“Outlander” and Tryon Palace

Claire Frazier Visits Tryon Palace

by Lindy Cummings, Tryon Palace Historian

On a summer morning in 1775, Claire Frazier is plucked from the hot toil of laundry in the yard of Sherriff Tolliver’s jail and brought to Tryon Palace by one Mr. George Webb, secretary to Royal Governor Josiah Martin. How the indominable time-traveling Claire ends up jailed in 18th century New Bern’s “gaol” I’ll leave to your reading pleasure—all 900-plus pages of it in A Breath of Snow and Ashes, the sixth volume in Diana Gabaldon’s best-selling Outlander series, now also a popular series on STARZ that just concluded its sixth season.

The silent and stately Mr. Webb drives Claire to the Governor’s Palace, past wide lawns, and beds of ivy. She’s hustled in a basement door, into servant quarters. Eventually Claire finds herself tending to Elizabeth Martin, the governor’s wife, interacting with enslaved laborers, and plotting her escape at every turn, only to be thwarted by a healthy number of uniformed guards—Marines, even! —at every door and swarming the property, manning six cannons trained over the town and rivers beyond.

In illuminating the Palace and its residents, the fictionalized aspects of Claire’s experience overshadow the real people who lived there. Rather than the fictional secretary George Webb, Josiah Martin’s actual secretary was James Biggleston, a loyal and longsuffering man who was jailed and eventually banished from the province for refusing to surrender Martin’s personal property or repudiate George III. Instead of enslaved women Molly and Sukie in a fictional basement kitchen, there were real enslaved individuals Tool, Prima, Kate, and Bess, sent against their will from Antigua to North Carolina. What became of them after the Martin family fled the Palace in May 1775 is unclear. There were no uniformed guards and the only significant British military presence in New Bern was confined to a three-day raid in August 1781.

The Outlander phenomenon has been a real one for Tryon Palace. But the exciting fictional stories aside, it’s important to remember that there were living, breathing individuals who called the Palace home or served in bondage those who called it home. Want to know more?  Tryon Palace offers monthly specialty tours exploring Outlander in two tours: Spark of the Rebellion and The Storm of Revolution.