History Reading Group: Turn: Washington’s Spies – Long Island Tour
Our readings inform our recommendations of TV fictional series in historical settings:
History Reading Group member Cathy Alexander, with her husband Charles, toured places on the North Shore of Long Island, in Summer 2016, that relate to the TV series and the real history:
“There was an article in The New York Times July 10, 2016, and the Three Village Historical Society has “A Guide to the Culper Spy Ring”. Although the historical society and museum, which is open only on Sundays, was closed when we got there, someone answered the door and gave us the free self-guiding information.
Where to begin? -- There are so many places that touch on the TV series. All the Spy Ring characters were real people. Even the British Lieutenant John Simcoe was a real person, though not nearly as evil as he is depicted in the series [as played by Samuel Roukin]. Simcoe didn't oust Robert Rodgers [played by Angus Macfadyen], but Rodgers was also real. He retired because of his advanced age and returned to England during the war, with Simcoe as his lawful replacement. Simcoe and his troops occupied Robert Townsend's [played by Nick Westrate] House in Oyster Bay (not the Woodhull house in Setauket) -- and Abraham's father [Richard, played Kevin McNally] wasn't a big cheese in Setauket. I think the docent said he was a farmer like Abraham.)
[Other than] a grave, nearly everything else was on private property, including the marker at the site of Woodhull's farmhouse. In fact, we had trouble spotting that marker because the homeowner has allowed tree branches to hide it from the road. Our theory is that the homeowner has become unhappy with the sudden influx of visitors on his front lawn since the television show began airing. We arrived at Robert Townsend's house late in the day -- you can see the shadows -- and a really good photo of it would have required standing in the middle of a downtown Oyster Bay street at rush hour. Also, we still had Simcoe's fort and Townsend's grave (on private property) to locate on an uphill walk at the end of a hot afternoon, so we didn't want to linger. Basically, this wasn't the kind of tour that lends itself to a single photo or a good place to pose!
The British troops in Townsend's home were obsessed with Townsend's younger sister, and this is believed to be the real reason that Townsend agreed to become a spy. The Townsend family was already wealthy, but the house, Raynham Hall, pictured below was enlarged in Victorian days. The front is pictured and original.
Simcoe built a fort on high ground nearby.
The Townsend family cemetery needs mowing, but here's Culper, Jr.'s grave.
In Setauket, Abraham Woodhull [played by Jamie Bell] is buried in the graveyard of the Presbyterian Church, where the minister was Major Benjamin Tallmadge's [played by Seth Numrich] father. Bricks from his house, which burned down in 1931, were used in the memorial built around the original grave marker.
This is where Abraham Woodhull's farmstead stood.
And this is the view that Woodhull had across Little Bay of Anna Strong's [played by Heather Lind] clothesline, where she hung petticoats and handkerchiefs to signal spy meetings.
Anna Strong and her husband the Patriot Selah Strong are buried there on Strong's Neck.
This is the Benjamin Tallmadge birthplace (still a private home).
And Caleb Brewster's [played by Daniel Henshall] family goes so far back in Setauket that this family home, which was a tavern when Brewster was alive, was built in 1665.
with Charles Alexander
To the Mandel Maven's Nest
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