Okay, it wasn't quite as bad as "Sam Adams: Vampire Hunter" but it was close. I am referring to the History channel's series "The Sons of Liberty" in which the real life Sam Adams, who was a middle-aged portly guy by the time of the opening scene in 1765, comes off as a young athletic urban ninja hopping up to the rooftops of Boston to evade arrest by British troops. And that was just one of the many laughable inaccuracies of the History channel's presentation of the era leading up to the American Revolution.
Although one can easily get the sense that history was often left by the wayside just by watching it, several websites have pointed out the numerous historical inaccuracies of the series. Journal of the American Revolution is among those sites listing the many, many inaccuracies of this series. For the sake of brevity, we shall only look at the glaring errors of only the first episode:
...if you’re looking for facts about the Sons of Liberty or information about the War for American Independence, don’t plan on discovering those facts in this miniseries; you won’t find them. Instead of portraying actual historical events and giving each character balance and depth, the writers and producers have gone with a standard archetype of good and evil—you can probably guess which side is good and which is evil. So instead of the real General Thomas Gage, the viewer is told (in promotional material) that Gage is a brutal dictator-type figure who is abusive to his wife and orders his soldiers to act just as ruthlessly to the point of igniting the fuse of revolution. It’s complete bunk, of course, as we’ll see below.
And here is some of the bunk listed by the Journal of the American Revolution:
It’s Boston in 1765. Dr. Joseph Warren walks into a pub and stumbles into a drunk Samuel Adams. He explains to Adams that he’s been looking for him just as a group of British Regulars storm into the pub; there is muttering about a warrant, issued by Governor Hutchinson, for Adams’ arrest. The soldiers have come to collect! And we’re already off to a bizarre start. There were no British regulars stationed in Boston in 1765. They were there 1768-1770 and 1774-1776.
Oops! So no opportunity for Sam Adams to show off his ninja gymnastics while evading the British troops that weren't actually there. Come to think of it, the History channel version of hunk Sam Adams didn't seem to have much in the way of brains. See, he quickly evades the British troops (who weren't there in reality) by hiding in the tavern cellar. If he had just had the patience to wait at least 15 minutes for the British to split the scene, he would have been home free but noooo! He stupidly leaves the cellar after just a few moments to be spotted by the British who didn't have time to leave. But back to the listings of inaccuracies:
Doesn’t Look a Day Over 30 – The producers went with a younger look for Samuel Adams in 1765; in real life, at that time, he was 43. Certainly not old, but not a young lad either. Don’t get me wrong—Barnes is a fine actor and the producers wanted a hip fellow that all the kids can relate to and the girls swoon over—but Barnes is ten years younger than Adams would have been—was George Clooney not available (he asks facetiously)?
That Pub-Crawler Sam Adams - Samuel Adams has an undeserved reputation as a drinker who hangs out in bars. This wasn’t the case, at least not according to actual evidence. Samuel Adams inherited a brewery (which failed by 1764) and was called ‘Samuel the Publican’. But as J.L. Bell points out, Samuel Adams’ nickname has other connotations—it has nothing at all to do with pubs and alcohol.
Yeah, but when you know who is the major sponsor of this series, you have to emphasize the pub angle of Sam Adams as drinker of Boston brew.
The Governator – Hutchinson was not the Governor of Massachusetts in 1765. He was Lieutenant Governor as well as a probate judge. He would not take over as Governor until 1769 (and then only as acting governor until he was fully commissioned in 1771). The enmity between Adams and Hutchinson is founded in real history, but not for the reasons given in the show.
Civil vs. Military Authority – Under the English Bill of Rights (as well as the prevailing views of liberty at the time), British Civil Law was separate from Military Law (much as there is a distinction today), and military authority was viewed as being under the civil authority. Soldiers did not enforce the laws of the state and the state did not interfere in the judicial system of the military. All warrants were issued by sheriffs or magistrates and enforced by them alone.
On Probation – No warrant was issued for Samuel Adams in 1765. In 1758—seven years before this scene supposedly takes place—the sheriff (not Hutchinson) put out a warrant involving the estate of Samuel Adams’ father. The £8,000 was the total of uncollected taxes Adams owed to Boston as calculated in 1765. Instead of coming after him with a gun, however, the sheriff engaged him in public discussions (and threatened to take away his businesses, his home, and his property to repay the debt). Nothing ever came of the threats.
Thus no reason for the ninja Sam Adams to escape from the non-existent British troops who did not have the authority to enforce civil law for a warrant that was never issued.
Assassin’s Creed – Yeah, at one point Samuel Adams is climbing up walls and running across the roofs of Boston like in the popular video game. That didn’t happen, folks. Let’s be honest though; it sure looked cool.
I still want to buy that Sam Adams Ninja Warrior video game.
Where in the World is Thomas Gage? – Historically, Gage had already been given command of British forces in North America in 1763. He had been in the colonies and in Canada since 1755, ten years prior to the Stamp Act riots; so I was surprised that the episode introduces him hanging out in England in 1765, completely unaware of events unfolding in Boston. In 1765, Gen. Thomas Gage was living in New York. He visited Boston in 1768 but was not closely involved in that town’s politics until he arrived as governor in 1774. Since Gage’s relationship with Adams is part of the premise of the series, it was a little off-putting to see such a glaring historical inaccuracy.
An Angry and Vengeful Parliament – The whole scene where parliamentary officials give license for British troops to enter homes and destroy personal property and seize possessions is nonsense. In fact, parliament was pretty out of touch with American sentiment in the colonies to the point of fault. While they instituted the Coercive Acts, they ignored General Gage’s requests time after time to send more troops and munitions because he was worried about a war breaking out.
And the Journal of the American Revolution has a whole section devoted to what the British troops did NOT do in Boston such as not arresting patriot leaders or storming homes. In fact, it sounds like the British troops back then often acted more benevolently than our modern day federal government.
Another analysis of the inaccuracies of "Sons of Liberty" comes from MediaLife Magazine:
Few Americans know that the famous patriot Samuel Adams was present at the Boston Massacre, where he bravely picked up a cudgel and beat the British soldier who fired the first shot.
They don’t know that because it isn’t true. But it’s presented as true by History’s new six-hour miniseries “Sons of Liberty,” a retelling of the movement for American independence that is sprinkled with so many half-truths and outright falsehoods that it becomes worthless to history buffs, who might otherwise enjoy it, and students, who might otherwise benefit from it.
Exit question: Which is more historically accurate, "Sons of Liberty" or "Ancient Aliens?"