For Liberty or Sex on the Kitchen Table?
Anna Smith Strong on AMC’s show Turn is portrayed as a woman more in love with a man than the cause of Liberty. Maybe. But I think it was the other way around.
From a wealthy Tory family, Anna married ardent Setauket patriot Selah Strong III, who became a judge in New York. The Strong family owned much property on what is now Long Island. Property owners, lawyers, and patriots, they made themselves a big target for the Crown. In 1778, her husband was arrested for suspicious correspondence with the enemy and thrown on the dreaded prison ship Jersey. A death sentence, except that Anna would not give up on Selah. She used every connection she had to get permission to take him food, while simultaneously pushing for his release. Between bribes and political pressure, Selah was eventually paroled.
But not cleared. He had no fans in the British army. To stay out of prison, Selah re-located to Connecticut with their children. Anna did not go with him.
Leaving would have meant abandoning their plantation. However, women, considered non-combatants by the crown, could maintain control of property in a husband’s absence. Maybe she stayed behind so the family wouldn’t be destitute after the war. Maybe, as the writers on Turn suggest, she stayed behind to continue her affair with Abraham Woodhull.
Or, maybe, she was willing to risk her life so a nation could be born. I’m on board with that option.
During the time that her husband was on the Jersey, Anna got involved with the Washington’s Culper spy ring. According to folklore, she would hang her black petticoat on the laundry line when Caleb Brewster had come ashore to collect intelligence. The number of handkerchiefs on her line would indicate in which of six coves he was waiting. Woodhull would then meet Brewster and hand-over the intelligence. According to AMC’s Turn, Anna and Woodhull were carrying on a torrid affair.
What we know for sure is that Anna’s home was constantly raided by British troops. She was harassed, and her home invaded whenever the notion struck the soldiers. They didn’t burn it, however, and she hung on to it. When the war was over, she and Selah were reunited. They spent the rest of their lives together in Setauket and named one of their children George Washington Strong.
I think that if she had loved Selah more than Liberty, she would have gone to Connecticut with him. If she loved Abraham Woodhull more than Selah, she wouldn’t have fought so hard to keep her home, nor would she have gone back to Selah at the end of the war. As it was, it seems she was willing to risk it all for an idea: the crazy notion that a free nation would provide a better life for her and her children and their children. Sounds like love to me, and not the kind that involves sex on the kitchen table.
Just my observation.
Copyright 2014 Heather Blanton
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Posted on June 18, 2014, in Uncategorized and tagged a lady in defiance, Abraham Woodhull, Agent 355, AMC's Turn, American women, American Women in the Revolutionary War, Anna Smith Strong, Battle of Lexington and Concord, Colonial America, culper spy ring, Daughters of the American Revolution, Eliza Lucas Pinckney, Female Patriots, Female spies of the Civil War, George Washington, heather blanton, heather frey blanton, hiding gender, historical fiction, historical romance, Meliscent Barrett, Old Capital Prison, patriots, Shirley Plantation, south carolina history, Turn on AMC, unsung heroines of the American Revolution, War for Independence, what was the revolutionary war, women entrepreneurs, Women living as men, Women of the Wild West, Women Sharpshooters, women who fought in the american revolution, women who helped win the Revolutionary War, women's history. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.
Your illustration is of a woman one hopes was not a spy: Martha Washington as a young woman.
Thanks for the comment, though I don’t quite understand it. Did you read the whole blog? I don’t understand your reference to Martha.
Love the blog and will be a reader. As your prior commenter said in 2015. This artwork above is a painting of then future first first lady Martha Washington when she was about 26. It comes from Mount Vernon, not far from my former home in Virginia.
Hey, thanks for letting me hear from you! And I love Mt. Vernon. What a beautiful farm our first president had. 🙂
Truly amazing place and so much to learn
Thank you for reading, Janet!