I shall most religiously believe, that the finger of Providence is in it, to blind the eyes of our enemies; for surely if we get well through this month, it must be for want of their knowing the disadvantages we labour under….”

George Washington to his favorite brother, John Augustine Washington, December 18, 1776

“You can form no Idea of the perplexity of my Situation.  No Man, I believe, ever had a greater choice of difficulties and less means to extricate himself from them.  However under a full persuasion of the justice of our Cause I cannot [but think the prospect will brighten, although for a wise purpose it is, at present hid under a cloud] entertain an Idea that it will finally sink tho’ it may remain for some time under a Cloud.”

George Washington to his step-son, John Parke Custis, January 22, 1777

“…How we shall be able to rub along till the new army is raised, I know not.  Providence has heretofore saved us in a remarkable manner, and on this we must principally rely….”

——————————————————————————

Mary V. Thompson is a Research Librarian at the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington in Mount Vernon, VA. She is currently responsible for research to support programs in all departments at Mount Vernon, with a primary focus on everyday life on the estate. Mary has authored a variety of articles, as well as chapters in a number of books, and entries in encyclopedias. She curated the travelling exhibition, Treasures from Mount Vernon: George Washington Revealed, which opened in 1998 and travelled to five cities over the next 18 months. More recently, she authored the book In the Hands of a Good Providence: Religion in the Life of George Washington (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2008), for which she received the 2009 Alexandria History Award from the Alexandria [Virginia] Historical Society and the 2013 George Washington Memorial Award from the George Washington Masonic National Memorial. She was a major contributor to both The Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association: 150 Years of Restoring George Washington’s Home and Dining with the Washingtons: Historic Recipes, Entertaining, and Hospitality from Mount Vernon, published by Mount Vernon in 2010 and 2011, respectively. She is currently putting the finishing touches on a book focused on slave life at Mount Vernon.

Sources:

“Worthy Partner”:  The Papers of Martha Washington, compiled by Joseph E. Fields (Westport, CT:  Greenwood Press, 1994

The Writings of George Washington, compiled by John C. Fitzpatrick (available in multiple formats, including e-book)

National Archives’ Founders Online database

 

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Accents and Anachronisms: What did people sound like in 18th century America?

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Today we’re tackling a popular subject: What’s going on with all the different accents in TURN? It’s one of our most-requested topics! The questions we’ve received range from skeptical commentary to pure curiosity (which tends to be the case with every topic, not just this one). We’ve chosen one example from each category below.  The greater takeaway is that among TURN viewers, there’s clearly a lot of interest in what people in the 18th century sounded like when they spoke. There’s a wealth of scholarship on 18th century linguistics out there, but for purposes of answering these TURN-related questions, we’ll try to tackle one small slice at a time — with plenty of links for further reading!

Question 1: “Yeah,” “Okay,” and Other Aggravating Anachronisms

Q1: “I am curious about the recent devolution of the King’s English this season. “Yeah”? “Great!”? Seems disappointingly anachronistic.”

Well, yeah! Great question. (wink)  Although as we can see from the pictures below, anachronistic speech has been present throughout TURN’s entire run.

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(Once again, Caleb Brewster takes first place as the most egregious violator of 18th century standards: a quick script search shows that “Yeah” is one of his favorite replies to just about anything.)

While the words and responses above are good examples of modern words that are inappropriate for 18th century speech, just how “disappointing” they are is a good subject for healthy debate. Most modern viewers don’t even notice anachronistic words, inflections, and turns of phrase like “yeah” and “that’s great” because they’re so deeply ingrained into our everyday conversations. If you find your ears perking up at the sound of modern words in a historical setting, your historical spider-sense is finely tuned, indeed! (Readers: Are you bothered when you hear modern words and phrases in historical TV shows? Do you even notice them at all? Let us know in the comments!)

Your question brings up a very interesting larger point, however: Should a period TV show or movie aspire to linguistic purity as one of its goals? Of course, like everything else in historical fiction, it’s more than just a simple yes or no question; there’s a huge range of historically-informed possibilities to consider. Modern audiences would likely be lost if TURN used nothing but meticulously reconstructed 18th century American accents and vocabulary. However, words like “yeah,” “okay,” and even “hello” are pretty obvious anachronisms (well, obvious to anyone who’s studied the 18th century in depth) that could easily be swapped out for other period-correct alternatives.

The writers of TURN have touted the show’s very sporadic use of 18th century slang (like “chunder bucket” in Episode 8 of Season 1) – but while those occasional trivia tidbits are certainly fun, viewers shouldn’t be fooled into believing that the dialogue in TURN is a faithful representation of how people conversed in 18th century America.

Interested in more word histories? Want to try hunting down linguistic anachronisms yourself? Try searching online dictionaries like the extremely thorough Oxford English Dictionary or free sites like dictionary.com to look up the etymology (historical origins) of common words. Most etymologies specify a date range when the word in question was first observed in common use. Then, if you’re really ambitious, you can even search online transcripts of TURN (or any other historical show) to see if and when they pop up in the script!

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Historical clues: What might a proper Englishman have sounded like in the 18th century? Click to see a full list of “Words written very different from their Pronounciation” written by Richard Hall, an 18th century gentleman living in England.

In order to try and piece together accurate vocabulary lists and speech patterns of the past, historians have to cross-reference as many letters, journals, diaries, schoolbooks, and other documents as they can find. It’s no easy task! (Yet another good reason for Hollywood to hire — and actually listen to — reputable historians as behind-the-scenes consultants.)  If you’re feeling ambitious, you can browse through Samuel Johnson’s famous 1755 dictionary for a better idea of how English speakers used certain words. For those who might be intimidated by total immersion in 18th century sources, Colonial Williamsburg has a fun, light, and very readable guide with greetings and phrases appropriate to the Revolutionary era.

Question 2: Anomalous Accents

 Q2: “What kind of accent would people [in colonial America] have in the 1770s?”

In lieu of using 18th century language, it seems like the strategy on TURN has been to give the main characters distinct accents in order to subtly remind viewers that the show takes place in the 18th century. Apparently this strategy has been very successful, if the volume of accent-related questions we’ve received about accents is any indication! While all of the colorful shades of English, Irish, and Scottish accents featured in TURN are pleasing to the modern ear, how appropriate are they for the historical characters and places depicted in the show?

setauket
Setauket, New York, as depicted in TURN. Many of the main characters’ families had been living in the American colonies for generations before the American Revolution began.

In most cases, not very. For example: in TURN, Robert Rogers’ Scottish brogue is so thick you could cut it with a knife. The real Robert Rogers, in marked contrast, was born in Massachusetts and raised in New Hampshire – two colonies with overwhelmingly English populations in the 18th century. And the original ‘Major’ Hewlett (meaning Richard Hewlett, of course, not the “wait, never mind, we decided to call him Edmund, he’s a completely different person now!” Hewlett revealed to viewers during last week’s episode) was a Long Island-born American loyalist who certainly wouldn’t have spoken with an impeccably crisp high British accent. Indeed, many of the most heavily-accented characters in TURN were, in reality, American-born men and women whose families had been anchored in the American colonies for generations. Their families weren’t “fresh off the boat” from England, Scotland, or anywhere else. The Woodhull family alone had been anchored in Long Island for over a hundred years before the Revolution began!

All right, then: So what did American colonists from New England and New York sound like in the 18th century?

First of all, there’s no one right answer to that question. It depends on a number of factors, like the heritage, location, and education level of any given person. In some bustling colonial port cities, an 18th century traveler could find himself surrounded by several strange and exotic-sounding accents all in the course of a single day, as one itinerant doctor observed while traveling through New York in 1744. It would be just as hard to argue for one single representative “Colonial American” accent as it would be to argue for one single representative “Modern American” accent today. (Try getting a Texan and a New Yorker to agree on that!)

Of course, that doesn’t mean that we don’t have SOME ideapaul revere's ride cover of what colonists sounded like in the 18th century! Colonial Americans, especially in the New England and Mid-Atlantic colonies, had a remarkably high rate of literacy, even among women – but few received anything more than a rudimentary education from home or a local tutor or grammar school. These modestly-educated people, for the most part, tended to spell words phonetically – i.e. how they heard them spoken. So, perhaps ironically, the documents left behind by these less-educated colonists are often more helpful in determining the sound of local speech than those written by educated elites!

Take Paul Revere for example. In his (excellent and very readable) book Paul Revere’s Ride, David Hackett Fischer helps us imagine what it might have been like to converse with the famous (and modestly educated) Boston patriot:

“His spelling tells us that Paul Revere talked with a harsh, nasal New England twang. His strong Yankee accent derived from a family of East Anglian dialects that came to Boston in the 17th century, and can still be faintly heard today.

When Paul Revere’s friends wrote in defense of their cherished charter rights, they spelled “charter” as chattaer… and probably pronounced it with no r at all. All his life Paul Revere spelled “get” as git. His mother’s maiden name of Hitchborn was written Hitchbon in the town of Boston, which was pronounced Bast’n. His friends wrote mash for “marsh” and want for “weren’t,” hull for “whole” and foller for “follow,” sarve for “serve” and acummin for “coming.” …This was the folk-speech of an Anglo-American culture that was already six generations old by 1775, and deeply rooted in Paul Revere’s New England.”

Notice that Fischer states that this proto-Boston accent had been in place long before the start of the Revolution!  (Fischer expands on this concept in his book Albion’s Seed.) Indeed, British soldiers and European travelers had been noting since the mid-18th century how odd the speech of American colonists sounded compared to the King’s English.

childscompaniontitleThankfully for historians, Revere and many of his peers weren’t “over-educated” to the point where they stopped spelling words like they heard them. But while that fact makes modern historians happy, it was a thorn in the side of Early American pedants and schoolmasters who saw it as their mission to popularize “proper” spelling and punctuation. As a result, we can find some pretty amusing “corrective” lists well into the early 19th century! We’ve included one such list below for you to browse through and/or download and enjoy. Published in 1808, Caleb Brigham’s “The Child’s Companion” spelling book contained the following appendix of “Improprieties in Pronunciation common among the people of New-England.” While this dates from after the Revolution, you can spot several overlaps between Brigham’s list and Fischer’s description of Revolutionary Boston speech above. I’ll bet some of you New Englanders can find some overlap with modern Boston accents, too!

So, while there’s no single correct answer to “What did people in Early America sound like?”, we can get a fun glimpse of what common New England speech might have sounded like in the late 18th to early 19th century thanks to primary sources like the one below. This is just one of many books, diaries, and journals out there that give us a colorful glimpse into the sounds and speech of Early America. If you have any favorite sources, share them with us on Facebook, Twitter, or in the comments below! Enjoy your browsing, and keep those questions coming!

-RS

Caleb Bingham’s “Improprieties in Pronunciation common among the people of New-England”

Click on the thumbnails to view and/or download the full sized pages. If you’re not used to reading Early American print, keep in mind that many of the “f” characters are actually a lowercase “s.” Google Books has a full copy of Mr. Bingham’s spelling book online, if you’d like to save or view it as a PDF form.

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!)

annapose1
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.

woodhullfamily1
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

 

The 1777 Garrison of Setauket

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Greetings, readers! We’re kicking off the TURN postseason with a series of posts by Todd Braisted covering a number of heavily-requested topics related to the Battle of Setauket. Today’s post covers the British — or rather, not-so-British — military presence in Setauket in 1776 and 1777, and includes a primer on the distinctions between American-born “Provincials” and British regulars. Contrary to what we’ve seen on screen, Setauket was not awash in a sea of redcoats in the months leading up to the Battle of Setauket in August 1777.  In fact, there were likely no redcoats stationed there at all… -RS

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One of many tense scenes between the townspeople of Setauket and British troops in Season 1 of TURN. (Episode 104: Eternity How Long)

The first season of TURN has brought the central Long Island town of Setauket to life, showing us residents of one political persuasion or another living amongst a garrison of British soldiers. In TURN, the townspeople, though technically British colonists, are not thought of as “British,” and the scarlet-clad soldiers shown interacting with the residents certainly wouldn’t be considered American. But how does the Hollywood setup compare to what actually happened? In this piece, we will examine the actual troops that were in town during the time the show has covered in its first season, from December 1776 to August 1777. The historic reality may surprise you…

For the bulk of this time period, the main British and Hessian forces were located around New Brunswick, New Jersey under Sir William Howe, or in New York City and its immediate environs. Located nearly 60 miles from lower Manhattan, the Setauket garrison was quite isolated from other British posts, the bulk of which were in Brooklyn or Queens. The job of the troops stationed there was simply one of defense and the protection of the countryside from rebel incursions from Connecticut. The British therefore saw little need to waste valuable European troops in Setauket. Instead, they used loyal American forces.

Detail of a 1777 map that shows the relatively remote location of Setauket compared to the rest of the British Army. Setauket is circled in blue to the right; New York City is circled in red, and New Brunswick is located just west of Amboy, in the direction of the red arrow. Click to view the full original map. (Library of Congress)

Throughout the 18th century, the British had authorized their colonies to raise their own regiments to augment the relatively limited number of British Regulars available to fight the French and/or Indians during the different wars then raging (known collectively as the Colonial Wars).  During the French and Indian War of 1756-1763, these Provincial Forces, or “Provincials,” consisted of tens of thousands of Americans who provided valuable service in successfully driving the French out of North America.

TURN01 - Rogers2
Robert Rogers was renowned for his exploits as an American-born soldier in service to the British Crown during the French and Indian War. Twenty years later, British officials hoped that Provincial units would once again turn the tide of war in their favor during the American Revolution.

At the outbreak of war in America in 1775, the British saw no reason not to repeat the process: Let the “good” Americans help subdue the “bad” Americans. But the process for doing this in the American Revolution would be far more complicated than during the previous wars. Previously, colonial legislatures, flush with subsidies from Parliament, had raised regiments on a colony by colony basis to serve against the French – but there was no such infrastructure to do that in 1776. The British, therefore, needed to rely on influential individuals to raise troops both where the British held sway and more commonly, clandestinely behind the lines. One such individual, as we have seen on TURN, was Robert Rogers, whose Queen’s Rangers became one of the first Provincial regiments raised in the New York City area. In September 1776 though, the wheels would be in motion to raise troops specifically on Long Island. Lots of them.

By 1776, Oliver DeLancey had been a prominent New York politician for decades. Through his political and family connections, he was a man involved in all aspects of the colony’s governance. He had seen service in the French and Indian War and was considered by the British as both influential and reliable, having a son then serving as a captain in the British 17th Light Dragoons. On 5 September 1776, the senior DeLancey was authorized to raise a brigade of three battalions for service “Solely for the defence of [Long] Island and to reestablish Order, and Government within the Same, to Apprehend or drive all Concealed Rebels from among his Majesties well Affected Subjects & other essential Purposes…”

DeLancey's
Reenactors dressed in the documented green and white uniforms worn by DeLancey’s Brigade and the majority of other American Loyalist (Provincial) forces. Click for more information about this regiment.

DeLancey immediately set about picking out the men he wished to lead his battalions. They in turn would issue warrants to those who would recruit the men (their success in recruiting would earn them their commissions as officers). Based on family names, the 1st Battalion under Lieutenant Colonel John Harris Cruger appears to have been raised primarily in Suffolk County, the 2nd Battalion under Colonel George Brewerton from western Long Island, New York City and Connecticut, while the 3rd Battalion under Colonel Gabriel G. Ludlow was heavily recruited in Queens County. It was actually Colonel Ludlow’s loyalist battalion, not any British redcoats, that formed the garrison of Setauket during the time when TURN takes place.

Far from the spiffy looking British portrayed in the show, the 3rd Battalion of DeLancey’s would not have even had uniforms of any sort until clothing arrived from England at the end of March 1777. And it would not have been the red coats folks are used to seeing Crown Forces wear, but rather a green regimental coat, with white lapels, cuff and collar. This was the uniform worn by the 5,000 or so Provincial troops raised in the New York City area at that time. Prior to this, the men would have served in whatever they wore from home, looking much like their rebel counterparts.

What is not known is exactly when the DeLancey’s 3rd Battalion (i.e., the battalion led by Colonel Ludlow) arrived at Setauket. In the beginning of 1777 the battalion was at Huntington NY, moving to Oyster Bay the 2nd week of May. Ludlow and his men were then relieved by the 1st Battalion and the King’s American Regiment about three weeks later, at which point they most likely moved to Setauket. WhileColonel Ludlow may have led the troops there in early June, the command soon devolved upon the battalion’s second-in-command, Lieutenant Colonel Richard Hewlett. Yes, the real Hewlett, who (like Robert Rogers) was an American-born Loyalist.

We have a very good idea how many men were in town at the time of the Battle of Setauket (which we’ll discuss in a forthcoming post), as muster rolls of the battalion are dated just two days after the attack took place in August 1777. In addition to Lieutenant Colonel Hewlett, there were five other named officers, along with 5 lieutenants, 4 ensigns, 4 or 5 staff officers, 13 sergeants, 14 corporals, 5 drummers and 145 privates present and fit for duty, organized into five companies. Others were either absent elsewhere or sick. Relatively speaking, as far as battalions and garrisons were concerned, this one was pretty small.

While it may have been confusing for a general audience, it would have been wonderful to see an accurate portrayal of green-coated Loyalists – mostly native Long Islanders – interact with the residents of a Long Island town! Of course, “British vs. colonist” confrontation is easier to write, easier to portray, and easier for most to relate to. To expect more of an entertainment series is probably just wishful thinking, but still… (n.b. What an incredible dynamic that would have created!)

In any case, the Setauket garrison would be short-lived. On 17 November 1777, Sir Henry Clinton, commanding at New York and stripped of troops to reinforce Sir William Howe at Philadelphia, ordered Setauket abandoned and the fortifications there destroyed. Lieutenant Colonel Hewlett and his men dutifully complied, moving to Herricks, Queens County, about 35 miles to the west. While British troops would again occupy posts in Suffolk County, Setauket would generally spend the rest of the war free from a military presence, other than troops occasionally passing through.

hewlett horseAs for Lieutenant Colonel Hewlett, we will cover him (and his men) in greater depth over the next few weeks. He’s not going anywhere. And while the series is off for the summer, someone should tell Burn Gorman — aka “Major Hewlett” — that he needs to lobby Craig Silverstein and the producers for a promotion!

(n.b. For more information about the men and officers of the Provincial brigades mentioned in this post, check out the library of transcribed primary source documents on royalprovincial.com.)

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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.

 

The Big Season Finale Party Post: Drinking Songs, John Andre’s Parties, Glassware, and 18th Century Recipes

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This post began as a random collection of reader-requested topics, but as I started writing I noticed that several of them shared a common and rather… festive theme that I thought would be quite appropriate for commemorating TURN’s season finale.  Enjoy!

Drinking Songs and John Andre’s (In)famous parties

anacreon4300_01_LGEpisode 8 of TURN, “Challenge,” involved so much wild partying that even the most sober viewers may have had a hard time following along. In the midst of all the Bacchanalian revelry, however, you might recall hearing a tipsy Abraham Woodhull sing a very familiar tune about halfway through the episode, albeit with strange and unfamiliar words. And for some of you, that may have triggered the thought: “Wait a minute. Wasn’t the Star-Spangled Banner based on some old drinking song? Didn’t I hear that back in grade school/at a cocktail party/on the Internet somewhere?”

While one should always be wary of Internet history memes, this is one popular piece of vague historical trivia that’s actually true! Francis Scott Key is known as the author of the United States’ National Anthem, but to be precise, while he penned the words to the Star-Spangled Banner, he borrowed the melody from a very popular folk tune of the time. The tune’s earliest and most popular incarnation (before Key came along) was “To Anacreon in Heaven.” As you can see from the Smithsonian’s website on the history of the National Anthem, the (literally Bacchanalian) lyrics “To Anacreon in Heaven” render it a very fitting song for John Andre’s party in Episode 8.

Now is an excellent time to brush up on your knowledge of The Star Spangled Banner too, since the Smithsonian is celebrating the 200th anniversary of the Star-Spangled Banner on Flag Day – this Saturday, June 14th, 2014 – with a nation-wide celebration.  Check out their party page for details, and don’t forget to sing along with the rest of the country at 4:00pm Eastern time this Saturday!

andretoastSpeaking of parties (and Episode 8 of TURN), John Andre had quite the historical reputation as one heck of a party host. In 1778, Andre orchestrated “the Meschianza,” one of the biggest parties in Philadelphia’s history, in honor of General William Howe upon his departure of the British-occupied city. It was considerably grander than the party depicted in TURN – in addition to a formal dinner and ball, the day-long event included a river parade, music, dramatic performances, and fireworks. Andre and his compatriots spared no expense on the lavish fête, much to the chagrin of many of Philadelphia’s struggling, war-weary residents. For an overview of the Meschianza – and Andre’s reputation as a Renaissance man and party host – check out the Library Company of Philadelphia’s page here. (If you want to avoid spoilers pertaining to the historical fate of John Andre, skip the third paragraph)!  You can also read this wonderfully annotated blog post which covers the (in)famous party in much greater detail.

 

 

18th Century Wine Glasses and Drinkware

A few weeks ago, tumblr_n6g9pr93LU1tygvn9o3_250I received a message from an especially clever reader who was wondering about Major Hewlett’s rounded (and quite ubiquitous) wine glass, pointing out that most 18th century wine glasses were less bowl-shaped and more angular and conical. Indeed they were, as you can see by perusing the links below. (You may want to have a glass or two of wine under your belt before looking at any prices, however.)

Now to be completely fair, this is normally a detail that I would consider far too small to bother mentioning, since it has no real bearing on the greater historicity of the show. That level of nitpicking is a bit much, even for me!  (Furthermore, plenty of other glassware seen in the show is very historically appropriate.) However, Georgian glassware is an especially shiny and gorgeous subset of 18th century material culture and I’m happy to have an excuse to show it off.  (And it’s a very fitting topic given the overall theme of this post.)

Yes, we did mention the topic of wine glasses in a tumblr post last week, but I’m sharing the links here in case you missed them the first time around (or have no idea what ‘tumblr’ is).

Additionally, you can head over to the 18th Century Material Culture Resource Center for plenty of fascinating contemporary images of punch bowls, mugs, and tavern scenes under the headings of “Foodways” and “Drinking.” (Remember to take note of where the sources come from! Many of the artifacts and prints hail from Continental Europe and therefore may not be fully representative of tavern culture in the American colonies. The British-based sources, however, might give you a good idea of what certain British officers were accustomed to at home.)

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18th Century Recipes for the Modern Kitchen (and bar)

Finally, I’m very happy to share one of my favorite history resources here: the “History is Served” blog, where the intrepid staff of Colonial Williamsburg’s Department of Historic Foodways translate 18th century food “receipts” into 21st-century recipes. Each recipe uses modern-day language, measurements, and instructions so anyone can make historic food in their own kitchen (no beehive oven required). Best of all (well, for history buffs), they show the original 18th century recipe language alongside each of their 21st century versions.  The blog contains all sorts of recipes, from beverages to main courses to side dishes to desserts, and they’ll be resuming their regular schedule of updates later this month (just in case you were wondering how to spend your Sunday nights now that Season 1 of TURN is wrapping up).

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Since nearly all of these recipes require a fair amount of prep time, you probably won’t be able to use them for any season finale festivities tonight. But the possibilities are endless! (Flag Day, Father’s Day, Independence Day, 1776 the Musical viewing parties… I’m not the only one who has those, right?)  This blog isn’t the only one where you can find original 18th century recipes, but if you’re new to historical fare and/or don’t have a 200+ year old hearth kitchen in your home, it’s the best place to start.

Finally: Don’t forget to tune in tonight at 9:00pm Eastern for the season finale of TURN!  While there’s no official word on whether or not we’ll see a Season 2 of TURN, I remain optimistic (along with fellow fans) that we’ll soon hear good news that’s worthy of a festive toast, regardless of your preferred style of wine glass or tankard! Once we hear word of TURN’s future status, we’ll post the news here on the blog.  We’ll continue to publish updates as the week goes on, including a post on the Battle of Setauket, more reader request topics (time permitting), and an announcement regarding TURN to a Historian’s summer schedule. (Don’t worry, we’re not going anywhere!)

As usual, I’ll be live-blogging the show on tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook. Enjoy the show!

-RS

A Tallmadge or Woodhull by any other name: TURN historical family trees

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There seems to be quite a bit of confusion surrounding TURN’s curious habit of misnaming “real” historical characters throughout Season 1 — especially family members immediately related to the show’s protagonists.  This post is intended to straighten out the issue with the help of some handy charts and other primary sources, since we’ve received so many questions about it.  (If you’re not familiar with the rather tedious ins and outs of genealogy, you might want to grab a shot of espresso before reading on.)

Episode 9 of TURN, “Against Thy Neighbor,” introduced yet another example: The good Reverend Nathanial Tallmadge, fiery patriot and dutiful father to our favorite dragoon major. His refreshingly straightforward character is pretty much impossible not to like. If his speech from Episode 9 doesn’t rouse your inner American Revolutionary, you’re probably a Loyalist then I don’t know what will.

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Benjamin Tallmadge outlines his immediate family tree, which includes the proper names of his father and brothers, on page one of his Memoirs. Click to enlarge.
Benjamin Tallmadge outlines his immediate family tree, which includes the proper names of his father and brothers, on page one of his Memoirs. Click to enlarge.

However, if you’re a viewer who is interested in historical accuracy (and you likely wouldn’t be here if you weren’t), you might be surprised to learn that Benjamin Tallmadge’s real father — who was indeed the pastor of Setauket’s Presbyterian church and opposed the loyalist occupation of his town — was also named Benjamin Tallmadge. (Benjamin Tallmadge Senior, of course.)  In fact, there is no “Nathanial Tallmadge” in Major Tallmadge’s immediate family tree.

Thankfully, Benjamin Tallmadge himself clears things up for us on the very first page of his memoirs (pictured at right).  In a similar case of mistaken identity, it was actually Benjamin’s eldest brother William, not his brother Samuel, who perished as a prisoner of the British Army in 1776.

The Tallmadges, however, aren’t the only Long Island family that might look funny to any genealogists who happen to watch TURN.  The Woodhull family tree is also beset by a number of identity (and existential) crises.  While Abraham Woodhull did have an older brother who died just before the Revolutionary War began, his name was Richard, not Thomas.  Similarly, when Abraham finally did get married and have children (which wasn’t until 1781, as seen on the Historical Timeline), he did have a son, but he was named Jesse, not Thomas.  There is no Thomas Woodhull anywhere in Abraham’s immediate family tree.

The two charts below contain biographical information about the branch of the Woodhull family tree that’s of most interest to TURN viewers. Note that there’s no “Thomas” to be found anywhere.  The images are screencaps from longislandsurnames.com, a site I highly recommend to any TURN fans who want to investigate the family histories of Long Island revolutionaries for themselves. You might want to bookmark the site if you’re trying to keep track of the multiple families mentioned on TURN.

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Genealogical information on Judge Richard Woodhull and his children (Abraham and his siblings). Click to visit the full page. Source: longislandsurnames.com
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Genealogical information on Abraham Woodhull and his children. Click to visit the full page. Source: longislandsurnames.com

In both of these family cases, the relatives in question “did” exist, which makes TURN’s naming conventions even stranger. Benjamin’s clergyman father, Benjamin’s brother who died in British custody, Abraham’s son, and Abraham’s older brother who died prior to the start of the war were all real people in the historical record. But for some reason, the names for all these “real-life” characters have been swapped out for fictional ones in the show.

As the keeper of this blog and all the social media accounts connected with it, I often get asked why the writers and showrunners of TURN would alter history in the ways that they do.  (For example: “Why would they change the names of real people like Benjamin Tallmadge’s father?”) In the case of the martyred ‘Samuel’ Tallmadge, the show implies (in Episode 6) that he was the inspiration for the first half of Abraham Woodhull’s “Samuel Culpeper” alias, so that’s likely why the writers swapped the names of the Tallmadge brothers.  As for the others… well, since historical accuracy is evidently not a factor, your speculations are as good as mine!

Nor do I know why Abraham Woodhull’s alias is named “Culpeper” in the show, and not “Culper,” which was obviously the real name at the heart of the eponymous Culper Spy Ring. Since it was Washington’s suggestion in the show, it might have to do with his connection to Culpeper county, Virginia. Either way, I’m assuming that will be changed/explained in a future episode. Perhaps these other naming conventions will be, too. Hey, even MORE reason to call for a second season!

Bonus: “Abe and Anna”

tumblr_n5sya9ZUe41tygvn9o1_500While we’re on the topic of real-life genealogy of TURN characters, I’d like to take the time to gently remind viewers of the historical ages and marital situations surrounding Abraham Woodhull and Anna Strong, who have become quite… involved on screen.  (Several blog followers via Twitter and email have asked about this issue as well!)

Both the TV show and the TURN Origins comic imply that Abe and Anna as roughly the same age and grew up as children together in Setauket.  In reality, Anna was ten years older than Abraham.  She married her husband Selah in 1760, when she was twenty and Abe was just ten years old.  (Needless to say, there was never any promise of marriage between the two.)  Anna was pretty well invested in her marriage, too: by 1776 she and Selah had six children, with more to follow soon (some of whom had fantastically patriotic names, as seen on Anna’s family page).

Of course, it’s no surprise that TURN (or any TV drama, for that matter) is chasing after sexual tension in hopes of pleasing a modern-day audience.  But just in case there was any lingering doubt: the on-screen romantic relationship between Abraham Woodhull and Anna Strong has no historical basis whatsoever.

Well! There’s nothing like hard genealogy if you’re looking for a cold dose of historical reality.  On a more exciting note: there’s only a few more days until the TURN season finale!  Coming up soon: a short, reader-requested post on jewelry and accessories in the late 18th century.  (Fewer charts; more sparkly things.)

-RS

Major John Andre’s mysterious white braid

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On the slight chance that you've been watching TURN in an isolated vacuum or have only seen the episodes that don't feature Major John Andre as a major character, I'm referring to the strange little white braid seen here.
Just in case you’ve been watching TURN in hermetic isolation or have only seen the episodes that don’t feature Major John Andre as a main character, I’m referring to the little white braid seen here.

Here it is, readers: the oft-requested, long-awaited Braid Post. Major Andre’s mysterious white braid has been the subject of heated discussion among TURN viewers since day one, who — regardless if they love it or hate it — are dying to find historical justification for its appearance in the show.  If I had a dollar for every time someone mentioned John Andre’s braid in their discussion of TURN, I might have enough money to buy my own cabbage farm on modern-day Long Island.  (Although, since I’m more of a Major Hewlett-esque oenophile, I’d probably opt for a vineyard instead).

The reason why I haven’t previously posted anything about The Braid is because my own searches for historical justification had been coming up short for weeks.  (Well, actually, I did find a similar braid, but needless to say, it didn’t exactly have an 18th century provenance.)

After sifting through scores of contemporary images — including French fashion plates, satirical macaroni prints, British officer portraits, and even Native American hairstyles — I found nothing resembling the curious, tightly-braided strand that, by all appearances, seems grafted onto either Major Andre’s scalp or his natural hair.  (I suppose it could also be his natural hair that he had somehow bleached white, but that would be an even stranger explanation.)

In this still from the first episode of TURN, you can see both of Andre's braids. Click to enlarge.
In this still from the first episode of TURN, you can see both of Andre’s braids. Click to enlarge.

Plenty of 18th century wigs AND natural hairstyles featured braided queues, of course — but nothing like the tiny silver braid running down the side of Andre’s head.  As we can see in the screencap to the right, Andre’s “side-braid” is not the same as the braided queue on his dress wig.

While the widespread lack of evidence does show that these little braids were not fashionable or popular during the American Revolution, I figured that the production team at AMC must have seen something that inspired them to include such a conspicuous and unusual fashion accessory for Major Andre’s character.  So I held off on writing a post about The Braid, and kept searching.

Finally, I happened upon an obscure painting in the collection of the Huntington Library in San Marino, CA, titled “A Soldier, called Major John Andre.”  Lo and behold, there appears to be a tiny silver plait running behind the subject’s left ear!  Mystery solved!  Historical justification for Major Andre’s braid in TURN.  It’s an open-and-shut case, right?

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“A soldier called Major John Andre,” from the collection of the Huntington Library in San Mateo, CA. Analysis by British military historians has determined that this painting is NOT the Major John Andre of Revolutionary War fame. Click to enlarge.

Well… not entirely.  For one thing, this isn’t actually John Andre.  Not the John Andre we’re all thinking of, anyway.

If you look at the catalog entry for this painting on the Huntington Library’s website, you’ll see that the artist, the provenance, and even the date of the painting are all unknown.  We do know, however, that John Andre belonged to the 7th Regiment of Foot, also known as the Royal Fusileers (or Fuzileers, if you use the preferred 18th century spelling). So if this IS the John Andre we’re familiar with, he should be wearing a Royal Fuzileers uniform appropriate to the era of the American Revolution.

Fortunately for us, several years ago this portrait came to the attention of a select group of historians who specialize in 18th century British military history and are perfectly capable of answering any uniform-related questions: William P. Tatum III, Justin Clement, Christian Cameron, and Professor Gregory Urwin of Temple University.  Drawing upon their encyclopedic knowledge of British regiments, they weighed in on the subject of the painting and concluded that it was not Major John Andre of the 7th Regiment of Foot.  I am indebted to Will Tatum for providing me with the following list, which sums up their main reasons:

  1. The lace on the regimental coat is the wrong metal– the 7th Royal Fuzileers had gold lace, while this officer has silver.
  2. The buttons are in pairs, a practice that is as yet undocumented to the 7th Regiment during the period in question, and which in general is more indicative of a later-war or into the 1780s date.
  3. The wing [patch] on the shoulder, while appropriate for light infantry, features the three feathers of the Prince of Wales.  This was a special insignia reserved for a short list of regiments that enjoyed the Prince’s patronage — a list which did not include the 7th Regiment.
  4. The helmet is of the so-called Tarleton style, so identified because Banastre Tarleton sports one in his British Legion portrait. This one includes a leopard-skin turban, usually seen on Light Dragoons. The helmet does not match the style of light infantry cap authorized for British troops by the 1771 Light Infantry warrant [regulations], nor does it correlate with any of the non-regulation hat-caps and other light infantry headgear that have been documented to this period.  There is some suspicion that the Tarleton Cap became the accepted light infantry cap after 1784, but there is as yet no hard documentation to back this idea up. Since the Tarleton Cap was a mid-war innovation, its presence suggests that the portrait dates from after 1777.
  5. Also notable is the portrait’s background: St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.  This would be a strange choice for Andre, who served exclusively in America.
  6. Finally (though this point might be debatable), the facial features of this sitter don’t match well against other purported portraits of Andre that have superior provenance.

As you can see, the devil is in the details.  In this case, the details overwhelmingly prove that the officer in this painting did NOT belong to the 7th Royal Fuzileers, and is NOT Major John Andre of Revolutionary fame. (Hopefully the above list will also help dispel any lingering Hollywood-fueled notions that “all Redcoat uniforms were the same.”)

It’s quite possible that this painting is of another completely unrelated British soldier named John Andre, which was not an especially unique name in late 18th century Britain.  It’s also quite possible that this painting was mistakenly mislabeled sometime in its shrouded history.  Either way, there is little doubt that this painting was the inspiration for Major Andre’s braid in TURN — so at least that mystery has been solved.  It is also clear that this painting does not provide solid historical justification for the way Andre’s braid is depicted in the show.  Regardless of the soldier’s identity in this painting, it is clear that the little braid is part of his wig, not grafted onto his natural hair or scalp.  As we see in the pictures above, the designers went out of their way to show that the little braid is a separate entity.  Even if Major Andre’s braid has some creative backstory that is slated to be revealed on a future episode TURN, it is clearly an example of historical fiction, not historical fashion.

So there you have it, readers — hopefully the above foray into historical fashion has shed some light on one of the most elusive and talked-about depictions of material culture in TURN thus far. (The other one being, of course, Abe Woodhull’s wool cap.)  Spread the word!  And if you have any more questions or braid-theories, send them this way via the ask page, tumblr, or Twitter.  And don’t forget to follow along for the live-blogging on tumblr and Twitter tonight!

-RS