Robert Rogers and AMC's show, TURN

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Robert Rogers and AMC's show, TURN

By Allison Slaby, Curator | @LearnReynolda

As AMC's popular show TURN reaches its season finale tonight, Reynolda House shares its connection to one of the show's characters, Robert Rogers. 

[pictured: Actor Angus McFayden as Robert Rogers in AMC's TURN. ]

Fans of the current Revolutionary-War-era show TURN on AMC have come to know Robert Rogers, the rough and cunning military man loyal to the English crown.  What some might not know is that Rogers was a real historical figure—and Reynolda has portraits of both him and his wife!

One print in the Museum's collection (image not available) depicts Rogers.  It was engraved in 1776 by the German printmaker Johann Martin Will after a mezzotint by an English printmaker named Thomas Hart.  In the print, Rogers is dressed in an elaborate uniform, with a jacket, waistcoat, sash, and plumed hat.  The figures of three Native Americans—bare-chested, holding spears, and wearing elaborate feathered headdresses—are visible over his left shoulder.  They reference both the battles in which Rogers bested such tribes as the Abenakis, but also the parlays he held with Native Americans in current-day Michigan.  The inscription on the bottom reads, “Major Robert Rogers,/Commander in Chief of the Indians in the Back Settlements of America./Publish’d as the Act directs, Octr. 1, 1776, by Thos. Hart London.”

Born in Massachusetts in 1731, Robert Rogers moved with his parents to New Hampshire as a child.  As early as age fifteen, he saw military action as a member of small militias.  Later, in adulthood, he formed an independent militia known as “Rogers’s Rangers” that engaged in skirmishes in New England and upstate New York during the French and Indian War.  His “Rules for Ranging” are distributed to Army Rangers even today.

Rogers met and married Elizabeth Browne in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.  This is an image of Reynolda’s portrait of Elizabeth Browne Rogers by Joseph Blackburn from 1761.  It was likely commissioned to mark Elizabeth’s marriage to Major Rogers.

Rogers was a complex figure.  He was a talented military officer, but he expended a great deal of his personal income outfitting his Rangers and experienced financial hardship as a result.  He traveled to England twice to appeal to George III to relieve the debt he had incurred in defense of the crown.  During the first trip, in 1765, the king named him governor of Michilimackinac in present-day Michigan.  After he returned to America, Major and Mrs. Rogers traveled together to the western outpost, but encountered difficulties when Rogers was accused of treason.  There is some speculation that the accusations were trumped up by a rival military officer, and Rogers was acquitted in 1768, but his reputation was permanently damaged.

Although the exact circumstances are unknown, the mezzotint by Hart upon which Will based his print was probably created on the major’s second trip to England between 1769 and 1775.  During that trip, Elizabeth wrote bitter letters to her husband complaining about his absence, and the major wrote back in return defending himself.

Rogers’s career ended ignominiously.  Elizabeth divorced him in 1778 for desertion and infidelity.  Always loyal to the crown, he returned to England, where he lived the rest of his life destitute and frequently heavily inebriated.  He died in 1795.  Elizabeth remarried, to the naval officer John Roche, and died in 1813.

What do you think of Rogers's character as portrayed in TURN? Share in the comments below. 

IMAGE CREDIT: Joseph Blackburn (1754-63), Elizabeth Browne Rogers, 1761. Oil on canvas, Original Purchase Fund from Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation, Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, Area Foundation, and Anne Cannon Forsyth.

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