Sometimes a message from a friend can lead to a rich discovery. Such was the case when Katie posted on my Facebook wall, encouraging me to check out the video called, Courage, New Hampshire.
Katie was already aware that I write about Colonial America and the era of the American Revolution. A homeschool mom, she was closely following this series that was available online and on DVD. She was impressed—and so was I.
Through Katie, I was contacted by one of the associate producers to review Courage, New Hampshire. They were looking to get the word out about this new endeavor that was being produced and filmed in Oak Glen, California, a rural community located in Southern California. The project was the brainchild of writer/producer/creator James Patrick Riley, who owns Riley farm in Oak Glen. A devotee of the early American life, Riley planted the seeds for this endeavor with family and friends, then managed to hire some of the best of the best in Hollywood for the production.
So far, the series is four hours long, separated into one-hour episodes. But plans are in the works for far more.
Here is a brief synopsis of the first four episodes:
Courage, New Hampshire is a fictitious township on the edge of the American frontier in 1769. A close-knit Christian community, it lives under the shadow of the growing discontent of the colonists, who fear the king’s increasingly despotic rule.
Episode 1 is called The Travail of Sarah Pine. An unexpected visit by three of the King’s soldiers (dressed as civilians) stirs the ire of the local justice of the peace and tavern keeper, Silas Rhodes (James Patrick Riley). He is disturbed by the fact that the soldiers are not in uniform, yet claim to be seeking deserters from the British Army. He accuses Sergeant Bob Wheedle of plotting a kidnapping, and promptly has the sergeant arrested.
During his incarceration in a local barn, a young woman named Sarah Pine brings the prisoner victuals. She naively thinks that all the British soldiers are trustworthy. In her sympathy, she gives the man more than a free meal and nine months later, she has born the soldier’s child. (This is family friendly in its presentation) When Bob Wheedle returns on military business a year later, he is arrested again, this time for the crime of "bastardy."The mini-saga of colonial justice coming up against one of the crown’s soldiers is fraught with tension and filled with emotion.
Episode 2 begins with the declaration by the justice of the peace Silas Rhodes that Courage seems to be covered with a black cloud. Not only has there been fornication in the community, but burglary and counterfeiting. Rhodes bemoans his choice in the last several years to invest in local mills and industry, rather than in hiring a minister of the gospel. Determined to amend the spiritual drought, he hires a temporary minister—but this wolf in sheep’s clothing may cause more harm than good.
Episode 3 sees increasing tensions between the crown and Courage as pressure is put on the local farmers to leave the white pines on their land. The British want the tall trees for naval ship masts; the farmers just want to clear the land for their crops. But felling these trees—even on their own property—can lead to the British government selling the farm at public auction. As Rhodes bitterly states, “You can’t grow potatoes under a pine tree.”
The increasing influence of the patriot group, the Sons of Liberty, keeps Rhodes walking a fine line between keeping the residents of Courage safe while keeping himself and the other patriots out of trouble.
Episode 4 keeps the action moving at a brisk pace, as the aforementioned reverend from Episode 2 has gone a step too far with a certain young woman in town. But the minister has an ally in the local crown-appointed governor and, in an extraordinary performance by Donal Thoms-Cappello, the reverend shrewdly taunts representatives of the law in Courage. He knows he has the upper hand. Although the patriots want justice, they know all to well that a political misstep on their part can put their entire town at risk for retaliation from the king.
This episode ends with a meeting between the leadership of Courage and the governor. It is militia training day in Portsmouth, New Hampshire and, in showing the colonial force of arms for all to see, the governor is confronted with the reality of the situation: The growing colonial rebellion is stronger than he ever imagined.
This extremely brief synopsis does not even begin to describe the rich characters, accurate historical details, lovely period clothing, and overall quality production of Courage, New Hampshire. James Patrick Riley has done his homework for the series and gets an A+ in accuracy.
Some of the industry’s finest actors are involved in this project, including Basil Hoffman who was in the Academy Award winning movie, “The Artist.” Hoffman brilliantly portrays the crown-appointed lawyer Simeon Trapp who does everything necessary to defend the King’s soldier accused of bastardy in Episode 1.
Although there are mature topics in this series, it is not graphic or explicit.
So where will Courage go from here? If James Patrick Riley’s hopes are fulfilled, the series will go both “backward and forward in time.” He hopes to fill in some of the backstory of Silas Rhodes, showing his transformation from dedicated representative of the king to becoming “profoundly alarmed by the level of corruption among the royalist party.”
He also hopes to show some of the “dramatic and brutal realities” of the times, such as losing children to illness, losing men to building accidents, and entire towns wiped out by diseases.
As befits the accuracy of this series, it will depict the trials of the times when it was a challenge just to survive.
There will be a premier showing of Courage, New Hampshire as a PBS Christmas special in Southern California on PBS affiliate KVCR. It will be shown on four consecutive evenings (Dec. 18, 19, 20, and 21) at 8:00 PM (Pacific Time).
For information on purchasing the DVD’s for Courage, New Hampshire, click here. You can view the first episode for free online.