john andre

TURN Historical Timeline updated for Season 3

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Still reeling from this week’s Season 3 finale? How about a healthy dose of TURN-related history? We’ve updated the Historical Timeline with events mentioned and/or depicted in TURN Season 3. In a slight change from previous timeline updates, all the Season 3 events are labeled with dark green text, to more easily distinguish this seasons’ additions from the events mentioned in Seasons 1 and 2. While the timeline itself is embedded below, don’t forget to visit the full Historical Timeline page for a chronological listing of events, including external links to relevant history websites. Enjoy!

TURN Historical Timeline, version 3.1. Events mentioned in Season 3 are listed in green. Click to enlarge.
TURN Historical Timeline, version 3.1. Events mentioned in Season 3 are listed in green. Click to enlarge.

There’s no doubt that Season 3 of TURN began slowly, and with very few connections to actual historical events (see our previous post lamenting this fact). Evidently the writers were saving all of the spy action and historical precedent for the last few episodes, which drew heavily upon the well-documented Andre-Arnold affair of late 1780.

Most of the new timeline events deal with Benedict Arnold, since a large part of Season 3 revolved around the dramatic buildup of his infamous defection — and John Andre, who ends up paying the steepest price for Arnold’s actions. You’ll see Arnold’s court-martial, defection, and marriage to Peggy Shippen all plotted on the updated timeline.

Another event that was prominently (if very briefly) mentioned in the Season 3 finale was the execution of Nathan Hale — an event that was first mentioned in TURN Season 1 and has been on the Timeline ever since. For some bizarre reason, the show announces Hale’s execution date as October 22, 1776, instead of September 22 — a bizarre and seemingly unnecessary factual error that provides no benefit for the show’s storyline development. It’s no surprise that a Hollywood history show deviates from a 100% perfect chronological unfolding of historical events, of course — that’s why we made the Timeline in the first place!  Some deviations, however, are much easier to explain than others.

Think there’s a historical event missing from the Timeline? Is there some ingenious reasoning I’ve missed behind TURN moving a semi-obscure historical date around by a mere 30 days? Leave a comment below (or tweet me, or email via the Ask page) and let me know!

-RS

 

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Historical Timeline updated: Season 2 Finale edition

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Season 2 of TURN: Washington’s Spies is a wrap, which means we’ve got one last timeline update for the season!  You can click on the image above to view the full-size Timeline, or better yet, visit the Timeline Page to view a chronological list of every event along with links for further reading.

TURN Historical Timeline version 2.2. Click graphic to enlarge, or click the “Timeline” tab at the top of the page for more information.

The Season 2 Finale merited quite a few additions to the Timeline, including the Battle of Monmouth, one of the largest engagements of the Revolutionary War in terms of troop numbers.  John Andre was present, but Benjamin Tallmadge and the 2nd Dragoons were not; historically, the young Marquis de Lafayette played a crucial role in the battle, but TURN left him on the sidelines for the entire episode in spite of having introduced him to much fanfare just a few episodes earlier.

The Thomas Hickey affair (a fascinating true story from earlier in the war) received similarly strange treatment in the finale.  In the TURN universe, Hickey was the final piece that wrapped up an episodes-long treasonous plot to kidnap Washington, but the entire scene felt like an afterthought hastily shoved into the last five minutes of the episode. The very title of the Season 2 Finale — “Gunpowder, Treason, and Plot” — was actually a reference to the English poem about Guy Fawkes as quoted in one of the most well-known eyewitness accounts of the Thomas Hickey execution, quoted at the beginning of this well-written summary of the event.

Additionally, we have yet another event to add to the right-hand extreme of the Historical Timeline. A central plot point of the finale episode was Akinbode/Jordan’s plot to take Abigail and Cicero to Canada. As J.L. Bell points out in his latest weekly review of TURN, this makes no sense, given that slavery was legal in all British colonies, including Canada, in 1778. The writers appear to be setting up Canada as some anachronistic, proto-Underground Railroad destination for this sympathetic Revolutionary War family, even though the abolition of slavery in Canada was a gradual process that began in the 1790s and wasn’t complete until well into the 19th century. (You might find a few unexpected TURN-related names if you were to browse the history of slavery and abolition in Canada.)

Finally, there’s also an event in the Timeline related to Peggy Shippen’s final relationship status — even though we’re getting slightly ahead of the show’s chronology — on account of so many readers inquiring about it. (As you can tell from the rest of the Timeline, the actual historical record doesn’t necessarily act as a “spoiler” for TURN, since the show departs so radically from documented history.)

Today: #RenewTURN Twitter Rally

Last year, TURN fans waited two long weeks after the Season 1 finale for confirmation that the show would be renewed for Season 2.  We can expect more of the same waiting period this year, if comments made last week by AMC network CEO Josh Sapan are any indication.

Click for details on how to participate in a #RenewTURN rally scheduled for later today.
Click for details on how to participate in a #RenewTURN rally scheduled for later today.

According to Variety, Sapan said that the cable network would “assess” the futures of both “TURN: Washington’s Spies” and “Halt and Catch Fire.” Both historical dramas (Yes, the 1980s counts as a historical time period, as depressing as that might be to some) debuted in 2014 and have struggled in the ratings despite amassing small, devoted fanbases.  If it’s any consolation, the raw numbers for Season 1 of “Halt & Catch Fire” (in 2014) were very close to the numbers for Season 2 of TURN (in 2015) — and last year AMC gave “Halt and Catch Fire” the green light for another season.

For you devoted TURN fans who are on Twitter, @TurnonAMC (an unofficial handle) is leading an effort to get the hashtag #RenewTURN trending later tonight. Details can be found here. We’ll be keeping tabs on the latest TURN renewal news and will post it on Twitter, Facebook, and (of course) here on the blog once we hear any official word!

-RS

 

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).

.                                   historyisserved

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

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

First episode: First Impressions

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pilot final scene

The premiere of TURN is now in the history books! But how much did it actually differ from the history books?  There’s definitely lots to process from tonight’s super-sized 90-minute pilot.  Initial thoughts are below, but since I have an insurmountable affinity for checking historical sources, it’ll be tomorrow (at the earliest) before I’m able to post anything properly analytical.  Overall, I think the premiere was a success — AMC is known for its intricate character-driven drama and TURN fits that mold extremely well.  Any more than that — well, I’m going to sleep on it first, though my half-eaten bag of jellybeans is a pretty fitting indicator of how glued to the screen I was. 😉

cardano grille

The Good: Heavy emphasis on divided loyalties, tension between neighbors, and civilian resentment toward British occupation — all of which muddle the “black and white” myth of the American Revolution, which is a very good thing.  I enjoyed the panoramas of Setauket as a small, agricultural, coastal cluster of colonial buildings. Loved seeing the first hint of spycraft — a Cardano Grille, pictured left. (More on that in a later post.)

The Bad: The Queen’s Rangers take first place in this category.  Material culture issues (ranging from clothing to beards to architecture) ranged from passable and fairly innocuous to cringe-worthy. What bothered me more, however, were the really major chronology issues. Most of the events depicted in this episode didn’t occur until late 1777, 1778, or even 1779.  The Culper Ring wasn’t even formed until 1778, and John Andre doesn’t enter the picture until 1779.  So why pick 1776 as the date for the pilot episode?

The Complicated: While the Revolutionary War was a messy affair, and brutal atrocities were committed by both sides, I’m not sure the uber-violent scenes (and especially the revenge-driven bloodlust) shown here were historically appropriate, and got the impression they were there simply to give the show a more “edgy” feel.  The 18th century was an heavily honor-bound culture; “waterboarding”-like torture is definitely out of place here.  The whole “Bluecoats” vs “Redcoats” dynamic is a out of place for this time period, but I understand why the showrunners chose to portray the opposing armies that way — American uniforms were a confusing mess across the board in 1776.

Oh, and remind me not to enter the stock market anytime soon: My Nathan Hale prediction was a total bust!  I’m actually very disappointed.  If this episode was really supposed to take place in 1776, there were plenty of opportunities to bring up Hale — especially, for example, when Tallmadge was berating his officer about the need to invest money and effort into obtaining proper intelligence.

 

So what are YOUR thoughts on the pilot episode of TURN?  If you’re a history buff, were you satisfied? Or mortified?  If you’re a new viewer with no special background in history (which is perfectly okay, thank you very much!), did the show hold your interest?  Don’t be shy — your comments will help determine the topics that get covered first in this blog!  (All right, if you’re a LITTLE shy you can always submit an anonymous question or comment via the Ask Page.)

-RS