banastre tarleton

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?

“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!


The Capture of Charles Lee

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TURN's portrayal of Lee's capture bears hardly any resemblance to how it actually happened.
TURN’s portrayal of Lee’s capture in Episode 4 (Eternity How Long) bears hardly any resemblance to how it actually happened.

There are plenty of tall tales concerning the capture of Charles Lee in 1776, even though the unembellished account of the capture contains plenty of drama of its own, as we see in this week’s guest post by Loyalist scholar Todd Braisted.

Major General Charles Lee, by nearly all accounts, was a difficult man to work with, and (as we’ll discuss in the future) had ego issues that made Washington’s job as Commander in Chief more difficult than it had to be. But depicting Lee as a philandering traitor to the American cause who was caught in the middle of a children’s game-turned-sex romp with a prostitute is a bit over-the-top in terms of gratuitous character assassination, don’t you think? I am especially grateful this week for Todd Braisted’s write-up of the REAL capture of Charles Lee, which will hopefully clear up any confusion about the accuracy of Lee’s questionable debut in TURN.  -RS



John André Banastre Tarleton and the Capture of Major General Charles Lee

by Todd Braisted

Brian T. Finney is in a lot of trouble. Well, actually his character, Major General Charles Lee is… but not exactly in the way that’s been portrayed in TURN thus far.

A print of Major General Charles Lee (circa 1776) from the collections of the British Museum.

Charles Lee was a half-pay (inactive) lieutenant colonel in the British Army when the American Revolution broke out in 1775. A veteran of the Seven Years War, Lee had bounced around Europe, serving both the Poles and Russians before landing in America and settling down in western Virginia. When fighting broke out, Lee took up the cause of the 13 Colonies, fighting against his old comrades in the British Army. Except Lee had never actually resigned his British commission — not in a way that British authorities found acceptable, anyway — and was therefore a traitor to the Crown in the very real sense of the word. (n.b.: See the comments below for some additional insight into this issue.)

As Lee was an experienced officer in both Europe and North America, he commanded great respect in Congress, who made him a major general and 2nd in command of the newly formed Continental Army. Gaining credit for the successful defense of Charleston, SC in June 1776 against a combined British sea and land attack, Lee was welcomed as a hero when he joined the Continental troops around New York in October of that year.

However, Lee’s presence did nothing to prevent the loss of Fort Washington on the New York side of the Hudson, or Fort Lee (named after Lee himself, the celebrated hero of Charleston) just four days later. Five thousand British troops under Lord Cornwallis, soon after joined by Colonel William Harcourt’s 16th Light Dragoons which included a dashing young cornet named Banastre Tarleton, were soon pursuing Washington towards the Delaware River.

While Cornwallis, Harcourt and Tarleton were on Washington’s heels in his retreat across the state, 3,000 Continental troops under Major General Charles Lee crossed the Hudson River from Westchester NY on 2 December 1776, and were taking a more southwesterly course, both avoiding the British and seemingly in little hurry to join Washington. This force was essentially the same number of men that Washington had with him, and joining forces would at least double his strength and give him hopes of saving Philadelphia, the apparent British target. Spending several days at Morristown, claiming his men were “ill shod,” Lee proposed to Washington his force remain in New Jersey and attack the rear of Cornwallis’ army. He then related his uncertainty as to where he might cross the Delaware or meet Washington’s force. Such delays and excuses maddened Washington, who wrote to Lee on the 14th: “I have so frequently mentioned our Situation, and the necessity of your Aid, that it is painfull to me to add a Word upon the Subject.Lee, however, would never receive Washington’s letter…

Miniature portrait of a young Banastre Tarleton, by Richard Cosway.
Portrait of a young Banastre Tarleton by Richard Cosway, a famed English painter of miniatures.

Cornwallis, having chased Washington’s Army across the Delaware, now turned his attention to that of Charles Lee. Not knowing his exact whereabouts, Cornwallis ordered Colonel Harcourt and thirty of the 16th Light Dragoons out to scout the area and learn what they could of the second in command of the Continental Army. Their guide for the expedition would be a seventeen year old Loyalist from Quibbletown, NJ named William Robins. On the morning of 12 December 1776, Harcourt and his men, including Cornet Tarleton, marched eighteen miles to Hillsborough, where the only excitement encountered was the house they put up in for the night caught fire. Continuing on early the next morning, Tarleton was given the advance guard of six men, winding their way towards Morristown. Along the way they captured one soldier, and received information from some residents, that Lee was but four or five miles distant. Advancing further, Tarleton captured two sentries, who informed him that Lee was only a mile further, lodged in a tavern at Basking Ridge, with his entourage and a small guard. (n.b.: Lee was searching for safe and comfortable lodgings, not prostitutes. This was a common practice among both British and American generals.) Taking all the information into account, Colonel Harcourt decided to make an attempt to capture Lee. Tarleton once again spurred on his advance guard, this time riding down a “Yankee Light Horseman” and taking him back to Harcourt, where “The Fear of the Sabre extorted great intelligence.”

The intelligence showed Lee was getting ready to move, and confirmed that his guard was about thirty men. The advantage for the British would come from surprise and speed. On the morning of December 13, Tarleton led on his advance guard, “making all the noise I could.” The sentries posted at the door to Lee’s quarters fled. Being informed officers were fleeing from the back door, Tarleton left one man at the front door and raced with the remaining cavalrymen around the back, scooping up the general’s aides and staff. The sentry Tarleton had left at the front door then apprehended Lee as he alighted from that entryway. In just fifteen minutes, the British had captured the second in command of the Continental Army at the cost of a horse’s leg being grazed by a bullet.

A late 18th century rendition of the capture of Charles Lee (who would not have been wearing his uniform at the time), featuring the 16th Light Dragoons. From the New Jersey State Museum.
A late 18th century rendition of the capture of Charles Lee (who would not have been wearing his uniform at the time), featuring the 16th Light Dragoons. From the New Jersey State Museum.

Sensing the retreat back to their lines might now be full of ambuscades, Colonel Harcourt turned to New Jersey Volunteer Captain Richard Witham Stockton to serve as a local guide. After 13 miles of skirting enemy ambushes and patrols, Tarleton happily wrote “We then forded a River, approached Hillsborough again and gave each other Congratulations with every Symptom of Joy…This is a most miraculous Event, it appears like a Dream. We conducted Genl. Lee…to Lord Cornwallis at Pennington. Our Days March only, exceeded 60 Miles.” Cornet Tarleton was made major-of-brigade, a staff position, to the two regiments of British cavalry in America. That would change before long, as in August 1778 Tarleton was made lieutenant colonel of the newly-raised British Legion, riding on to fame and infamy in the South.  Meanwhile, a despondent Washington learned the news of Lee’s capture just as he was facing the prospect of losing the majority of his troops after their enlistments expired at the end of the year. For the Americans, it seemed like the timing couldn’t have been worse…

So, did Lee then become a traitor and betray Washington and the cause of independence? We will explore Lee’s imprisonment, subsequent actions, and controversial motivations in the future. For now, we’ll just say he was not interrogated by Robert Rogers. (Nor did John André, who at this point in time was finishing up a long stint as an American prisoner of war in Pennsylvania, have anything to do with Lee’s capture.) Stay tuned…


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 (, 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.