Historical errors… they aren’t just for the Civil War, ya know?

Posted on July 8, 2009 by


It seems like I’ve been stuck lately in my thoughts of the Revolutionary War. They have appeared, now and then, in posts, but posts haven’t quite captured the amount of time I’ve spent thinking about the Rev War lately. Fact of the matter is that I consider myself a self-repressed/underlying Rev War/Colonial Era enthusiast bordering on Rev War/Colonial Era historian… I know enough to be “dangerous,” but I’m not hugely competent on the full breadth of the subject matter. In fact, my masters thesis was almost focused… not on the American Civil War… but on German colonists in early 18th century Virginia (and even this is misleading from my greater interests in New England in the Colonial and Rev War era). Ultimately, however, even my thoughts about the Rev War tend to move toward the American Civil War. It might be that I find so many great parallels in the two major historical events… and not the ones that some think are so obvious. I’ve mentioned it before and I’ll say it again, but I feel another post coming regarding parallels between Rev. War Loyalists and Southern Unionists.

Anyway, in my recent playing and replaying of the John Adams series (I have a good deal of time to enjoy it in the wake of my sinus surgery), I ran across the scene in which Adams slams John Trumbull for his “Declaration of Independence” artwork. I really need to go back and review what Adams says, but I thought it was priceless when considering problems with “historical memory” and the liberties taken to portray historical events as it seems the artist thinks they should be portrayed  and not necessarily in the manner in which the event(s) really happened; but I’m getting further from the point of posting this evening…

The reason why I’m posting this evening is because I came across this link to the historical “goofs” made in the John Adams series. Don’t get me wrong, I really like the series (and I thought it particularly cool that they filmed part of it in Williamsburg when I was at William & Mary back in the spring of 2007), but I have been aware of some errors all along… and this link just made me aware of a few others. The funniest thing in all of this however, is that even while Adams is shown in the scene slamming Trumbull for his bad portrayal of history… the scene itself is an excellent example of poor portrayal of historical facts.

I’m posting for the general enjoyment of those who might read this post… and as a reminder that our historical consciousness is often subject… no matter the historical topic… to the “artistic license” of Hollywood. Inevitably, in the wake of series, such as this one, I think historians can only hope that “edu-tainment” (or it might be “enterta-cation.” I suppose it all depends on what percentage is greater… the education or entertainment) compels viewers to take-on a supplemental list of readings to increase the educational level of the experience… and adjust the mis-history presented on the screen.