Greetings, TURNcoats new and old – and 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).
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!)
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.
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!
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
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.
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.
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 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.
As 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.)
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.
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.
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.
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”
While 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.)
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!
Happy Tuesday, readers! I’m just starting to put a dent in the backlog of questions and comments that suddenly poured in over the last week and a half – here’s a quick pair of reader-submitted questions for you while I finish prepping a new post on General Lee. (The Revolutionary War general, not the car.)
- In “Mr. Culpeper” (TURN Episode 6) General Scott and Ben Tallmadge witness the hanging of John Herring. The scene seemed to have a lot of specific details… did this really happen?
Yes, it DID really happen! The sentencing and execution of John Herring is mentioned in the Continental Army General Orders issued on October 23, 1778:
Moses Walton and John Herring soldiers and Elias Brown Fifer of His Excellency the Commander in Chief’s guard were tried for breaking into the house of Mr Prince Howland on or about the 3rd instant and robbing him of several silver spoons, several silver dollars, some Continental dollars and sundry kinds of wearing Apparel to a considerable amount…
The Court (upwards of two thirds agreeing) do sentence John Herring to suffer Death.
So as you can see (and as I’m pleased to report), most of this brief scene was based on the historical record. Like most of the “real life” events we’ve witnessed in TURN so far, it happened later in the historical timeline than the show’s “current” date of 1777 — but the scene is still very appropriate, since discipline was a constant problem throughout the war’s duration for the Continental Army. These same General Orders are rife with criminal offenses both great and small, including stealing, “swearing and unsoldierly behaviour,” fistfights and harassment (“John Smith did call Corporal Wingler a Hessian Bougre”), and vandalism.
The American army was still very young in 1777, especially when compared to the professional armies of Europe, and its officers often struggled to find the proper balance between enforcing a necessary level of discipline while championing the cause of liberty and independence. (Quite the existential conflict, if you think about it.) To the 21st-century viewer, John Herring’s punishment might seem excessively harsh – and Washington’s unflinching reaction excessively cold. However, that aspect of the hanging scene is also historically accurate. Near the end of this very same document we read:
His Excellency the Commander in Chief approves these sentences—Shocked at the frequent horrible Villainies of this nature committed by the troops of late, He is determined to make Examples which will deter the boldest and most harden’d offenders—Men who are called out by their Country to defend the Rights and Property of their fellow Citizens who are abandoned enough to violate those Rights and plunder that Property deserve and shall receive no Mercy.
Well, when you put it THAT way things make a little more sense, right? The dialogue in the show is directly lifted from the above paragraph — which, I might add, makes historians and history buffs absolutely giddy to see in a historical drama. (SOME of us, anyway.) If anyone tells you that historical accuracy is boring, or doesn’t work in a TV show, save your breath and show them this scene. (Or pretty much the entire John Adams miniseries from HBO… but I digress.) In no way did the accuracy detract from the drama of the execution. In fact, I would argue that the drama is enhanced for most viewers upon discovering that this event DID actually happen, unlike several other storylines in the show thus far. Fingers crossed that this happens a lot more often in future episodes!
And speaking of documentation: Shortly before the execution scene in Episode 6, we see Washington striding through camp, dictating a letter to his aides addressed to General Howe regarding the “cruel treatment” of American prisoners on British prison ships in New York harbor. Guess what? The dialogue from that scene is ALSO directly lifted from a letter Washington wrote to Howe on January 13, 1777. You can rewatch the scene for yourself and read along with the original letter:
Pretty cool stuff. I can say with confidence that this latest episode (“Mr. Culpeper”) is by far my favorite episode of TURN yet, in no small part because it had a much more even balance between artistic license and the historical record than any other episode thus far. It seems (I hope) that the show has turned a corner and will start to focus more clearly on documented history instead of anachronistic fiction (some of which we’ll mention in the forthcoming post on Charles Lee).
- While watching episode 3 (“Of Cabbages and Kings”) I noticed that Benjamin Tallmadge’s uniform buttons all had USA on them. Is that historically accurate? I’m not sure when “USA” would have come into common enough use as an acronym to be on uniforms. It seems like a bit of an obscure question, but I’m a hobbyist needleworker interested in historical techniques and clothing, so it caught my eye. Thanks!
I’m not surprised that a needleworker would be so eagle-eyed! Those are indeed pewter USA buttons on Benjamin Tallmadge’s uniform in TURN. USA buttons were common throughout the Continental Army during the middle and later years of the Revolutionary War, and came in a number of variations. (You can view some of them on this website, which features several images of original Revolutionary War buttons. Heads up: there’s a media player at the bottom of the site that plays music automatically upon loading!)
Your hunch is right about the timing – 1776 is a bit too early for these buttons to make their debut. The earliest extant (i.e. surviving original) USA buttons are dated to mid-1777. Many things about Tallmadge’s dragoon uniform are a couple years too early. Some of the most iconic elements of the uniform, including the blue regimental coat with white facings and the brass dragoon helmet, aren’t documented until 1778-1779. (Even the very existence of Tallmadge’s Second Light Dragoons in autumn of 1776 is too early, as you can see by glancing at the historical timeline.)
I hope to have the opportunity to discuss the Second Dragoons in much greater detail once they make another appearance in TURN. But in the meantime, if you’re a fan of Revolutionary War buttons, you can check out another impressive collection of extant buttons on Don Troiani’s Historical Image Bank website. And if you dabble in sewing and/or other needlework and are interested in making historical reproductions of 18th century clothing, I recommend trying to find as much documentation as possible before you start — there are plenty of helpful, well-researched tailors and seamstresses out there who are happy to point you in the right direction. Like I’ve said before on this blog: regardless of who you talk to, make sure they can show you historical documentation for the items they’re selling and patterns they’re using! It’s the best guarantee you’ll have against making inaccurate (and potentially expensive) mistakes. Good luck!