Many of us with a love for Colonial history have been very excited about the premiere of AMC's Turn. Based on the exploits of the Culper Ring as researched and expounded by Alexander Rose in Washington's Spies, Turn (Sunday nights, 9 p.m. on AMC) promised action, drama, adventure, and espionage.
They also deliver violence, which was a bit much for many viewers I've spoken to. I seem to have an immunity to TV violence and honestly scarcely noticed it, so...I'm not the one to talk about that, LOL. Instead, I wanted to touch on some of the fun ways I noticed that Turn has taken fact and heightened it into good fiction.
Because I already researched this history for Ring of Secrets, I was largely familiar with the story they'll be telling. But because it was several years ago, I had to break out my copy of Washington's Spies and do some fact checking--which made me grin, because I'm that kind of geek.
|The major players in AMC's Turn|
The most important thing to note when viewing this or any other show based on history, is that facts get bent. And that's good, because in reality the events are dragged out over years, and tension isn't always high. As viewers, we would get bored and soon be flipping to another station. I give the writers of Turn a lot of kudos for putting together major players in the Revolution that didn't (so far as we know) actually meet up, for creating backstory and emotional investment to explain actions and make the characters relatable...and for asking a lot of what ifs.
|My version of what ifs are a bit different...but based on the same history|
Thus far in Turn, we've been focused largely on Abraham Woodhull, who was the primary operative in the Culper Ring during its first years of operation. He was, in fact, given the code name of Samuel Culper, after whom the whole group of intelligencers was named. In the show, Abraham's father is a judge in Setauket--and loyal to the Crown. By choosing farming above the law, Abraham had introduced strained relations long before the first scene opens. Added to it is the fact that his loyalties are torn.
In reality, Abraham was from a farming family (though he himself became a magistrate and judge after the war!), and he was the primary caretaker of his aging parents on the family farm after his two older brothers are killed in the early days of the war. This, combined with the death of his uncle, who was a Patriot general, are what spurred Abe to take on the role his childhood friend asked him to consider--namely, gathering all the information he could on British movements and passing it along toward Washington.
Also in the show, Abe is married to a lady named Mary but was once engaged to Anna, who's now married to Selah Strong. In reality, Abe wasn't married, and Anna was a neighbor a decade his senior (so no young love there, LOL), who did indeed aid him in his clandestine tasks, and even posed as his wife when he was running information--married couples traveling together were not often halted and searched by the British, but single men always were. It wasn't until 1781 that Abe got engaged to Mary (a relative of Anna's, actually), at which point he more or less resigned from the Culper Ring so he wouldn't risk bringing calamity down on his family.
And according to the history, Abe was never torn in his loyalties. Though he knew how to bite his tongue to keep from drawing the attention of the British, his writings make no secret of his very Patriotic bent...and also make it clear that this quiet young farmer took great pleasure from tricking the British overlords plaguing his town.
As a writer of fiction, I can certainly appreciate how the TV writers have tweaked fact to make a good show. And as a history nut, I always love noting where the differences are.