I’ve been engrossed with AMC’s Revolutionary War historical/spy drama TURN since it began airing last winter. After a few months watching it every Sunday night at 9pm I learned that the historical source material for the show’s writers is WASHINGTON’S SPIES: The Story of American’s First Spy Ring, a 2006 Simon & Schuster book I just got a copy of at my NYPL branch. It’s by Alexander Rose, a writer educated at Cambridge now living in NYC. His well-paced narrative centers around the key espionage ring of the Colonial Army, the Culper Ring, for which American officers recruited civilian agents to operate undercover, in New York City, and behind enemy lines, to gain valuable information on Tory movements and their forces in NY, CT, and NJ. One seaside town, Setauket, on Long Island, is a strategic spot, where many British troops were billeted in the homes of uneasy locals, and where Abraham Woodhull lived, one of the ring’s most important members.
The thing I appreciate about the book and the program is how they both make clear that—given the advantages of training, manpower, and firepower enjoyed by the Redcoats—espionage was one of the few ways for the Americans to neutralize those advantages, and capitalize on the greater knowledge they had of local geography, nearby villages, and the residents of those towns. Having seen all ten episodes aired so far, and now reading the book, I’m amazed how close to history the program is tracking—with many of the scenarios and most of the main characters present in both. After a full season of 10 episodes, AMC renewed it for a second season, and I expect the show will resume early in 2015. Meantime, AMC is re-airing all Season I episodes beginning this Saturday night, August 2 at 10pm, right after another AMC historical series, Hell on Wheels, about the building of the transcontinental railroad. Here’s AMC’s own description of TURN and below that three more show photos with cast.
“A character-driven drama set during the Revolutionary War, TURN: Washington’s Spies takes us behind the battlefront to a shadow war fought by everyday heroes who vowed to keep their heroics a secret. Based on Alexander Rose’s book Washington’s Spies, TURN: Washington’s Spies centers on Abe Woodhull, a farmer living in British-occupied Long Island who bands together with a disparate group of childhood friends to form the Culper Ring. Together they risked their lives and honor and turned against family and king for a fight they believed in passionately, ultimately helping George Washington turn the tide of the Revolutionary War in favor of the rebels. Their daring efforts also revolutionized the art of espionage, giving birth to modern spycraft as we know it today, along with all of the moral complexity that entails.”