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History of the World According to the Movies: Part 36 – The American Revolution

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Of course, I couldn’t do a post on the American Revolution without posting a picture from the 2000 film The Patriot in which Mel Gibson plays a simple family man who kicks Great Britain’s ass and all the British soldiers are stand-ins for the Nazis. This movie covers the Revolutionary War in the South which is much more complicated and brutal than the movie portrays. Also, there’s no way Mel Gibson’s character would have black workers toiling at his plantation. That’s just not possible. Not to mention, Banastre Tarleton and Lord Cornwallis weren’t that bad guys either.

Anyone who lives in the United States knows that the American Revolution is a pivotal point in American history, even though it’s not as important anywhere else. Of course, if you want to know why we entered into this war with Great Britain, look no further than the French and Indian War which the colonists fought on the British side so some of them could move out west to places like Pittsburgh or some where. I mean if the French won, I would’ve written this article in French and be a Canadian citizen. Still, after the war ended in 1763, Indian Wars against Pontiac led to the Prohibition line of 1763 across the Appalachian Mountains. Then you have Britain in debt which led to the Stamp Act, Townsend Acts, Boston Massacre, Boston Tea Party, the Intolerable Acts, and before you know it, the shot heard around the world at Lexington and Concord. Thus, the American Revolution has begun which leads to other events like The Battle of Bunker Hill (should be the Battle of Breed’s Hill), the Declaration of Independence, Washington Crossing the Delaware, Saratoga, Valley Forge, and finally Cornwallis’ Surrender at Yorktown. There are quite a few movies made in this time, which have quite a few historical errors in them of which I shall list.

Road to Revolution:

The American Revolution was fought over taxes. (It was fought over being taxed but without being able to send representative to Parliament. However, little did they know about how many people were unrepresented in Britain. Also, they didn’t like being treated as a colony.)

The Liberty Tree was full of leaves during the Boston Tea Party. (The Boston Tea Party took place in December.)

Paul Revere shouted “The redcoats are coming!” during his ride. (He said “The regulars are coming!” which doesn’t seem to have the same gist to it. Also, he wasn’t the only rider and didn’t make it to Concord.)

The American Revolution:

George Washington:

George Washington was pessimistic about his army’s progress by the spring of 1776. (Actually he was a little more hopeful. Despondence didn’t set in until seven weeks after the Declaration of Independence came out.)

Benjamin Tallmadge:

Major Benjamin Tallmadge and Major John Andre had a long and deep friendship. (Yes, they had some kind of friendship but it wasn’t for the longer term. Also, Andre knew he was a goner anyway. Still, Tallmadge did nothing to save Andre’s life nor did Andre save Tallmadge’s. Not to mention, Tallmadge was never a spy out of uniform and was much more ruthless nor was above employing brutal methods to accomplish his own ends unlike his expy in The Scarlet Coat.)

Francis Marion:

Francis Marion was a forward-thinking family man during the Revolution who defeats countless Brits single-handedly. (In reality, Francis Marion was a slave-owning serial rapist who didn’t get married until after the war {to his cousin} and he also killed Cherokees for fun. In Hollywood terms, this would make the real Francis Marion truly undesirable for any Hollywood film adaptation because who wants to see a movie where the hero rapes his slaves and takes great sport in killing Indians? As for defeating countless Brits singlehandedly, how can you manage that with a musket? Also, why would any Southern man hire black workers for wages? That’s as impossible as them working voluntarily. How could a black person voluntarily work on a South Carolina plantation during the American Revolution, really?)

Henry Lee:

Henry Lee was known as “Lighthorse Harry” Lee throughout the American Revolution. (He didn’t get the nickname until 1778.)

The Mohawk Valley:

Fighting in the Mohawk Valley was mostly Indians vs. settlers. (The British soldiers played a much bigger role. Also, the Continental Army and local militias raided and destroyed Iroquois settlements in the region. So maybe the Iroquois had some reason to get pissed off and attack settlers. )

The Battle of Oriskany was an American victory. (Nearly half of the American forces were killed, wounded, or forced to retreat and it led to lifting the siege at Fort Stanwix two days later because the militia could no longer do so. However, this happened in 1777 not 1781.)
Fort Stanwix and the Mohawk Valley were of no strategic importance whatsoever. (The events in the Mohawk Valley and Fort Stanwix would later lead to Saratoga, which would be a turning point in the American Revolution.)

William Caldwell was killed on the Mohawk Valley assault. (He lived to fight on the British side during the War of 1812.)

Banastre Tarleton:
Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton wore a red uniform. (He was a Dragoon and his legion wore green. Still, love the Jason Isaacs portrayal though I prefer him as Lucius Malfoy with his pimp cane wand and blond hair.)

Banastre Tarleton burned down a colonial church full of villagers during the Revolutionary War. (There’s no evidence he did such a thing or that any other commander during the American Revolution did either {though Oliver Cromwell did burn a church full of people in Ireland and the Nazis staged a similar massacre in France}. And unlike what The Patriot tells you, he did survive the war and went on to have a political career. Still, was an asshole though for he supported slavery. Nevertheless, he had a bad reputation for his men slaughtering colonial prisoners at Waxhaw, though we’re not sure if he was directly responsible but the massacre wasn’t a premeditated thing. He also burned colonial homes and execute suspected guerillas but that’s about it. If he had burned a church full of people, we would’ve known about it. Also, the Loyalists were much worse in their brutality toward the Patriots {who were happy to return the favor}.)

Charles Cornwallis:

Lord General Charles Cornwallis was present at the Battle of Cowpens. (He wasn’t.)

Lord General Charles Cornwallis held the colonists in open contempt and disdain. (He was a Whig who was sympathetic to the colonials as well as an MP who voted on their behalf several times before the war. He was just fighting for his country.)

Lord General Charles Cornwallis was a rather older man during the American Revolution. (He was only in his forties and six years younger than George Washington.)

Benjamin Franklin:

Benjamin Franklin was an abolitionist during the American Revolution. (He wasn’t until after the war but he did become president of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society in 1785.)

Benjamin Franklin was a pervert. (Yes, he had a racy side which does show in his writings. However, in 1776, he was quite an angry man who was out to even the score with a British government that had hauled him before the Privy Council in 1774 and called him a liar and a thief.)

John Adams:

John Adams sent for Martha Jefferson to visit her husband in Philadelphia while Thomas struggled writing the Declaration of Independence. (Sure Jefferson was deeply worried about Martha during the times he struggled writing the Declaration of Independence, yet his wife was at Monticello too ill and depressed even to write him a letter {due to suffered a miscarriage and a bout of gestational diabetes}, let alone visit him in Philadelphia. Still, Jefferson could’ve used some other alternative to fuel his sexual frustrations like many slave owners did at the time {Jefferson included}. However, Mrs. Mary Norris Dickinson was present in Philadelphia at the time but she’s absent from 1776 mostly because the Dickinsons’ marriage was more egalitarian and not bound by gender stereotypes {which is kind of a shame that it wasn’t included}.)

John Adams was an obnoxious and disliked person in the Continental Congress. (This is based on Adams’ self-description from 1822 but David McCullough and Gary Wills say that no one viewed him this way and much of Congress actually had a lot of respect for him. John Dickinson was actually advocating an unpopular position in 1776, according to them. Still, he was kind of a brilliant and abrasive guy who hated to shut up but missed his wife during that time {yet they did flirt passionately in their letters}.)

John Adams hated Richard Henry Lee and liked Benjamin Franklin. (He actually admired and respected Lee but disliked Franklin.)

Thomas Jefferson:

Thomas Jefferson resolved to free his slaves in 1776. (He never did except for a few after his death 50 years later. Also, he would have children by one of them later on in his life.)

Thomas Jefferson was so anxious to get home during the independence debate was because he needed to get laid. (No, it was because his wife was extremely ill at the time from a miscarriage.)

Thomas Jefferson was a sex addict. (No, he may have been a guy on the Autism spectrum who may have slept with his slaves but he was no sex addict. But we understand he did have his needs.)

Thomas Jefferson cut out his antislavery paragraph from the Declaration of Independence over Edward Rutledge’s speech about how both north and south were equally responsible for it while John Adams defended him. (Actually, the paragraph was more on the slave trade, not slavery. Still, while Adams did defend him, Jefferson cut it because due to objections from Georgia and South Carolina while some northern states were uneasy on the subject.)

John Dickinson:

John Dickinson was a loyalist. (He wasn’t at all since he had been anti-British before the Revolution with his Letters of a Pennsylvanian Farmer as well as fight against the Brits in the militia as a private and brigadier general. He just didn’t think 1776 was a good time to declare it since the government structure was too uncertain and that the Americans had no European allies. Also, he wasn’t at the Continental Congress when independence was being debated and voted upon. Still, he was a pacifist Quaker who objected to revolution, not a loyalist Tory {or a Nixon clone as he is in 1776}.)

John Dickinson resigned from Congress without signing the Declaration of Independence. (He didn’t resign but he did leave without signing. However, he was on the committee to draft the Articles of Confederation.)

John Paul Jones:

John Paul Jones spoke in an American accent. (He born and grew up in Scotland. Seriously, his biopic casting would’ve been more accurate if he was played by Sean Connery, not Robert Stack. )

John Paul Jones only had two vessels in his squadron of privateers. (He actually had four. His Captain Landais of the Alliance just didn’t want to obey Jones’ orders and regularly ignored them mostly because he felt he should’ve been in command.)

John Paul Jones ordered Commodore Hopkins to the Bahamas. (He sent him to the Virginia coast but Hopkins went to the Bahamas anyway attacking the islands for military supplies. He was later court-martialed for this and other questions regarding his command. I guess being one of the first US officers to be court martialed doesn’t look good for one’s resume.)

Captain Pearson knew that John Paul Jones was in his vicinity. (He knew there was a raiding force in the area. However, he mistook Jones’ fleet was a Royal Navy squadron. This allowed Jones to get close to the Serapis before the sea battle began.)

John Paul Jones refused to accept Captain Pearson’s sword during the latter’s surrender. (Jones actually accepted Pearson’s sword after the battle but returned it a few days later.)

Richard Henry Lee:

Richard Henry Lee was a giggling buffoon who made endless puns with his own name and didn’t have any idea about American independence. (He was the second most powerful orator in the Continental Congress after John Adams who supported independence the moment he entered Congress. Also, he was an intense, high minded, and humorless Puritan who would’ve certainly hated his portrayal in 1776.)

Richard Henry Lee was governor of Virginia. (He never served as governor. His cousin Henry Lee was {who ended up fathering a future Civil War general}.)

Caesar Rodney:

Caesar Rodney was short. (He’s famously depicted as tall.)

Caesar Rodney had a small patch covering his cheek. (During 1776, Caesar Rodney was suffering from skin cancer which would later kill him 9 years later {at 56 being 47 in 1776}. However, by that time, he was actually missing half his face due to 18th century surgery and cauterization treatments. He kept the afflicted area under wraps under a green kerchief wrapped around his head. Still, despite this and asthma, he managed to ride eighty miles during a thunderstorm. However, he was absent from Congress in 1776 because he trying to stiffen the spines of his fellows Delawareans.)

James Wilson:

James Wilson was a timid fool who only voted for independence because he didn’t want the notoriety of turning it down. (He was a shrewd and contentious lawyer from Pennsylvania perhaps the greatest intellect in America after James Madison. Also, he was staunchly committed to independence from the beginning but delayed his vote until he checked with his constituents to make sure they agreed with him. Contrary to 1776, he wasn’t a judge at the time and the swing vote for independence was a guy name John Morton who’s absent from the film. Still, Wilson’s portrayal in 1776 is as about accurate as it could be at the time.)

Robert Livingston:

Robert Livingston was an utter twit. (This man would go on to negotiate the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.)

Edward Rutledge:

Edward Rutledge was in his forties in 1776. (He was only 26 and the youngest delegate. In 1776, he’s played by a 40ish Jack Cullum.)

Lewis Morris:

Lewis Morris was an idiot who willingly abstained his vote until his sons enlisted. (He wasn’t in Philadelphia to vote on Independence because he was serving as Brigadier general in his local New York militia. Also, he was very pro-independence as well as later signed the Declaration of Independence months after the vote.)

Lewis Morris had 12 children in which 4 of the oldest boys fought in the Revolution. (He had 10 kids and his 3 oldest sons fought.)

War in the South:

The French only fought in the Battle of Yorktown as colonial allies. (They arrived in 1778.)

Slavery was practically nonexistent in Revolutionary South Carolina and not particularly bad anyway. (South Carolina was one of the biggest pro-slavery states in the Union for much of American history {it was the first state to secede from the Union after Lincoln’s election in 1860}. And, yes, it was one of the most inhumane institutions ever in existence in America. I mean the US became bitterly divided and fought a whole war over it. Also, read Frederick Douglass’ autobiography in which he talks about all kinds of childhood horrors and how his struggle to be free took up most of it.)

The Battle of Guilford Courthouse was colonial victory during the American Revolution. (It was actually ah heavy loss.)

Most of the South was pro-patriot during the Revolutionary War. (There were significant factions in the South that remained Loyalist.)

The Battle of Cowpens was a mostly infantry affair that resulted in heavy American losses. (It was a cavalry battle lasting less than an hour which resulted in only 12 Americans getting killed.)

Americans of all stripes took up arms out of patriotism during the American Revolution. (Well, maybe but it took some congressional measures to keep them in the Continental Army which wasn’t an easy task since it had few resources and more Americans served in militias. Some also served for money and or because they had nowhere else to. And not everyone in the colonies supported independence either.)

British soldiers were mostly responsible for the atrocities in the South during the Revolutionary War. (Loyalists and Patriot Americans were and many used the war as an excuse to settle old scores. However, in Hollywood, the Patriots are the good guys, and the Loyalists mostly don’t exist.)

Declaration of Independence:

30-35 delegates of the Continental Congress were present in 1776. (65 delegates were but 1776 was adapted from a musical so the reduction kind of made sense.)

The debate over American Independence boiled down to the argument of the phrasing of the Declaration and whether slaver ought to be legal. (As with the slavery question, the issue very well could’ve been debated but it wasn’t the point in which the issue of independence hinged at least for the Continental Congress. Yet, since many of the Revolutionary leaders were slave owners {I’m talking to you, Jefferson}, they kind of passed the buck to the next generation by silent agreement. As with independence, they already voted in favor of independence before making changes to the Declaration.)

The anti-independence faction in Congress were filled with “conservatives.” (There were no conservatives in Congress at this time since every delegate was liberal in the classical sense in English 18th century politics. To be a conservative at the time, you would have to be vehemently pro-monarchist and have found the idea of an unauthorized congress distasteful no matter what they were discussing. Also, the left-right spectrum wouldn’t exist until the French Revolution.)

The vote on independence came on July 4, 1776 when the Declaration of Independence was signed. (It was on July 2. Some historians believed the Declaration of Independence was actually signed on August 2, {though most of the delegates signed it at different times}. Also, John Hancock was the only person to sign it on July 4.)

There was a mandate for a unanimous vote for independence. (There wasn’t but rather an understanding that a less than unanimous vote risked the fatal split of the colonies, especially if the delegates were from Pennsylvania which is why it’s known as the Keystone State and why a keystone is used as a state highway logo.)

Miscellaneous:

During the American Revolution, both sides spoke in British accents. (Yes, but not in the British accents we know today. British accents have changed considerably since the nineteenth century and American accents have changed very little. And since there was no recording equipment at the time, we can’t really know for sure how they talked.)

Colonial soldiers saluted by placing their hands on their hats. (It actually consisted of taking off one’s hat, lowering it to the side, and putting it on again.)

The Founding Fathers were all God-fearing Christians. (Christians, yes, but they were also secularists and some had rather unconventional ideas about religion. Still, most of them did go to church and certainly weren’t atheists.)

Revolutionary soldiers wore blue uniforms. (This is true only near the end of the war and mostly among the officers. Most Continental soldiers wore whatever they had on or their militia uniform if they were in one. This is played to a lesser extent than the Confederates wearing grey uniforms though.)

The statue of King George III in New York City was of dark lead. (It was painted in gold according to a Continental army lieutenant.)

The Bonhomme Richard sank immediately after the battle with the Serapis while it was being pumped out during the action. (It actually sank late the next day after the battle in a failed attempt at repairs begun after the surrender since the men couldn’t be spared during the fight and the extent of damage couldn’t be fully judged during the chaos.)

American marksmanship was not only key to American victory during the American Revolution, but also to the vote of American independence. (No, I don’t think so. This is a myth. Besides, muskets had terrible aim.)

Samuel Chase, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin were sent to a training camp in New Brunswick, New Jersey which George Washington reported as full of disorder and prostitutes. (They probably didn’t make such a visit. Also, Continental army training camps in 1776? Still, at least Washington’s view on camp followers is accurate in 1776. Also, New Brunswick did have that reputation for debauchery back then despite being the home of today’s Rutgers University.)

The attack of Whitehaven was a smooth operation. (It was far from it. The second boat sent during the attack did very little and its crew might’ve spent the attack in the Whitehaven pub {which would’ve made for a very funny scene}. Whitehaven’s fortifications had no troops {but housed a couple of caretakers} since the town was too cheap to pay for them and there was no confrontation with the townspeople. Also, only one of the 200 vessels docked there were burned since the attackers didn’t have enough oil to set the rest alight.)

American militiamen reloaded their guns very speedily and efficiently in combat. (They were notoriously slow reloading in combat due to lack of training, practice, and experience. The British, however, were well trained in this procedure.)

Continental soldiers were always ragged and hungry. (Sometimes but not all the time.)

The Americans won the Revolutionary war with frontier savvy and guerilla tactics. (We forget the British had as much guerilla chops as the colonies as well as Indian allies, even the guy who wrote the book on being an army ranger fought for the British. Ordinary pitched battles and European allies helped the Americans win.)

The stars and stripes was adopted in 1781. (It was adopted in June 1777.)

The Founding Fathers kept a secret treasure trove. (Several Founding Fathers were Freemasons but no, they didn’t put a treasure map on the Declaration of Independence.)

Charles Carroll of Carrollton was a Freemason. (He wasn’t.)

Ethan Allen took Fort Ticonderoga in 1776. (He took it in 1775.)

About historymaniacmegan

I am 24-year-old college graduate from rural Western Pennsylvania who likes subjects ranging from history, old movies, culture, progressive politics, books, writing, and other high-minded things. I'm an Irish Catholic girl who's not afraid to speak her mind or march to the beat of her own drummer and doesn't care what people think about her. Yet, I try to be as nice a girl as I can be even though I don't have a high tolerance for BS if you know what I mean.

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