We all know that AMC's Turn: Washington's Spies is rooted in real American Revolutionary War history — but that can mean a lot of different things when you're talking about television. One show could be based on a seed of truth, and another show could be meticulously researched, and both could claim to be "based on a true story." So, what about the main character on AMC's spy show? Is Turn 's Abraham Woodhull based on a real person?
Yes, Woodhull was a real person — one you've probably never heard about in your AP history class. Star Jamie Bell says portraying a character who's a real person, but not necessarily in the history books, he feels pressure to get the story right. "What we do know really comes from the correspondence between him and George Washington, and that only gives us a limited account of what this man was like and what his experiences were like," Bell told Collider when the series began. "There isn’t a monument erected in his name. In Washington, he’s not in marble. He’s of that level, to this country. He’s that important to this country’s beginnings. So, the responsibility is huge because we’ve literally never seen him before and we’ve never heard of him before." No statues of Woodhull means there's no word on if the real guy was as hot as Jamie Bell in a beanie.
According to History.com, Woodhull was a farmer on Long Island who was recruited into the Culper Spy Ring. "Woodhull, who began running the group’s day-to-day operations on Long Island, also personally traveled back and forth to New York collecting information and observing naval maneuvers there," the site reports. "He would evaluate reports and determine what information would be taken to Washington." So basically, he was one of the country's earliest spies.
But, just because Woodhull is a real person, it doesn't mean that the series doesn't take its own artistic license, at least according to showrunner Craig Silverstein. "The way we do it is there's a couple people on the staff who really know about those events and stuff like that. I throw it all away," he told IGN. "I say, 'Let's go completely from character. Let's go completely from our own surprise,' and what I'm delighted to find happening is that what's actually happening at the time historically seems to sync up." So Woodhull is real, the Culper Ring is real, but the events of the show are more true to character than to the exact historical account of what happened.
Still, if it gets people to look up the real Abraham Woodhull, it doesn't matter if Turn takes a few — pardon the pun — liberties with the truth. And, believe me, with Jamie Bell in the lead, I'm very interested.