Thanks to the History Channel, I was granted an early-access screening of the series Sons of Liberty (premiering 25 January at 9 p.m. ET). I binge-watched it for almost 5 hours and also reviewed tons of online content, press releases, and character biographies from the website. Previously, I had only seen and heard about the three-part miniseries through previews on television and social media. Despite some glaring inaccuracies spotted in the various trailers, it looked compelling. The production looked top notch and the acting seemed fun.
The previews give the feeling that it’s a dramatization of real, historical events, with an air of credibility: credentialed historians pop up between frames of a smiling Ben Barnes (playing Samuel Adams) or a sarcastic Rafe Spall (playing John Hancock) as sparks fly everywhere from the firing of flintlocks. Understandably, one might get the impression from these sneak peeks that this is some sort of docu-drama. Well, it’s not that at all.
You have to dig a bit to find it (it’s never explicitly stated in the trailers or promotional content), but on History’s website, they make it clear that this program is “is a dramatic interpretation of events that sparked a revolution. It is historical fiction, not a documentary.” It goes on to state that one of the goals is to “focus on real events that have shaped our past.” Whatever you do, don’t take that statement too literally.
As historical fiction (actually, it’s more of an alternate history) the miniseries is very successful. The acting is superb, some of the scenes are very clever, the special effects are fantastic (and believable), and—believe it or not—they actually included variations in the colors of the British soldiers’ uniforms (not all of the red coats have buff lapels, cuff and collars; some have yellow and some blue)! This is actually a huge step up from previous dramatizations of British soldiers.
While it plays well for those who are in on the secret, if you’re looking for facts about the Sons of Liberty or information about the War for American Independence, don’t plan on discovering those facts in this miniseries; you won’t find them. Instead of portraying actual historical events and giving each character balance and depth, the writers and producers have gone with a standard archetype of good and evil—you can probably guess which side is good and which is evil. So instead of the real General Thomas Gage, the viewer is told (in promotional material) that Gage is a brutal dictator-type figure who is abusive to his wife and orders his soldiers to act just as ruthlessly to the point of igniting the fuse of revolution. It’s complete bunk, of course, as we’ll see below.
To help guide the serious students of history, here is a list of the first episode’s most glaring historical inaccuracies and the real events and context behind them. There are too many to list them all, but this will get you started on the right path. Enjoy.
It’s Boston in 1765. Dr. Joseph Warren walks into a pub and stumbles into a drunk Samuel Adams. He explains to Adams that he’s been looking for him just as a group of British Regulars storm into the pub; there is muttering about a warrant, issued by Governor Hutchinson, for Adams’ arrest. The soldiers have come to collect! And we’re already off to a bizarre start. There were no British regulars stationed in Boston in 1765. They were there 1768-1770 and 1774-1776.
- Doesn’t Look a Day Over 30 – The producers went with a younger look for Samuel Adams in 1765; in real life, at that time, he was 43. Certainly not old, but not a young lad either. Don’t get me wrong—Barnes is a fine actor and the producers wanted a hip fellow that all the kids can relate to and the girls swoon over—but Barnes is ten years younger than Adams would have been—was George Clooney not available (he asks facetiously)?
- That Pub-Crawler Sam Adams – Samuel Adams has an undeserved reputation as a drinker who hangs out in bars. This wasn’t the case, at least not according to actual evidence. Samuel Adams inherited a brewery (which failed by 1764) and was called ‘Samuel the Publican’. But as J.L. Bell points out, Samuel Adams’ nickname has other connotations—it has nothing at all to do with pubs and alcohol.
- Samuel Adams the Well-to-Do – Adams is depicted as a poor man with a poor background (compared to his successful cousin John Adams). In the show, John Hancock talks to a man about Samuel Adams’ father and how he lost everything to Governor Hutchinson. The elder Samuel Adams lost his investments in the Massachusetts Land Bank, which Hutchinson advocated against, while his namesake son was at Harvard. This was a standard interpretation from the 1920s thru the 1970s. In fact, the elder Adams suffered only a temporary setback and left his son substantial property. But the show’s dramatic choice isn’t out of left field.
- The Governator – Hutchinson was not the Governor of Massachusetts in 1765. He was Lieutenant Governor as well as a probate judge. He would not take over as Governor until 1769 (and then only as acting governor until he was fully commissioned in 1771). The enmity between Adams and Hutchinson is founded in real history, but not for the reasons given in the show.
- Civil vs. Military Authority – Under the English Bill of Rights (as well as the prevailing views of liberty at the time), British Civil Law was separate from Military Law (much as there is a distinction today), and military authority was viewed as being under the civil authority. Soldiers did not enforce the laws of the state and the state did not interfere in the judicial system of the military. All warrants were issued by sheriffs or magistrates and enforced by them alone.
- On Probation – No warrant was issued for Samuel Adams in 1765. In 1758—seven years before this scene supposedly takes place—the sheriff (not Hutchinson) put out a warrant involving the estate of Samuel Adams’ father. The £8,000 was the total of uncollected taxes Adams owed to Boston as calculated in 1765. Instead of coming after him with a gun, however, the sheriff engaged him in public discussions (and threatened to take away his businesses, his home, and his property to repay the debt). Nothing ever came of the threats.
- The Tax Collector – Samuel Adams began his career as a Tax Collector in 1753, elected by general vote in a town meeting (not appointed by Hutchinson as the series suggests) thus making his term of employment much longer than the miniseries suggests (by 11 years, in fact). Adams did indeed fail to collect fines, and probably for some of the reasons mentioned in the show (he wanted to be liked and was probably also looking out for friends). He wasn’t removed from his position as tax collector so much as he was promoted from that job to one of Boston’s four seats to the provincial legislature.
- Destruction of Property – Hutchinson’s Mansion was indeed sacked, but not for the reasons given in the show (absolutely not because of Samuel Adams’ warrant and his debt) and not on that date (it was actually sacked about two weeks later). It was actually over the Stamp Act, as Bob Ruppert explains. Hutchinson’s house and possessions were all nearly destroyed and, unlike the show, Hutchinson didn’t immediately return to his North End mansion, but eventually it was rebuilt. The mob also looted his expensive belongings—most of which were never returned or recovered (it wasn’t just the destruction of a painting).
- Assassin’s Creed – Yeah, at one point Samuel Adams is climbing up walls and running across the roofs of Boston like in the popular video game. That didn’t happen, folks. Let’s be honest though; it sure looked cool.
- Where in the World is Thomas Gage? – Historically, Gage had already been given command of British forces in North America in 1763. He had been in the colonies and in Canada since 1755, ten years prior to the Stamp Act riots; so I was surprised that the episode introduces him hanging out in England in 1765, completely unaware of events unfolding in Boston. In 1765, Gen. Thomas Gage was living in New York. He visited Boston in 1768 but was not closely involved in that town’s politics until he arrived as governor in 1774. Since Gage’s relationship with Adams is part of the premise of the series, it was a little off-putting to see such a glaring historical inaccuracy. We’ll come back to this.
- The Not-So-Eligible Bachelor – Samuel Adams remarried in 1764, unlike the bachelor-esque depiction of him in the show. He was not homeless either. Soon after Samuel Adams was elected to the Massachusetts legislature, that body chose him as its Clerk. That gave him a salary which, with frugal living and friends’ support, allowed him to live a simple genteel lifestyle for the next several years. He had put his failures in business behind him at that point. His outstanding debt was really those uncollected taxes. And yes, John Adams never hosted his cousin.
- Benjamin Franklin in London – Yes, Franklin was in London in 1765, but not—as the show claims—because he was kicked out of the colonies by the whigs/populists. In fact, Franklin was there to petition the king to make Pennsylvania a royal colony. He probably did have his way with women, but he also took time while there to protest the Stamp Act.
- An Angry and Vengeful Parliament – The whole scene where parliamentary officials give license for British troops to enter homes and destroy personal property and seize possessions is nonsense. In fact, parliament was pretty out of touch with American sentiment in the colonies to the point of fault. While they instituted the Coercive Acts, they ignored General Gage’s requests time after time to send more troops and munitions because he was worried about a war breaking out.
- What British Soldiers Didn’t Do in Boston – Let’s just cover these now (thanks to J.L. Bell for parts of the list) because the show just depicts the British army in all the wrong and mythological ways it can.
- Soldiers didn’t arrest patriot/populist leaders. No homes were stormed, family members seized, or fathers taken away from crying sons.
- Soldiers didn’t shut down any patriot newspapers. The two of the most radical papers continued to publish until the printers left town just before the war broke out in April 1775.
- Soldiers did not try to stop the Powder Alarm of 2 September 1774, the Worcester court uprising, any of the Massachusetts’s conventions, or meetings of the illegal Massachusetts Provincial Congress.
- Soldiers did not retaliate against the 400 armed New England militiamen who stormed Fort William and Mary, assaulted five soldiers and an officer (who fired on the militia after demanding they stop several times), and stole all the gunpowder stores, weapons, and ammunition, in December 1774.
- Soldiers were not quartered in unwilling civilians’ homes, despite the popular myth to the contrary. In 1774 and early 1775, the only British military men staying in civilian homes were officers renting rooms from willing hosts. Back in 1768 and after the war started, the British army did use some public buildings.
- In 1774 the army didn’t use or confiscate public buildings as barracks. The troops were housed in tents on Boston Common. Eventually barracks were constructed from old warehouses and other unused buildings, all rented from their actual owners.
- Soldiers did not use force to break up peaceful political demonstrations.
- Soldiers did not issue or enforce warrants. Despite the show’s insistence that British Regulars entered homes and gave summonses to attend court hearings for missed payments, none of this happened.
- Soldiers didn’t broadly shut down businesses owned and run by patriots. The troops came to Boston to help the Customs service enforce the Boston Port Bill, so in a sense they did shut down businesses that involved trade through the harbor.
December 1773. Men with painted faces and in loose clothes. A shot of Boston Harbor. You can probably guess where this is going.
- Leaving Tea in the Harbor – There is just too much to cover here. I’ll leave it to Benjamin L. Carp to fill the reader in on the facts concerning the dumping of the tea.
- The Commander in Chief – General Gage finally shows up! Ten years later in the show than he did in the historical timeline. Gage took charge of military affairs in America in 1763, not 1773. In actuality, Gage went back to England for a year (incidentally in 1773) and returned to the colony in 1774, when he relieved Hutchinson of his Governorship in Boston.
- Missing Action – During the time this is all happening, a lot of intense history is missing. The Worcester Rebellion in 1774, the establishment of the Provincial Congress and Committee of Correspondence (of which some of the main characters were a part), the Powder Alarm, etc. These were key early successes of the Sons of Liberty that aren’t discussed in any of the episodes. All of this missing action is probably why Hancock’s assessment, after seeing the slim pickings of the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia, that it didn’t have the making of a resistance seems a little ignorant.
- Frenemies – The comment from Washington about Gage being “a cancer” is preposterous. They were friends throughout the Seven Years War and Washington even attended a farewell dinner in Gage’s honor before Gage left for England in 1773. They ended their friendship when war began, but in 1774 Washington would have spoken highly of Gage.
- What General Gage Didn’t Do During the Boston Occupation – See earlier list about British Regulars.
This is a good time to talk a little about the character and position of General Gage. He is severely misrepresented in the series. It’s a little sickening. Like in the movie The Patriot, the British soldiers come across as fascists. The producers undoubtedly want viewers to feel sympathetic to the Bostonians, but they do so at the expense of the British soldiers’ humanity. They might as well be Stormtroopers from Star Wars (in fact all the scenes of them marching through the streets of Boston remind me of the Stormtroopers roaming around the narrow corridors of the Death Star).
Gage, for all his idealism, really cared about the colonies; he married a woman from New Jersey, his children were raised in America, and he owned lots of land in America. He held ‘whiggish’ political views and had a firm love of law to the point of possible fault (so his officers thought). Unfortunately the series just throws out all the real evidence about his character. It glosses over the most important historical aspect of his legacy: he never tried illegal means to stop Samuel Adams. He tried very hard to do that within the law.
Indeed, he allowed Paul Revere to consistently disrupt his troops. This drove his subordinates to frustration. Lord Percy wrote of his commanding General, “The general’s great lenity and moderation serve only to make them [the patriots] more daring and insolent.”
Gage respected where he stood within the realm of government, according to the English Bill of Rights. In the show, Gage orders his soldiers to flog a civilian for stealing goods from a British naval ship. He could not have ordered this action. As stated before, there was a separation between civilian and military law and justice. Gage had no authority to punish a civilian for theft. He could, and did, punish his own soldiers for theft and other crimes—including crimes committed against the colonists. The scene in the series of the man being flogged is a fantasy. Another point: The Royal Navy had its own system of discipline separate from the army.
As is the scene of Gage taking over Hancock’s home. Again, this is a misunderstanding of the Quartering Act. Before the war, Gage would have to ask permission to live in Hancock’s home as a guest and pay rent to him if given approval. A British general took over Hancock’s home in mid-1775 after the war had started and Hancock had been gone for months. Likewise, the American army was taking over vacant Loyalists’ homes outside of Boston.
These men trained openly, not in the woods as shown in the episode. It was actually the law in Massachusetts to drill every few months. Gage knew this and didn’t make any attempt to stop this from happening. And he did not disarm the population; that is an oft-repeated myth that the series picks up and uses without any critical thought. Gage did not touch privately-owned guns and munitions because seizing private property would violate the law—the very thing Gage held dear.
Lord Percy, one of Gages’ subordinates, and other officers were quite upset about this. Percy noted, “The Gen’l has not yet molested them in the least. They have even free access to and from this town, tho’ armed with firelocks [muskets], provided they only come in small nos [numbers].”
Meanwhile, Gage disarmed his own soldiers in Boston; he gave orders to Regulars to cease walking around town with their side arms and to never have loaded weapons when on guard. In one instance, a soldier wounded a civilian with a sword who had insulted him and started a riot that caused a brawl. The soldier was court martialed.
These orders seem strange in the context of the narrative presented in the series, but for the historical General Gage these were decisions of consequence. He wanted reconciliation. He wanted peace. And that is why Revere and the others were permitted to go about their business without much harassment. Gage admitted that he had done all he could to be mediator for peace in his letter to Congress in October of 1774.
Even when he ordered the march to Concord in April 1775, his target wasn’t private citizens’ arms but the Provincial Congress’s collection of munitions and cannon. By securing artillery-through purchases, legislative actions, theft, and in one case an armed mob-New England’s leaders gave clear indications t hat they were preparing for war.
Nevertheless, Gage explicitly gave orders to Lt. Col. Smith and Major Pitcairn before they departed towards Concord to avoid taking any private property, including arms; “you will seize and distroy all Artillery, Ammunition, Provisions, Tents, Small Arms, and all Military Stores whatever. But you will take care that the Soldiers do not plunder the Inhabitants, or hurt private property.”
Only after the war broke out, in June 1775, did Gage arrest any patriots within the walls of Boston. At that point, however, most had left the city.
- The Gunpowder Plot – While it never happened (powder was too precious), the explosion of the powder magazine was pretty cool. There was a tussle over the province’s gunpowder supply stored in modern Somerville on 1 September 1774, but no explosion.
- The Informant – Did Mrs. Gage inform Dr. Joseph Warren of the impending attack on Concord? Meh, doubtful. See this article by Derek Beck.
- The Famous Ride – I won’t rehash what others have written.
- Shot Heard Round the World – Nothing about the depiction of the skirmish at Lexington is remotely accurate. Those interested in learning more can read the depositions and accounts of participants; see Derek Beck’s excellent examination of who shot first (and the comments as well, which are informative).
- Brutality – The scene where Major Pitcairn orders a wounded colonist killed is fiction. The only helpless wounded man deliberately killed by an enemy was a British soldier.
I won’t go into the last episode which is just more of the same (though if any readers, after watching the program, wish to add their own list, please do so in the comments below).
I can see why the History Channel added a disclaimer on their site. This is not meant to be a literal account of the onset of the American Revolution. It certainly isn’t even a history of Boston’s Sons of Liberty.
With this quick guide, readers and viewers of the show will hopefully have a better grasp of the content, the way it has been altered, and where to look to find the correct information (for example, be sure to use the search function at the top of this page).
The takeaway from this is that the Sons of Liberty program is highly entertaining historical fiction. We hope it energizes more people to study the Revolution and discover the truth behind these events. In many cases, the real story is better than fiction.
“In many cases, the real story is better than fiction.”
From my perspective, nothing more need be said. Thank you for shedding light on this latest effort to turn history into something it is not. As much as I used to like the History Channel, I am sorry to say it is not something I watch very often.
In total agreement. After viewing the first episode and watching Sam Adams leap across tall buildings in a single bound I felt as though I was watching something from science fiction and not worthy of a ‘History Channel.’ I would really hope this (like the historically inaccurate ‘Patriot’) is not used as a teaching tool for high school students. Regardless, I decided to pass on the remaining episodes. One word ‘farce.’
Just curious…….. Does anyone know if Paul Revere ACTUALLY fought at Bunker Hill? The History Channel seemed to place him in the Israel Putnam role of main General. They had him do everything he did except yell “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes!”
Paul Revere didn’t fight the Battle of Bunker Hill. In fact he was denied a commission in the Continental Army and spent the war as a courier for Congress.
True about Revere and Bunker Hill – but later on there was his stint as a Lt. Colonel of Massachusetts militia and the disastrous defeat at Penobscot, Maine, for which he was court-martialed.
To be clear, Revere requested the court martial, and he was acquitted.
EXACTLY…and he was court-martialed twice! HOW did this man become such a hero? Oh yeah…”Revere” rhymes with lots of things…13-yr-old Sybil Luddington rode twice as far and roused twice the troops, a night BEFORE Revere’s ride, and wasn’t given a gun to defend herself (as she might arouse suspicion). Instead, they gave her a big stick (which she used repeatedly to keep highwaymen from stealing her horse. History has only begun remembering her in the last few years.
Well done Scarlett. Will someone please give the true story of this man Paul Revere. America needs to re-boot the many myths that surround the War of Independence.
There’s a little problem with history’s recent “remembering” of Sybil Ludington: there is no historical evidence that she made the ride that she has been credited with. The first mention of it occurs in a book published in the 1880s that contained many inaccuracies about the Ludington family. The story was picked up again in a 1907 biography of her father, and has taken off from there. And it’s a great story. There is, however, no evidence from the era of the American Revolution to support it. If anyone can find any substantive information from the era to suggest that Sybil made her famous ride, it would be a great service to the historical community.
Sybil’s Ride, if even verifiable, was in 1777; two years after the Lexington Alarm; she was supposedly gathering her father’s militia in response to a British incursion in to nearby Connecticut (Col. Ludington’s regiment was from Dutchess County, NY)
I have looked at these posts and then scanned through more of the thread, and I believe the discussion of myth making versus “actual” history is one of the more useful discussions I have seen on JAR. I hope it stays alive, which it has every appearance of doing.
My thoughts: Voltaire observed that “history is a fable agreed upon.” As a lawyer, my professional experience has taught me that no two people can reach absolute agreement on events they observed 10 minutes ago, let alone over the periods of time and number of people involved when we are trying to assemble a narrative of historic events as sweeping as the Revolution. For this and other reasons, there will never be a “final” written history of anything. The best we can hope for as historians is that a tentative consensus can be reached by applying agreed upon norms of critical and methodical analysis. When it comes to the role of history as entertainment, I think much of the resentment historians, including me, feel towards programs like this one is that by their very nature they toss critical thinking and well established facts aside in the interest of telling a good story. However, like Tom Verenna, I don’t think we should reject the use of history as an entertainment medium for this reason. I don’t find Shakespeare’s plays about historical figures to be less compelling because of the many inaccuracies found in them. As Tom points out, some people just want to be entertained; others will be encouraged to engage in critical thinking in order to learn more about the events portrayed. Either way, we should be glad that the concept of history will always be of interest to we humans.
Yes, Paul Revere was court-martialed twice, like someone else said he was acquitted, he was also very unorthodox, some say a little unhinged, and he’d most likely take offense at being remembered as a hero, for any of his actions.
What he was though, was a bad ass, if anything he embodied the American spirit, a true patriot, loyal to a fault, and a hard worker, like a mutt you adopt at the pound that becomes the best dog you ever had.
He was pivotal in the success of the Boston Tea Party, not the dumping of the actual tea, but pivotal in the impact it had, to send the right message to the right people at the right time. He was always two steps ahead of most people when it came to planning and strategy.
Thanks Gary! And yes, I’m in agreement.
One thing I found the most ironic while watching the program was that all the bad things attributed to Gage and the British soldiers were actually things done by the patriots to other American citizens.
Disarming the population, destroying businesses, arresting people for having different political beliefs, impressing items, quartering in private homes without consent and without paying rent, killing a wounded soldier without mercy, etc…. all of this was instituted by congress and carried out by patriot governments throughout the colonies during the war. If History really wanted to ‘bring history to life’ they would have produced a program that showed this historical side and it likely would have been even more interesting.
Again, I totally agree.
It has been an eye-opening experience to look closely at what it is these “patriots” did in the name of independence as they trampled upon any notion of civil rights for those not in agreement with them. It would certainly be too much to call them the 18th century ISIS simply because there was no widespread murder of opponents, but as far as single-mindedness in their efforts to “convince” the public to see things their way it is not too far off. Try and explain it otherwise to the Torys and those many others of the population who simply wanted to be left alone to get on with their lives under British rule.
It is this type of action that has caused me to deeply question any purported legality in their 1776 declaration and to look on this minority as the British did and for what they really were: rebels engaged in an illegal insurrection frantically working to bring the population under their control in order to protect themselves from being charged with treason, with ensuing execution and forfeiture of all their worldly goods.
I realize over two centuries of historiography says otherwise, but when looked at from a pragmatically legal perspective, I have great difficulty buying into the “freedom” and “independence” thing. For anyone of those times trying to justify a break with the status quo, I submit the burden was on them to demonstrate it was legal and that their various protestations in that regard are insufficient.
It was an eyeopener for me as well. Digging through the Minutes from various councils has been quite fascinating.
You make an interesting point.
Could the people of the time (the Patriots) justify a break with the status quo and demonstrate that it was justified and legal?
I think yes. But one has to take into consideration the question: “Justified and legal according to what set of laws and rules?” At the risk of oversimplification, consider the following:
The British Parliament held the Patriot actions to be unjustified and illegal because they violated the British Constitution. Here one should recognize that, as Harry Dickinson, an eminent British historian told me a number of years ago, the British Constitution is and never was a single, unchanging (until formally amended) document like our Constitution. It is and always has been fluid. At any given time it is the sum total of the laws that are in effect in Great Britain at that time. In Harry’s words, “It is whatever the three branches of Government – Commons, Lords and Crown – agree that it is.” What the Patriots were doing was clearly illegal and therefore unjustified in the view of Parliament because it violated elements of the British Constitution, many of which elements they had recently enacted to the detriment of the Colonists.
The Patriots just as clearly felt that what they were doing was both legal and justified. But they were relying on a different set of “Ground Rules” than was Parliament. Yes, they often referred to Parliament’s violation of basic concepts embodied in the British Constitution. But more importantly, they referred to a higher law – “Natural Law” as expressed by John Locke almost a hundred years earlier. One sees this throughout the writings of the Founding Fathers, but especially in the Declaration of Independence.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
That passage is straight out of Locke. It declares that “Natural Law” trumps man made laws and that when a government attempts to deprive the people of their basic “Natural Law” rights, “Natural Law” gives them a legal right and justification, superior to the “rights” embodied in any other system of laws such as the British Constitution, to “alter or to abolish it.”
Could the Patriots demonstrate that Great Britain had violated their rights of Americans under “Natural Law?” The Founding Fathers thought they could and the did so in the Declaration of Independence. The biggest part of the Declaration is a listing of twenty five instances in which Great Britain had violated the Natural Law rights of the American people. Clearly, the Founding Fathers thought this was more than sufficient justification for their actions. Just as clearly, the Parliament of Great Britain did not.
What resulted was what has resulted countless times throughout history when two parties with differing agendas and viewpoints cannot resolve their differences through peaceful negotiation. When all else fails, there remains a resort to Force of Arms. As George III said, “Blows must decides.”
Was it ugly? Of course it was. It was war and war has always been ugly. Did some on the Patriot side commit vicious, cruel, atrocious acts? Yes. Did some of the Crown side commit vicious, cruel, atrocious acts? Yes. Does it really matter today? In my opinion, no. In war there is only one thing that really matters. That one thing is to win. If you lose, no matter how virtuous you are, your virtue counts for nothing. If you win, no matter what you have done to win, you get to write the history and “spin” it whatever way you want.
Today the American public by and large believes that the actions of the Patriots were legal and justified. Why? Because the Patriots won. If the Patriots had lost, I’m sure we would see things quite differently.
Thank you for your considered review of the history justifying going to war. It is one that has been instilled in the American memory for over two centuries now and, unfortunately, is one I believe hardly does justice to the true state of the relations between the colonists and those in London in the years leading up to Lexington.
There are much deeper issues at play here than simply relying on Locke for justification and I submit they lie at the doorstep of self-interest. The excuses for a split in the years before the war do not hold water when looked at closely as conditions had hardly deteriorated to the point where bloodshed was needed. There is too much in evidence to support this fact and I cannot take the time to recount all the good that was going on (for a wonderful overview from a British perspective in 1775, take a look at Sagittarius’s Letters and Political Speculations). For a short answer, I would simply point to the fact that a huge majority of the population was NOT in favor of the split.
Look further at the conduct of these “patriots” once shots were fired and which gives you some insight into their true natures in the time leading up to war. Not only were there egregious violations of civil rights against those wanting to live in peace (these were not the enemy, they were their neighbors!), but many then sought to undermine the very system they purported to support in the name of self-interest. Repeatedly, Washington, Franklin, and the Continental Congress threw up their hands at what they were witnessing as self-interest ran rampant.
This from Washington during the war:
“Our conflict is not likely to cease so soon as every good man could wish. The measure of iniquity is not yet full; and unless we can act a little more upon patriotic grounds, I know not what may be the issue of the contest. Speculation, peculation, engrossing, forestalling with all their concomitants, afford too many proofs of THE DECAY OF PUBLIC VIRTUE, and too glaring instances of its being the interest and desire of too many who would be thought friends, to continue the war.”
So, we need to look deeply at the reasons for this war and not accept the hackneyed versions that relay on Locke and company. The British perspective simply cannot be easily cast off and one needs to carefully look to not only the words, but the actions of the rebels in the context of what was actually happening. If we do so, I think the evidence comes up far short of any justification for the carnage that followed.
I would love to be able to sit down with you some day and discuss this in greater depth and detail than is possible through an exchange of posts in this forum.
Let me just say at this point that I am in basic agreement that there was a lot of ugliness associated with the Patriot side of the American Revolution and the birth of our democracy. As I delve ever more deeply into the history of our Revolution it becomes increasingly clear to me that all of the negative characteristics that you mention – avarice, rampant self interest, intimidation, profiteering, atrocities, political betrayal, conspiracies, manipulation and distortion of the truth, domination by a small, dedicated minority and more – were present “in spades” on the American side.
I would point out, however, that these same negative characteristics have been and are abundant in all revolutions. Just look at the many failed and failing revolutions in the mid east and elsewhere in today’s world. They failed and are failing largely because they succumb to the destructive effects of these factors. The result has been the repeated failure of democracy and reversion to authoritarian forms of government.
One of the greatest miracles of our revolution, in my view, is that, in spite of all of these negative factors that came so perilously close to sinking our experiment in democracy so many times, the American experiment in democracy did not succumb to them. It survived and still survives in spite of everything to give us the nation that we enjoy today. And that, to me, is more important than the ugliness that attended its birth.
We are in agreement. My only point in commenting was to agree with Tom’s article on the distortions presented by Hollywood and the consequent injustice they do in perpetuating the public’s ignorance of these times. The realities of what happened are indeed so much more interesting that these fictionalized accounts and we simply cannot blindly accept 200 years of historiography that tells us it was altruistic. The facts are otherwise and we need to own up that the origins of this contest were ugly and not as idealized as many (read: Hollywood) would like to make it out to be.
I meant to mention in my last that there is a distinction to be made between the “causes” and “means” of the war; my issue has to do with the cause aspect. It is nothing new as in the 1830s and 1840 both Quakers pushing a peace movement and various religious denominations came up with the distinction while they struggled with the morality of the Revolution. That very interesting aspect of the war is something I hope to write about in the future.
Wouldn’t it be nice if Hollywood engaged in some cerebral thinking about what happened and rejected the low hanging fruit that war represents. Wishful thinking, for sure.
I actually wrote my undergraduate thesis on “Quakers and the American Revolution.” It was interesting to see a very different view of the “glorious cause.”
Very interesting. It sounds like you have already a lot of the heavy lifting on the subject and you should consider writing an article for this forum. I’m sure it would be enlightening to get the Quakers’ pacifist perspective on the Revolution.
Norman, excellent post. You were very gentle with Gary. I would have told him to move to England if he feels so bad about how we won the Revolution. (that’s me being as gentle as I can be)
I awaited this series with great anticipation. I was greatly impressed with the whole production. THEN, I read articles panning the show for its many inaccuracies. I am very interested in history, although my education on the subject is lacking. The only reason I wanted to watch this series was for the historical content in an entertaining format. Without the accurate history, there is no reason for me to continue watching this program. If I just want entertainment, I’ll watch “The Walking Dead” or “Nashville”.
I had to laugh at moving to England! Not at this stage in life, that’s for sure.
The wonderful thing about this website is being able to critically exchange ideas with others and discuss things of interest.
After studying the Revolution for about 45 years now, it is a source of wonder to me that there is so much out there that one cannot possibly know everything. So, if we talk about one aspect of it, such as the war’s causation (as opposed to the means that I mentioned in a prior post) that does not mean we do not love America and have to move away. What it does mean is that we love the history of our early days so much that we want to dissect it to its most basic elements to understand it as deeply as we are able; it is not about choosing sides at all, that is simply irrelevant. Call it an obsession with the human condition, if you will
Anyway, I hope you are able to delve into these times as they will provide you with many opportunities to see them in ways you never thought imaginable.
More total rubbish American properganda fiction. The history channel should be ashamed.
Without France , America as we know it today would not exist.
You make it sound as if the American Revolution is an atrocity. Your comparison of the rebels to ISIS is beyond deplorable. While both sides are guilty of wrongdoing, as in ALL WARS THROUGHOUT HISTORY, the colonists had JUST CAUSE to want freedom from British rule. You focus your argument mainly on the fact that many colonists initially resisted going to war with England, which is true. For whatever reason, whether it was true loyalty to the King, fear of being charged with treason, or simply a lack of backbone, many colonists refused to join the rebels in their cause…..initially. You can sit there and downplay the laws passed by British parliament to nearly nothing and claim, as it most definitely sounds in your comments, that everything was kumbaya prior to the American Revolution, and that the rebels were nothing but criminals trying to oust a just and benevolent ruler, but this is simply not the case, and it’s more of a historical inaccuracy than the History Channel’s portrayal in Sons of Liberty.
You read far too much into what I said as discussed elsewhere in this thread concerning the concept of fanaticism. Please, feel free to pick some other faction with rabid views and substitute if if you don’t like mine, or just reject it outright. No problem there.
And if you think I am off base with regard to the causation issue, which is one shared by many scholars, then reject that also. And, please, feel free to go back and read the historiography of the Revolution as espoused over the past +200 years coming from various historical schools of thought, both American and British, and see if what I am saying is really anything new. It isn’t.
Thanks for this comment Trish I was having difficulty with being able to say similar. As a descendant of an Irishmen who arrived in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1634 to settle in newly organized Watertown on the River Charles. I had numerous ancestors on the Lexington Green on that “Glorious Day For America” two of them died and it sickens me when people talk badly about who they were and why they were so danged patriotic. Our greatest history was from 1620-1775. You have to study all of those 155 years to even have a remote idea of what lead us to Lexington. Though not a Scholar by no means, to understand my previous ancestors in the Colonies and their culture must start with the voyage of the first group of Puritans.
Did you read the DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE. QUITE CLEAR THE PATRIOTS LAYED THEIR GRIEVANCES OUT ON A PIECE OF PAPER BRO. DONT HATE THE PLAYER.
Did you ever read the British Parliamentary debates for the other side of the story? Check them out as the Declaration is only one point of view.
Moral of story: never attempt to analyze history with pre-conceived notions, bias, or from an unwavering, narrow-minded position.
Who cares what the British thought? Had we stayed subject to the crown we would have been little more than a “second world” nation for 100 odd years since all the real wealth generated here would have gone to England. The founders knew that the policies of the British were designed to use the Colonies as a cash cow furnishing raw materials for the British Isles industry. For example we could make iron but could not make it into anything. Mills to do this were banned. We could not import brass as sheet or bars but only as finished goods. So if we wanted to cast a brass trigger guard for a Kentucky Rifle for example it was necessary to melt down something expensive like candlesticks to get the material or buy smuggled brass. The people here got fed up and the rest is history.
Oh, my God! “Who cares what the British thought?” For one, historians care what the British thought. In all but the rare instance, telling only one side of a story is not history–it’s propaganda. For another, the rebels cared what the British thought. Why do you think Congress sent emissaries to other countries, including England? Why do you think Washington and others developed intelligence networks? They did it to determine what the British thought.
Thanks, Mike. You took the words right out of my mouth as all I could come up with was “Gasp!!!”
Clearly, a lot of work remains to be done to educate the public and, while things like SOL do not make the job any easier, websites such as this one go a long way in that effort.
Mr. Shattuck – there is no call to use scare quotes when referring to Patriots. They were Patriots, period. The Tories were Tories, and the Brits were Brits. Your multiple comments here in this thread certainly do seem to reveal a strong disdain for the American Revolution and, by extension, the very notion of America and Americans, and the inherent Rights of Man as distinct from being merely loyal subjects of the British King.
Did some of the Patriots commit various bad acts in the course of the Revolution? Of course – they were normal human beings, imperfections and all. Did others (Brits, Tories. and Canadians) do likewise? Did those other interests disagree with the entire notion of fomenting an American revolution against the British King, and so disagreed with the various specific acts undertaken to successfully carry out the revolution? Sure, of course. Every American schoolchild is (at least used to be) taught that there were Tories and Brits who each had a different opinion of the affair than that of the Patriots.
You ought to study more on other revolutions and independence movements in history and around the world, particularly those against the British Crown (as in Ireland, India, Africa, and elsewhere). Revolutions virtually never start out with large majorities of the general population in favor of upsetting the status quo. People and institutions always resist change – it’s human nature to do so. There are always vested interests who are harmed whenever change occurs, and all revolutions, both good and bad, create winners and losers. The losers suffer, reconcile, and stay, or they leave. It always works that way in revolutions. There were comparatively few and relatively mild repercussions undertaken against Tories who elected to stay in America after the revolutions, as compared to most revolutions in history.
And yes, there were certainly various commercial interests who were key elements of the Patriotic enterprise who were perhaps more interested in profit than ideology. But you seem to not recognize that similarly, there were also various British commercial interests represented in Parliament (unlike the Americans) who were mostly interested in protecting their products from competition from American manufactures as well as foreign products. There was plenty of venality to go around on all sides of the conflict.
But nevertheless, there are two key characteristics of the American Revolution that distinguish it from all prior revolutions, and most subsequent revolutions. These characteristics include:
1) A statement of universal human rights being superior to the rights of any ruler or government, including the right to overthrow the ruler when he/she no longer respects the rights of those he/she rules
2) A statement defining a common American People, who though living in many different colonies spread across the continent, saw more in common with each other and their culture than with a faraway British King and the Brit institutions, including Parliament and various commercial chartered companies, that served themselves and not the interests of the American People. These peoples elected to remain joined, at first in a loose confederation, and shortly thereafter in a Constitutional Republic which remains to this day, despite a civil war over the slavery issue 150 years ago.
There were also characteristics of the American Revolution that were not peculiar to itself, but are shared with many other revolutions both before and since, including the notion of local self rule, and the desire to coordinate and cooperate between and amongst the thirteen colonies for the purposes of self defense as well as commerce.
Of course vast numbers of volumes have been written on these very subjects. Historians all over the world have researched, analyzed, and expressed their own thoughts and biases on these subjects for hundreds of years, and the arguments will continue forever.
You, however, seem to prefer a one-sided interpretation of people and events that seems ideologically driven rather than driven by a desire for understanding.
A very nice review of the characteristics of revolution and there is not much to disagree with. Thank you for that.
With regard to how I might personally view the Revolution after studying it for over four decades and reading many primary sources from many institutions, I am afraid you misconstrue my deep respect for what happened because I might bring up the uncomfortable positions our opponents held. I find the British, Indians, Canadians and all the others worthy of understanding and consideration and am simply not willing to dismiss their points of view.
Doing that has caused me to encounter those nuances you refer to and to question my own positions. I recommend it to anyone engaged in any undertaking, not just in considering the Revolution, as it can really be a refreshing, mind expanding opportunity.
Thank you again for your thoughts.
Thank you, Gary.
Through the genealogical research of my son and daughter-in-law conducted over the last several years I have learned much about my own forebears that directly illustrates some of the nuances of the American Revolution.
My ancestors arrived in the earliest years of the Virginia colony. A female ancestor from my paternal line was one of the earliest “natural born” Virginians of British parentage, whose father was a lieutenant under Captain John Smith, and she later married the first male ancestor of my surname to arrive in Virginia from England a couple of decades later. My family ancestors eventually spread throughout the eastern shore of Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware, and many of them converted to the Society of Friends (“Quakers”) who as most know are dedicated pacifists.
Well, being a pacifist American during the American Revolution was not a popular position to maintain in the midst of the war, regardless of which side one was on (my forebears sympathized with the Independence movement, but abhorred the war itself). They suffered as a result of their religious beliefs, including being falsely charged with various offenses by the local Patriotic leaders. Quakers at that time were doubly damned for opposing slavery as well – also not popular in Virginia. Well, the war finally ended and my ancestors were eventually forgiven their pacifism and accepted. One of them went on to become one of the original ratifiers of the US Constitution and eventual Governor of Delaware.
I imagine that all families who have been in the USA for multiple generations would have similar tales to tell of injustices borne in the midst of otherwise commendable times, as seen from the American historical perspective. That would apply to families affected by the Mexican War, the Civil War, and all Americans of African descent, as well as those descendants of Irish, Chinese, Italians, Japanese, and other immigrants at various times in our national history.
Is there a single female character in the series?
Yes, Gage’s wife. Unfortunately she is a victim and not a heroine. Abigail Adams is also there, but in the background, and has no real inspirational role other than to support John Adams.
Ugh. Thanks for reviewing and replying, Thomas. It’s sad that the liberties we take with the Revolution are to turn complex, thoughtful men into cardboard villains or action heroes, and to write influential women like Mercy Otis Warren out of the picture entirely. I often think that this is why the Revolution isn’t a popular subject for film and fiction–audiences associate the era with this kind of good guys versus bad guys storytelling, and they don’t find it satisfying.
Huzzah for Sybil Ludington! With out her little 25 mile ride Washington would have been totally caught unaware and the War would have likely ended in 1777.
Well, it is called “SONS of Liberty”. Guess they didn’t feel the need to include the ladies. (Rolls eyes lest any one take this comment too seriously.)
You’re quite correct, Donna.
I guess none of this surprises me coming from the History Channel. A channel who on D-Day last year chose to show a Pawn Stars marathon. I will probably watch it to see if it is a bit entertaining.
I can tell you it is entertaining.
Really appreciate the mythbusting here. I actually only scanned it, so I can watch the series, see what I notice, and then come back here and see how I scored.
Thanks! Yes, please do! I couldn’t list all the problems (the very critically-minded of you out there will catch the modern anachronisms in the dialogue and I didn’t want to waste time critiquing the material content). So feel free to make a list of everything you caught as well. =)
Hah – you mean like Ben Franklin (I think it was him in the 3rd installment) using the term “batshit crazy?”
This is the dystopian version of American history. Media proof that we are living in the Age of Orwell. Anyone over the age of 50 will laugh it off. But sadly, digital millennial sheep will eat it up.
Those over 50 racked up 18 trillion in debt for the millenial generation to pay back. I’d watch the barbs you sling towards those you have sold into debt slavey (the left through welfare, the right through warfare).
And before you ask…I’m not a millenial myself.
Winston, I don’t think most “digital millennial sheep” actually watch the History Channel. Every generation has produced bad history (and historical fiction) and a good portion of every generation has eaten it up. Also, I’m not exactly sure how this description of the series qualifies it as being “dystopian.”
If anything, the qualifiers in the show’s description seem to be an attempt to try to excuse the writers and producers from producing a show that actually has historical value, instead going for the “this-is-historical-fiction-so-any-historical-errors-are-actually-artistic-or-dramatic-choices” schtick. I will end up watching it once and I will probably be entertained by it. However, it’s highly unfortunate that the History Channel would sink this kind of money into something like this and dispiriting to think what they could have produced with that kind of money.
As a millennial myself, I take offense to that.
Problem number 1 the History Channel is promoting this with King of England in the title! Once again Scotland Wales and N Ireland get ignored! King of Great Britain! Very poor!
Good observations, Scott.
I was taught that Great Britain referred to all the countries under the king’s rule.
The Act of Union didn’t happen until 1801. Northern Ireland didn’t exist as an actual entity until 1922. King of England was the proper term then
George III was king of Britain, including England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. He was also king of Hanover in Germany and still claimed to be king of France. While North Ireland wasn’t a distinct entity at that time, Scott’s point about “king of England” being anachronistic is correct.
Should we also scoff at the fact that they didn’t properly recognize George III as Duke of Brunswick-Luneburg?
The Act of Union was in 1707. Hence the Union Jack flag incorporating the saltire of Scotland. Scott C is correct and I am astonished at the ignorance about what is after all the mother country but it is misrepresentations of history such as this program that perpetuate this ignorance.
The Union Jack they show at the Battle of Bunker Hill, I think, is not the correct version. In 1775 it would not have had the additional red X. Right?
To really split hairs here- Great Britain is a geographic entity- ie the largest of the British Isles which contains Scotland, Whales and England. In the 18th century what is now called the United Kingdom was often generically called Britain but not (in my experience) Great Britain.
Your experience is lacking. The Act of Union of 1707 joined Scotland and England into the Kingdom of Great Britain which was the country the King George the third ruled at the time of the American Revolution.
Very anxious to see the series. Love the idea of investigating and discussing how the details differ from fact
Samuel Adams, the “Father of our Revolution” the “The Firebrand”. This image of a great forefather is being reduced to a thug, a womanizer and a killer. The guy is more of the beer Samuel Adams OH right the beer company helps sponsor this …ah yes. For an accredited academic to even give this series a note of acceptance, one must wonder of the payoff.
What we need is the truth in the retelling of our history not a dramatic misinterpretation which has spawn falsehoods just to make money; as in the most recent production of the History Channel “Sons of Liberty”.
Even with the disclaimer, already from comments on the History Channel page, many people are taking this fake history as the way it was. For the past week thee has been the onslaught of half-truths and lies, not just on Samuel but John Adams and John Hancock.
YES it is sheer fantasy entertainment even surpassing Disney. Disney by-the-way with the movie Johnny Tremain is a very cheesy sentimental 1957 white washing of the Sons of Liberty, but the portrayal of James Otis Jr. and Samuel Adams is award winning stuff
First, Thomas, thanks for the shout out and links to two of my articles!
One of those articles is, as you know, on Mrs. Gage… when I saw her portrayal on the website as the informant, I think my eyes rolled as I nodded my head in disappointment.
But the previews, with so many errors there alone (e.g. “The British are Coming!”), led me to think this was going to be pure fiction. I’m glad they are advertising it, albeit subtly, on their website. But is there a disclaimer on the miniseries itself, in the titles?
If not, I find it deplorable. A channel called “History” implies truth. So if they put fiction on, they should damn well note it as such.
I doubt I’ll watch this show anytime soon. Perhaps on re-runs. Since I won’t: how much do they show/depict of the battles, and which if any?
No worries, your articles were spot on and very well written/researched. I had the same thoughts about Mrs. Gage being an informant. Was she? Like you, I doubt it. The Gage’s continued on in marriage long after he was ordered back to England and raised their children without incident.
As for the previews, I was pleasantly surprised that in the cut I saw, they changed ‘The British are coming!’ to ‘The Redcoats are coming!’. Still not accurate, but at least it is more accurate that what they must have originally had (probably reshoots fixed that–my guess anyway). Still, most of the inaccuracies are still there (as my post demonstrates).
That’s good that they corrected the one error anyhow. Good to know.
“If not, I find it deplorable. A channel called “History” implies truth. So if they put fiction on, they should damn well note it as such.”
I think that boat sailed a long time ago. Probably right around the time it started airing shows on aliens.
But they are ANCIENT aliens 😉
Is there any precedent for a class action lawsuit against a channel that is false advertising? Just curious. I mean, imagine if CNN started producing TRULY (not getting into politics here) fictional news. Imagine they ran a story that said this city is burning down, total anarchy, etc, and it was all fiction. I’m going to the extreme because the extremes help define the problem. Where is the line here? Thoughts?
Well, now that you mention “ancient aliens,” Orson Welles’ 1938 radio broadcast of War of the Worlds and the Martian invasion comes to mind! Talk about alarming the public!
And by “nodded my head” I should’ve wrote “shook my head”…
should’ve written… i’m on a roll today. I promise I can read and write.
Sorry meant to include that they show Lexington, Concord, and Bunker Hill primarily.
I wasn’t going to watch it anyway. Just the trailers for it, making them seem so young and hip and contemporary made me cringe. Once in a great while there is something worth watching on the channel. Most of the time it’s reality crap or stuff like this. What a waste.
Looks like I know how I will begin some classes tomorrow. I teach a class on American History through film. Unfortunately, it covers 1930 to the present. One of the basic truths involved in this subject is that films are made primarily to make money. While films made as propaganda certainly exist, we deal with feature films which are always about money first. Television is the same way.
In order to make money, film and television requires people to watch the show. That means they have to have a story. Right there is where fiction and reality collide. People watch shows for the stories. Take Tora! Tora! Tora! and Pearl Harbor for examples. The first, TTT, is pretty accurate, but has a rather boring storyline for non-historians (I know, I know, we loved the movie). TTT barely broke even when it came out.
Scoot forward a few decades to Pearl Harbor. Same history, but wait! Now we add a love triangle and fudge some of the history. Voila! Big Profits! Look back at Titantic. You think anyone would watch it just to see a luxury ship full of rich people hit an iceberg and sink? No, let’s toss in this wild love story that cuts across class, put in some conflict, and then kill off the boy to make it a tearjerker. The result was the first film to make a billion dollars.
Any time I see a TV show dramatizing the past I know the story will fudge history, and I just pray it is only slightly. It is impossible to learn history from television shows and movies. Even Band of Brothers messed up and they really tried to get it right. The best result is still going to be off to some degree.
What I am going to do is use this show to interest students in history. Have them look for the errors. Explain to them what really happened. Use it to teach real history. Sometimes these shows serve as gateways to learning history. When that happens, I am all for it.
The American Revolution is a complex era of history. I think it is more complicated than the American Civil War which thanks to the insane amount of historical research done into it is relatively straightforward compared to the Revolution. A lot of people want simplistic answers for history and the Revolution just is anything but simplistic. That is where we come into the game for our understanding of this era is what we impart to the people.
If using Sons of Liberty as a springboard for educating people is what it takes, then let’s get to it!
Good idea! Any way you can use this fiction to promote critical thinking and historical analysis the better. I hope other professors make the choice to do something similar.
I guess I can’t agree that these things serve much of a legitimate purpose; even if you tell them it is fiction do you think that is remembered?
Just take a look at the discussion that took place on this site a few months ago with regard to the inaccuracies that history has ascribed to Ethan Allen and which Duffy’s and Muller’s book Inventing Ethan Allen addressed. That reputation was the product of 19th century historians looking to embellish his story and which generated a rabid following buying into it at the time and which has continued to this day. Now, 200 years later when faced with that bias and the fact that Allen was not all that they made him up to be, people get downright possessive and angry when trying to pop that balloon.
So, is it right to mislead and then hope after an interest has been hooked that it will be corrected at some time in the future? Seems like we are all best served with the truth from the very beginning.
While I can absolutely understand your frustration, Gary, I think you’re missing a crucial fact. That being these types of shows aren’t going away. People are going to have to confront them–and likely will confront them. We can’t control that. What we can control is *how* they are confronting them. Is it better they never learn the facts at all because they might have to be exposed to the fiction? I’m not so sure that is the path to take.
I agree with Jim. Exposing people to the fiction and explaining the facts is the only way to get them to engage the material, rather than blindly follow it. Some peoples’ minds may never be changed. But they aren’t the target of posts like this one. The targets are the fence sitters that make up the majority of the population.
Best to teach them how to think critically than to just throw up ones hands in defeat, don’t you think?
I am pragmatic enough to understand that what the responsible educators are doing is the best they can under less than desirable conditions, and I commend them for their difficult work.
However, that does not mean the status quo has to stay the status quo and letting Hollywood, to the extent it has any interest, know that the facts are every bit as interesting as their fiction is where they should direct their attention is an important thing. It may be like trying to turn a large ship at sea, but you gotta start somewhere. I believe people deserve the truth up front, otherwise all we end up doing is putting a bandaid on a problem that did not need to exist in the first place. It is a self-inflicted wound, to my mind anyway.
I know one thing. I would never show this craptastic pile of trash in any of my classes. One of my students caught the show last night and he told me that he didn’t even think any of it was right. We haven’t made it to 1700 yet so that says something. If we use this mess for a springboard the best thing we can do is hand the students a copy of Morgan or Wood’s short histories of the Revolution.
I really want to bludgeon the makers of this trash over the head with Middlekauf’s The Glorious Cause because that might be the closest they would get to actual history.
Thank you, Thomas, for an excellent review and analysis. A different aspect of my life makes me wonder why I didn’t hear of a casting call on this production? Well, it turns out that at LEAST the previous “American Revolution” series had been filmed in and around Williamsburg, VA., as was some of Playtone/HBO’s “John Adams”.
“Sons of Liberty” carries on an occasional tradition of filming important American history stories outside the United States (I’m sure for the film tax credits given the production company). In the case of “Sons of Liberty”…..was filmed in Romania. ?! Don’t get me started…
That is remarkable! I would never have thought that such filming would take place in some other country. Quite a sign of the times when our incredible history has to be portrayed in Romania! Seems like the IRS needs to change some regulations to encourage homemade products of this kind. Wishful thinking …
Oh goodness! That is as terrible as the comment that stated that History played Pawn Stars all day on the anniversary of D-Day!
Romania, huh? I was wondering where they were finding these huge log houses in the country, but no stone walls like you would find ALL over New England! You would think they could CGI a few of them in.
I think the show would be better if it was more accurate with the actual history. There could be some filling in of the blanks where historical facts are not known in an artistic format but such blanks should not be contrary to what is historically known.
Despite the inaccuracies, the American Revolution was an astounding achievement. Its basis is that all legitimate government authority comes from the people. The purpose of government is to protect individual rights not rule over people and control their lives. The place where one person’s basic rights stop is when it encroaches on the rights of another. People are not subjects of government rule but rather government is subservient to the people where all legitimate government comes from the consent of the governed. The idea that some have divine power over others is a fabricated usurpation of power by some often to serve interests of those making such claims.
Although the American Revolution is far from perfect with upholding such basic principles along with the nation that follows, its founding documents clearly express such sentiment.
Well yes and no. The Revolution paved the way for a Republic but it wasn’t until years after the war that the Constitution would even be framed. During and after the war for a spell the basic rights of man were pretty much trampled underfoot by the very patriots who sought to “liberate” the country from tyranny (themselves acting tyrannically when it suited them).
While I agree the revolution had global impacts, particularly upon the French and in other parts of the world, we must remember that slavery was not universally abolished until almost full century later and that women, American Indians, and immigrants continued to experience tyranny within the borders of the United States–even until today (American Indians especially are suffering).
The point here is that shows like Sons of Liberty gloss over the fact. They ignore the gray area of the Revolution and pander to mythology. Again, it makes for great fun (I enjoyed watching it), but it is incredibly inaccurate. Just look at the cast list. Would it have killed the production company to cast a few minorities and women in important roles? For goodness sake! How many people are going to draw their conclusions about the Revolution from this program? That is what concerns me. It should concern everyone. That is why articles like the one I wrote here exist.
I tired watching the show and simply could not relate to the characters as portrayed.
From my background, and as I analyze comprehensively in my book, I have to view the Sons of Liberty as a classic United Front Organization which over ten years grew into the leadership pool for the revolution. It even moved to the highest level of such a group by the creation of both a defensive and offensive intelligence capability. One point here on the question of the Mrs. Gage as source of her husband’s plans: she could have been the source of the information without being a witting informant, as she could have mention information to a “trusted” second party. It would be interesting to look at her servants and colonial social circles as well as those of her brothers, Stephen and Samuel, and her cousin Captain Oliver DeLancey.
As the revolution was an insurgency and civil war, both sides acted as historically has been the case in such circumstances. And, the winner usually get to write the history. Or, in this bad example, pander to some concept of commercial populism.
As a balance to the “human fault” side of the patriots, Nick Bunker’s book provides an excellent description of British faults as a ruling nation.
All good discussion. The one caution I offer is to avoid statements to the effect of “the writer’s didn’t ask for” or “try to” or what have you. Unless we’ve spoken to the writers, we don’t know what they did and didn’t learn before creating the script. I suspect that they learned a lot more about the facts that the show itself reflects. But, with the goal of writing a fictional script, they have many other factors to consider in terms of character development, plot development, pacing, etc. Just as many paintings based on historical events aren’t intended to be accurate images of how those events looked, a TV script is developed with many factors in mind. Once the decision is made to present a fictional account, all bets are off in terms of following the history accurately.
I put the burden of discernment on the audience. No one who watches Star Trek thinks that they’re learning about interstellar exploration; no one who watches CSI thinks they’re learning about actual police procedures (at least, I hope not). So there’s no reason to assume that a story set in a previous time period has any intentions of being factual in any way. Audiences understood that about Hogan’s Heroes and McHale’s Navy; they should understand it about Sons of Liberty too.
Good points, Don. But I see a difference here when you consider what the audience takes away from the experience and then goes on to mold his or her own internal belief system around. Science fiction and obvious comedies don’t pose that problem, but things like CSI and inaccurate accounts of pivotal moments in our nation’s history have the potential of making people believe in untrue things and then act out in inappropriate ways.
I have personally seen it as a police officer and prosecutor when dealing with violators who think they know more about the law than any judge, a result in believing things like bogus police procedure or in supposed “rights” that our forefathers had or ways that they might have acted. People look to those things as examples and if we give them bad ones, then we pay a price.
Believe me, it can have unintended, bad consequences and that is where my concern rests in fictionalizing things of this nature.
Actually, if your read about the “CSI Effect” in criminal cases, yes many people who watch the show do think it reflects real police procedure and capabilities. Also, this isn’t a farcical comedy, but a mini-series presented on a channel devoted to History, that says it’s about some of the Founding Fathers pre-Revolutionary War. Nothing about Hogan’s Heroes purports to be realistic about anything, and from the beginning looks like farce. Everything about this series looks real, except the story. I don’t mind them adding things for dramatic purposes (like the affair and message) that probably didn’t happen, but it’s the getting things wrong for no apparent reason that bothers me the most. (They didn’t have to buy guns, they already owned guns. Sam Adams didn’t kill anybody at the Boston Massacre.) So yes, I expect the big things to be historically accurate, while they can add small dramatic flourishes and Big Important Dialogue, that most likely never occurred.
I would go farther than the kind Mr. Verenna and state that this series is horrible. Sure, a disclaimer is provided at the beginning of each episode, but as a teacher and historian, I can guarantee that many a person (old and young, political or apolitical, intelligent or not-so-savvy) will seize a hold of this mis-representation of the facts and claim “I saw it on the History Channel, so it must be the way it really happened.” Even if they are smart enough to know better, the brain tends to remember highly-visual representations of events, and lock them down as “the way” it actually happened. I think I have finally given up on the History Channel providing any usable historical information anymore. Why not just qualify themselves as the “Rednecks trying to make a buck off of something,” channel?
Was there a disclaimer at the beginning of the episode? I didn’t see that last night and I was looking–but may have missed it.
I am curious to know if John Hancock is being portrayed correctly. As an aristocrat involved in underhanded dealings with the british government to skirt taxes. Is there any truth to the way he is being portrayed in the miniseries?
Hancock did inherit wealth and aspire to an aristocratic lifestyle (as most people with money did). There’s no evidence to suggest that Hancock had some kind of standing deal with Hutchinson.
It has been said that Hancock was a smuggler of sorts, along with practically every other merchant in Boston. Illicit trade made up a portion of every merchant’s business; it had grown to be accepted as normal, if technically illegal. I doubt anyone at the time thought more of it than we do of downloading music online.
Okay, now that I have had the chance to suffer through some of it I have to criticize Thomas. This is bad. This is ungodly bad. It is utterly appalling. I think the families of Sam Adams, John Hancock, and John Adams should be suing for defamation of character. I think we as a body of historians should sue the makers of this waste of film for gross misuse of history. (If only we could!)
I’m still looking for the Sugar Act, Stamp Act, or any form of reality. Where is Ebenezer Mackintosh?
Thomas, this is just horrible. If I played the drinking game I’d be under the table before the first half hour was up. I’ve seen recent potential presidential candidates be more truthful than this disaster and I think they’re all lying!
This is an utter abomination.
I never said it wasn’t bad. Remember, though, this is historical fiction. I’ve made it clear that it’s essentially an alternate version of history. It is entertaining, though. =)
LOL! This thing is just beyond bad. We may have to make up some new words. I do not think it is even an alternate form of history. It just flat out reeks.
I agree, Thomas Dick. As a historical romance author with two degrees in history, I am appalled. I was looking forward to this series as I assumed from pre event trailers it would be more historical docu-drama. The first night I watched it all, hoping for some shred of reality that would save it. 2nd night I half watched while scouring the web for honest reviews, fearing I was just too picky about depicting real persons in history with some attention to accuracy. Really—General Gage as a vicious brute, it is intolerable. He was not perfect but he wasn’t the monster they made him in this farce. No need to go on in discussing the terrible depictions, its been said by others here. Tonight, (3rd nite) I turned it off 30 minutes in, and I am enjoying this discussion as an antidote. The only purpose I could see for watching this at present is for visual depictions of handsome men in colonial/revoluionary clothing–for refernce as a romance author. And the clothing depictions are available in books, so even that is a poor excuse. I found the quick switches in storyline that leaped over years in five minutes to depict only the ‘exciting’ parts of the struggle was vastly misleading to audiences and simplifying the story of our struggle for Independence.
If I may put my two cents in (for what it’s worth):
I agree with the horrible quality of history this first part has been due to the lack of historical accuracy.
What I’d like to add to all of the other disappointments here is the utter lack of historical feel to this movie; there is no soul to the times portrayed. They just took very 21st century actors with 21st century mannerisms and language (I absolutely did catch the “modern anachronisms in the dialogue!”), dressed them up in kinda-colonial-looking clothing, and threw them into the 18th century without a whim or a care of historical sense. Add to that action police-drama-type chase scenes and what do you get? Pirates of the Caribbean meets NCIS.
I, too, “find it deplorable for a channel called “The History Channel”, which implies truth in history, to air such a piece of fiction as fact” (as someone above already stated).
It is a shameful atrocity.
And to think I had hope when I first heard of this…
Absolutely Ken! That is part of the problem; they’ve modernized the period and its completely anachronistic. There is nothing historical about it. But again, the producers have made a fiction. It’s an alternate version of history. There is nothing of value here beyond its entertainment quality.
Historical ken, you nailed it. Forgive my modern tongue, but yes, the lack of soul is a huge flag. It just doesn’t feel like the 18th century. Dialogue, swagger, pirates and Ncis—well said.
There are some excellent examples of historical fiction done well. Killer Angels, was the basis for the film Gettysburg. What made it historical fiction was that the author invented dialogue and a few fictional characters. But the basic story line was and is first-rate history. Professional historians often reject the use of even a little fictionalization, which can render what is basically good historiography dry and uninteresting to many general readers. Unfortunately those same people too often get what they think they know about history from inventive, entertaining, but ultimately misleading films, videos, popular books, and other such sources. It’s a shame that there is such a chasm between what is sufficiently accurate and what is sufficiently entertaining.
Dean, good thoughts.
This exchange has been a wonderful introduction to this site and has already given me subjects for further inquiry; it is the only redeeming thing to come out of this travesty aired by the Pawn Swamp Channel
One example of historical fiction done well addressing pre-Revolutionary Colonial Americas was the apparently stillborn “Courage New Hampshire” which offered four episodes before folding. I had high hopes for that one based on the initial offering
Dean – are you familiar with the two part historical novel series by Jeff Shaara, son of Michael Sharra who was author of Killer Angels? The titles are, respectively, “Rise to Rebellion”, and “The Glorious Cause”.
I’d be interested also in Mr. Verenna’s view of the accuracy of these two novels, if he has yet read them. I really enjoyed both novels, and they at least seem to be based upon reasonable interpretations of the American Revolution and its various participants, both Patriots and British crown representatives as well. The treatment of General Gage was much more nuanced than Gage’s cartoon-book villain portrayal of “Sons of Liberty”
great article. Im neither a teacher, historian, or journalist. But this reminds me of many flaws in movie plots, storylines, and casting. Not a major historical movie, The Grid-Iron Gang, is a perfect example. I find Dwayne Johnson to be a decent entertaining actor, but when they cast him as the coach of a CA detention center football coach, they diluted the power of the story to nothing. Minority inner-city delinquents changing their life directions because their minority coach got through to them, is hardly close to the strength of the factual story that it was a white coach. Based on a true story, with NONE of the inspirational power of the truth. I see this in EVERY Bible-based movie, and more and more I see it in everything dealing with our colorful and inspiring true history.
football team not coach
Now I am starting to doubt the truth of this web site. I went to the link to read your take on the Boston Tea Party, and I believe you have taken some liberties to change the story of the Boston Tea Party into something it was not. Wiki is a better source.
Sorry, you’ll have to take that up with the author of the piece. =)
I absolutely love history & although not formally educated in history passed high school I watch & read everything I can to learn more. I’m so completely disappointed in the History Channel! I agree that it’s frustrating to those of you that can point out the inaccuracies but for me, & I’m sure I’m not alone, it’s heartbreaking! I realize some facts have to be “tweeked” for television purposes but if I wanted to see an almost complete fabrication of such an important part of our American history I would have rented some cheesy movie I knew was produced for profit & not for education purposes, which, at one time, is what I thought the History Channel was for. And as for trying to reach a younger audience with good looking men & ridiculous “action” scenes…I can assure you, as much as I would have liked them to, my daughter’s (18 & 23) are NOT about to watch anything on the History Channel!
As I say all of this, fact is what should I expect at this point with a channel that seems to be about 75% “Pawn Stars” & “Swamp People” ……SERIOUSLY?!?!?
Julie, I have not read the wiki article & am certainly not an expert on anything but I do know, while in college, it was a strict rule by every professor that NONE of our research could be taken from wiki. It was explained to us that wiki is a site anyone could publish anything & it will be posted. Example given by professors.. I could publish I, Dr. Genius, have researched & found that an avocado a day will cure cancer & that will be added to the site as fact. Any reference to wiki was an automatic “F” on any project or paper.
For a final academic product that is supposed to be your own work, yes. For getting the basic introductory overview of an issue, and for getting citations to find more information, it can be very helpful as long as you go to the sources to confirm what they say. I didn’t read the wikipedia article on the Tea Party so I don’t know what Julie’s issue with the take here is, but if there are legitimate sources cited there that argue a different position, you would have to engage with those sources if they say “A” and you’re arguing “B.” But that’s standard practice for engaging with the historiography on any subject you’re writing about or researching.
The tip-off that this film was going to be historical garbage came in the first five minutes. During that ridiculous chase scene the amazingly nimble Sam Adams jumps past a Union Jack, a jack complete with the red Cross of St. Patrick. That little travesty of history didn’t happen until 1801, thirty-six years later, when Great Britain dragged Ireland into its United Kingdom. Even Mel Gibson’s “The Patriot” at least got the flags right. “Sons of Liberty” is to The American Revolution what “Braveheart” was to the Scottish. Both are entertaining, and both are total bunk. Next up on The History Channel…”Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”.
Good catch on that Union Jack! I also saw that; my first thought was “Well, that’s odd for that to be hanging off the side of a building like that.” And then I saw the Cross of St. Patrick. The same 1801 design is shown on the cake displayed shortly for the party thrown in John Hancock’s home.
For what it’s worth, my family and I are huge fans of the History Channel. Does that mean we were born yesterday and believe everything we watch on it? No. After watching the first two episodes (which incidentally two of our teenage boys watched with us willingly because they had seen the action-packed previews during Pawn Stars), one of our sons started to question some of the stuff that had happened on the show. We told him to look up the facts on the Internet. This might be appalling to some of you but he went right to Wikipedia and looked up Sam Adams. After finding out that the real Sam Adams was a lot older then the one in the show, he continued to surf the web looking for information on the original Sons of Liberty and that eventually led him to this article and all the comments that have followed it. He would never look up Sons of Liberty or the Revolutionary War on his own. But he did tonight because no matter how inaccurate or Hollywood-ish Sons of Liberty was, it motivated him to learn more. So Hats off to the History Channel, and hats off to the writer of this article and to all those who comment. Keep it up!
Good for your son! That is what I was hoping would happen. Incidentally, I have been pushing this article hard on twitter so that anyone looking for historical background can easily find it.
I’ve started to comment on this several times in the last couple days, and then stopped because I’m not sure how to say what I want to say without giving offense to anyone, particularly some of the excellent historians who write here. I also apologize in advance for the length.
I think we need to revisit the efficacy of this “mythbuster” approach to correcting popular history, for two reasons. First, it is much to similar to those noxious “Lies my Teacher Told Me” books. Not that I’m an advocate of bad history, but those books reek of arrogance. They are interpreted by the average reader as something along the lines of the the sheep who have eaten all the lies they’ve been fed finally getting some wisdom. Whether intentional or not (and I tend to think it is not), that’s how some of this “mythbuster” methodology comes off. I get that it’s coming from the TV show, but I’m not sure it translates as well to “myths” of the founding of the United States as it does to whether throwing a fire extinguisher into a fire will make it explode and extinguish the fire.
I’d also suggest that if we’re looking to correct the historical record in popular culture, the public will only listen for so long. It’s important to get to the most important issues that may need re-evaluating. I understand that things like facial scruff, trousers on an infant (from TURN), whether Samuel Adams was married or not in 1765, etc. are important to a lot of historians of material culture, or re-enactors, or other historians. I have my own particular topics of interest that might not interest a lot of other historians. But if the public comes to read this or another Early American/Revolution blog, and the first thing they see is people complaining about trousers on a baby or facial hair they’re probably not going to stick around to learn whether the main ideas pushed by a show are at all grounded in truth. I’m not arguing against talking about these things, but the vociferous rejection of it as wasteful crap because, say, the show characterizes Adams as younger than he was, I think wastes a good opportunity to engage with the reader who found the show entertaining and wants to learn more.
More importantly, I think, is that oftentimes in a effort to correct the record, historians tend to go too far in the other direction. If you’re engaging in “mythbusting,” you need to make very sure your “correction” is as close to entirely accurate as the evidence can get you. Sometimes historians tend to bust myths with a bit more certainty than is perhaps warranted. For example, while Professor Carp is an excellent historian, many of those “myths” were kind of half confirmed – I’m not sure “busted” really describes the final takeaways of that article. Certainly not enough to warrant saying there was so much wrong with Sons of Liberty’s account that you could only send them to the article. They did not depict it as a British owned ship. The first person to confront them was not military, and the soldiers who did come on board or to the wharf were either sentries stationed nearby (hardly a stretch to assume they’d have sentries guarding the docks) or came from elsewhere in the town.
Just as importantly, in correcting the record about the British, we need to make sure we’re not turning the Patriots into the Nazis instead. Thomas brings up a good point in the comments about the ways used by the Patriots to establish control of the population, but then the next comment slides right into generously conceding that it would be too much to compare the Patriots with ISIS, but that the Patriots are kinda like ISIS. I know it was qualified, but – and I cannot stress this strongly enough – the Patriots do not even belong in the same sentence as ISIS. The only thing they share in common is that they sought to undermine the existing ruling authority – something they have in common with many, many other non state and state actors of all types – good, bad, neutral. Unconventional warfare, or support to an indigenous armed group seeking to overthrow the existing government in their country, is a legitimate element of US national security policy and a core competency of US Special Forces. Comparing the Patriots to ISIS – no matter how qualified the statement – is almost guaranteed to lose the audience you’re trying to speak to. Yes, we need to push back against those (usually conservatives – which I say as a conservative myself) who are only interested in the history so they can show how they’re just like Samuel Adams in opposing the Obama administration. But then talking about the Patriots in the same breath as ISIS is not the answer.
As for some of the British. Yes, Gage had been in the colonies, but as Thomas mentions he had gone back to London for a time, and returned when events came to a head after the Boston Tea Party and required his return to restore some kind of order. While the show was wrong depicting him in London in 1765, it’s not off the mark in depicting his arrival in early 1774 as the result of previous events, including the Tea Party. Also, yes, the Gage character is over the top. Though, as an aside, this raises a fascinating question of what purveyors of history like movies or TV shows owe to historical characters. We’re currently in the middle of a heated debate over whether the director of Selma deserved a Best Director nomination, and whether the movie deserves all the praise it has received, given its inaccurate portrayal of Lyndon Johnson’s role in the Civil Rights movement. I wonder do we owe less to a man who only died 40 years ago and whose children are still alive because of the political value of a movie like Selma? What about to a man like Gage who lived 250 years ago, and whose portrayal the makes of the miniseries have also altered in no small part because of political value of doing so.
But anyway, the issue of Washington calling Gage a cancer? A bit strong, yes, but they were not still close friends at the time like Thomas argues. Washington became very outspoken and very public in his condemnation of Gage’s actions in Boston as early as 1770. In the summer of 1774, before the scene at the First Continental Congress would have taken place, Washington was saying the following about Gage: “Hath not Genl Gage’s Conduct since his arrival (in Stopping the Address of his Council, & Publishing a Proclamation more becoming a Turkish Bashaw than an English Govr & declaring it Treason to associate in any manner by which the Commerce of Great Britain is to be affected) exhibited unexampled Testimony of the most despotick System of Tyranny that ever was practiced in a free Government.” A month later, in August 1774, he showed even more anger at Gage: “It seems, from the best advices from Boston, that Genl Gage is exceedingly disconcerted at the quiet Conduct of the People of the Massachusets Bay, and at the Measures pursuing by the other Governments; as I dare say he expected to have forc’d those oppressd People into compliance, or irritated them to acts of violence before this, for a more colourable pretence of Ruling that, and the other Colonies with a high hand. But I am done.” “Cancer” may be strong, but the sentiment behind it is by no means inaccurate. (Also, whether or not Mrs. Gage was Warren’s informant, I don’t really think you can blame the writers for using David Hackett Fischer as their source material on this).
Or on the issue of Hancock’s comments about the First Continental Congress. Obviously they’re wrong, since Hancock wasn’t a delegate to the Congress. But the sentiment behind his comments is also not far off the mark. As I’m sure is nothing new to most here, the first Congress was rife with divisions – Georgia didn’t send any delegates, Dickinson and Galloway from Pennsylvania were extremely reluctant to take any significant steps towards rebellion – with Galloway later becoming a Loyalist. That they were able to agree on anything at that uncertain point before any shots had actually been fired was a minor miracle. That’s what Hancock’s comments were meant to get across to the viewer in a very short scene. (The other element at play here – condensing a decade of more of history into 6 hours of television – less when you include commercials. Sometimes you have to create composite characters or events or find some other way to relay the same point in a very limited amount of time).
On the issue of acquiring guns. It’s by no means absurd to think they procured guns elsewhere in addition to the ones their supporters already owned. They had thousands of men enlist, but that doesn’t mean they necessarily had arms for all of them. Dirk Hoerder provides some detail about this in Crowds and Action in Revolutionary Massachusetts. “Other equipment was secured by taking guns, cannon, or powder belonging to the town or to the province and putting it in places safe against Tories and British troops. Marbleheaders boarded a vessel loaded with some arms that had been ordered to anchor under the guns of the H.M.S. Lively. They carried off the arms before the mariners intervened. Individuals bought arms from British soldiers who needed money.” etc. This was the case in other colonies as well. In North and South Carolina, any guns they seized from slaves or Loyalists went to men who did not own guns. In South Carolina, even before they knew of the battles at Lexington and Concord, the Secret Committee carried out simultaneous break ins at the state house and two magazines in the country to steal both arms and gunpowder, and the arms were later distributed to those who needed them.
The issue of women, blacks, Indians and the lower classes is more tricky. Absolutely, yes, they were excluded from the historical narrative for far too long. But in an effort to fix this, academics have gone a bit overboard in the opposite direction, attributing way to much to these groups. I read one book recently about slavery in South Carolina that attributes nearly every action taken by South Carolinians through 1775 as an effort to protect against slave insurrections rather than agains the British men of war sitting off the coast and the rumored British invasion force expected from Boston (or New York) at any moment. The Patriots in SC actually were no more concerned than usual about their slaves in the first half of 1775. They had decades of experience and developed institutions for controlling their slaves, and had no reason to think the threat was any greater than usual. All of their preparations were for the British, using slave insurrection as an excuse to legally justify their extra-legal actions to the royal provincial governments that were still in place. In their private letters they did not show greater concern than usual about their slaves until the second half of 1775 when they learned the British were taking harbor and river pilots on board their ships and were using their help to plan an attack on the colonies. Without those pilots, the British would have had a hell of a time getting their ships into the harbors and rivers. The June 1776 attack on Sullivan’s Island failed in large part because three British ships ran aground on an uncharted shoal in the notoriously difficult-to-navigate Charleston Harbor. Likewise, the idea of the “revolution from below” is also often overblown – at least from about 1774 onward and particularly in the South (though it applies in the North as well and I think the show did a good job of demonstrating this – see below). Nearly every incidence of “mob violence” in South Carolina and Georgia, for example, was pretty closely scripted by the Patriot leadership – the elite – who were always on scene to direct the action. So yes, many groups have historically been marginalized from revolutionary historiography (as with most other historiography as well), but this is a good example how, in the process of “mythbusting,” the “busting” part often gets out of hand and goes too far in the opposite direction in assigning way too much consequence to these previously marginalized groups for their role.
This point brings me to the show. Yes, it has some problems – as does nearly every historically-themed show (Gettysburg being the exception that proves the rule. Even Gods and Generals was bad, unless the Confederate officers, instead of fighting, really did spend their entire days in parlors giving endless speeches about the worthiness of their cause). But in the rush to complain about what got cut or what was include, I thought the first two episodes have raised some interesting points. First, the British are not depicted as fascists. I thought the scene with Ebenezer Richardson and Christopher Seider was very powerful, and I would argue you come away from that sympathizing with Richardson more than anyone other than Seider. The man is trying to come to the aid of a humble merchant who is being harassed and threatened by Patriots for nothing more than going about his business and being loyal to the King. They chase Richardson through the streets, they throw rocks at his windows, they injure his wife, and in the melee a frightened Richardson fires a shot that unfortunately hits a boy. His reaction clearly shows his grief. Similarly in the Boston Massacre, frightened and outmanned soldiers being threatened and hit by protestors, reacts amidst the confusion and when they hear another gunshot. After Gage arrives, one person gets flogged. That’s the worst thing that happens until the war breaks out. Most of the rest of the British “atrocities” tend to consist of pushing people around and hitting people with their guns. Enough to set up the conflict, but by no means turning the British into fascists. I even liked The Patriot for what it was, and this show comes nowhere near depicting the British as The Patriot did. It doesn’t even have a character like the version of John Simcoe in TURN.
The other point is the role of the revolutionary leaders, and the culpability they bear for events like the death of Seider and the Boston Massacre. In the second episode, Pitcairn (I believe) is telling Gage about Samuel Adams and mentions that he’d been present at all of the major mob actions (as shown in the show at least) – the sack of Hutchinson’s house, the Boston Massacre, the Tea Party, etc. (he didn’t add the mob attack on Richardson’s House, but he could have). In each scene Adams – who has been responsible for organizing the action (boycotts, harassment of Tories, etc.), then stands off to the side and watches events that he started unfold. On several occasions he loses control of the proceedings and casualties resulted, and Hancock, John Adams, and Warren are all aghast at the outcome of his actions. There was truth to what Hutchinson said when he told Sam Adams he was to blame for Seider’s death. This is hardly the black and white depiction of the virtuous Patriots and vile Tories/Redcoats. I think Rafe Spall has been the best of the actors in his depiction of Hancock – and particularly the inner turmoil he is dealing with in trying to reconcile his role in the rebellion. A second powerful scene (in addition to the Richardson/Seider scene) was when he got choked up in the second episode wondering what his uncle would have to say to him about his actions if he were still alive.
I’ve gone on long enough, but my points are that we need to rethink how we approach correcting the history provided by popular culture. We need to avoid anything that can (unintentionally in the vast majority of cases) be interpreted as arrogance or condescension. That will immediately turn readers off to what we’re trying to tell them. Second we need to look at our attempts at correction and make sure they deserve the decisiveness with which we present them as “fact” or “correction.” Most times the best answer we have is somewhere in between. We need to make sure we don’t go to the opposite end, and bring up the American Revolution and ISIS in the same sentence. In our efforts to show the British were not evil incarnate we also have to be sure we don’t over-compensate by depicting the Patriots as evil instead. I say all of this simply by way of recognition that the “mythbusters” approach to correcting popular history doesn’t seem to be working. Check out the #sonsofliberty feed on Twitter. There are countless people essentially saying how they enjoyed the show and were wondering what was real and what wasn’t. I would suggest we need to rethink how we engage with that audience.
If you made it this far, thanks for reading. I continue to look forward to reading all the fine articles folks here contribute to this website.
Exactly what I was thinking, echoed by some above: the HBO serials “From the Earth to the Moon”, “John Adams”, “Band of Brothers”, “The Pacific”, and “Sopranos” all demonstrate how history can be dramatized yet stay true to the truth. Ok, I’m joking about “Sopranos”, just making sure you are paying attention! Haha. But I add to that list the movie “Apollo 13” and “We Were Soldiers”. All of these are excellent cinematic portrayals of history. Sure, some license is necessary, like tweaking chronology, establishing conversations that never happened to pass background information, etc. But all of those examples are still authentic and true to the spirit of the real events. So, in my mind, when producers say at the end of the day it’s about making money, I say they are lazy, and you can do both.
There are people who grumble about the John Adams miniseries – as they do anything written by McCullogh, simply because it is about John Adams and not the common people of the Boston mobs, or women, or slaves, or….It’s all part of the “Founders Chic” critique.
You can also easily find exhaustive essays online about all the substantive inaccuracies in We Were Soldiers and countless other films. There are very few films/TV shows based on history that satisfy everyone. I however, think all the examples you cited were excellent, and largely agree with you that they’re done very well.
Actually, you find that even the historians will be at odds of what to leave in, what to leave out, what really happened, what the historical facts indicate, etc. I just finished reading a book about Sir Francis Drake and his “secret” exploration of New Albion, which this historian (Samuel Bawf? – sorry, getting late) thinks was farther north than most historians, as far as Vancouver Island, and gives what appears to be good evidence for it, based on a contemporary account by one of his men. As it happened, I had another book about Drake and that historian threw out ALL of the New Albion account as total fantasy! Is one better a better historian than the other? I don’t know, but the first one made more sense. Likewise, the original concept of the Sons of Liberty series sounded interesting, looking at them as the younger rebels many of them (except, oddly enough, Samuel Adams) were at the time of the Revolution. I thought it was a neat concept, but their history should have at least matched movies like Johnny Tremain and April Morning, which at least TRIED to get the history right! I also read Fast’s book on the Battle of Bunker Hill, which I can’t recall, which I found engaging and seemed to be in line with the history that I know of the time (and this was before I found out that I had ancestors at the battle or the “siege” – not sure if they were on the front line with Dr. Warren). So, they had an opportunity to make an interesting take on history, but screwed it up with stuff that didn’t really pass the smell test. “The Patriot” did a better job with history or “capturing the spirit”, without upsetting the apple cart too much (I know the Brits don’t like the burning of the people in the church, but in New Jersey their troops did put some civilians to the bayonet at Hancocks Bridge and massacred about 200 POWs at Pennsville, so they can’t really say massacres did not occur). Sorry, I’m babbling a bit, but just wanted to say that even the historians are not always on the same page.
The actions were definitely and certainly questionable leading the colonies into a conflict when it came to British law and the ugliness of the Patriots. But boy is it good to be rebellious >:) great article! I have been watching for merely for entertainment. Our history in the years leading up to the revolution doesn’t need to be fabricated. It’s great already, and worth observing. The part that I get upset with most, is the people watching who don’t care to check and make sure it’s accurate. They take it that Samuel was a bad arse who actually did run from the cops ad scale rooftops like he was the dark knight. I just wish more from my generation and even those ahead of me, would pick up a book and dive into what really happened. The story is great, and Samuel Adams was a bad arse! Just not in the form of action hero. Thanks for the article, curious to see how part 3 goes tonight.
A great and thoughtful review and well worth reading, thank you for that.
To be clear, my reference to ISIS had absolutely nothing to do with methods employed by the Americans and I made that point which you note. One may not like any comparison to those engaged in unambiguous, single-minded, rabid, zealous devotion to a cause that employs that particular analogy (what else would apply, Nazi, Pol Pot, etc.?), but when one compares the exceedingly condemnatory rhetoric the rebels used against Britain and then their attending actions against their neighbors, people who they knew well, worked with, and were related to, then is it really that far off? Of course they did not commit wholesale murder, but their similar devotion to a cause is unquestionable.
This is not an issue of condemning the rebels, but in looking at the reality of their actions in the light of how history has portrayed them for over 200 years and, wherever necessary, correcting misperceptions. We certainly cannot put our 21st century values on their actions, but we can do the best we can with informed imaginations to try an empathize with what took place and to be fair to not only the rebels, but to the Torys, the British, the Indians and anyone else pulled into this maelstrom by a minority of colonists.
Good thoughts. You should know I made it clear in my article that I hoped this series would encourage people to research this further. Given Ann Wren’s comments above and many that I have received on twitter it seems that it has been successful.
Thanks for your considered response.
Why not Just tell the true story? The true story is fantastically interesting on it’s own merit, just tell it like it is!! Too much agenda driven, pop culture, political correctness dominates the media presentations of History. Good lord, if they would just tell the true story!
I agree Daniel. I would like to ask, cause I don’t recall it happening the way the show portrayed it (not that I’m surprised) but the acts of Paul Revere on his ride resulted in him engaging redcoats while on his way to warn Samuel and John that they were coming. Wouldn’t that have been an act of violence against the crown after he shot one of them? Thus being the first act of war. I recall Paul being captured without conflict in the true story.
Shortly after mounting Deacon Larkin’s “Brown Beauty” – and beginning his ride – Paul Revere saw Redcoats in the road to Concord. He diverted northerly, toward Mystic, in order to avoid them.
The next time that Revere encountered Redcoats was after joining with Dawes and Prescott, post-Lexington. While at a distance, they thought the Redcoat number small and intended to break through their lines. But once they’d gotten close, the number had been overwhelming and our Patriots were captured.
Revere, Dawes and Prescott looked at one another and silently agreed to make a break for it, with each going in a different direction. Dawes attempted to jump a hedge-row, but was thrown from his horse. He crawled into the bushes for safety.
Prescott – being from Concord – and knowing the way well, took off down a hidden, side path. He was the rider who first alarmed Concord that evening. I say “first” since so many other riders were already about. The alarm rider system was designed to not have a single point-of-failure.
Revere wasn’t able to break free of the Redcoats. They forced him to dismount his horse. One officer raised his pistol to Revere’s face and said, “May I crave your name, sir?”
Revere boldly stated, “Well, I’m Paul Revere. And I know why you’re out here tonight.” The Redcoats looked back-and-forth from one another, surprised both at this man’s infamous name and that he claimed to know why they were out. General Gage, in his secrecy, had told no-one other than Col. Francis Smith and Gen. Lord Hugh Percy the mission of this eve.
Revere told the Redcoats, “Your General Gage has men marching to raid the powder at Concord. But they’re not going to make. They’re done for, at Lexington, where we have 500 men ready to put a stop them. And after that, I wager you’ll be next.”
The Redcoats laughed at this: 500 men in Lexington? There weren’t near that number ’round this tiny ‘burg.
But just then, the men in Lexington were entering Buckman’s Tavern. They’d been ordered by their militia Captain John Parker to disperse, but to stay near. They were going inside to warm up and have a drink of flip (eggs and booze). But you can’t enter the Tavern with a loaded musket.
Anyone who’s ever shot a muzzle loader will tell you that – by far – the quickest way to unload it is to shoot it. And the most fun way for a few dozen muskets to be unloaded is in a volley.
So just when Revere was warning the Redcoats, that’s what happened back in Lexington. And a few dozen muskets being fired – echoing through the cold, nighttime air of the Massachusetts countryside – sounds an awful lot like 500 muskets being unloaded into an unsuspecting line of Regulars.
At that, the Redcoats around Revere freaked out. They mounted their horses, Dawes’s horse and Revere’s and high-tailed it out of there. Deacon Larkin’s horse was last seen being ridden by a Redcoat just as fast – back down the road to Boston – as she could move.
That was the only encounter between Revere and the Redcoats during his ride. The story above is how I tell it at Appleseed Events: http://www.appleseedinfo.org
If you are looking at violence against the crown as the first shots of the war, you’ll have to go back to 1774. Some claim even earlier dates for it.
Someone needs to get Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg interested in the Revolutionary War. I suspect a “Band of Sons of Liberty’s Brothers” mini-series would be pretty cool.
If historically accurate.
Tom Hanks’s production company was behind HBO’s “John Adams” miniseries.
As a student of our nation’s founding, I just couldn’t get past the fact that on this show, Samuel Adams is a young, hip, urban twenty-something gang leader, rather than the middle-aged, religious community leader and thoughtful writer and orator that he really was. I have the real Adam’s portrait and profile too ingrained in my head to take this one seriously. That, as well as the sex and extremes attributed to several characters was off-putting. The History channel does not have to transform historical stories to look and feel like modern characters, with modern lingo and mindsets – in reality, our revolutionary history was tremendously more interesting than that – and much more honorable, too!
It is historical fiction. While I, as I suspect most of you, history itself fascinating, we are in the minority.
There is another aspect of the First Continental Congress incorrectly shown to be held in the Pennsylvania State House, it was held in Carpenters Hall.
Let’s face it – the History Channel’s “history” has been sorely lacking almost from the first moment it came on the air. Now they don’t even try to fake it most of the time – they run shows about pawn brokers in Las Vegas and antique pickers, which, while entertaining, is not history (in spite of the cool things they try to identify as historical — kind of like A&E used to actually have arts & entertainment – but now they would rather exploit hoarders and people with substance abuse problems). Frankly, when I heard this was a History Channel show I figured it would push the bounds of credulity so I chose not to watch it – and it looks like I chose wisely.
Are you telling me that Sam Adams DIDN’T spark the craft brew revolution?
No sorry, not even close.
I’m watching Sons of Liberty and finding it fun. I also think the world would be a poorer place without Athos, Porthos and D’Artagnan and Harry Flashman. I was a public historian in a museum with an amazing American collection for nearly a decade. I can point out every flaw in the production design of Sons, right down to chair legs and brick bonds, but the truly important thing that I learned at the Peabody Essex Museum was that stories are the single most effective medium for getting audiences excited about history. It’s a short path from Flashman at the Charge to Queen Victoria’s Little Wars.
Thank you for your comments, Donna Thorland. I studied and taught American History, and consider the Peabody Essex Museum a magical place that brings the past to life.
I taught history to third- to fifth-graders, as well as eighth-graders. It is very important for people to understand that those who made this history were just like us. They loused up sometimes, used bad words, had affairs, and worked for their own self-interest – just like we do. Yet they could also rise to the occasion and do incredible things – just like we can.
When I studied the American Revolution, I read that Sam Adams was an agitator – similar to a Mao Tse Tung – in the sense that he knew how to harness the energy of the mob to fight against his enemies. That, to me, makes him a far more interesting person that someone who made memorable speeches and wrote great words, though I know he did these things as well.
Nothing about history is inevitable. History is made by ordinary people going about their ordinary lives and coming up against events that shaped the future.
If you want people to become interested in history, you have to bring it life for them, give the people faces, make them suffer, and succeed, and bleed, and goof up sometimes. You have to emphasize the “story” in history. In teaching, one anecdote is worth a dozen dry facts.
Found this on the history channel website nobody is claiming this to be real or actual events
SONS OF LIBERTY is a dramatic interpretation of events that sparked a revolution. It is historical fiction, not a documentary. The goal of our miniseries is to capture the spirit of the time, convey the personalities of the main characters, and focus on real events that have shaped our past. For historical information about the Sons of Liberty and the dawning of the American Revolution, please read the Historian’s View section on history.com/sons.
The complaint is there is no such disclaimer on the show itself. You have to dig on the website to discover this. The bulk of viewers are going to turn on the “history” channel and expect truth, and so when watching this w/o a disclaimer, will expect all they are seeing is truth. So, they are using their name to suck people in, and are thus deceiving people.
The show is entertaining enough, but it is definitely fiction. It reminds me of watching the movie 300 and groaning at how the Spartans went on and on about “freedom”. *coughHelotscough*
Many discrepancies, but as long as there are people out there who search and bring to light the research based info the truths can be clarified.
I watched parts 2 & 3 of the series, because my 11th grader was told that if he’d watch it and write a brief summary (or something) he could get extra credit in his AP US History class. My advice ended up being that he ought to write a “Top 10” of the mistakes my 5th grade daughter noticed…as she worked on an art project! I have to say that I was pretty proud of them AND their respective History teachers, though I do hope the AP teacher ACTUALLY watched it and will point out some of the glaring inconsistencies. That being said – how many Americans can say that they have read the whole of the Declaration of Independence all the way through? Not in school, but as an adult, on purpose? In the final scene, after seeing those epic signatures etched on paper (yet another scene in which I feel certain a great deal of artist license was taken,) I must admit that the matter of fact, almost undramatic – till the end – reading of this great document gave me chills. If nothing else, those guys had a real way with words 🙂
I, too, received goosebumps at the reading of our ‘Declaration of Independence.’ However, “those guys” was One guy….Thomas Jefferson. He was chosen to write the ‘Declaration’ because he did have away with words. I for one am only disappointed in the fact how downplayed he was portrayed. He was the writer of the most import document in our history and he received two lines.
I, too, was disappointed in the little mention of Th: Jefferson, who, because of John Adams deferring to him, of the three on the committee to draft the unanimous Declaration, became the primary drafter/writer of it. Furthermore, he was behind the scenes in France, sending several books and letters to Madison in order to inform and instruct him in writing the Constitution. Jefferson had such a voluminous library that it became the foundation of our Library of Congress eventually.
I too was disappointed. It seemed Jefferson was just “so the south would get onboard”. As the faux-Franklin of the series said, “They’re the ones holding us back.” But did the show mention Christopher Gadsden and the Charles Towne chapter of the Sons of Liberty? Oh no, just gloss over the involvement of southern Patriots with a throw-away inaccurate line to explain Jefferson’s involvement (read, two sentences). Interesting then, that Sam Adams in the show is in his 20s, but in reality was in his 40s. Whereas all but one of South Carolina’s representatives to the 2nd Congress were actually in their 20s (and the one that wasn’t was in his early 30s!). Seems the names of Gadsden, Laurens, Middleton, Marion, Pickens, Rutledge, etc. as well as Cowpens and Kings Mountain have been lost in school textbook “history”.
*respectfully, off soapbox*
My favorite historical dialogue howler from episode 1 was the use of the word “boycott” 100 years before it was coined.
I enjoyed watching the mini series. I also enjoy reading history. These two activities are different.
I didn’t read any reviews or critiques of Sons of Liberty before I saw it. I watched about all I could stomach of the first episode, worked too late to see the second, and watched most of the third. Apart from all the huge historical inaccuracies, I found the entire tone of the show irritating. It was like a 20th or 21st century TV series with that happened to be filmed using 18th century sets and costumes. I almost expected Adams (who I don’t think was called “Samuel” once in any of the parts I saw) to call his drinking buddies “dudes” or be referred to as “two-gun Sam.” However, I did like some of the battle scenes. Unlike some reviewers, I don’t think the series was “cool” despite its plethora of inaccuracies, and I don’t think the acting was anything great. Most of the actors seemed to be miscast in their roles. I enjoyed very much the Civil War movie “Ride With The Devil” about Missouri guerillas because it seemed so true to the period, especially the dialogue and the manner of speaking and writing that seemed so faithful to reality. I even prefer the musical “1776” to this hokey version of “history.” Paul Revere fighting at Bunker Hill!!??
The particulars of dress, flag design or manner of speech during a certain period may not seem important at face value, but they’re a great help to keeping the record accurate and true. Even more crucial to this end is the accurate presentation of important events and policies. Either the British confiscated civilian arms, or they didn’t. They didn’t. To present otherwise is inaccurate. Without accuracy, history quickly descends into myth. While myths can be very entertaining, they can also be incredibly dangerous when presented as history, the myth of Aryan supremacy being a prime example.
There is enough myth masquerading as history revolving around the American Revolution (particularly regarding George Washington, who never met a cherry tree he would spare if he needed some firewood). We really don’t need an entertainment company that has chosen to label itself “History” to create anymore.
I caught the “boycott” thing too. I had a grandfather who claimed to have been in on the original boycott in Mayo even though he would have been only about six at the time. If they want to make a movie about “hateful Englishmen” they need to make one about Ireland.
I enjoyed this review. As my 14 yr old daughter and I watched the series , it became evident quite early on, this was not particularly fact based. My daughter first noted that there was no similarity between the Sam Adams depicted to the one in real life, as noted his age and demeanor were older and different. I think the thing that particularly was inaccurate and bothered both of us was the use of modern language and certain expletives that were modern and would not have been used several hundred years ago. Another glaring issue was that the accents of the various states would have been much more defined and the so called American accents would have had highly defined language. Each of these early colonists depicted were learned men . Even Adams attended Harvard. Their diction would have been all more akin to British speaking patterns or older English sentence structure. Lastly , the props in most cases were inaccurate and or oddly made. The scene in Series one of the harbor tea under the tent, showed a Hepplewhite style side chair used which would have not been the case in the mid 18th c. Either some pilgrim century furniture or Queen Ann, or Chippendale would have been used. The more accurate was a scene where several Pilgrim century were used and a mix of some 18th c furnishings would have been used. Glaringly horrible paintings as with the portrait of Hancock by (Copley ) showed no similarities to the originals. Copley was one of the best painters of his day and this image to anyone that knows the work was a joke. Budgets I assume would have allowed for better historical copies to have been used and why this was not the case doesn’t make sense. All in all it did revive my interest in the history of the events and I suppose if shows like this can revive the masses into doing some research on their own, then in a round about way it is causing the audience to find their own inaccuracies of plot and learn from it. (we hope!)
I must say that my interest for America’s history was peaked with this miniseries. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I really feel that any negative comments come from those who look to analyze and criticize everything they come in contact with. I look foward to reading into the actual historic events. Great job!!!! History channel
No one here is criticizing the show just to be jerks. At least, I’m certainly not. The reason why we are so upset about the inaccuracies are two-fold:
(1) Every story we choose to tell means that there is a story we’re not telling, but should. For example, Sam Adams in the show is a bachelor who lost his wife. While it is true he lost his first wife, he was remarried and had children. But we never see that family–we are told they don’t exist. So no one will understand the actual struggle of the real Sam Adams; there is no fear for their loss, no signs of the family struggling with Adams’ views. We don’t learn about this and so Adams’ character is not just inaccurate–he is doing a disservice to the actual Adams who suffered hardships and loss. Instead we’re given a frat boy with no real pain or suffering or life worries that make his portrayal seem legitimate.
(2) History is so easy. Don’t listen to people who say history is hard. It isn’t. We don’t know everything, and occasionally history is a bit of a guessing game, but there are so many things we know with supportive evidence that to get them wrong is not a matter of dramatic effect or story telling–it’s just plain intellectual laziness. And that is troubling. Because the real story *is* actually more interesting. Those of us who know the real story can say that; and we have been saying it. Sons of Liberty is entertaining, but it doesn’t capture the real fight. Isn’t that reality the part that makes history important? Would you agree if someone told you that your memories weren’t important? Would you submit to have your memories altered? I wouldn’t. Those memories all impact the person I am. History is society’s memories. They are vital. They impact who we, as a human race, will become and who we are.
Sure, to the person who doesn’t understand the importance of the facts, we may come across nitpicky. In fact, what we’re doing is far more important–we are trying to save–from the redactionists and editors–the original uncut version of history so we never forget what our ancestors went through. And maybe we can save ourselves in the process.
Speaking of laughable, how about Ben Franklin telling John Hancock, “Here’s the thing…” or using the phrase, “batshit crazy” when first speaking with John and the Adams cousins. Surprised I didn’t hear someone say, “I was like, blown away….” The wardrobe department did a fine job, though. Severely disappointed, even with the HC disclaimer. “History Channel?” Hardly. More like, “Twisted History.”
I have a degree in history and thoroughly enjoyed this series. While not entirely accurate, it was entertaining and I did not “moan and groan” about the errors throughout. There was a clear disclaimer at the beginning of the series and on the website. Get a life folks. If anything, maybe some of the tweaks to make it more appealing to a younger audience will increase their interest in our country’s history.
I did moan and grown, mostly because its very difficult to get a good accurate film regarding the American Revolution.
I was anticipating some dramatization, however I was very disappointed with the portrayal of General Gage. The conduct of British Soldiers is something to be admired of, which for the most part in the duration of the war was excellent conduct when compared to that of the American militia.
I too have a degree in history but I’m not an expert on the American Revolution. However, I do know enough about it to be disappointed and even mildly offended at cavalier disregard for historical facts, when it appears that’s done to make the story more appealing to a certain age group or to people with little interest in the facts. I say that because obviously considerable research did go into some elements of the series, so those things that were omitted or changed probably were so treated as part of a conscious decision to make the story more “relevant” to a broad, modern audience. I don’t particularly mind things like the wrong style chair being used, or an inaccurate crate or reference to a painting, but my biggest problem is this: just as a lot of people these days get all their understanding of current events, foreign policy, economics, etc from TV talk or comedy shows, many people will form their understanding of this period of American history on shows like this, because, as even some of the critics of the show mentioned, it’s presented in an exciting and glamorous way. That’s what really bothers me because the reality was just as exciting as the fiction, only in a different way. Why does a producer think 17th century heroes or ordinary people have to be presented as 21st century “dudes” to be admired in the 21st century? Their exploits and sacrifices are honored, sure, but in a way that somehow invokes less understanding of what they really went through. This is not nitpicking the details — at least that’s not my intent — but a problem with the basic tone and major elements of the show.
As the writer said in an earlier post, knowing that Samuel Adams had a family enhances understanding of how much he really had at stake. Instead, like all the heroes of modern action dramas, he’s presented as conveniently having no one else to worry about being affected by the consequences of his actions. One can argue with elements of accuracy in movies like “Gettysburg” (for example, all the overweight reenactors who hardly look like Confederate soldiers who marched all the way from Virginia after 2 years of war) or “Gods and Generals” but there is at least an attempt there to treat history with more deference.
I knew what the History Channel was doing was inaccurate when I heard blasphemy, and profanity from the characters. People didn’t curse in the 18th century. Frankly, that insults my intelligence when they do that. Disclaimer or not, it’s a disgrace to the truth of who these people really were, which was a lot more respectable and honorable then the people creating this 18th century myth.
Having read thousands of pages of testimony given in military and civilian courts during the era of the American Revolution, I can assure you that people *did* curse in the 18th century, people from all levels of society, and court records dutifully wrote down their words verbatim (usually the words of a witnesses testifying what he’d heard someone else say).
That said, the cursing generally occurred when people were agitated, and were taken with great offense by those who heard them. In polite society, at least, it wasn’t that people didn’t curse, it was that they only cursed when they really meant it.
Oh god, did they ever curse! Reading the pages of the local Committee meeting minutes from 1774-1777, every page had some swearing in there. Holy hell, did they swear!
A colonial aristocracy, looking to create an oligarchy originally designed as 13 separate governments. Later pooled together giving the illusion of a democratically elected republic. The superhero qualities given to these greedy individuals was overboard. The backroom deals are never given enough attention in any conversation on the nations beginning.
This show was fun entertainment and that’s what it was meant to be. That’s entertainment. Looking forward to Texas Rising.
“I, too, received goosebumps at the reading of our ‘Declaration of Independence.’ However, “those guys” was One guy….Thomas Jefferson. He was chosen to write the ‘Declaration’ because he did have away with words. I for one am only disappointed in the fact how downplayed he was portrayed. He was the writer of the most important document in our history.”
You mean a way with words..or away with word???
Maybe…maybe not….some believe it was Thomas Paine…sounds like his ideas and words…especially the very first draft before being edited by Franklin, Adams, Sherman and Livingston and then being presented to the CC…Maybe Jefferson was “away” with words. Away talking to his very dear friend Paine We”ll never know for certain…
I have to disagree with you about the legality/justification of the rebellion by the colonists. It only seems non-justified if we A.) look at it through modern eyes, and B.) regard the causes of rebellion to be the taxes.
It’s my opinion that the abuses played only a small part in the decision to rebel. The inequal trade status between England and America had existed for at least a decade. Various taxes had been levied on the colonies by Parliament for at least a decade. British custom officials had been seizing ships for several years before rebellion, and in fact some of the first action of the Revolutionary War might be attributed to resistance to this. Boston & New York had been rioting for decades.
In 1773 revolution and rebellion wasn’t a thought in most American’s heads. John Adams famously wrote that “talk of independency scares them”–and he was referring to Congress! Robert Gross in “Minute Men and Their World” points out how non-radical towns like Concord were in the early 1770s. In fact Captain Barrett had a contract to provide oatmeal and grain from his farm to the British in Boston. He got the contract shortly after British troops landed in Boston and kept it until 1774! Hardly the sign of a radical man or a radical town.
But in 1774 Concord becomes so radicalized that it’s one of the major supply depots for the army that the Massachusetts Provincial Congress is gathering supplies for. Other towns across Massachusetts radicalized heavily in 1774. From the Powder Alarm, to the Worcester Rebellion, to the uprising of the militia when Gage tried to arrest members of the Salem Committee of Correspondence, a revolutionary fervor was clearly evident in most of the population of Massachusetts (and to a lesser degree New England).
It’s my opinion that the revolutionary fervor didn’t truly begin until 1773 and the reaction of the British government to the Boston Tea Party. I think it was the Boston Port Act in conjunction with the Massachusetts Government Act that turned the protests from being protests against authority to outright revolution.
Without that it might have taken the full generation to achieve independence that John Adams said it would in a 1773 letter. Then a year later Massachusetts towns started to kick royal authority out of their towns and by 1775 Massachusetts was functionally independent except in Boston and wherever Gage could extend the authority of the army.
As a history buff, I looked forward to watching the Sons of Liberty miniseries. I actually enjoyed the program even after taking into account the inaccuracies with the historical record. I’ve read some of the comments on this thread that seem to equate this fictional telling of accounts as some type of propaganda, used to hide perceived realities that the American Revolution was unjustified and the independence of our country was illegal.
Where there men of questionable motives and virtue involved with the independence movement in colonial America? Yes. But there were also men of great virtue that understood that people have a right to self-government. One thing the program did exhibit was the commonly held elite British perception that colonials where a step beneath them. Even educated and successful “colonials” were seen as second-class and would never be accepted as true Englishmen.
The residents of the American colonies and especially those of New England enjoyed virtual autonomy from Britain for generations. They were strongly independent people that had either crossed a treacherous ocean themselves or were descended from those who had previously done the same. When that autonomy was curtailed, resistance followed. This is to be expected, especially when the people have no forum to address their grievances. Parliament made it clear that they had no interest in allowing colonial representation in their governing body, nor would they permit the creation of a colonial equivalent still loyal to the monarchy, as later seen in Canada and other members of the British Commonwealth. After all, the colonies existed for the sole purpose of making the crown money.
General Gage, although not quite the evil tyrant portrayed in the miniseries, began to grow more frustrated with the colonial notion of self-government and wrote in 1772 that “democracy is too prevalent in America”. He believed that town meetings should be abolished and recommended that colonization should not move further into the interior, but be limited to the coastal areas where British rule could be enforced. His view was a prevailing point of view at the time.
Men like John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and George Washington, though imperfect, were men of virtue that agreed that the colonies needed to break free of British rule to secure their right to self-government. It was obvious to them that neither the English crown, nor parliament had any intention of granting this authority to the colonists, so, many rebelled. Because some rebels were not so virtuous, with questionable motives, or violent and thuggish tendencies does not condemn the movement or its leaders.
If anything this American Revolution was about equality. The very idea that the colonists were not equal to Britons living in Britain was repugnant to the colonists. They had just helped the nation win a great war against the French and to be treated as second class was not what they saw themselves as. There have been multiple interpretations of the conflict and why it began. Interestingly, most of them contain similar information, but emphasize different aspects.
Equality and taxation without representation. Those are two major issues which prompted the revolution. They went hand in hand and the struggle over them led to the idea of independence. The separation from Great Britain was the last resort for almost everyone in the American colonies. Only a few dared to suggest it prior to 1773 and most did not change their minds until the publication of Common Sense by Thomas Paine in early 1776.
We today take the meaning of the word liberty differently than it was used in that era. Liberty had more to do with self-government while remaining firmly within the British Empire. This was about representation and equality, not the establishment of a new nation. It was only much later in the Revolution that Liberty and freedom became linked to independence.
I have a huge issue with the misrepresentation of the causes of the Revolution as depicted in this series.
Wow. Certainly a lot of rancorous posts here casting aspersions on the Founding Fathers and the legitimacy of the Revolution. Does everyone just feel a need to have their own personal version of the history of the American Revolution? Or have a bunch of Anglophiles posted here? I know the mini-series was way off in many regards, but some of the comments here are close to disgusting.
I have to agree that a number comments do seem to have a pro-British slant. Not sure why. To answer Mr. Genda, the British may not have committed war crimes at the start of the Revolution, but they sure did by the end. Their conduct was far from exemplary. But if there is any propaganda here, found it in how the Sons of Liberty were portrayed as a bunch of drunks who seemed to enjoy creating mayhem and chaos, while complaining about the rich and big corporations (like the British East India Company). They remind me more of Occupy than the real Sons of Liberty.
However, I am one of the folks who were put off by the extraordinary level of inaccuracy and yes, I almost did turn it off in the first 5 minutes. Nearly every historical event (the Boston Massacre, the Boston Tea Party, Paul Revere’s ride, etc.) and historical character is misrepresented, Sam Adams most of all. Sam was an intellectual and a writer, and he was not a drunk. But I was also put off my how Governor Hutchinson was portrayed–why the British accent? He was born and raised in Boston and his Puritan roots went back to the early 17th century. He always seemed like a tragic figure to me, not the petty tyrant shown here. I could do on and on, but others already have.
With regard to your observation of a “pro-British slant” to some of the posts, I will offer this.
The Revolution was not just an American story, it was a wide-reaching domestic and international one with many, many components beyond just what it is the rebels were doing. If we want to fully engage this time period we have to look at the Loyalists and Indians (both significantly impacted), the Canadian and black populations, the French and Spanish, events in the Caribbean and Central America, and on and on.
I submit that none of this constitutes taking sides with anyone and if there is an emphasis on British issues at some particular point it means just that: what were the Brits doing, why were they doing it, how did they doing it, etc. And these are just the kinds of questions that arise with regard to any of the other components. If anyone does go into this taking sides, then I think they deny themselves important opportunities to understand this event in a comprehensive manner.
“If anyone does go into this taking sides, then I think they deny themselves important opportunities to understand this event in a comprehensive manner.”
It also proves they are incapable or unwilling to break from their own bias. That’s fine for laypeople. Scholars and students of history, however, must be able to separate themselves from myth and traditional views to understand the larger picture of the past.
I like the image of a man looking at a painting through a fisheye lens. As a result of the lens, the painting’s edges and tones and textures and shapes will distorted. So while the viewer can make out what is directly in front of them, they will not be able to see the subject of the painting for what it is actually. A scholar has to remove the fisheye lens, look at the whole painting and accept the final result. Sometimes history isn’t pretty. But that is part of the process of accepting the facts over the fiction. And maybe the painting itself is abstract–as history is often only glimpsed through evidence tainted with bias–but the historian is equipped to deal with that bias because he has a broader view of more than a single painting.
I agree that fiction should not be presented as truth and I am enjoying the comments about whether or not the History Channel did so. Aside from that, consider this: many Amerians probably don’t even know that Boston is in Massechusets. A great many more could not name the general time period of the American Revolution. If you questioned average Americans at Wal-Mart, you could probably find many who do not know that the King’s name was George, or that the first battles were Lexington and Concord, or that Florida was not one of the 13 colonies. You could probably find some who think that we were already on our third or fourth President, as bizarre as that would be, and they would have no idea who it was if we were. My point is this. I bet, despite the factual ‘liberties’ that the production takes, many people will come away from Sons of Liberty knowing more about our country’s beginnings than they knew going in, and that is good. I am not a Revolutionary War scholar, I know not to take the facts portrayed too seriously, and I really enjoyed Sons of Liberty. I enjoy Pawn Stars too. Maybe History Channel needs to change its name so as not to confuse scholars.
I completely agree with the analysis.
Gage is portrayed very similar to that of gestapo commandant living in Warsaw in 1939. If anything Gage was the commander that the colonials wanted in charge for the duration of the war following the events in Boston in 1775. summarily the British Crown was aware that Gage was ineffective as a military leader and he was replaced by Howe by the time Bunker Hill was fought. The fact that the history channel portrayed him ordering the bombardment on Kips Bay in New York harbor is laughable as Gage was thousands of miles away in London defending himself from public humiliation.
The conduct of the British troops in Boston was for the most part well organized and very easy on the public and worked to maintain the peace. Outside of the Boston massacre British Troops and officers were always aware that they were outnumbered, in the event that the colonial troops advanced on Boston Gage and his troops knew they would have to surrender to an unorganized colonial force.
Washington was portrayed grossly inaccurate as a Patton style general who demanded action and offense. Washington’s opinion of Gage was for the most part always high as was Gage’s opinion of Washington, as it naturally would for two men who fought side by side in the Seven Years War.
Lastly Washington never ordered his troops to charge British cannon fire at Kips Bay, as Washington knew his troops were untrained and would far better in a defensive position in retreat. The British landed for the most part unopposed until Brooklyn Heights.
The Battle of Bunker Hill was ordered and administered by British Generals Howe, Clinton and Burgoyne. Gage took a back seat to this as he was removed from command. The film depicts gage in combat assassinating another Colonial General Warren; this of course did not happen, Warren did die in battle however it was likely from a British Troop volley fire rather than an officers pistol.
The only accurate event (which is still very dramatized)….when Washington secured his artillery at Dorchester Heights the British did request permission to leave the city or they would raise it to the ground. However it was British General William Howe that ordered the evacuation and negotiated terms with Washington, and there was no fireside chat between the two, only military correspondence was exchanged.
Wow! Halfway through episode two and I may ahve to turn it off. Finally, a show about the Revolution and it’s pure fiction. I cam forgive some historic inaccuracies for the sake of telling a story. I cringed when the British sargeant who seemingly mever sleeps was suddenly onboard a navy ship and then ordered the ship to fire its cannon. Army/marines did NOT order Royal Navy hands to fire cannon. However, little things like that are forgiveable over the gross misrepresentations of the early days of the Revolution and the poor depictions of the characters who shaped it. If someone wants to see a good dramatization of the revolution, they should pick up a copy of the John Adams miniseries.
It was intended to be a “dramatic interpretation of events” that “captured the spirit of the time” which sparked the revolution. It appears to have accomplished the intended goal, which is a reasonable definition of success. It deserves appreciation for what it is – like an art project.
It is OK if some of you felt it was unworthy for technical inaccuracies but keep in mind the intended objective before bashing the art.
But it failed to capture the spirit. That’s the point. In the real history, the redcoats are not one dimensional villains, the patriots some times (very often in the early years) appear as the “bad guys”, the spirits of the characters are entirely rewritten, so that their motivations, beliefs, conduct, behavior resemble nothing of the real person, etc, etc. Using the same names and settings does not equal capturing the spirit. Capturing the spirit is what they did with “Selma”, where King’s speeches being hotly protected and copyrighted, could not be used, and so they wrote new speeches for the movie that evoked the same ideas and motivations of the original. That’s capturing the spirit. (I haven’t yet seen “Selman” so cannot speak to it’s accuracy.) “Sons of Liberty” not only fails to capture the spirit, it doesn’t even try.
If that was the “spirit” of the Revolution then it looks like we need an exorcism.
Is Tom’s two-fold reasoning taking into consideration the liberty to create art?
Is it intellectual laziness or the liberty to create fiction based upon historical events?
Perhaps the storyteller should be allowed to tell it in the manner he choses?
Yes, which is why I said I enjoyed it for its entertainment value. I presume you read my review and saw that bit, right?
“Perhaps the storyteller should be allowed to tell it in the manner he chooses?”
Sure, why not? What if the storyteller decides it would be more dramatic if the South won the Civil War? Hey, that’s just “art,” right? I really would enjoy a movie based on that if presented as “what might have been,” but not as “a dramatic interpretation” of what actually happened.
There’s a difference in my mind between a dramatization and a wholesale disregard for reality. Also, there’s a difference between a movie like “The Patriot,” which is loosely based on a few facts (and which I enjoyed) but makes no pretense of depicting actual events, and a show presented by a channel that calls itself (or used to) “The History Channel,” in which you expect that they’ll take a more serious view of history.
An alternate history where the South won the Civil War has been done in several books (Gray Victory by Robert Skimin among the best of them), and probably some TV shows/movies. I don’t see how that should be out of bounds for entertainment purposes, and perhaps even as a counterfactual – a perfectly legitimate historical methodology. It certainly doesn’t mean an endorsement of the South or regret that the right side won.
Dan, I agree with you; did you actually read what I wrote? “I really would enjoy a movie based on that if presented as “what might have been,” but not as “a dramatic interpretation” of what actually happened.”
Spirit, like beauty, is in the eyes of the beholder, and neither are generally found to be right or wrong; both are more like art.
Whether or not a piece of art captures the spirit of a time or place is incredibly subjective.
It’s worth noting that many of the inaccuracies, or, depending on your point of view, artistic choices, that commenters are bemoaning in Sons of Liberty can also be found in Trumbull’s Declaration of Independence. That painting has been reproduced millions of times without any untoward consequences. The Crucible gets the Salem Witch Trials entirely wrong, but the worst thing, in my experience, that Miller’s play did was deliver busloads of school children to Salem to hear the real story. And casting a handsome young man as the hero when the real article is six feet under is a time-honored tradition. The statue of Nathan Hale on the Old Campus at Yale is of an undergraduate thought to look the part. It hasn’t diminished Hale’s sacrifice in any way.
An early comment was made that this material could end up in a high school history presentation someday. Let’s hope that does not happen. We owe our high school students a balanced presentation of historical events, including the problems on both sides of the issue.
This mini series from “The History Channel?” smacks of Abraham Lincoln vampire slayer. Is it any wonder why kids can’t get a true picture of their country? How about renaming channel to The Altered History Channel?
OMG! How irresponsible is the History Channel for making “Sons of Libel?” They cast looks more like the sons of Captain Jack Sparrow. Did anyone notice the Lexington men had thier muskets pointed at the British and half of them had their frizzen’s open? Who are they going to kill? The History Channel should be flogged, put in the stocks for public humiliation, then drawn and quartered.I couldn’t get through 2 episodes before turning it off. By the end of this nonsense I was actually offended and WANTED all the rebels to die. I was actually wishing Oppenheimer would get in a time machine, go back to Boston, invent the A-bomb and blow this cast to smithereens! It’s sad that in the attention deficit world we live in that the History channel would put out this kind of garbage and add to the fact that our kids and the public at large aren’t learning any history, much less junk like this that they might think is true. I think the HC is going out of their way to BECOME history themselves. The HC has a responsibility to present history accurately. If they keep putting out trash like this, they deserve to become history themselves. The Rev War is SOO much deeper than was portrayed in this show. By contrast, if you want to watch a quality show about the RevWar, watch the American Heroes Channel show the American Revolution.
The Best and most accurate character of the film has to be Hancock. I thought the characters personality, style and context were a good representation of JHancock. However I do not know how accurate it was to portray Hancock, Adams and Revere in actual combat. Revere did have millitary service following his capture.
I liked the Hancock character, or at least the way he was played. They overplayed the dandy angle, but he had more layers to him than the show’s version of Revere or Adams (though I like the actor who played Revere – he’s usually pretty good).
Overreactions like this are why we have trouble convincing people to go beyond the show and learn the actual history themselves. They enjoyed the show, but they come here and find out that they should feel guilty for enjoying it.
There’s a lot that’s inaccurate about the show, but freaking out about it in such a vociferous way is going to ensure anyone who did enjoy it for entertainment value goes slinking off, embarrassed, and never to return to this site.
Also, the History Channel has no obligation to anyone other than the shareholders of its parent corporation(s).
In case you did not notice this is a site that is DEDICATED to the history of the American Revolution. So criticism of a dreadfully bad and inaccurate show about that history is not surprising or unexpected. Passing off SoL as history is a travesty and worrying about offending the anyone who may have enjoyed it is just plain silly.
As a historian of the American Revolution, and 2 chapters away from finishing my PhD dissertation, my interest is in getting people interested and keeping them interested. When they come here to learn more, that’s step one. But then I want them to not be made to feel stupid for not knowing as much as some here. Coming here to read about what morons they are is not likely to keep them interested. Thomas did a good job of correcting the errors of Sons of Liberty without making people feel like morons for not knowing. Some of the comments? Not so much.
Academics who disparage other people’s lack of knowledge – particularly those who actually want to learn – are the very worst kind.
I actually think that the ABC musical “Galavant” was more historically accurate than “Sons of Liberty.” It certainly was more entertaining.
I was so looking forward to the miniseries, but I couldn’t even make it through the first episode. Right from the start, I began to be annoyed by the obvious. I think the History Channel needs to change its name if they plan to show more ahistorical garbage like this.
Your first mistake was going in assuming it was going to be accurate. What in History Channel’s past would give reason to think that? They show programming about aliens for goodness sake!
I suppose that I was bamboozled by the name “History Channel.” If it had been on any other channel, I would have expected the Hollywood treatment right from the start and been prepared for it. Stultus essam.
Samuel Adams was portrayed completely inaccurate. First off he was in his middle 40’s by 1773, he was never written as an athletic type of man. S.Adams was more or less a political agitator that the masses would listen too and follow, he was a failed tax collector mostly because people just didn’t have the cash to pay full duties, however the British Governor with Crown authority did grant those who pledged to pay clemency with promissory notes and only their ‘good faith’ as collateral, this was not mentioned at all and the grand old battle hymnal of occupy and seizure of colonial property was represented. Most colonial property was not seized until the war started.
Hancock was portrayed correctly as the dealer, smuggler and businessman, Hancock did try to avoid open conflicts with the British but they did leave out Hancock’s merciless treatment of his loyalist competitors (tar and feathered persons).
The entire portrayal of Gage is what is most depressing. In most historical writings general gage when through great measures to prevent unrest and war in Boston because he knew if a conflict broke out he was at risk of being besieged. Bunker Hill was also not his military plan, that was Howe and Clinton.
I enjoyed all of the comments offered here. Accuracy is important to say the least. Sam Adams was daring, but more so with his mouth. He was the older cousin of John Adams by about twelve years. It appeared the opposite in the series. Years ago, before internet publications, you might have read that Sam Adams was a “rabble rouser.” I remember my history teacher conveying the fact. And it did take place in the pubs, but everything other than prayer meetings did as well. That was pretty much it. In later years he was active in politics, something that suited his natural abilities.
I have read there were atrocities committed by the British. The mutilation of Dr. Warren may very well have been true, if not accurately conveyed as well. It should be known that Dr. Warren, on his arrival, turned over the command of Bunker hill to those with more experience. He fought as a private, a decision that deserved praise in the series but received none. If it did, I missed it.
Sam Adams Brewery was the major sponsor of the series. I’m scratching my head over that. Can we adjust history to our liking with nothing more than money?
There will not be any more anticipation of viewer pleasure from the History Channel for me. I wonder how much the Alamo will be mucked up!
Sam Adams is portrayed almost in the same fashion as .. say.. an Ethan Allen, Boone or Crocket type of folklore hero. In reality Sam Adams was the Mob of Boston, a fantastic organizer, smuggler and agitator and a true patriot of free American economic enterprise just as John Hancock was.
The film in a lot of ways portrayed the Sons of Liberty as a type of colonial group of Xmen all with super human abilities and skills.
After watching the series again, I came to realize that Gage was in many ways representing the worst of the British in one man… a tyrannical mixture of King George, Lord North, Banister Tarleton and hint of Benedict Arnold.
I’m anything but an Anglophile, but I must say that the British were fully justified in levying taxes on the American Colonies in order to help pay for a war that was fought in defense of those Colonies. As to “Taxation Without Representation”, the American colonists had far more sway with Parliament than did England’s first colony, Ireland, right next door.
Ahhhh…. Richard Kane, it was “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire HUNTER”. We must keep our alternative history accurate 😉
I’ve never seen an historical movie that was completely accurate. It’s the nature of drama to be…well…dramatic! What worries me about the level of dramatic license taken in “Sons of Liberty” is that it seriously warps some really important historical facts regarding the period. I said in an earlier post that inaccurate history quickly degrades into myth, and we don’t need anymore myths in regards to The Revolution. If the producers wanted a Batman character jumping around 18th Century Boston they should have invented one and kept the historical figures real. As it is, the thing came across as a Tea Party propaganda film. Just my opinion.
There’s nothing wrong with good Historical Fiction. Which usually involves an Original Character (or a few) involved in some famous historical events. Real Characters appear as “cameos” or with larger “roles” & the Real Events proceed. The OC’s are there to engage in steamy amours & athletic escapades–& be rugged cuties to attract the teenyboppers. Of course there will be inaccuracies, but a reasonable balance between History & Entertainment can be struck. “History” just decided to make stuff up.
I tried to watch episode 1 but, as a buff (not a scholar), the aggressive stupidity was just too much. I’ll try again since I’ve heard there are some good bits–like Short Thomas Jefferson. And I’ll be more tolerant of Turn when it returns.
Some have said “maybe this will interest the kids.” Are there any teachers here whose students have been inspired to ask about The Real Story? Of course, a few of those kids will be the irritating types who’ve already looked up the discrepancies & do NOT have a crush on Sam Adams. (For various reasons, I doubt this series will have a place in history curricula.)
Bad history. Bad tv….really shxt tv. Soooo disappointed in history channel. Change name to “slightly resembles history channel”. Not going to partake in discussion about our real history and right vs. wrongness of it (very interesting discussion gentleman) except to say I am sure there were those who fought for what they believed to be honorable reasons and those who fought (or supported the fight) to make a buck. There always is.
My question is, did the beer company come to the history channel with the idea? Or did the history channel offer sponsorship to the beer company? Just askin’.
The series would have done better stretched out as a mini series, almost like the Vikings mini series. The three episodes really condensed a lot of history and left out too many important characters.
The arrivals of British military relief to Boston from the British three head monster, Burgoyne, Howe and Clinton is a part of the Boston campaign that shows the beginnings of the bitterness and personal rivalries between British Generals that assisted in the poor administration of the British war effort throughout the entire revolution.
General William Howe is one character that should never have been left out as Bunker Hill and the subsequent evacuation of Boston was his own brainchild.
and the iconic skirmish at the North Bridge was left out completely.
I will say just one thing. They want to make our Fore Fathers look like a bunch of stupid drunk thugs, because if they can get people to belive this they want have any problem getting ride of the constitution. They would love to burn it and write a new one. There is nothing wrong with the original except it gives the people to many rights. You see I belive it was Thomas Jefferson that said something to the effect that if our government got to big we would end up with the very thing we fought to end. I will leave it at that.
One must ponder that some of those viewers would even consider these presented exploits has acutely occurred. Are we that gullible to accept this image of the forefather’s? Lastly, why would any producer of an historical fictional expose create such a lie about our rebellion and the Cause? I personally am dumbfounded that many people considered the Sons of Liberty episodes as fact and even entertaining.
I am torn between the purist that point out the many inaccuracies and the fact that most American’s know very, very little about their history. Maybe there is some value in getting them to watch an entertaining story about the formation of this wonderful nation that is not totally off the mark rather than know nothing. As part of my local historical walking tour, I ask a simple question to get some idea how much the group knows about our history. “How many know that the U.S. Army conquered Mexico City? After about 8 years of this I finally had one positive response. Is this T.V. production setting up those who watch it to be in the category that Ronald Reagan said – “I know you are not ignorant, it is just that what you know is wrong”.?
“Maybe there is some value in getting them to watch an entertaining story about the formation of this wonderful nation that is not totally off the mark rather than know nothing”
Sometimes it’s better to remain ignorant than to be certain of something that isn’t so.
The history channel used 22 professional historians in the making of this series. 21 died during production, 7 under mysterious circumstances, 14 self-inflicted … you have been warned
My apologies if any of my comments duplicate something already said but I’m coming late to this discussion and only scanned the previous postings.
One thing I am not going to do is delve into the authenticity of the program’s content other than to say it makes “The Patriot” (spit) look like a documentary. Rather, I wanted to offer up a view of the entertainment value. Personally, I did not find the parts of two episodes I watched (total of about an hour-and-a-quarter) the least bit entertaining. I saw the plot and script as trite and entirely predictable. Everything and everybody came across the screen in black and white with no shades of grey. I saw no subtlety that gives characters and stories interest. The acting also seemed rather over-the-top and forced. And above it all, the filming appeared terribly tight–even the outdoor scenes felt claustrophobic–and dark with the British red coats and white smallclothes the only color. I literally saw or heard nothing that entertained me.
As an aside, I subsequently happened to see a bit of a video of a toddler who got into some white paint and spread it over herself and her younger sister. An image immediately came to mind–that of the participants in the “Sons of Liberty” Tea Party painting themselves up.
Last night, I finally had time to finish watching Sons of Liberty. I enjoyed the first two hours even if considerable dramatic license was taken. Samuel Adams was actually a Harvard alumni and a great writer, a propagandist on the level of Thomas Paine. He created the American Revolution, not just in Boston, but in all thirteen colonies. The real ruthless thug was his sponsor, tea smuggler John Hancock. I have a hard time wrapping my mind around Sam Adams and the in reality wholly inept Paul Revere as action heroes. For a much better telling of this tale see Harlow Giles Unger, American Tempest.
That being said, the last four hours was jaw dropping. It was so bad that it made Turn and Sleepy Hollow look like documentaries. How is it that I missed that the Boston Tea Party was about wine not tea and that it was in revenge for the Boston Massacre (that in reality had taken place three years earlier). It went downhill from there. John Adams two inches taller than Thomas Jefferson? My worst criticism is that the real story could have been told in the same time allotted but, aside from being history, would have been much more dramatic.
As a student of military history, I am focused not only the true sequence of events but also on the historical accuracy of things like clothing, uniforms, firearms etc.
Having reenacted for over 25 years with the 23rd Royal Welsh Fusiliers Light and Grenadier companies I paid particular attention to the military piece of the series. A found a number of things troubling:
#1. A few of the British Grenadier helmets were completely wrong – not even close to the proper helmet. What they were, I have no idea!
#2. The British manual of arms from 1764 was obviously never consulted. The Nazi type marching, arms drill orders and handling of arms was totally wrong – not even close – in fact it was really shabby looking.
#3. The most egregious and inexcusable offense (probably due to laziness on the part of the producers) was the use of non-period firearms in certain parts of the series. The most glaring example is in the 3rd episode when the camera sweeps along the musket racks in the redoubt before the Battle of Bunker Hill (Breeds). Lo and behold, but there they are, 5 or 6 – 1873 – 1888 Springfield Trapdoor rifles – the camera focusing on the top of the locks and barrels. No question as to what those firearms really are!
I got so turned off by this non-sense that I really had to disengage from the show. How this type of crap passes on the History Channel amazes me! They must not really care and they must think that folks won`t recognize the severe anachronisms. Which is probably true. My neighbors thought the series was accurate and true! I had to disabuse them of their opinion!
Then you have Pawn Stars with a Brown Bess in the shop saying the arms command is ready, LEVEL, fire. If you did not level the musket, the ball would roll down out of the barrel! Please! – Make Ready, Present, Fire are the more appropriate commands.That show has absolutely no clue or credibility when it comes to antique firearms!
It is discouraging that so much about this series was a farce and that so many innocent / ignorant people will take it as downright factual. On the other hand, maybe just maybe, people will take an interest in the American Revolution and begin true research on their own, since there is so much in this field of study to take advantage of.
The absence of Lexington Green and the Concord North Bridge as well as the total misinterpretation of characters is another reason not to respect this series.
Hopefully something much better will come to pass.
Even, TURN, is a hell of a lot better than Sons of Liberty in my opinion.
History needs gracious treatment particularly in the 21st century as the tech world takes over and the world becomes more numb to mental images of the past.
The “art” that allegedly attempts to somehow portray ” history as the real deal ” needs to be careful in it`s interpretation of the past for fear of a nasty reprisal of events. Making the Revolution look like an adventurous, cool 21st c. event is not the way to go. It`s absurd to say the least!
Loving this discussion! Not a professional historian, just well-read, aware of blatant innacuracies, disappointed in history channel in general… please let me note: Sons of Liberty helped me immensely to picture both Franklin and Washington as real people. Bit parts, but each man’s character was portrayed in a way that fits all I’ve known of them. Excellent and much appreciated, if not needed, by myself. Also it made me aware of the doctor’s part, a fascinating story of which I was totally unaware.
The whole idea of rewriting history in popular film is, I think, necessary to portray a sense of the times, and you just hope people will be motivated to investigate further. Discussions such as this are much, much needed in our world today.
The series is a much better alternative to the tripe that infests TV on most channels. I enjoy it for what it is- a fictional story puntuated with bits of truth. For me, it has inspired that curiosity laying just under the surface to take some time and investigate the truth of the Revolution. Thats how I found this site.
I was leery about this series after seeing the previews, but tried to be optimistic going into it. However, my first suspicion was unfortunately confirmed by the horrid inaccuracies portrayed in the show. I would have liked a disclaimer in the beginning. I did a lot of eye rolling and explaining to my family what actually happened on many occasions. The biggest problem I had with this series was that each main character supposedly only joined the cause after a personal threat or injury by Gage or Hutchinson rather than just out of a sense of duty, love of law, or wanting to protect their rights. I was especially annoyed with the way they portrayed Hancock as a money-hungry, coward of sorts who would have sided with the British if they had offered him money and not taken over his house.
Just once I wish there would be a Revolutionary War TV series/movie that adhered to the facts! It’s tiring trying to correct all of the errors in your mind as you watch something like this. “Sons of Liberty” had the feel of current-day, college drunks set in the 1770s using our current lingo. It was a complete re-write of history which wouldn’t be so bad if so much of the viewing audience weren’t history illiterate and probably thought to themselves as they watched, “I didn’t know that happened.” Thank you, Tom, for debunking many of the errors and reminding us all of the much cooler true story.
Why was Mass. the center of protest when compared to the other colonies? Were the taxes higher here than in other colonies leading to higher levels of unemployment and social unrest?
Should the Turbo Tax commercial that played during the Superbowl (which was a comic portrayal of the Boston Tea Party) have been censored or should it be allowed to pay over 4 million dollars per minute for profit at the expense and even ridicule of our American History? They are both put on for entertainment and neither intended to be accurate.
The difference is that commercials are never assumed to be true, whereas shows on the History channel should be just that – history, in it’s truest form. In addition, at the end of the commercial, the narrator states that the Boston Tea Party it didn’t really happen that way (not that that really needs to be stated); “Sons of Liberty” had no kind of disclaimer on the show.
“Should the Turbo Tax commercial that played during the Superbowl (which was a comic portrayal of the Boston Tea Party) have been censored”
First, please don’t conflate criticism with calls for censorship. At no point have I seen any commenter on this site or any other demand that the government ban the Sons of Liberty — that’s what censorship means. Second, did you think that a tv commercial was supposed to be an accurate portrayal of a historical event? If so, you’re the only person on the planet who would have thought so. Did you think that there were giant floating letters in the 19th century sky on which cowboys might occasionally bump their heads (“Words can hurt” Geico commercial)? Of course not. That’s not the same thing as a series about actual historical events on — of all things — the HISTORY channel, where one might reasonably expect some level of accuracy. I would be critical of Sons of Liberty had it been on any other tv station. But for something this inaccurate to be on the History channel is an insult to the people portrayed, as well as the viewers.
PBS does not agree with your definition of censorship and neither do I. It need not be a government but an organization that censors content of another’s media. There have been many comments suggesting that the history channel should be required to change its name or the content of the SOL series or similar programs be changed or regulated contrary to the desires of the author. I like the freedom to make movies even if they are not quite right.
Some folks here (the author, and quite a few commenters) defend the Sons of Liberty show as maybe not quite accurate, but that it at least gets young people interested in American revolutionary history using entertainment as the vehicle. I do not subscribe to that opinion, though the author, Mr. Varenna, makes good natured arguments in its favor.
One or two commenters seem mostly interested in debunking the American revolution as a petty, violent, selfish, and ugly chapter in what would otherwise have been another glorious chapter in British perfection of the human race (you can tell by my sarcasm that I hardly find that mindset persuasive as anything other than self-congratulatory revisionist agitprop). I have great affection for the British and their history and culture, given that some of my forebears were Brits who emigrated to the Virginia colony from its earliest days.
What I find disheartening about fake history dramas like SOL is that it renders the people and the issues at hand into a very dumbed-down, comic-book version of history that obscures rather than enlightens. The people involved – Brits, Patriots, Tories, and others affected by the American Revolution – were every bit as complex, flawed, self-interested, and endowed with special qualities and accomplishments as are the people of every age. The Revolution need not be debunked in order to recognize that General Gage was not a disgusting bad guy as portrayed in SOL, but rather, he was a senior military officer in a very difficult situation in which he simply could not have prevailed to maintain “order”. One also need not find that Sam Adams was neither a perfect human specimen of the noble revolutionary leader, nor was he a low down conniving agitator, in order to understand his critical role in the Sons of Liberty.
When people – young or old – are fed, and believe – one dimensional and completely false portrayals of key persons and events in out national history and culture, then we all lose something important in terms of understanding who we are, and why we came to be Americans, and not Canadians, or British, or French, or Caribbean islanders. It IS important to understand the nuances of the people and events – not to promote a particular ideology viewed through today’s political and cultural lenses, but to understand that even today, these sorts of nuances continue to play a critical role in how we live and govern and live the culture of today.
Maybe all that sounds a little like wistful Pollyanna-ism to wish for more human understanding, but I always hope for more understanding. More understanding usually helps to guide us to better decisions going forward.
I hardly think that presenting a point of view from a British perspective (or Loyalist, Canadian, Indian, Caribbean slave, or whatever) in a forum thread heavily slanted towards the actions of only one of those components (i.e., rebels) constitutes “self-congratulatory revisionist agitprop,” itself a pretty extreme, dismissive statement in light of all the uncertainties and moving parts that underlie the Revolution.
I don’t think anyone in their right mind will say they have the answer to any of this, nor will they disagree with your desire for understanding. But certainly, obtaining that honorable goal is a process that requires engaging alternative points of view, even if we do not like them. They may be uncomfortable, but if on examination they have merit, then we have to ask ourselves if we are being entirely fair in our own positions.
Mr. Shattuck – I have respect for alternative views when they are expressed in a manner that enlightens rather than proselytizes in a one-sided way. Revisionist histories that flog a particular point of view are particularly unhelpful, because such are designed specifically to persuade rather than educate.
Certainly in America and the West in general for the last couple of generations, such historical revisionism, usually with an anti-Western bias, has become fashionable on college campuses and in Hollywood and commercial television networks … which institutions are demonstratively populated mostly by left wingers with an ax to grind. Everybody knows that – it’s not even a subject that is in any way whatsoever debatable, i.e. that academia and the entertainment and arts are bastions of leftism. I am certainly not a right winger – I am both temperamentally and ideologically centrist and open to multiple interpretations of history, and I equally disdain far right wing propaganda as much as I disdain left wing agitprop. All propaganda is bad.
People are people, full of flaws and foibles that depend not upon ideology nor upon any other explanation but that humans are flawed … while some individuals accomplish significant feats during their lives worthy of study and reflection. “History” that attempts to persuade that all conflicts consist only of “good guys” and “bad guys”, and “good causes” and “evil causes” is false history. There were are indeed good guys and bad guys, and good causes and bad causes, but none are solely good and few are solely bad, while most are somewhere in the gray area in between the poles.
Great points, thanks for sharing!
I am not a history lover…by any means. I seriously think I slept through or avoided all those classes in High School and College. However, I just wanted the author of this post and all those who have replied/commented, both for and against the Sons Of Liberty series on the History Channel, to know that I have really enjoyed the “entertaining” show. As you can see it has sparked a few questions and desires to look at reviews, fact check some events, and so on. Reading and researching both sides of this epic revolution has generated a new found interest and I have to admit, the SOL series is what ignited it. I know its a fictional show based on real people and events and I took a lot of what was portrayed with a grain of salt. I would like to think that most intelligent and educated Americans, despite our independent spirit, would not just ‘accept’ a one sided portrayal of a historical event or allow ourselves to be ‘fed’ like baby birds the regurgitated inaccuracies of a fantastical story. I think I will continue to watch the series, with my trusty smart phone in hand to quickly look up the true historical facts during commercials. I have truly enjoyed reading all of the comments and passionate debates about the American Revolution and the Sons Of Liberty series on this post and will continue this new interest.
Conspicuous in it’s absence is the lack of comment on the possibility that the American Revolution was saved by the patriotism of a woman, Margaret Kemble Gage. For a woman of her time to defy her husband, General Thomas Gage, with whom she reportedly had a happy marriage, was an act of courage and sacrifice. She would have not been able to own property of her own until she was widowed and been at the mercy of her husband’s retribution. It is a disgrace that “The Sons of Liberty” portrays her as engaging in a sexual liason with Dr. Warren without the slightest evidence that it occurred. The series does a disservice to her memory, her bravery and patriotism, and the role she played in protecting her fellow colonists by portraying her as an unfaithful wife. In her own time, she would have been disgraced and scorned, cast out of society, and separated from her children for such a breach, had it become known. Is it not much more likely that she knew Dr. Warren socially as a prominent Boston citizen? Dr. Warren had a wife, four children, and then a fiancé during the period of the Sons leading up to his death. He was not unattached as portrayed in the series, so there is no reason to suppose that he had a sexual relationship with Mrs. Gage.
These are good points, but there is no factual evidence whatsoever that Margaret Kemble Gage passed information to Dr. Warren or anybody else. That’s conjecture that has come up repeatedly but is wholly unsubstantiated. There were many ways that in which the British movements were obvious enough to astute Bostonians without requiring an information leak.
Quite right, Don. In fact on this very site is a discussion of whether or not Dr. Warren rec’d information from Mrs. Gage–an article I linked to in my original post. =)
I did actually make a comment about this in my article. Surprised you missed it.
I read a lot of historical fiction. What I look for in it is good research. I do not mind the made up dialog and the filling in of the story as that is what makes it fiction. I hate it when the story goes directly against historical facts though. Especially historical facts that even casual lay historians as myself are well aware of. It makes me fear that there are many “facts” in there that I did not realize were totally wrong causing me to go away thinking I learned something when in truth I did not.
Not that this will make anyone feel any better about the historical quality of SOL, but maybe you can take a bit of solace that people are not ignorant about just this site’s favorite period or American history or history in general. Ignorance stretches across all aspects of society. During a panel introduction to a new series on TV about an Asian-American family, a reporter asked a rather bigoted question: “I love Asian culture. And I was just talking about chopsticks, and I just love all that. Will I get to see that, or will it be more Americanized?”
I am thankful for your thoughtful response to questions as to how this program came to be shown on the history channel. This is more propaganda than historical fiction. Using the word terrorist (in the second episode), a current narrative to show that the American rebels were no different than present day ISIS) to discribe the rebels, is one example. Having just authored a book of historical fiction, I feel the author has a responsibility to get the reader or the viewer from point to point of historical fact as truthfully as possible. The dialogue is fiction, putting your characters in an historical event (that they were never apart of) is fiction, writing to “fill in the gaps” is fiction, but the historical event should be true to itself. It requires research, which apparently these writers cared little about. As indicated in other posts, anyone who knows the history, knows that the truth of the American Revolution needs no embellishments. I find no enjoyment when no trust exists with the storyteller. I can’t just emmerse myself in a story that every few minutes I am questioning whether one event or another actually happened.
Thomas Verenna’s review was thorough and enlightening. It also shows that readers of this Journal have more to say about television series that play fast and loose with history than articles well-researched and seriously written. What does that say about us? The literary license taken by such series isn’t new and will always be welcomed by consuming viewers, readers and listeners. “Last of the Mohicans’ is a perfect example. When reviewed in American Heritage Magazine, the writer stated “a thrilling, romantic adventure” set on the frontier, “a gorgeous, wild, romantic and horribly dangerous place where the seeds of democracy are sown.” Dr. Bruce W. Dearstyne in his NY History blog article “Last of the Mohicans: Fiction Trumps History” concluded “that showed the continuing power of the book to call attention to an important New York writer and to New York as an important place where history unfolded. It also reveals the power of fiction to spark interest in history-” I wholeheartedly agree.
Thanks for this article. I watch the first few minutes of the first episode and said WTF!!! Searched online to find a fact versus fiction analysis of it which lead to your article. I need to search some more, but is there any truth to the story of wine smuggling by Sam Adams and John Hancock? OMG my middle school child is studying US history in school, I will use parental controls to block the so called “History” channel so her education is not corrupted and the “idiot box” does not turn her into another fool that need a political party to tell her who to vote for like George Washington warned us about. Beam me up Scotty, there is no longer much intelligent life on this continent. LOL
Ken, its simply an avenue to start a discussion, you teach your middle school daughter history, not a channel or even school. We need to ensure our kids understand history in a way that both makes sense, is accurate and gives them a base to be a leader in the future as to not put our republic in the shape it is today. I would rather have her watch this than some movie about vampires or teeny bopper boy crazy girls giggling on Disney channel.
Pistols,,,, the patriots have more pistols than than do today. I will keep this short and simple, this is not a good show. Accuracy is lacking (as the previous posts state so well). The story is lousy.
I kept waiting for the oratory skills of John Adams to come forth, especially at the Continental Congress, but he seemed to have been struck dumb and only knew people who could do the jobs he couldn’t accomplish. WTH??
While I admit I did not read all of the comments, I did read the well written article and many of them. While I agree the specifics of the show were not a historical documentary, but I love that it got my 13 year old interested enough to watch the show and have a great political discussions about the ideals and basics of our freedoms. It got her more interested in our history, which to me is more important than what year gage took over or when Franklin was in London. My 2 ¢
The History Channel jeopardizes its credibility by changing the facts to the extent it did, without prominently displaying a disclaimer. Most of the inaccuracies were gratuitous, the result of “going Hollywood”. I am glad for the writer who’s daughter was captivated and learned some principles of our founding, but the gap from the truth was much too wide.
Just got around to watching this mess. Sam Adams’ speech to the Continental Congress was abysmal. The vote for independence occurred on July 2, not July 4 as shown.
The egregious error of briefly displaying 1870`s rifles during the Battle of Bunker Hill – (Breeds Hill) really turned me off.
However, the show itself, regardless of all it`s faults, led to much conversation in our neighborhood about the American Revolution. People who had little clue about this time in our history, at least now have questions on what really happened. We are currently talking about all of this stuff and I am getting some folks to join our local American Revolution Roundtable.
They are now realizing that this show was more Hollywood than anything else. A few things are right but the whole production could certainly have been improved upon.
I am a naturalized American and as such know very little about the people and events in the miniseries so I thought watching it would be some form of education. I have read the Declaration of Independence and also books written on the lives of Ben Franklin, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and other historical figures mainly presidents so I think, I can claim to be interested in history. Just don’t ask me how much I remember.
I WAS NOT entertained by SoL. I slogged through the first episode while feeling more and more troubled. I didn’t know much about Samuel Adams and yet I had the nagging feeling that he wasn’t being represented accurately. I couldn’t follow the story very well so that is why I searched the internet and led me to find this site. I have read most of the comments and don’t feel alienated by those from history scholars and authors. Now here’s my question. Where can a person like me find the most accurate unbiased account of the events covered in the miniseries. I mean, stuff that are available at a public library. If it comes as an audio book, even better so I can listen to it while I’m driving. I don’t think I can waste any more time watching the other 2 episodes.
P.S. And yes it is possible to be misled to assume that history is being presented accurately by a channel that has programs like ancient aliens.
You will find no better source than J.L. Bell’s website, http://boston1775.blogspot.com/. As the header says, “History, analysis, and unabashed gossip about the start of the American Revolution in Massachusetts.”
I loved it and want more of it! We have to remember that portrays history like in this drama series give youngsters a sense of what happened to allow the freedoms we have today. That what we have came at a price and showing the players in history come to life is exciting and allows students to learn and adsorb on a different level. Yes you history philosophers could say the window and the lighting for that time of day was unrealistic to the truth. But I say if my son sits down and has a better understand on Paul Reveres ride and how Samuel Adams was involved and layers in the Continental Congress then I say bravo… When I was in School it was reading a book and maybe an old projector reel movie, with someone with a placid voice going on and on…Believe me I love it then and I love it now.. but in this age and I did say this age… they require more stimuli!
I realize it has been a while since this show was aired, but I wanted to comment anyway. My 11 year old son and I watched all three episodes and we loved it. I have never really considered myself to be interested in history, other than reading a lot about the Bataan Death March. But SOL really captured my attention, and my son’s as well. I purchased the books “1776” and “Patriots” and when we finish those I believe we will buy “Bunker Hill.” We have even decided to take a vacation at some point to visit Boston and see where the revolution started. We have read that there were a lot of inaccuracies in the series, but it piqued our interest. So, SoL has got us delving deeper into history that we really weren’t intrigued by to start with. So, maybe the show was disappointing to those who know a lot of Revolutionary history to start with, but I’m really happy that it got me thinking about something I tried to avoid learning about back in high school!
///There were no British regulars stationed in Boston in 1765. They were there 1768-1770 and 1774-1776.////
/////Historically, Gage had already been given command of British forces in North America in 1763. He had been in the colonies and in Canada since 1755, ten years prior to the Stamp Act riots; so I was surprised that the episode introduces him hanging out in England in 1765, completely unaware of events unfolding in Boston. In 1765, Gen. Thomas Gage was living in New York.////
Not that I am completely knowledgeable about how things went down but….
Seems a serious contradiction from someone who is trying to show us where the mistakes are in the show.
I know someone will try to say that he said “British regulars”
But the fact is he made the top comment in regards to ONE soldier coming to serve a warrant as if that one soldier couldn’t have been there because “Regulars” weren’t there until 1768.
If Gage was there before 1768 then regulars were there before 1768.
Gen. Thomas Gage commanded the British army in North America from 1763 to 1775. He spent most of that time in New York. He came to Boston briefly in 1768 and then again as royal governor from 1774 to 1775.
You quoted from the article the correct dates for when British army troops were stationed in Boston. At other times there were some units on a fortified island in the harbor, not patrolling the town.
That still doesn’t make the scene with the British soldier delivering a writ historically plausible. Under the British constitution, the army didn’t serve writs. That was a function of the civil government. Boston had a sheriff, constables, and magistrates to handle that duty.
As a Brit (now living in the Philippines) my knowledge of the revolution is almost nil, so my wife and I watched the whole series. I could tell just from the casting (gen Gage, Lord North vs Adams which way the story would spin with the Brits cast as totally evil and the patriots as the good guys. As entertainment it was great. As history I had my doubts and this is what led me to this site. I should like to thank everyone here for the well-informed debate and differing opinions that I have enjoyed reading. The ‘show’ has done something good if it has stimulated others to look at the true history from all sides, as I now will. One correspondent pointed out that Britain exploited the colonies and gave the example of manufacture from iron. This is true and rightly or wrongly in those days that’s what colonies were held for. I think some form of revolution was inevitable, given the many strong characters (I mean real people) in the ‘colony’ at that time.
This story popped up on your first page while History’s latest epic is unfolding. “Texas Rising”–the putative story of the Texas Revolution. We study this stuff in school down here. Many of us continue the study to get the bigger picture.
So far, History is continuing its practice of ridiculous history & lame story telling. Anyone wanting to brush up on their Texas history should go elsewhere.
Excellent examination of another bad history program! For years as a film industry professional [with a side career in the historical field,] I had to work on sets where I watched first hand the slaughter of historical facts, sacrificed to the gods of fantasy and over active imaginations, for some a substitute for acquiring any education on what is important in life. Right now we are finishing up a short piece on Ponce de Leon [more history that has been obscured by the fog of myth,] and then its on with our docu-drama [yes, a real docu-drama, no lies or disinformation,] on Bernardo de Galvez, Spain and the American Revolution. I had considered approaching The History Channel with this program but from what I have seen over the past few years I’m having second thoughts about that.
This trailer was produced a few years ago, it could be better but it was made with no funding and limited footage. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1rxOL5StacY&feature=youtu.be I appreciate the encouragement we have received from historians like Tom Flemming and Thomas Chavez.
What I find unforgivable was the extreme changes in chronology and characterization. While history curricula in the U.S. puts chronology as its main priority, the History Channel couldn’t even get that right! I was also a bit shocked that they filmed in Romania rather than Scotland, Ireland, Canada, or (oh my!) the U.S. There are some production companies who care about getting history “correct” but are rarely picked up by the mainstream media and big distributors like the HC. ColonyBay.TV offers a 4 part miniseries called ‘Courage, New Hampshire’ about a fictional town in Massachusetts just before the beginning of the Revolution, and it was written, filmed, and created in southern California. The producers had proposed the series to AMC, but were turned away by the channel coordinators saying that they “weren’t interested” in an American Revolution show. Six months later, the coordinators announce ‘Turn.’
I do applaud everyone whose curiosity was roused while watching the History Channel, whether it’s caused by ‘Sons of Liberty,’ ‘American Pickers,’ or ‘Vikings.’ Hopefully some viewers take their exploration of history past the world of Wiki!
In response to the comments regarding women & the Quartering Act in the Revolution, also explore Francis Shaw, whose family hosted officers Pitcairn and Wragg. It didn’t seem like it was always a very peaceful situation.
Having finally watched Episode I, I eagerly read Thomas Verenna’s article afterward. I had long since forgotten most of the details of this period, and public-school history is already notoriously unreliable, but something seemed wrong from the very first scene: Boston was a little too similar to what Baltimore has since become. Nevertheless, I persisted, to find Sam Adams in a guise that seemed equally unfamiliar to me. Had I merely overlooked those parts of history? Had historians discovered new facts about Sam? Rather, I think the writers may have been drinking Sam Adams as much as thinking Sam Adams. Then the anachronistic scriptwriting began to overwhelm some of my senses. Grabbing a Sam Adams to accompany me through the rest of the show (I chose the Boston Ale this time), I stuck it out to the end. In retrospect, I now see how important historicity is to historical portrayals. Watching a fictional account that supposedly occurs in parallel is fine, but watching a new version of history, with altered facts and dates, is like watching one of those parallel-timeline episodes from Star Trek. It’s cool, but it seems very important return to the real timeline before something awful happens—like the implosion of the space-time continuum. Our sanity as civilized people is a function of the reliability of the historical narrative that defines us. Accordingly, in Episode II, I would like to see Spock arrive from the future wearing the requisite hat over his ears. A few strategic phaser maneuvers and spooky dematerializations later, and the Americans will have won the revolution without having to compromise historicity quite so much.
As an British person I would like to know if Americans actually believe the myths associated with their independence? The fictional writing on the “Sons of Liberty” would be almost laughable if they were not such a misrepresentation of the facts.
From a British viewpoint our General Gage and his soldiers (known to Americans only as “Redcoats”) are portrayed as though they were and occupying Nazi SS Division subjugating most of liberty loving Europe in WWII.
Lets face it America’s time had come and it was always going to be a painful exit. But remember that may colonists voted with their feet and moved to Canada or back to Britain. Also, without the help of our old enemy France, who ever seeking an opportunity to strike at Britain, came to the “Traitor” George Washington’s aid Yorktown may never have happened.
As for Paul Revere – his part in the story as shown only serves to further embellish the myth and legend of this pathetic man. We have our own hero here called Robin Hood. The myths about him are as strong as those about Revere, ie mainly bullshit.
When you consider that the British Empire in the rest of the planet has been largely judged to be a force for good why was it that only the American colonies wanted out? Do Americans ever consider that today there are 54 member countries of the British Commonwealth including some that were never in the Empire. Perhaps the US should apply to be re admitted to the Commonwealth? It would be interesting to see if the likes of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, South Africa, etc would accept.
One more thing. The US lost the War of 1812. The US invaded Canada and was repulsed by a small British Army contingent, Canadians and importantly ex-pat Americans. The aim was to annex Canada and they failed. What came afterwards was a sideshow for the British who were at the time engaged in a world war with a certain Napoleon. The US just tried to be sneaky and take advantage.
You bring up many valid points, all worthy of further examination and consideration.
No, not all Americans accept what has been passed off as an accurate accounting of the reasons for the Revolution. A deep appreciation for many of the things you mention undercuts a lot of the historiography, much of which came about as a result of the nineteenth century love affair with nationalism that was sweeping the world (and which we continue to suffer under today, and hardly helped by Hollywood’s misrepresentations).
Now, there are many, some making important contributions to this website, who look further into the historical record to ask the kinds of questions that you do, receiving significantly different interpretations than what past writers have provided. I have personally spent a significant amount of time researching the war’s causation from a legal viewpoint and can tell you that there is a much larger story there than has ever been talked about in the past (see further the works of Jack Greene and John Phillip Reid).
As you note, Gage has been significantly misrepresented as a villain when, quite to the contrary, he was a highly competent man placed into an untenable situation (I hope to write of this further in another article for JAR). Revere does indeed invoke many emotions once you get past Longfellow’s romantic version and consider his conduct during the Penobscot Expedition, and the British Empire at the time was a truly a magnificent thing to behold. Regarding 1812, that was an embarrassment brought about by frustrated American politicians trying to gain some semblance of respect in the worldwide community at the time; but you have to admit, when the peace was decided as status quo ante bellum, it was a draw!
Thank you for making your great points, they are not lost on the discerning.
Thank you most sincerely for your reply. I hope the American people, and particularly those in Hollywoodland (including the Australian Mel “Freedom!” Gibson), will finally get a balanced view of both Independence and “1812”.
However, since they only make movies or TV that shows Americans winning everything I think it is a forlorn hope. Even the calamitous General Custer who screwed up badly at The Little Big Horn is somehow viewed as a hero. Here in Britain we had the contemporary disaster of the massacre at Isandlwhana in the Zulu Wars. Nobody here considers the British commander Lt. Col. Durnford a hero for getting 1200 men slaughtered by 12000 Zulus! Even so they made a film about it called “Zulu Dawn”. Although I have to admit that what followed at Rorke’s Drift the next day was immortalized in the film “Zulu” when 139 British “Red Coats!!” held out against 4500 Zulus.
Anyhow, I digress. As for 1812 being a draw. As I said earlier, America invaded Canada. According to Thomas Jefferson “The acquisition of Canada, this year, as far as the neighborhood of Quebec, will be a mere matter of marching.” Good call Tom!! It was a bungled and badly executed invasion plan led by another incompetent leader called Brigadier General William Hull. So, as the reason for the war was to expand the US by conquering Canada, it is self-evident that, as Canada is very much still alive and kicking and the US failed in it’s objective.
During the invasion the Americans caused York (Toronto) to be burned. The British returned the compliment in 1814 by doing the same to Washington.
Yes I know all about The Battle of New Orleans (another incompetent British General – Pakenham) made a suicidal double frontal attack on Andrew Jackson’s prepared positions. But, crucially, the war had actually ended 2 weeks earlier when a Treaty was signed in Ghent, Belgium. Obviously there was no way for the news to travel in those days so nothing would have changed. However, just because America won the last battle does not mean it either won the war or made it into a draw.
Perhaps the Canadians should make a film about 1812. By their actions the US virtually cemented the Canadian identity so Canada has a lot to celebrate.
Thanks for your thoughtful post. I hope that means you enjoyed my review of this show! Please stick around and check out the rest of the site. I’m sure you will be pleasantly surprised by the content here.
I have to disagree with you prerogative on the war of 1812.
The War of 1812 was not fight over domination of British held Canada as much as it was a war for American westward expansionism, or manifest destiny. Madison and Jefferson both knew that British support of hostile Indian tribes needed to end in the Ohio frontier. Prior to the War of 1812 the USA had dealt with the results of British support in the Indian Wars of 1790 and 1791 that resulted in the American Legion Victory at the Battle of Fallen Timbers and the removal of British Fort Miami, this was an ongoing issue that threatened US sovereignty and integrity, as well as the British impressment which was considered a minor issue in a broader European Conflict.
The invasion of Canada in the War of 1812 was a necessary strategy to gain an early foothold because the North was wide open to invasion, just as it was the same objective in the 1776 Continental invasion of Quebec, however both invasions were unsuccessful in that objective mostly because both relied on small untrained forces to catch an unprepared defense off guard.
The remainder of the war of 1812 saw continuous US victories in the North, Northwest, the Middle Atlantic and the South. The victory Battle of Thames saw the final end of the British and northwest Indian confederacy alliance.
The US turned back a major British invasion (11,000 foot soldiers) at Plattsburgh with a relatively small force of 2,000 men.
The US then stopped a British raiding offensive in Baltimore following the burning of Washington.
Finally the British were stopped at New Orleans however the peace was signed weeks before the battle was fought and won doesn’t negate the victory because in the event the British succeeded in New Orleans; there would have been a British presence in that region to some extent possibly giving rise to a new colonial conflict.
Finally, while the result of the peace treaty was that the status quo remained the same as it did before the war, the broader war was won by the British with the defeat of Napoleon, who was an undeclared US ally.
The United States’ victory was over the Southern, Seminole and Northwestern Indian Tribes that the British supported, this allowed for US expansion westward and into Texas, giving a rise to Manifest Destiny.
Thus the war of 1812 was not a defeat by any means, and in the event the US did succeed in Canada would have been short lived as the US main army had no capability of being an occupying force because it had no substantial navy to support it.
While I suspect in parts of your comments you’re engaging in some light trolling of us provincials (nothing wrong with that!), your comment about the Commonwealth touches on an argument that has become more common lately among scholars of the American Revolution – namely, was it, on the whole, a good thing? Those who are more hesitant to say yes make the points you do about the course taken by the other former (predominantly white) British colonies (and current members of the Commonwealth) like Canada. Without the Revolution, they say, we probably would look something like those countries today.
The problem with this hypothetical is that Canada has the political status it does today in no small part because of the outcome of the American Revolution. It was the loss of the North American colonies that influenced the British to revisit how they did empire. For much of 1778, after Saratoga, the Carlisle Commission, or the “Commission to Quiet Disorders in America,” attempted to engage with Congress to offer it nearly everything the colonists had originally demanded. It was authorized to consider nearly every political and economic concession short of independence. It was too late for the 13 colonies represented in Congress, however. The British were attempting to negotiate from a position of weakness. But when it came time after losing those North American colonies to reevaluate imperial policy elsewhere in the world, many of the same concessions they offered Congress went into creating the dominion status eventually given to Canada and other primarily white colonies.
Also, I agree with you that as far as empires go, the former members of the British Empire are in a far better position today than former members of other European empires. Nevertheless, I don’t think it’s quite accurate to say only the North American colonies ever wanted out of the British Empire.
Well, it’s called Poetic License.Even though I’m a stickler for dates, I’m willing to concede your point about the chronology of events being incorrect, we’d have to axe the producers why. However it’s meant to be entertaining and it delivers on that aspect.
”Taxation without representation” is the main focal point, something that used to be taught in schools, I don’t know what the curriculum is today but I’ll tell you something that disturbs me: I recently came across an article that stated a new history book included one paragraph on Abraham Lincoln but devoted two chapters to Slick Willy, aka the former coked up Bill Clinton. That tells you the sad state of the education system in America today.
Back in Colonial Times there were spies, and people who were loyal to the Crown. And the Redcoats certainly weren’t choir boys, we’ve all read historical accounts of them demanding to be housed and fed by ANY colonist they chose, and besides the Revolution history has taught us that the British ”ruled’ the globe due to their navy and of course ”the Sun never sets on the British Empire”. However look at they trated their subjects ALL OVER THE GLOBE, just look at movies like Gandhi, or Breaker Morant. Look at how the ‘Royal Family’ (lol) treated the People’s Princess (see the movie ”The Queen”) People were ”commoners” and the Brits were the penultimate masters who were instructed by The Almighty Himself to rule in perpetuity, at least that’s the nonsense they claim. Something about an ancient King who was told by The Almighty that he and his descendants were meant to rule. Don’t laugh, Brits still believe that to this day. And go study ”The Troubles”, and note how they treated the citizens of Northern Ireland, long live the IRA.
And go look at the tax rate the Brits imposed on its citizens in the ’40s to pay for the War, in case you weren’t aware of it the maximum rate for a wealthy person was 99.75%! But they didn’t revolt, they simply left. And have been leaving, even the Beatles left for America. But the Brits don’t care, and the same goes for places in ‘New’ England, specifically the Big Apple, just like Britain people are leaving in droves because of the punishing taxes, people earning 6 figures are required to turn over 60% of their income for all the taxes they pay. Just like Old England the Liberals who run New York punish success, and they keep getting re-elected because the Liberal voters are lazy and if you promise them a free cell phone like Obama did, they’ll give you their vote. And if you lie and claim Obamacare means ”free healthcare”, they’ll give you their vote. Meanwhile the truth is Obamacare consists of 19 new and/or higher taxes and Sebelius testified under oath at a Congressional hearing that she – like Obama and Pelosi – lied and used ”double counting” in scoring the Healthcare Act with regards o the numbers that they sent the CBO, and Representative Paul Ryan pointed that out. And as for Pelosi’s assertion that Obamacare would ”only” cost $900 million, as if being under a magical irrelevant figure of $1 trillion was some type of victory, the true cost is triple that, $2.7 trillion, and rising. Don’t get me started on the cost ($2.1 billion) of the web site for Obamacare and the months of delays and bugs. Oh and the person selected for creating the web site just happened to be a college pal of the Mooch. Imagine that.
I hope your rant had done you good. It hardly merits a reply but as a Brit I would point out that NOBODY here believes the sovereign rules by divine right, especially not the royals themselves. Any illusion that the king was an absolute sovereign was set to rest as long ago as Magna Carta.
Speaking as an English “Brit” from the Shires – that is Staffordshire, not movie Middle-Earth “Shire” from LOTR (although JRR Tolkein lived in neighbouring Warwickshire as a child). I find it amusing that you seem to have formed your opinions of us Brits from watching too many movies or TV shows.
1. British soldiers, who’s uniform included a red coat, were not allowed to demand food and shelter from unwilling colonists. The officers actually paid for their lodgings as befitted their “Gentlemanly” status. It is easy for Americans today to forget that the British thought of the Colonies as part of Britain and the colonists as fellow “Brits”.
2. It is true that the “Sun never set on the British Empire” but that is just a fact that illustrated how wide reaching it was. The French and Spanish also had huge but smaller Empires that were just as widespread.
3. As for how Britain treated it’s subjects in the Empire, well nobody would claim we were perfect, but you need to take account of the times and also the nature of the wide variety of peoples that lived under British rule. For example, India still benefits today from the institutions set up under the “Raj”, However during what was called “The Indian Mutiny” in the 1850’s there were terrible atrocities committed by the rebels against innocent British women and children. So watching the movie about Gandhi to form an opinion is very dangerous. I have close friends who are Indian and they are openly racist against their own people (Cast system). It goes back thousands of years before Britain arrived. In short, any drama made for entertainment like Breaker Morant of Sons of Liberty should be taken with a very large pinch of salt.
4. Princess Diana – she was genuinely loved by British people. Unfortunately, she did not have a happy marriage – it happens! She once visited a hostel next to my office. It was not pre-announced but we were tipped off by our neighbours. We all went to stand by the entrance and when she arrived and walked up to us there was an understated gasp from us all. There really was something special about her. I felt it as we all did.
5. This King you mention. I have no idea to whom you are referring except perhaps King Arthur. If so, may I remind you that the existence of a King called Arthur has never been proven and he remains a Romano-British myth.
6. Northern Ireland. Nobody really understands all the tensions. One thing is certain, they go back almost to Roman times. Briefly it involves Celtic Irish tribes, High Kings, a north Irish tribe called “Scots” or “Scotti” invading the west of what is now Scotland but was then ruled by another tribe called “Picts” by the Romans due to their painted skin. Eventually, Ireland is converted to Christianity by the Welshman who became Saint Patrick and they have largely remained Catholic ever since. But, after the Norman conquest of England in the 12th Century the Welsh-Norman lord Richard “Strongbow” de Clare” deposed the King of Leinster and carved out an Anglo-Irish area around Dublin around 1168 known as the “Pale” (as in the saying “beyond the pale”). After the reformation of Henry VIII a lot of Protestants emigrated to Ireland and became landowners and farmers in the Pale. Tensions rose with the native Irish Catholics which continued when Cromwell went to put down a rebellion and it flared up again at the Battle of the Boyne between the exiled Stuart Catholic monarchy of King James II and the new King William of Orange who was Protestant. William won. Then many “Scots” Protestants from Scotland came back to the north of Ireland and were given land displacing many native Irish people in a misguided effort to calm the then “Troubles” of the time. So, after the Irish gained independence a United Ireland and Religious sectarianism became the source for the recent “Troubles” due to the desire of the northern Protestants to remain loyal to the UK. Of course it is much much more complicated than this but at least it is a start.
7. Tax. After WWII Britain was bust. We had sent all our Gold reserves for safe keeping to Canada (just in case Hitler managed to invade when we were alone against the Nazis). Eventually, the US, still suffering the after effects of the Depression agreed to either sell us war materiel for cash (i.e. Gold reserves) or let us have these under something called “Lend-Lease”. Very generous Mr Roosevelt & Co! Naturally, being America, it wanted paying for everything. So in 2006 we finally finish paying for this generosity. The US loaned Britain $4.33billion – a massive fortune then, and we paid back $7.5billion in total. So America made a buck out of us during the war. No wonder we needed high taxes. In the end it was America not Germany who perhaps triggered the final decline and fall of the British Empire. The final act of 1776 maybe??? But at least we have the NHS thank God. Not the healthcare for the rich option that Mr Obama was, I assume, trying to soften for the poorer American people.
(Please forgive the brevity kind of writing….)
Hope you don’t mind a simplistic kind of guy jumping in. Found this site after watching Sons of Liberty and researching “stuff” I saw/heard (even with the disclaimer). You guys have gone thru a TON and normally I don’t pick at scabs but I’d like to offer another perspective.
First – me! Recently retired US military officer after 30 years. Fan of history but more it’s not a hobby or serious student. Favorite period is WWII Pacific. Grew up in central VA (near TJ’s home) so had some exposure to the Revolution and the Civil War in that area – beyond what a normal kid would have, I’d argue. Also, had to study military history which is often — the history of the world.
This is a tad long but trying to cover lots of stuff. Have to repeat – this is “just a guy’s” perspective. This is in no particular order of importance:
Series – Not bad but was disappointed. Like someone already noted, it lacked that Revolutionary time period “feel” and I couldn’t connect to the story OR the characters. Hell, I got more out of Young Guns (yes, I know how inaccurate THAT movie was). My main issue was the half-ass Jason Borne kind of thing they did to Paul Revere.
Accuracy – Having seen the stuff TV, news media, politicians, Hollywood, regular people, and yes even academia does to history and events…I try to keep it all in perspective.
History Channel – Hey…they have to make a living like everyone else. I’d rather watch a dozen inaccurate shows like SOL than 99% of the reality crap! People want violence and sex now….the truth simply isn’t as attractive to people.
Truth/Education – If there is worry about people building their knowledge from shows like this then I’d argue the problem isn’t with the show (whatever it is) or the History Channel…that’s a problem with society and our education system. I think all of us are aware of the shortcomings of our secondary education system. In my opinion, the problem is an apathetic public that doesn’t give a rat’s hind-end about anything but the diploma (and subsequent degree). I know you historians would LOVE for our kids to be taught some of this in detail but we have to remember…these are kids. It’s hard enough to keep their attention long enough to know a few key dates and names. It’s not that I don’t think it’s important (or anyone for that matter). It’s just that there is A LOT of history – even for the USA! What and how much do we teach? And remember, history is competing with every other discipline as well! Heck, take a look at Bill OReilly’s man-on-the-street thing from tonight!!!!
I don’t want to single anyone out but, Mr Gary Shattuck, 2 quick things:
1 – I’d argue the “legality” of the pursuit of Independence was, in many regards, irrelevant. I’m sure it could be argued EVERY break for Independence was “illegal” in some respect. I don’t disagree at ALL with your assessment. Had the signers of the DI (and others) been caught they would have certainly been hung or shot on the spot. However, the DI was signed, a war was fought and the end results are what they are. History is FULL of situations like this….and as someone already noted – the winners get to define history (for the most part).
2 – ISIS? Really? As a guy who’s been in the battlefield with terrorists (and from one gentleman to another) I’d simply ask to please use another example. There is NO situation that calls for such a comparison – at this point in history (ha ha). And it’s not necessarily what others have inferred (or “misconstrued” I believe was your word) from your posts – it’s what it SEEMS you’ve implied or the tone. I don’t mean that disrespectfully – you obviously know your stuff. Just that maybe take a second look before critiquing the critique! lol
To everyone………One quick smart-@#$ remark (with a wink and a smile!)
We are in a free country and if you have an idea, you can do something with it. Any of you COULD write, produce, direct, etc…a series regarding the truth about the Sons of Liberty and the American Revolution (or anything for that matter)! 😉
Great website and I hope to have time to visit often!
Thank you for your thoughts. Yes, I am deep into studying many aspects concerning the causation of the Revolution and it has been a highly gratifying and eye-opening experience.
This includes looking at it from a legal point of view, one which has had very little exposure to the public at large and which I hope people will come to factor into their assessments of this unfortunate event. To understand it more fully than what the literature provides today, one needs to appreciate the interplay of the British, colonial, and imperial constitutions (and I mean the 25 constitutions that the various colonies had), as well as what their period language meant when they talked of property, liberty, law, etc. It was not as we understand it today and one might be surprised at how their understanding will turn when engaging in the effort.
Contrary to your assessment, the American Revolution was NOT like other conflicts, it was a highly unique set of circumstances. And, yes, the issue of legality of the war very much plays into the equation as that is precisely what split the colonists from Britain. Past accounts that do not delve into it fail to explain why it all happened and that loss impacts everyone’s understanding today.
The reference to ISIS, as explained earlier, was to a mindset of a rabid faction – if you don’t like that, then disregard it and substitute some other distasteful group. So, abandon any thought that I am equating the actions of rebels with religious zealots, but am talking about points of view. Even so, the extremist Americans harassed, displaced, harmed, tarred and feathered, and even killed their countrymen and as much as we might not like the mindsets that led to those actions, and that is fact. As with the law of the time, to not look into motivations is to deprive ourselves of a full appreciation of what they all went through.
Incidentally, you are hardly alone in being in conflict as I have also been in the forefront of some of our governments’ various efforts overseas and seen first-hand what factionalism can do to innocent populations (Serb on Albanians, Muslim on Muslim). It is not a pretty sight, but to understand why it happens, we have to get into the minds of those perpetrating the atrocities. That is as true for the past as it is for today.
Didn’t mean to imply that our Revolution was like any other. I’m a believer that all things are, in their own right, different. Especially something of this magnitude. I just meant that legality of a revolution can be viewed as legal and illegal, depending on who’s perspective is being presented.
As for the actual legality, I still stand by the fact that “legality” in and of itself is somewhat irrelevant in this case. “Quod est necessarium est licitum” tends to fit (in a simplistic kind of way). But who decides?
But, I’ll bite.
If their acts were illegal…why? and why did they work?
Please forgive all the typos and errors.
There is no excuse.
I simply didn’t proof read!
If you don’t mind my jumping in here, I think I could provide some balance to this discussion before it gets caught up in semantics.
The use of the “ISIS” label, if my sympathetic reading of Gary is correct, seems to me to be a bit of a ‘shock and awe’ term with the intent to shake free the image of the mythological American revolutionary, that is, the notion of a patriot during the AWI maintaining American exceptionalism (ethically, morally, idealistically, etc…). Instead, the patriots were human beings with human flaws and exhibited bad judgement at times (and at other times, committed dark, questionable, morally ambiguous acts against other human beings). Gary isn’t necessarily wrong, but he is probably overstating his position.
There is a level of nuance we need when making comparisons like this. We can’t, in one vein, suggest aptly that the American revolution was unique and then at the same time, in the same response, suggest that they are akin to one of the most violent terrorist organizations on the planet today. ISIS is, after all, made up of brutal individuals who kill en masse because of a fervently held fundamental religious belief. Surely this isn’t a unique category in the scope of human history, but do the patriots warrant that comparison? They had their sinister moments (the Gnaddenhutten Massacre comes to mind), but more often than not they exhibited rational behavior over terrorism. Sure they might riot and form a mob, and perhaps tar and feather a few people, they overall they didn’t line people up and just execute them without a hearing (at least not that I can recall).
And there is another side to this; that being the tories. The patriots and tories were equally brutal to one another and to the civilian population who tried to stay out of the conflict. The tories mutilated the wounded militiamen at Crooked Billet, then lit them on fire and burned them alive. That’s pretty awful. But I wouldn’t suggest that they were akin to ISIS.
The point being here is that we’re talking about a Civil War, and within that broader scope are sub-wars and prejudices, long-held grudges, border disputes, land claims, and greedy merchants who played both sides. It was a complex war with complex issues relevant to the day; a fluid base that shouldn’t be pinned down to modern constructs and pop-culture fear labels (like ISIS, or the Taliban, or the IRA). The patriots weren’t that. They were something else. A little bit bad, sure, but also a little bit good.
I doubt that ISIS would have the same openness towards a democratic and republican government that the patriots had; nor would they seek to develop a document as impressive as the Constitution. So let’s remember as this conversation moves forward to elect on the side of balance and fairness, staying away from adding modern contexts to the 18th century that just don’t belong there.
My two cents, for what its worth.
Nice points and only what I was saying with regard to the phenomenon that falls under the rubric of zealotry, whether its rebel, British, Tory, or whatever. Whoever did it, it happened and we need to acknowledge it for what it was; and we cannot deny that it is a concept that spans the course of recorded time. Indeed something worse will probably come along in the future, but you can be certain that it will be sponsored by zealots, in whatever degree it is ultimately displayed. And your various examples of such behavior taking place during the war points directly to this issue.
Don’t want to create a rabbit hole on such an unimportant thing but, Tom, I think you pretty much nailed it. Though, I’d say the ISIS comparison was more insensitive (if not unnecessary) for all the reasons you noted than “overstated”. I mean I’m pragmatic enough to understand the point but at the same time…..using such a comparison will derail a conversation very quickly.
But enough of this….it’s not THAT important.
Can you suggest some good books to read to educate myself further on the historically accurate events leading up to the revolution?
I would strongly suggest J.L. Bell’s blog, http://boston1775.blogspot.com/. He deals mostly with the Boston and New England area but since that’s where things started in the 18th century, it’s probably a good place to start studying the period.
Thanks for this. I bought it on impulse at WalMart yesterday as a supplement for my kids’ homeschool curriculum. As soon as I got home I questioned how accurate it would be. WIll be returning it!
This is one dramatization I’d never use to supplement actual schoolwork. Unless, of course, you used it as a means to explain what *didn’t* happen. But that could be confusing for kids.
If you are looking for a great dramatic representation of the Revolution, pick up The Crossing (starring Jeff Daniels as Washington). It is superb.
I really did not care for “The Crossing.” If used in the classroom, surely supplementary materials are offered.
For one thing, the film repeated the story that the Hessians at Trenton were drunk or hung over from their Christmas celebrations. Not true.
We see Young Alexander Hamilton as Washington’s sidekick. He was Captain of artillery at both Battles of Trenton & the Battle of Princeton; only later did he join Washington’s staff.
Were exploding shells really used? Also, we saw Continentals attack sleeping Hessians with bayonets–which did not happen. We’re told the crossing used Durham boats–but they looked like rowboats to me, not the larger cargo vessels.
The trip to Trenton took place during “a dark & stormy night.” But the film showed a pleasant autumn evening. Finally, Jeff Bridges’ Washington was casually vulgar. Not much like the Washington who saved strong language for very special occasions–at least in public.
Of course, this was a low-budget TV movie. Unfortunately, it was based on Howard Fast’s novel–published before David Hackett Fischer’s popular history of the same events.
(Yes, I agree that “Sons of Liberty” was a fiasco.)
I never said the show was perfect. But it does capture the feel of the Revolution better than any other Revolutionary War production I’ve seen. The impressing of the boats, the scorn shown to Washington’s troops, the discord amongst the officers, it is pretty good. For a television portrayal, it is probably as good as you’re going to get.
These threads tend to pop up again & again. (Tumblr referenced this one just a couple of days ago.) So I’ll answer a very old post, in case anybody wanders by.
One can see “The Winter Patriots” at the excellent Mount Vernon website. http://www.mountvernon.org/site/animated-washington/winter-patriots/ (Or buy it.) Based on David Hackett Fischer’s book, it’s another low budget production, using many re-enactors. But it seems pretty accurate & the animated maps are really excellent. The story of 1776–from the catastrophic loss of New York through victory on the Delaware–would make an excellent film or high-budget miniseries. In the meantime, “The Winter Patriots” ought to show up in some classrooms.
Meanwhile, we hear that Matt Damon & Ben Affleck will appear in a film based on Nathan Philbrick’s “Bunker Hill: A City, A Seige, A Revolution.” Most comments so far have been “at least it might be better than ‘Sons of Liberty.'”
Thank you for this great article!
I’m a French literature student and I’m quite fascinated by the depiction of historical events in the media (especially TV series). Obviously, I don’t know American revolution that well and – even though it was quite clear to me that the Sons of Liberty miniseries is note accurate – it’s hard to separate fact and fiction. It’s nice to have help in that matter, since I never know how much I can rely on Wikipedia for objective-ish historical accuracy ^^
Anyway, I agree: the series may not be a true account of historical events, but it’s a good show (narratively and “performingly”). I wonder though: if it was not openly showed when aired that the series is merely an historical fiction, did it really make people focus on real (emphasis here) events rather than take it at face value?