‘Sleepy Hollow’ Should Adapt These Five Real Revolutionary War Stories


Credit: Fox

One of the great pleasures of watching Sleepy Hollow, Fox’s delightfully wacky distortion of Washington Irving’s 1820 fable about Upstate New York, is the opportunity to spot historical accuracies in between all the Sin Eaters, Masons, and headless redcoats spraying police cars with machine-gun fire. One episode, you’ve got wily Hessians, another, an armonica, Benjamin Franklin’s mechanical riff on the glass harmonica, a third, sexy, peace-loving Quakers. As a bit of a Revolutionary War aficionado (it helps that my mother runs the Lexington Historical Society), I’ve started dreaming about what events and people from history Sleepy Hollow might incorporate into the show in coming episodes and seasons. Here are five

1. The Culper Ring: Because Sleepy Hollow is set in New York, and we know that Ichabod Crane worked with George Washington’s spies, it makes sense that at some point, the show might bring in the Culper Ring. Run out of New York City, and with techniques refined in response to the capture and hanging of Nathan Hale, the Culper Ring operated across New York, Long Island, and Connecticut, and involved hijinks like using member Anna Strong’s petticoats as signal flags. If we’ve got descendants of the original Masons and Hessian settlers in the U.S., wouldn’t it be nice to reunite Ichabod with the progeny of some of his original allies, too? The world of Sleepy Hollow is pretty big for now, so there’s no rush to take it multi-state yet, but in future seasons, it might be nice to give Abbie and company some additional allies as they face an expanding threat of apocalypse.

2. Piracy In The Long Island Sound And New London: Most of the action on Sleepy Hollow has been decidedly landlubbing so far. But the Continental Congress and state governments issued privateering licenses, and the Long Island Sound and New London became hotbeds of piracy during the American Revolution. One particularly successful raid netted American privateers the Hannah, which contained many of the personal possessions of George Clinton, the Royal Governor of New York and Admiral of the British Fleet at the time. As artifacts play an increasingly important role in the supernatural plots that are converging in Sleepy Hollow, wouldn’t it make for a crackerjack episode for Ichabod and Abbie unearth an old trove of pirate treasure that turns out to contain a few surprises?

3. The British Army’s Registry Of Escaped Slaves: Sleepy Hollow has made a great deal of Ichabod’s abolitionism, and in yesterday’s episode, his early adoption of women’s liberation, at least in matters of marriage. But it would be nice for a show that’s made headlines for the diversity of its casting to dive a bit more deeply into the racial history of the American Revolution in a way that goes beyond Ichabod’s personal sympathies and acknowledges the institutional factors at play. As part of an effort to siphon off black support for the Revolution, British forces in New York kept a registry of escaped slaves and their service to the Crown, relocating some of them to Nova Scotia and to London, where conditions were such that it prompted a wave of immigration to Sierra Leone. And George Washington forbid the enlistment of black soldiers in 1775 in part in response to fears that Africans-Americans with military training would provide the basis for a rebellion. Racial liberation and independence from Britain didn’t always track neatly. Sleepy Hollow should take that on.

4. The Struggle For Hessian Loyalty: Hessians keep popping up on Sleepy Hollow, mostly as bad guys, which makes me wish the show would get at one of my favorite subplots in Revolutionary War history: the effort to get Hessian soldiers to defect en masse by pushing them to knock up unmarried American girls. This was an actual, General Washington-approved strategy. Ordinary Americans who were forced to quarter Hessian troops were encouraged to bundle them–or have them share beds–with their unmarried daughters in the hopes of encouraging hanky-panky that would lead the devoutly Christian Hessians to feel obligated to propose. Single women were sent to seduce Hessians in prison camps. And the Continental Congress offered land grants to Hessians who deserted, married, and made their homes in the United States. Sleepy Hollow could use a tender, twisted love story other than Ichabod and Katrina’s centuries-spanning romance. Why not humanize the Hessians a bit while we’re at it?

5. Peggy Shippen and Lydia Darragh: Okay, Philadelphia’s a bit far afield. But if Sleepy Hollow is going to make Katrina’s Quakerism a factor in the show, it would have a field day with two poles of Philly Quakerism, Peggy Shippen and Lydia Darragh. Peggy was the daughter of a prominent family who tried to stay neutral for as long as possible in the war, but she carried on a long-standing flirtation with Major John André, who served under British General William Howe, and ultimately married American General Benedict Arnold, who she helped tip over into treason. In contrast, there’s Lydia Darragh, who lived across the street from Howe in Philadelphia, and started passing information on his plans on to Revolutionary forces. If we’re getting all clash of good and evil between covens in Upstate New York, why not build out that struggle on real divides in Pennsylvania Quaker communities? And giving us a demon Peggy Shippen that’s a riff on Buffy The Vampire Slayer‘s Glory would be a gift to television.