How accurate is “Outlander”‘s portrayal of colonial America? We break it down

Set in North Carolina in 1773, Starz’s “Outlander” Season 6, based on Diana Gabaldon’s book “A Breath of Snow and Ashes,” continues the story of Scottish heartthrob Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan) and time-traveling healer Claire Fraser (Caitriona Balfe) facing the American Revolutionary War as outback settlers.

But while Season 6 is set in a time period that will be broadly familiar to American audiences, “Outlander” also introduces a number of lesser-known details of 18th-century American history.

Showrunner Matthew Roberts says it takes an average of six weeks to research and prepare for filming, and another six weeks to film. All of this pre-production work is spent learning, researching, and consulting with experts about the different cultures they portray in each episode.

Native Americans are the focus of special attention this season. Roberts explains that much of the research has focused on understanding mannerisms and body language. To cite one example, “We learned that the Cherokee don’t point with their fingers,” he said. “They would never do that, so we told (the actors) not to do that.”


But Fraser’s Ridge itself — about 20 miles or three nights’ ride from Wilmington, NC, imagines production designer Mike Gunn — is fictional, though many Scottish settlers came to Salisbury and Wilmington during this time, according to Danielle Berrow, writer and historical consultant on “Outlander”.

“There are some things that are just absolute facts, and we’ve tried to portray them that way,” Roberts said. “But we don’t make documentaries. It’s 100% fiction.” Also, he acknowledges, some aspects of history are not knowable, such as the behavior of real historical figures like William Tyron, who served as governor of North Carolina and New York, or George Washington.

“We have no idea what George Washington looked like or acted. This is our fictionalized portrayal of him,” Roberts said.

What is Freemasonry and was it common in the 18th century?

Although Freemasonry is not a religion in itself, Berrow explains that to be a Freemason, one had to believe in “a supreme being”. One of the oldest fraternal organizations in the world, the origins of Freemasons date back to the Middle Ages. Freemasonry was banned by the Catholic Church in 1738.

“Some of the founding fathers have various associations, or at least rumor has it they have associations, for being Freemasons,” Berrow said.

She explained that it is sometimes difficult to get an idea of ​​the exact number of people involved in these Masonic ceremonies “because of the secrecy that surrounds them”.

Season 6’s opening scene jumps back to 1752 to show Jamie’s involvement with the order, as he is given a leadership position in Ardsmuir prison.

After Jamie is named a Freemason by the prison warden, tension rises between him and devout Protestant Tom Christie, played by Mark Lewis Jones. The plot depicts Jamie’s overly cunning way of finding peace between divided Catholic and Protestant prisoners in an attempt to control the narrative.

As the story transports viewers to the present of the 1773 episode, religious tension once again arises between Jamie and Christie, as Christie moves to Fraser’s Ridge and attempts to build a church.

Jamie quickly readjusts Christie’s expectations and suggests that the church be a meeting house instead – a nod to the Old South Meeting House where attendees of that year’s Boston Tea Party gathered to fan the flames American revolutionary fervor.

What’s all the glass?

Jamie and Claire’s home on Fraser’s Ridge features colorful furniture and vibrant wall designs – common aspects of lavish living in the 1770s.

But the elegant glass creations stand out this season: tumblers, distillers and bewitching ornamentation on the doors and windows of the main houses.

Gunn explains that he wanted to allow himself some artistic license, since Jamie and Claire are well funded and Claire Kenit’s the future. Knowing the limited resources and technology available to Claire, however, the production tried to stay within historically accurate parameters of innovation and design. “We normally have the freedom (of) Claire’s knowledge of the future that she might bring back,” Gunn said.

Glass, a rare commodity at the time, is an index of wealth. But windows and cups aren’t the only elements teasing this season’s plot.

Sand clocks, called hourglasses, are another key motif. Even though hourglasses were invented in the 8th century, “Outlander” never featured them in previous seasons. This season, however, Claire is seen with an hourglass several times to measure her “ether naps”. Gunn said the hourglasses have become a way to nudge fans towards the “sense of time flowing”.

“Winter is coming, bad things are coming,” he said.

Wait, what is an “ethereal nap”?

Season 6 highlights an innovative time for the Frasers.

Claire discovers ether, an inhaled anesthetic, 73 years before its official discovery in real life.

Ether, which can be dangerous if overused, is administered by various methods. Gunn explains that in the 1700s, the most common method was to apply the ether to a piece of cloth, then place the cloth over the nose and mouth.

But due to her experience as a combat nurse in World War II, Claire knows of another method: the Ferguson face mask.

The designer chose to combine Claire’s knowledge with the limited resources she had. “We wanted something a little sexier, a little more exciting than just clothing,” Gunn said.

Because ether has a similar consistency to alcohol, Gunn and his team also had to find a way to show Claire’s complex process of distilling the chemical.

“We had to figure out how she was going to capture it and then contain it,” he said. “And we designed props for it to sink into the glass beaker. We worked on the physics of how it would stay there and not evaporate.”

And Claire is not the only one to innovate this season: Brianna Fraser (Sophie Skelton) invents safety matches. (In reality, safety matches were invented about 53 years later by John Walker, a British pharmacist.)

The word “matches” dates back to the early medieval period. Berrow explains that many people are surprised that a more primitive version of matches has existed for so long: “They were little sticks dipped in sulfur,” she said.

“These 18th century characters are used to using fire on a daily basis, and they have to kindle it somehow. But there are obviously little bits of modern convenience that our characters can perhaps help with. in the series,” she added.

Brianna’s underrated invention, likely to be equally underrated by modern audiences, turns an onerous chore into a simple task with the flick of a match.

How accurate is the description of the Anglo-Indigenous Relations series?

For viewers wondering if Ian Murray’s acceptance into the Mohawk tribe – in which he receives facial markings with a pigment-dipped fishbone – is based on real events: Yes, it is. , says Berrow, who explains that such ceremonies, while not common, have not taken place. take place.

“I thought that was incredibly moving, especially considering the trauma these people have gone through historically and the fact that they were colonized and forced to convert to Christianity,” Berrow said. “It’s really interesting to hear about the kind of acceptance ceremonies and how appearance plays a big role.”

Ian’s story, which culminates in the Mohawk chief telling him, “Every drop of white blood has been washed from your veins,” is adapted from one of the early settlers of the colonies, Captain James Smith. Smith, who described the experience in his diary, was adopted by the Mohawks and underwent a similar ceremony, down to the language used. The message, according to Berrow, is: “You become one of us, we love you as one of us.”

The series also accurately captures the position of the Cherokee in the American Revolution through a fictionalized version of Alexander Cameron, a Scottish settler who was commissioned by the British to act as an agent for British Indians.

Cameron lived among the Cherokees for nearly 15 years as they shifted allegiance between the British Army and American settlers, eventually siding with Britain in the American War of Independence. .

Berrow explained that many high school textbooks fail to teach the full complexity of the American Revolution—especially the strategic engagement of Native Americans in conflicts between European powers and settlers in order to achieve their own political goals.

“The British are the bad guys,” she said of the popular understanding of this period. “How could they (the Cherokee and the Mohawk) be aligned with them?” “Outlander” attempts to portray a more accurate version of the conflict in which each population follows the path it feels best serves its interests, which was no less true for the Mohawks and Cherokee than it was for the British and Americans. .

Season 6 is just six episodes long, marking a shorter-than-usual “Outlander.”

But dinna fash, Roberts confirms that the “Droughtlander” will be brief, with the 16 episodes of season 7 fast approaching.

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