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!
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!
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.)
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?
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:
- The lace on the regimental coat is the wrong metal– the 7th Royal Fuzileers had gold lace, while this officer has silver.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 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. 😉
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.)