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Complications of War — Notes July 1, 2009

Posted by Me in Complications of War, Images, Jason Isaacs, The Patriot, William Tavington.
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I’ve always had a thing for “bad boys” in movies and on TV, probably since my earliest childhood when I’d root for the bad guys on cartoons.  I don’t really know why this is so; perhaps it’s because the good guys are boring and mundane.  Nor do they give the undercurrent of dangerous sexual excitement that a well-portrayed bad boy never fails to deliver.  I’d never heard of Jason Isaacs, until I saw the Patriot some time in either 2001 or 2002.  I’d missed it at the theaters, but rented the DVD when a friend recommended it to me, knowing my interest in historical movies.

The moment I saw Jason as Colonel William Tavington first gallop up to Ben Martin’s (Mel Gibson)  farmhouse, I was in love, or perhaps, more accurately, lust.  From then on, the movie was all about Tavington.  It didn’t matter to me at all that much of the movie was historically inaccurate; I sat watching the rest of the movie entirely enraptured.

Those ice blue eyes, the haughty demeanor, the purring, velvety voice, the sexy long hair, both loose and queued, the arrogant ruthlessness, and even the hint of vulnerability as shown in his interactions with Cornwallis and with the flowers.   Sigh — I was hooked for life.

And I knew I had to write fanfiction about him.  I’d spent the 90s writing stories about another bad boy, Deep Space Nine’s Gul Dukat, and I was ready for a new genre to write in.   William Tavington was perfect.

Also interested in the true story behind The Patriot, I researched the man whom the character of William Tavington had been loosely based on: Lt. Colonel Banastre Tarleton.  Known as “Bloody Ban” to those Americans fighting for independence, Ban Tarleton is a highly fascinating and attractive man in his own right, with more than a little of the bad boy about him, though he never burned a church with people inside.

When writing Will Tavington, my goal has been to keep him clearly as a bad boy, but one with mitigating factors in his life history that give understanding and background to his behavior.  While I’ve allowed him to veer into sociopathy on occasion, I have resisted writing him as mentally ill or psychopathic.  In my opinion, one-note, cardboard cutout, one-dimensional bad guys are for Batman, not historical fiction.  Personally, I prefer the multifaceted, conflicted bad boys to the one dimensionally evil ones.

Though I’ve included the real Ban Tarleton in a cameo role in this story, I’ve also grafted bits and pieces of his personality and experiences onto Will Tavington as appropriate.

Certain elements in my story were inspired by actual history.  A few include:

  • Camp followers were a fact of life among armies on both sides during this period.   Though some were the wives and other female relatives of soldiers, and many worked for the Army as cooks, laundresses, nurses, and the like, many of them no doubt supplemented or wholly generated their incomes through prostitution.
  • Tavington maintaining concurrent relationships with both Jane Thompson and his new wife, Caroline, is not without historical precedent.    Major Patrick Ferguson had two lovers up until the time of his death in the battle of King’s Mountain.   I was also inspired by the urban legend that Ban Tarleton carried a book around with him about polygamy,  Thylipthora, or a Defence of Polygamy by a Dr, Madan.  This was a book that Tarleton’s second in command, Major George Hanger, was a big fan of.
  • While Tavington could have conceivably been hanged or flogged for his rape of Caroline Martin, it is also quite plausible that General Cornwallis had the power to sweep this incident under the rug, especially considering that the Martins didn’t press the matter any further.  Reverend Oliver’s suggestion that Caroline marry her rapist was also one that would have been considered a valid solution to people at that time to preserve a woman’s good standing in the community
  • Tavington’s rape of Caroline after the wedding is also plausible in that marital rape was a legal non-concept until the late 20th century.  In the late 18th century, a woman was legally considered to have given her given her tacit consent to any type of sexual relations the husband desired the moment she said, “I do.”
  • General O’Hara sending his mistress’ husband to New York to get him out of the way is, of course, based on the story of General William Howe and his mistress, Mrs Loring.   General Howe gave her husband a promotion elsewhere and also paid off his gambling debts.
  • Cook’s Station is present-day Iva, SC in southernmost Anderson County, which puts it about 40 miles north of Ninety-Six, the site of a real-life RevWar battle. It wasn’t settled until some time in the 19th century, so I’m fudging history a bit in my story. The Pendleton District comprised present-day Anderson, Pickens, and Oconee counties. The area had only been open to white settlers since 1777 after a treaty with the Cherokees, and the Pendleton District did not formally get its name until 1789, so I’m fudging here again.
  • Tavington’s exclusion from the banquets given at Yorktown at the conclusion of the war is based on Banastre Tarleton’s own experience.  Tarleton approached Lt Colonel John Laurens, an aide-de-camp to General Washington, to ask whether his exclusion had been an accidental oversight.   Laurens’ reply was quite blunt:  “No, Colonel Tarleton, no accident at all, intentional, I can assure you, and meant as a reproof for certain cruelties practiced by the troops under your command in the campaigns in the Carolinas.”
  • A “by-blow” is 18th century slang for a child born out of wedlock.  It was a somewhat more polite term than “bastard”, but not quite as polite as another euphemism then used, “natural child”.
  • Many of the dragoons in Tarleton’s Legion, most of whom who were American born Loyalists, actually resettled in Nova Scotia after the war.

Some photos for you to enjoy:


Caroline’s first view of Tavington as he
returns to their farm


Tavington after he found out that he
must marry Caroline

Taviintentlighter-1Tavington in Jane’s tent

AATAV192Tavington returning from Jane’s tent
the morning after his wedding


Ben Martin tells Tavington that
he regrets Caroline’s marriage to him.

green_gold01I imagine Caroline Martin Tavington
as looking something like this
young woman, but a bit more buxom

lp-262I can’t decide whether
Jane Thompson looks
like this women

SS_E._gown_K._linen_print_rear_full_length…or this one

06costume_college209I imagine Deborah Wilkins as
the taller woman

baldwinCaptain James Wilkins

bordCaptain James Bordon

n_aLt. Colonel Banastre Tarleton