A wish list for Turn: Washington's Spies

Robert Townsend (Nick Westrate) in Turn: Washington's Spies.
Robert Townsend (Nick Westrate) in Turn: Washington's Spies.
Image: Antony Platt, AMC
At the end of its third season, Turn: Washington’s Spies, leaves fans in a state of agitation that has more to do with whether AMC will renew the series than with the plight of spies during the American Revolution.

    The finale concluded with Benedict Arnold's betrayal and the execution of John André in 1780. It was a riveting season -- suspenseful, smart and full of surprises.
    But the third season also had a painful climax with the end of André (JJ Feild), a much-loved enemy spymaster. And there could be more darkness ahead. One of the story lines follows a former slave, Abigail (Idara Victor), who worked for André while spying for the Americans. Abigail and her son were responsible for exposing Benedict Arnold as a traitor.
    As summed up by the Spy Museum's website, the female agent who passed along information about André and Arnold "was believed to have been arrested and taken to the HMS Jersey where she was questioned and would later die after giving birth to a child." (Perhaps the words "believed to have been" will allow the writers of Turn to brainstorm a gentler ending for Abigail.)
    With that reservation noted, here are four spies we would like to hear more about if (no, when) the series returns:  
  • Hercules Mulligan: Now that the show is minus André, it could use a charismatic Irishman. Mulligan (1740-1825) was a merchant and proprietor of a clothing emporium that catered to New York’s gentlemen, according to Alexander Rose in Washington’s Spies: The Story of America’s First Spy Ring (Bantam; 2006). An Anglican convert, Mulligan married Elizabeth Sanders, niece of an admiral in the Royal Navy. He was also a friend of Alexander Hamilton.
  • James Armistead Lafayette: This would also be a new character -- and an important one. An African-American from Virginia, James Armistead Lafayette (born between 1748 and 1760, died in 1830) was the slave of William Armistead, according to the Library of Virginia. In 1781, he asked his master to allow him to serve the Marquis de Lafayette. Soon, he embarked on a dangerous mission, posing as a runaway slave and infiltrating the British camp of Benedict Arnold. The information that Armistead Lafayette provided to American forces nearly resulted in the capture of Arnold. Next, he focused on gaining access to the camp of General Charles Cornwallis. In no time, he was working as the general’s waiter. In this capacity, Armistead Lafayette heard conversations and absorbed information about gunboats and supplies. He figured out that the British were fortifying at Yorktown and had 60 vessels sailing the York River. This enabled Gen. George Washington, with the French, to effectively lay the groundwork for a strategy that resulted in the 1781 surrender of Cornwallis. In 1786, Armistead Lafayette was awarded his freedom by the Virginia General Assembly. He took the name Lafayette as his own.
  •  Robert Townsend: As portrayed by Nick Westrate, Townsend (1753-1838) is a stoic enigma, the sort of man who might easily go unnoticed. The character is currently depicted at work in the coffeehouse he co-owns, but the historical Townsend also acted as a society reporter for James Rivington’s Loyalist newspaper. This allowed him to casually collect information. See more on George Washington's Mount Vernon: Culper Spy Ring.
  • James Rivington:  Portrayed on Turn by John Carroll Lynch, Rivington (1724-1802) published a Loyalist newspaper, The Royal Gazette (also known as Rivington's New York Loyal Gazette).  The motto: “TO THE KING’S MOST EXCELLENT MAJESTY.”  Patriots referred to the newspaper as “Rivington’s Lying Gazette.” Rivington remains a controversial figure. And while his role is debated by historians, he is thought to have been one of Washington's spies.


     Journal of the American Revolution, James Rivington: King's Printer and Patriot Spy? By Todd Andrlik

     Other posts on Turn:

      Turn's enablers: A spy's support group

      Simcoe: Turn's British (Colonial) villain

      Turn: Peggy Shippen as femme fatale

      Fact, fiction and 'Turn,' the Colonial spy drama   

      'Turn' serves up revolutionary history

      Turn: John Andre, melancholy spymaster

      Turn: Robert Rogers, the perfect rogue

      Turn: Fighting women and the Revolution

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