As the TURN: Washington’s Spies storyline hurls itself toward the end of the Revolutionary War, its writers seem determined to name-drop as many minor characters and events as they can in the show’s final episodes. (Perhaps they’re making up for lost time, as one of the most common viewer complaints about Season 1 was that it didn’t contain enough espionage or war-related action).
As a result, the Historical Timeline is bigger than ever — with ample room for the tsunami of names and dates that the last two episodes of the series are sure to generate. Even though there’s only two episodes left, there’s a lot of ground to cover if the writers plan to wrap up the stories of all the characters tied to the Culper Ring — so, who knows? The next Timeline update might be even larger than this one!
All “new” events — that is, all events referenced in Season 4 thus far — are in green text. Click on the image below to enlarge. You can also visit the blog’s Timeline page to see a chronological list of all events shown on the Timeline with plenty of links to further reading. As always, if there’s an event that is referenced in the show that you don’t see on the Timeline, let me know and I’ll add it in during the next update!
In general, there’s been less deviation from historical chronology in Season 4 of TURN than there has been in the previous three seasons. Some notable differences between TURN and the factual historical timeline include:
- Peggy and Benedict Arnold’s first child was born in March 1780, meaning that Peggy was nursing a six-month-old infant at the time Benedict fled West Point after his treason was discovered.
- Ann Bates was active as a spy (as a peddler in disguise) from June 1778 through May 1780 — a full year before Washington and Rochambeau began planning the Yorktown Campaign.
- For a nice recap of how TURN combined elements of both the Pennsylvania and New Jersey Line mutinies, which were technically two separate events that took place in January 1780, read J.L. Bell’s review of Season 4 Episode 4, “Nightmare.”
- Just like poor Nathaniel Sackett, Judge Woodhull was killed off long before his time in the fictional universe of TURN. Happily, he not only survived the Revolutionary War, but lived long enough to see his son Abraham get married (which also happened after the war was over).
And with that, it’s off to the races as the penultimate episode airs later tonight (9:00pm Eastern time). See you on Twitter tonight, TURNcoats! And don’t worry — although the crazy summer schedule of Season 4 has thrown off the regular posting rhythm ’round these parts, the blog posts and updates will keep rolling out long after the August 12th finale, so stick around!
Today’s guest post is by T. Cole Jones, who has extensively researched and written about about the treatment of prisoners during the Revolutionary War as the focus of his doctoral dissertation. In this post, he discusses the three distinct examples of prisoners taken by American forces as seen in the first three episodes of TURN, and puts some of the show’s most shocking scenes into historical perspective. -RS
In a dark, subterranean cell in a contested border region, American officials question a man captured in the act of smuggling contraband goods. Not receiving the answers they want, the interrogators place a damp cloth over his face and submerge his head in water, convincing the prisoner he will soon drown. Mercifully for the man, who is now gasping for air and semi-conscious, the interrogation comes to an abrupt halt when a superior officer enters the room.
This graphic example of American enhanced interrogation techniques did not occur along the borders of Afghanistan or Iraq, but instead on the Connecticut coast of the Long Island Sound during the American Revolutionary War, according to AMC’s television drama TURN. This prisoner was not a Taliban or Al Qaeda militant – just a Long Island farmer, Abraham Woodhull, who was trying to avoid the war while providing for his family. If the producers of the show were looking to invoke contemporary events in their telling of the Revolutionary War, they could have done little better than to portray makeshift waterboarding. Anyone acquainted with the Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandals will be left wondering: just how historically correct was this scene? How authentic are the show’s depictions of prisoner treatment in general?
Within the first three episodes, viewers are shown the American treatment of three separate categories of prisoners:
- A suspected smuggler (Abraham Woodhull)
- A British officer (John Graves Simcoe), and
- Several American mutineers (including the Bascombe brothers).
Historically, the Continental Army in 1776 would have treated each category of prisoner differently. TURN gets this much right. Throughout the war, American forces had very different protocols for dealing with British regulars, uniformed loyalist troops, smugglers, counterfeiters, deserters, traitors, and others they deemed subject to civil prosecution. But how true to the historical record are TURN’s depictions?
(1) The first prisoner, Abraham Woodhull, is captured while smuggling goods across enemy lines. The Revolutionaries, who controlled most of the land and consequently the lion’s share of fresh produce and provisions, wanted to deprive the British in New York of food. Smugglers could expect harsh treatment. Under a congressional resolution from 1777, smugglers could be sentenced to hard labor for the rest of the war. (See pg 784 here.) Continental authorities considered smuggling currency even more egregious. In 1778, Abel Jeans was convicted by court martial of smuggling money across enemy lines and sentenced to receive 100 lashes before being confined for the remainder of the war. This type of corporal punishment was very common in early America because it not only inflicted pain but also physically marked the guilty party as someone who had transgressed societal norms. Smugglers such as Jeans, however, were only punished after a formal court martial or civil court proceeding. In TURN, Woodhull received neither.
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