In a first for Based on a True Story, today we’ll chat about the TV series Turn: Washington Spies. Joining me to dive behind the history of the popular AMC show is Michael Troy from the American Revolutions podcast.
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Note: This transcript is automatically generated. There will be mistakes, so please don’t use it for quotes. It is provided for reference use to find things better in the audio.
Dan LeFebvre: Let’s start with the overall concept for the show turn. Was there really aspiring for George Washington during the revolutionary war?
Michael Troy: [00:02:56] Oh, yeah. There was a spiring the coal perspiring, which was in New York, and it was a very real thing. I think it was the longest running and most active spiring for the Patriots during the revolution.
General Washington realized he needed intelligence about the enemy if he wanted to have an advantage over the British. And, some of his earlier efforts, unfortunately, were quite amateurish. many people are familiar with the famous spy. Nathan Hale. I only had but one life to give for my country. He was kind of just set into long Island randomly, without any backup or support or any way to hide the notes that he was writing.
And the British caught him and hanged him. So the Patriots had to get a little more advanced over time. And, and of course, they eventually developed the Culper spiring so
Dan LeFebvre: [00:03:41] there was more than one spiring is that kind of what you’re saying? I know the show focuses on just this one. Ring of of characters, and there’s only so many you can have on a TV show, so it makes sense from what you’re saying, it sounds like that was kind of.
The culmination of a lot of difference, attempts it espionage and intelligence gathering.
Michael Troy: [00:04:02] That’s right. The Continentals made multiple attempts. Some of them, some of the spy rings they had in other parts of the country. but they did have multiple Spierings in the New York area as well, because that’s where the British were for so long during the war.
and yes, the, there were actually some other rings that were operating at the same time. The coper ring. Was running as well in the Newark area.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:04:24] Hey, you mentioned the time, and I like to cover the kind of the historical timeline, and I’ll start by giving us a little bit of context for the timeline as far as the TV show turn is concerned.
so in the TV show, it’s. It’s four seasons long. It’s, it’s already over now. And you know, some TV shows just keep going and going and going. And so as I was watching this for the first time, without knowing a lot of the historical background, I assumed that they just. Planned that this was going to be a show that lasted as long as the war was.
And I would assume that, okay, four seasons, are they doing four years of the war? Or I should say not necessarily the war itself, but of the aspiring and assuming that, you know, the spiring was a four years, but then we also see. some dates in the show. it shows in the very beginning, in the first seasons, we see as early as 1776, and then towards the later season, we see, 1781, I believe is the last year that we actually see.
so that kind of led me to believe that the spiring was only active from 1776 to 1781. But then. Just kind of from, from history. The war didn’t actually end in 1781 or it didn’t officially end, I should say, in 1781 so I guess there’s kind of a mix-match there. Can you kind of talk to what. What happened there is, was that timeline correct for the spiring and why didn’t it last until the very end of the war?
Michael Troy: [00:06:04] Yeah. Well, I think it was nice that the show did try to follow the arc of history and go along with what events were happening. You know, during the course of the war happened during the course of the. Show, but they really did cheat on the dates a little bit. as we all know, the outbreak of the shooting war in the revolution began in April, 1775 with the battles of Lexington and Concord.
but most of the fighting that first year took place around Boston. not really. around New York city. The war came to New York and long Island in late 1776 when the British Armada landed and, and conquered the region beginning in August, 1776 now the show turned begins in the fall of 1776 just after the British invasion.
Which makes sense. That’s when the war came to New York, so it made sense to start the show about the war in New York at that time. but the writers were kinda cheating here at the Culper ring itself. Really didn’t get started until 1778 about two years after the British landed. We don’t have an exact date for when the Culper ring finally disbanded.
But we do know that in 1781, Abraham Woodhall got a little unnerved by some of the problems he was having. And, the continental army. Stopped his regular payments to the ring. However, there is evidence that the Culper ring continued to give some information, not on a regular basis, but on an occasional basis until the British finally abandoned New York in 1783.
But as I said, in 1781 the band became less reliable. And part of the reason for that is the British pretty much gave up after the battle of Yorktown. They didn’t leave, but they received orders from London to engage in no offensive actions, and they pretty much just sat in New York city for the next two years and not much happened.
That probably would have been a pretty boring last year for the season if they decided to do that.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:08:03] It’s a way to go out in a grand finale, huh?
Michael Troy: [00:08:05] Yeah. So I mean, they had did it, which makes sense with the battle of Yorktown, which is kind of the culmination of the war, you know, before the lawyers actually signed the papers, ending it.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:08:14] Well, you mentioned the name Abraham Woodhall, and in the show he’s played by Jamie bell. For those who have seen it now. He also has the cover name of same old coper, which is kind of where the cope, where ring identity came from. And you mentioned that, you know, the payments to Abraham Woodhall. Was he actually real?
Was was Simo Culper real or how much do we know about this knowing that, I mean, it’s aspiring, so I’m assuming there’s a lot of stuff that they kept as clandestine as possible. how much do we actually know about. Samuel Culper, or who the real serial Culper
Michael Troy: [00:08:49] was. We actually do know a fair amount about him.
there was obviously a real man named Samuel Culper, I’m sorry, the name was Abraham Woodhall and George Washington personally gave him the code name. and the real wood shared many similarities with the character portrayed on turn. He lived with his father, judge Richard would haul in Setauket. He was a cabbage farmer who spied on the British for many years, passing along his information to major Benjamin Tallmadge.
There’s also many places where the story on turn departs what we know about the real wood hall. For example, what Hall’s mother was not dead as she was on the show. he lived with both of his parents and his mother actually outlived his father. His father was not shot during the war, but in fact died from natural causes in 1781.
Also, the father, Richard Wood hall, was not a hardcore Tori as portrayed in the show. there’s no good evidence that he really strongly supported either side, but he did not seem to have any objection when his son Abraham joined the Patriot militia earlier in the war. Also, Abraham Woodhall wasn’t married.
the show makes a big thing about him being married and cheating on his wife.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:10:00] Married to his ex Harry’s brother’s wife, I believe. Right. And his brother passed away, and so he married her is kind of a honorable thing.
Michael Troy: [00:10:06] Yeah, that was all made up. He did marry a woman named Mary Smith, but he didn’t marry, get married until 1781.
So pretty much about the time the ring was, going away is when he got married and the couple did have three children, two girls and a boy. The boy was named something differently than he was in the show too. so that’s all his family life was very different. Woodhall also didn’t have an affair with Anna Strong as, as he did in the show.
And a strong did exist. She was part of the Culper ring. Her father was a . Her father, her husband was a Tavern keeper, who was taken prisoner earlier in the war and held him one of the prisons, ships in New York. Oh, that was. Portrayed somewhat in, in the show. but she was about 10 years older than Abraham in real life.
she did pose as his wife a couple of times when he traveled into the city. it made his trips look less suspicious if he and his wife were traveling together as a family into the city. So he used her. in that way. And she did play a role in the espionage team. I’m hanging up a black petticoat on her clothesline when it was time for Caleb Brewster to come in and pick up information for wa from Woodhall.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:11:15] Well, you’ve mentioned a couple of names that I want to chat about because in the show it kind of gives us a sense of how this ring works, and obviously it’s not just, Abraham Woodhall or Samuel Culper, however you want to refer to him. The other character being is a Benjamin Tallmadge and then Caleb Brewster that you just mentioned.
And the way that the show kind of portrays this to give some context and then we’ll see how, how accurate that was. Is. A wood hole gathers information on the British. He lived in New York, and then he gives us messages to Caleb Brewster and it’s Brewster that then kind of risks his life in order to travel back and forth across from British lines to American occupied territory to deliver those messages to Benjamin Tallmadge, who according to the show, is personally tasked with heading up this ring by George Washington.
Is that a pretty good kind of understanding of how the ring actually operated?
Michael Troy: [00:12:17] Yeah, I think the show actually did a pretty good job with that, at least in the generalities. Major Talmage is the man who put the Culper ring together for the continental army. As I said, there were other rings they had before this and they were not particularly successful.
One of the reasons was that spies obviously had a very difficult time traveling between enemy lines. Talmadge is the one who introduced this different system. He was, Talmadge was from Setauket and he used his childhood friends who were already living behind the lines to gather the information, and so that he, they, those people who were actually gathering information like Woodhall.
Did not gather attention that they didn’t want, they didn’t not deliver the information anywhere. They simply collected the information and then they could use another person to, Mmm. Pick up the information and take it across the lines. I should note that Woodhall was really not as heroic a character as the show portrays.
When Talmadge first contacted what hall about this wood hole was in a Connecticut prison. The Patriots had imprisoned him for trying to sell cabbages to the British in New York. And of course, trading with the enemy was a crime. Talmadge got him pardoned so that he could go home and spy for the Continentals.
And then Caleb Brewster has in the show, was another childhood friend of both men and had been working as a smuggler in the no man’s land of long Island between Connecticut and long Island. That area was really full of pirates and Outlaws through most of the war. It took a really tough, nervy guy to navigate that area.
Unlike Woodhall Brewster had actually joined up with the Patriot army early on and was actually fighting with the Patriots before Talmadge called him into spy duty. So yeah, the, the spiring would pretty much as the show. I’m portrayed it, and a strong would signal Caleb Brewster for a pickup. A Woodhole would have gathered the information from New York city, and then Caleb Brewster would carry it back to Talmadge, and then Talmage would take the information, review it, and give it on, or pass it along to general Washington.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:14:29] they actually were childhood friends like it just, it seemed almost like too good to be true that you know, these three major players in this, in the revolutionary war overall. I mean, if you think about it, I don’t know it, it just seems interesting that they were just a childhood friends. Do you think that was something that just because they could trust each other, they knew they could trust each other?
Do you have any sort of insight into why, why these, these particular people.
Michael Troy: [00:14:57] Yeah. Well, I think a big part of it was that they were childhood friends and right during the war you didn’t know who you could trust because a lot of people kept their opinions to themselves. they didn’t want one side or the other, harassing them for expressing a contrary view.
So a lot of people just shut up, kept their head down, and, and farm their cabbages. The fact that Talmadge knew all these people meant that he knew them as people knew what they thought, what they believed, and knew that they could trust each other, that they weren’t going to turn on each other. So that all worked well.
the ring did expand beyond the Cintiq at friends in a show. And this is true in real life as well. Woodhall enlisted Robert Townsend, who was a Quaker that ran a Tavern in New York city. In 1779 he began collecting information for Hooter hall, and he got the code name Culper jr. There was also another guy named Austin Rowe, who also lived in Setauket and was part of this childhood friend band, who became a courier between towns and in Woodhall.
Originally Woodhall had traveled to New York city himself, but he kept getting harassed by soldiers and didn’t want to risk it. So Austin Rowe was the one who made these journeys between New York city and Setauket. RO never shows up in the series. I guess the writers probably wanted to make Woodhall look a little braver by making the trips himself.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:16:22] Yeah. Adds a little more attention to it, I guess.
Michael Troy: [00:16:24] Yeah. I mean, and there were others in the ring too. I mean, Woodhole had a sister that lived in New York city and ran a boarding house. The show also has a slave name, Abigail and her son and the spiring. There actually was a slave who I, I’m not sure that he was involved in the Culper ring, but I guess he was tangentially, a male adult slave whose name was keto, I believe.
But he worked for a Patriot who was also involved in the ring. there weren’t any slaves as far as I know of who actually worked in British households and, and turned over information like they did in the show. Again, that, that was a little bit of creative license, I think.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:17:03] Oh, I’m curious about what type of information would be passed here, because you know, we think of it today and we think of how important information is.
So what sort of information. Would they pass let from wood hall or from, you know, the British side over to the American side. What sort of information was it that was being gathered by the spiring?
Michael Troy: [00:17:27] Well, yes. Firings were very critical. Maybe even more so than today because today at least we have some electronic surveillance and satellites and things like that, which can give us a lot of information.
If Washington couldn’t see something from his telescope, you know, 50 miles away, he wasn’t going to know about it unless someone told him. So, yeah, the Copa ring was able to gather information about troop numbers, how many masses of troops and regiments where were being a master in New York. they would sometimes pick up scuttlebutt about movements where they officers were talking about in taverns, where they might be going, what they might be doing next.
Probably one of the most useful things that the Culper ring did uncover was when the French army was planning to land at Newport, Rhode Island, and the British were going to ambush them there. The Culper ring got this information to Washington and Washington used that intelligence to fake an offensive against New York city.
This forced the British to call off the attack on Newport so that they could keep up their defenses in New York and, and prevent this attack. So that that sort of information was also very helpful. the ring also received some information about the relief fleet that was going to Yorktown. Washington was able to get the French fleet to fright off that British fleet leaving Cornwallis stranded at Yorktown.
Now, he probably would have gotten that intelligence from some other sources as well. But that’s, that’s one of the things the ring passed along. Oh, also the, the Benedict Arnold stuff. they, they did pass some information that a major or important officer was going to be, possibly turned. they never identify Benedict Arnold till after he fled, unfortunately.
But there they were somewhat aware of what was going on before Arnold skipped out and turned sides.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:19:17] Was this spiring, or maybe not even just this one in general for each kind of backup from the show overall, but was this something that you think the British knew about to infiltrate their ranks and almost try to, you know, spread disinformation?
Michael Troy: [00:19:36] Oh, I’m both sides used, intelligence officers both for collecting information and for spreading disinformation. that was, that was always very helpful. If they could, either know what the enemy was going to do or convince the enemy they were going to do something that they really weren’t, was always, was always a good thing.
So, yeah, there were, there were. Quite a few attempts in quite a few places to do things like that.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:19:59] I’m trying to put myself in the shoes of, you know, somebody like George Washington who has to try to make these decisions and try to decide what sort of information is, is real and not even if, even if the source, if it’s coming from the Culper ring, I’m sure he assumed that the information is is correct, but who knows that their source was necessarily
Michael Troy: [00:20:21] correct.
Well. Right. It’s always kind of a guessing game. And having a trusted source who’s, who’s been on, been correct in the past is always good, but, right. You know, you never know for certain, I mean, one of the things that really convinced Washington of the necessity of the Culper ring is, you may remember in earlier in the war in, I guess it was late 76 when the British were in New York.
I guess this was 77, after, after the Washington’s crossing, and he had pushed the British pretty much out of most New Jersey, and they were back in New York city in 77. They were kind of waiting to see what. The British general, how was going to do next and how sent several faints into North Jersey. He was hoping to pull Washington out of the mountains and destroy his army.
and he did this by sending disinformation to Washington’s army, saying that he was going to March across New Jersey to Philadelphia. in fact, when Washington didn’t take the bait, he didn’t do that. He got on ships and they sailed down to the Chesapeake and marched to Philadelphia from the South.
So that’s kind of one of those examples where. You know, if Washington had better information, he could have reacted better to what the British were doing
Dan LeFebvre: [00:21:34] mention of Washington there. And that brings something to mind that as I was watching this show, and of course it’s, it’s based around Setauket and, and so everything is kind of there, but it also seems like George Washington is always right there out.
He’s like always near Setauket. And of course, as you just mentioned, the war was not. Only in Setauket or only in in New York. I’m going to kind of compound on that based on something we talked about earlier where you’re talking about your troop movements and the type of information. I’m sure that type of information needs to be gotten to the final destination pretty quickly.
In order to still be relevant. So it was George Washington always the final destination, like was he the one that always made the decisions from the information or, was it something where if he wasn’t there and so talk and he was somewhere else and this information came through was Tom edge, then kind of the, the one to make decisions based on this information?
Michael Troy: [00:22:39] I mean, Talmage wasn’t really a decision maker. He was there to provide intelligence. Washington was the one who, he obviously for very good reason, kept his spy networks pretty close to his vest. He didn’t want to be, you know, he had to be very careful in who he shared a lot of this information with, even among his other officers.
so Talmadge worked pretty directly and closely with Washington on providing him with this intelligence. Washington spent most of the revolution. at least after the British abandoned Philadelphia in North Jersey, pretty much within 50 miles of the city, either in North Jersey or in, Southern upstate New York.
so he was always within a days ride of any information that was coming out of Setauket. You know, if Brewster got something, he would bring it to Talmadge town, which could get it to Washington within a day, and then they could react on that information. Okay.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:23:31] So he was pretty close. I just assumed that one of those things where were kind of stretching it a little bit to keep the characters close and make it a little bit more convenient as far as the timeline is concerned.
Michael Troy: [00:23:41] Yeah. I mean, Washington obviously famously spent one winter in Valley forge. That was really before the ring got going. Once the ring got going, he was more or less in the area or area of New York for the rest of the war.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:23:53] So something else I want to chat about a little bit is something that. It doesn’t really, at least in my mind, doesn’t really get brought up a lot as far as the revolutionary war is concerned.
It’s something that we hear a lot with the civil war. and it’s something we’ve kind of alluded to a little bit here, but it’s, it’s talking about kind of family and friends on the opposite sides of this war. And in the show, as you mentioned, It would Hall’s father is Tory and very, very much on the, on the British side, at least in the beginning of of the show.
And he made me, he wasn’t necessarily there, but in my mind, the writers would put that, that sort of thing in there to really help show some of that drama that I’m assuming must have been there. And at least in some families, or you know, in some of the areas where you have family members who are on the opposite sides of this war.
Was that something that was common?
Michael Troy: [00:24:53] There were some divisions. I mean, obviously, you know. Families and even, very insular communities tended to be one way or the other. And most of the people in that, group would, would stick together. But there, there’s great, many exceptions to that too. I mean, probably one of the most famous is a Benjamin Franklin, whose son was Royal governor, William Franklin, and remained a loyalist throughout the war and after the war had to, had to leave America and moved to London.
For those of you who are familiar with continental general Henry knocks, his, father-in-law was a very prominent member of the Massachusetts colonial government and atory the father-in-law and mother-in-law had to flee Boston when British evacuated. Again, never to return. I have read many accounts of men in battle recognizing a friend or a brother-in-law or a cousin, all sorts of things and, and shooting at them.
So yeah, that it did happen. Even Benedict Arnold famously married into a loyalist family while he was still, at least as far as everyone knew, a committed Patriot. George Washington was actually pretty close friends with general Thomas gage, who was the, original British commander when the war began.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:26:07] We’ll get the Benedict Arnold in a second here, but I w I want to ask you about the, the term Tori. What is, do you, what does that kind of the history behind that, where that term came from? Cause I know it’s one that, is that somebody who is a loyalist to the British cause, but where does the term Tori come from?
Michael Troy: [00:26:24] Yeah. The term Turi actually dates back centuries in England. I think it began being used during the English civil war and the closest translation. For the word Tory is probably cowboy. it meant somebody who was from a, a pretty rural area who was a little naive, maybe not the brightest guy, a little gullible, that sort of thing.
That’s where the term came from and it was first applied to people who supported King James during the fights over the crown during the glorious revolution. And I’m also supporters of King Charles story and the English war. It basically meant somebody who was very loyal to the King as opposed to being loyal to protecting traditional British rights.
That’s how the term was used by the time of the revolution. If you were in London, a Tory was somebody who. Favored giving more power to the King over parliament, something like that. And of course, when it came to the U S the word Tory began to be applied to people who supported their King, right or wrong, they were going to support the King.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:27:37] So was it something that was used more by the English to describe themselves, or was it something, I’m thinking of you all the different slang terms that have, you know, derogatory in many, in many instances during world war II and such. The military would use for the enemy. Was it something along those lines where it was more the Americans were calling British supporters Tories as kind of a slang term and almost a derogatory sense?
Or was it something that they used themselves?
Michael Troy: [00:28:07] As I said, the word has a derogatory origin, but like a lot of these words, the people that it was used against adopted the term as their own and took it as a badge of pride. So. Fast forward a hundred years. people proudly call themselves a Tory. So a Massachusetts loyalist or a D York loyalist or, somebody in London who strongly supported more power for the King would refer to themselves as a Tory and proudly so.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:28:34] Okay. So let’s get back to, Benedict Arnold. Cause mentioned him a little bit earlier and he is one of the main characters in the show. And in the early seasons of the show, he’s. Depicted as one of one of Washington’s most trusted generals in the continental army. And then I believe it was in season three, and again, there’s only four seasons.
So as towards the end, George Washington finds out that Arnold has been working with major John Andre of the British and giving him. Information. And then according to the show, Arnold defects, the British through a meeting with major Andre and that meeting sees Andre get captured by the Americans while Arnold joins the British army.
And then after defecting, the British don’t really seem to trust Arnold because he defected and they demote him to a Brigadier general. And then on the other side, of course, That also leads to Washington not really trusting many of his generals either because it’s, he was one of the most trusted, at least as far as the show is concerned.
So is that kind of that character arc for Benedict Arnold in the show going from a trusted general to a trader in the eyes of Washington? Was that fairly accurate as far as it was seen?
Michael Troy: [00:29:49] Yeah, I think so. Better than a girl is a fascinating case and probably one that you don’t need to puff up much to make an interesting.
At the time of his defection. He was one of the most senior major generals in the army. I mean, there were dozens of generals. He was like in the top two or three guys, if you know, there may be a couple of major generals in Washington that were above him, and even among those, he was really considered probably the best combat general in the army.
It’s kind of like if I’m general patent had defected to the Nazis near the end of world war II.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:30:24] Oh, wow. That’s a great analogy there. That’s great.
Michael Troy: [00:30:26] Have been that crazy. Yeah. yeah, so. Arnold made a deal with general Clinton via major Andre and he, he really wasn’t passing a lot of information to the British before then.
it was really just them trying to make the arrangements for, for him to leave that were, involved in most of these discussions. the deal was that he would. They would, the British would make him a ma, a Brigadier general in the regular army and give him a pile of money and exchange. Arnold would not only switch sides, but would surrender West point to the British West point at this time was a key defense to the Hudson Valley.
There was a major Fort there and major American Garrison, more than 3000 officers and men who Arnold was going to just turn over to the British and let them become British prisoners. Fortunately, when Andre came to meet Arnold dear West point, the Americans chased off the ship that brought him in.
Then he tried to sneak back to British lines wearing a civilian coat and with maps and documents that Arnold had given him, outlining the defenses at West point. So they caught him and they hanged him as a spy. Washington actually wanted to trade Arnold a trade Andre for Arnold so that he could get back and hang Arnold.
But general Clinton would not do the trade. So Washington had to satisfy himself with hanging miss a major. Andre. And you
Dan LeFebvre: [00:31:47] mentioned that it was Arnold’s kind of purpose behind this was a lump sum of money and of course the position of Brigadier general, but, and that’s something that the show. well, I’m going to say the same word.
That’s something that the show shows something that we see in the show, I should say. and the, they even go so far as to say it was $10,000 that the British were going to give him. But then it also shows that the British didn’t even give him that full sum of money. Was that, was it really just all about money?
Was that really why Arnold did this? It was just. For that pile of money that the British apparently didn’t even end up giving him according to the show.
Michael Troy: [00:32:28] Yeah, well the Patriots made it sound like it was just about money and him being greedy, which is I guess, a good story to make him into kind of a devil.
And yeah, there was a lot of money involved. our analytics actually originally demanded 20,000 pounds Sterling, as well as the commission as a Brigadier general, and didn’t indemnification for other losses that he would face for switching sides such as, you know, losing his house and things like that.
Arnold had already lost a great deal of money during the war. his business collapsed. while he was away at war. He spent many, many thousands of dollars of his own money on various military missions expecting that Congress would reimburse him. And many times they just wouldn’t. For example, on a few occasions, he, the enemy had captured his personal papers or sank a ship where he had them stored and he had receipts for expenses on the, in, in those.
In his personal papers and Congress said, well, you know, receipt, no repayments, sorry. And they would just do stupid stuff too. Like they would nickel and dime him on stuff, even when he could prove it. Like I remember wearing one example where they claimed that he paid over market price for a horse and that they were only gonna.
Reimburse in market value. You know, not considering the fact that, you know, when you’re in the field and it’s an emergency and you’re trying to buy something from a seller who really doesn’t want to sell you, you might have to pay a little above market. So
Dan LeFebvre: [00:33:52] I could supply and demand.
Michael Troy: [00:33:54] Yeah, I could see why stuff like that, what it would annoy Arnold.
so he did lose some money and he was also deeply in debt. He married. This trophy wife named Peggy Shippen, who by the way was 18 years old when they got married. He was like, I don’t know, in his late thirties and he bought her a house that they couldn’t afford and he actually ended up having to rent the house out to someone else so he could pay the mortgage on it.
So he, he was, he was, he was having problems with money, but I don’t think it was really the money itself as much as it was, he felt that the country didn’t appreciate what he was doing and didn’t respect what he was doing. I mentioned his wife, Peggy, she, she was from a Tory family and probably was telling them every single day.
Oh, they don’t appreciate you. You could do so much better if you were with the British and stuff like that. I’m sure that helped as well. And I think what really did it though was, a few years earlier when Arnold was a. A military commander of Philadelphia. He had tried to, he had used, he had made some personal purchases and things like that, and he was using government ships to move them around, which was probably unethical, mixing personal and, and work related stuff, but it was not unheard of.
Other leaders did similar things. Arnold got called out on it. He got court marshaled. I think the reason they went after him was not so much for what he was doing, but because he had married into this Tory family and they thought that was not appropriate. And so they wanted to get him, and this is what they got him on.
Arnold hope that Washington would stick up with them and all this. But the court Marshall ordered Washington to write Arnold a letter of reprimand and Washington wrote him a letter of reprimand. This played into Arnold feeling that no one in the continental army appreciated him or liked him. And so, you know, his wife was telling him, Oh, you could just go over to the other side.
You are winning this for the Americans, you’ll win it for the British, and you’re such a wonderful general and all this stuff. So I think that’s what got him to go over in the end. He did get a little over 6,000 pounds Sterling, which is a decent amount of money for the time. And he also had an annual pension from his general ship.
The reason he didn’t get the full amount of money was that the deal he had made was to turn over West point. And of course, when the everything got uncovered and he had to flee, it meant that the British only got him. They didn’t get West
Dan LeFebvre: [00:36:14] point. Ah, okay. So that kinda set the whole story there. Now, some of those things I could see from his perspective how he would seem.
very unappreciated and undervalued in that way. I was. Arnold singled out that you could tell from any, any from Congress. It sounds like, you know, the little thing of overpaying for a horse, that seems like a very, it seems like it’s something that somebody would do if they’re really just trying to single somebody out, unless it was just, they’re just doing that with everybody because.
Continental army just didn’t have that much money and they knew new country didn’t have that much money. So was it more that they were just trying to almost single him out for something or they were, he had enemies or was it something that they were just kind of doing across the board with all the generals and he just kinda got fed up with it.
Michael Troy: [00:37:06] Well, that was not an uncommon thing. And yeah, the horse thing was just one example of many, many thousands of things where they would just ding you a few bucks here and there. and I think the members of Congress thought, Oh, well, we’re being responsible with our taxpayer’s money where, you know, making sure nobody gets rich on this war or something like that.
And yeah, they did it to a great many officers. I think one of Arnold’s big problems throughout the entire war was he, he was not a political general there. A lot of generals knew how to go and they would have favorite people in Congress who would be their supporters and their backers and speak up for them and stuff like that.
Arnold really didn’t want to do that. He didn’t want to play that game. He wanted to be out in the field fighting, being a great military hero. and it came back to bite him. I mean, when you don’t have somebody to stand up in your corner in Congress, you tend to get screwed more on these reimbursements and stuff like that.
So they did it to everyone, but Arnold may have gotten dinged a little bit more than some others.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:38:00] Yeah. And I want to just point out that the show actually kind of talks about that a little bit. His lack of a political side, because once he switches over to the British, I don’t remember them. The general that he, that he reported to.
But I’m remembering there’s this, there’s a particular scene where they’re in, in the, some house somewhere in there kind of having this party and, and, the general goes, goes off to take a leak in Benedict Arnold follows him there and asks, asks him, you know, he’s like, I want to be in the field. I want to be in the field and don’t want to just be some, you know, paper pusher.
I don’t remember the term that he uses, but then the general turns to him and says, you know, that’s. I’m a paper pusher. I, that’s what I do, you know, and, and you can start to see this, you know, this very distinct difference between Arnold who just wants to get out into the field and he wants to, you know, be given, com, soldiers to command and he wants to, to fight.
and then there’s these British generals, and that are. Doing the opposite and they’re playing the political side and they’re doing, you know, talking a lot of talking and a lot of politics to it that Arnold didn’t really want to do, it seems
Michael Troy: [00:39:09] right. Yeah. There’s of course politics at the head of any major army.
I mean, and a lot of professional top officers will look down on people like Arnold because they know. There’s a, there’s a popular saying among military people. amateurs talk about strategy, professionals talk about logistics, and what that really means is the focus on, on. Paper pushing, making sure that the supply has, get where they need to go and that they’re there at the right time and in the right amount.
And that sort of thing is critical to making the military work. And yes, you do need a good field general who can fight. And that’s, that’s where I wanted to do. but a lot of officers will say, yeah, you’re, you really got to worry about getting your men fed and making sure they have bullets and that sort of thing.
Besides being able to stand up bravely on the field and yell charge.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:40:00] Just makes your earlier comparison of Arnold and Patton. That meant that much, that much better.
Michael Troy: [00:40:08] I really think the two men had a lot in common, other than the fact that that was a very loyal soldier and never broke, but, right. They were both, they’re both real combat guys.
They didn’t like to play the game and politics. They didn’t like to mess around with that. They wanted to get out there and they wanted to fight. And it’s actually, it’s funny, I’m patent towards the end of the war was talking about maybe we should keep the German army intact. And help him out a little bit because we want to use them against the commies who are going to quickly become our next enemy.
so he even, he was, you know, as much as I made a joke about him joining the Nazis, made some comments in that direction towards the end of his life.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:40:43] Well, may, maybe Congress learned their lesson and they paid full price for the horse that, that patent come in here.
Michael Troy: [00:40:51] Yeah. They didn’t try to rip off fence, so I guess that was good.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:40:54] Well, okay, so let’s kind of switch to the other side of how Benedict Arnold switching sides would have affected, the continental army. Then at that point, I mentioned this earlier, and I’ll give an example of something that we see in. The show turn. It’s in season four, episode four. There’s this moment where Benjamin Talmudge tells George Washington that he personally should visit Abraham Woodhall after his father is killed.
And the purpose of this visit in the context of the show is really trying to have Washington himself convinced Woodhall to. Stop from quitting his post as a spy. He, his father is killed and he’s rethinking everything. But then the moment here that I kind of want to focus on is when Washington refuses saying that he can’t be seen with Woodhall because that would ruin his covers.
A spy. And Tom just surprised at this because they’re both currently, as this conversation is going on in the show, both Washington and Woodhall are in the same camp, and Tom edge says something to the effect of. Surely we can find a way to keep the meeting a secret in our own camp. And then Washington lashes back reminding him that Arnold was in the camp.
And that moment right there for me really kind of solidified from a human perspective how, how it must have felt for S for George Washington as a person to have somebody that you trust just turn, you just lose all that trust. And so who, who can you trust. And so can you talk a little bit about, we’ve talked about Benedict Arnold’s, his betrayal, and, and, and switching sides, but how did that then affect Washington, the spiring and in kind of really the colonial army overall and the trust that they thought they had amongst all the different soldiers and generals and such like that.
How did Arnold’s betrayal affect them?
Michael Troy: [00:42:55] Washington, as I said, always. And properly so played, close to the vest, all of his espionage operations. eh, cause he, he didn’t know which of his fellow offs. Even before Arnold left, he was never quite sure which officers he could trust in, which might speak out of turn or whatever.
that said, Arnold’s betrayal really I think did cut him to the core. And, and a great many men on the, on the Patriot side. I mean to have somebody of that level, who was that. Close to the leadership of the Patriot cause and who had been such a critical member of the Patriot team for so many years to just cut and run and join the other team like that is, is really a shocking event.
So yeah, I mean, I think that really had to have shaken Washington a little bit now. Now of course, in real life, Woodhole was never over a New Jersey at the same campus, Washington. that, that alone would have been too much of a risk. But yeah, I think Washington was always a very guarded person. And if Arnold’s betrayal did anything, was probably to make him even more guarded.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:43:56] Hmm. It’s, it’s interesting to think about how, I’m almost picturing in my mind, you have Washington having to fight this battle and not only the open front, so you know, the, the actual battles themselves and the strategy of battle and, and having to do that, but then not even knowing. Which of the the members of your own, your own army, you can trust that are coming up with your strategies it, yeah.
I don’t know. I wouldn’t want to go out onto the battlefield not knowing if the person that came up with the strategy for this had my best interest at heart. You know,
Michael Troy: [00:44:34] there’d been people before. There was a guy named Benjamin Church who was a really top guy in the, he the Massachusetts sons of Liberty and a member of the, provincial Congress in charge of, military operations.
He was actually the first, surgeon general, the continental army, turned out he was a spy for the British as well. And they, they caught him passing, encrypted, letters to general gauge in Boston. And this was really early in the war. And they, they, they couldn’t actually prove. Th th th that he was a spy, he was arguing that yes, he was passing along false information or something.
So they ended up in prison, him and then, kicking him out of the North America as a punishment rather than hanging him. So there were people like that before, but it’s, this was just so high up in such a, as it, you know, I, I use the general patent example again or something like that. You know, it’s like if you’re on a football team and you throw your past to your best receiver and he hands the ball to the other team and starts blocking for them in the same place, it’s just how do you react to something like that?
Dan LeFebvre: [00:45:37] Yeah. Shocked. Stun. Yeah. I mean, it’s, I don’t know how you would react to that.
Michael Troy: [00:45:42] Yeah. It’s crazy.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:45:45] One last kind of character that I want to talk about in this is the, the big villain in the show it you can say that Arnold is, is kind of the big villain if you want. And in some respects, but this is one of those characters that the writers for turn, I thought did a great job.
And the actor Samuel did a great job in just making you hate him. And that’s Lieutenant John Simcoe. And. Before. Before we get too much into into just just him. I’m curious about kind of overall, because in we’re not talking about the Patriot, Mel Gibson’s movie, the Patriot, but I thought it was very interesting that in that movie there’s another character, very similar to Simcoe, some of that you just love to hate, except it’s Jason Isaacs character, Colonel William Tanton, but in both turn and in the Patriot.
A Simcoe and turn and Havington in the Patriot are part of the same group of soldiers. They’re both Dragoons known as the Queens Rangers. So that makes me wonder, where are the Queens Rangers really as ruthless? Like were Simcoe and Tanton real people in this whole ruthless Queens Rangers, or was it just Hollywood picking some, some unit to pick on as the big villains.
Michael Troy: [00:47:08] Yeah, of course. Colonel tabbing tan and the Patriot was based loosely on a Colonel banister, Tarleton, who was pretty nasty in real life. was known for killing prisoners, people that were surrendering on the battlefield, things like that. so he was pretty notorious for that sort of thing. There’s a term called a Tarleton is quarter quarter, meaning surrender.
Tarleton is quarter meant giving no quarter. It meant killing everybody no matter what they did, no matter how they surrendered or whatever. So he was a pretty brutal guy, Simcoe. and there really was a man named John Graves, Simcoe, who started out as a regular officer and then transitioned to a command to the Queens Rangers.
just like happened on the show. The Queens Rangers was originally known as Roger’s Rangers. Colonel Rogers was also a person that shows up in the show. He was a big leader in the French and Indian war and resurrected as Rangers for the American revolution and eventually lost his command. The Queens Rangers was largely a group of Tori militia that were taken from New York, and I think I see this in a lot of cases.
The British average British soldier and the average American soldier didn’t necessarily hate each other. They, they had to fight each other cause they were in a war. there was not that visceral level of hate that you have when your, your friend and neighbor goes and joins the other side to fight against you.
So when. American militia or American Patriots, fought against Tori militia who were Amar fellow Americans and their friends and neighbors. the fighting did tend to be a little more vicious and tend to be a little more brutal. Now, Simcoe, of course, was made out to be a really pretty horrible monster and.
I get that they want to, you know, you make the bad guys bad and you make the good guys good. And yet you emphasize it through a lot of things. the, the real Simcoe, I don’t think was was anywhere near the monster that was portrayed on the show. Like many British officers, he did what he had to do to get intelligence from time to time.
there was an occasion where he did rough up judge Woodhole and his house when he was trying to find Abraham, but he really wasn’t, you know, a sociopath. Like he was on the show. He was a respected officer. he got married near the end of the war. He lived in Britain, served in parliament. After the war.
he later served as Lieutenant governor of lower Canada where he abolished slavery long before it was abolished in the rest of the empire. So he was a really highly respected guy and a, and a good officer. He actually eventually became a major general and was appointed to be commander in chief of India, although he died before.
Being able to take that post.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:50:01] Wow. Well, thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate you coming on the show. I’m sure there’s a lot more stuff we could talk about and there’s a lot more to the American revolution than just aspiring, of course, but that actually leads us perfectly into your podcast.
Which is called the American revolution podcast. I love it when podcast titles are self-explanatory and you know what you’re going to get into, but can you go a little bit deeper into what your show is about? Is it just kind of overall stuff, or what sort of stuff can people expect when they listen to your podcast and where can someone find it.
Michael Troy: [00:50:37] Sure. As you said, the name American revolution podcast pretty much speaks for itself. I set out to tell the story of the revolution from beginning to end. every week I cover a different topic. It could be a battle or a particular political event, or just some interesting story from the area, from the era.
The, the stories though, aren’t random. I’m moving through the revolution in chronological order. I started out with an overview of the French and Indian war. Then the pre-war political disputes. Then we’ve gotten into the war itself. At present, I’m nearing the end of 1776 so I still have another six or seven years of war to cover and I will probably end up covering some postwar events as well.
The podcast itself, we’re hosted on pod bean, but of course it’s available on all major platforms, Apple, Google, whatever you use. Just do a search on any of those platforms for American revolution podcast. Or you can visit my website, www M rev, podcast.com
Dan LeFebvre: [00:51:37] very good. I’ll make sure to include that link in the show notes as well.
Thanks again so much for your time.
Michael Troy: [00:51:43] It’s been a pleasure.