Writer’s Room: Alfre Woodard’s ‘Copper’ Debut

Alfre Woodard portrays Hattie Lemaster, a former slave recently arrived to Five Points to start anew with her daughter Sara Freeman.

Alfre Woodard portrays Hattie Lemaster, a former slave recently arrived to Five Points to start anew with her daughter Sara Freeman.

With Alfre Woodard set to make her ‘Copper’ debut this Sunday (July 28th at 10/9c) we asked series writer Kevin Deiboldt to share insight into Woodard’s character, freed slave Hattie Lemaster.

BBCAmerica.com: Were you excited to work with Alfre Woodard?
Kevin Deiboldt: Excited, with a smidgeon of anxiety and terror. It’s not every day you get to work with someone who’s been nominated for a bajillion (alright, eighteen) Emmy awards. Truthfully, though, I couldn’t wait to see Alfre, Tessa and Ato work together. Talk about an abundance of riches.

What can you tell us about Alfre’s character, Hattie Lemaster?
I can tell you she’s Sara’s mom. Other than that, I don’t want to give anything away…

Seriously? That’s all? We already know that from her bio on the Copper website.
Fine. I can also tell you that she’s lived her entire life as a slave in the South… so, to go from that existence – never knowing if she’ll see her family again – to suddenly having freedom and living in not just New York City, but Five Points… Daunting, to say the least.

Will there be any tension between Hattie and Doc Freeman?
The tension isn’t so much between Doc and Hattie, as it is with the overall difficulty of being inserted into the Freemans’ new lives up North. Of reconnecting with a daughter who is, in many ways, very different from the girl Hattie raised back in Virginia. (Wait… were you setting me up for a mother-in-law joke? Damn. I think you were. I totally missed that.)

Did you know Alfre had the part before you wrote the character?
We didn’t. She was obviously our pie-in-the-sky hope for Hattie, but you never know how these things will work out. Thankfully, she’s known Tom (Fontana) since back on ‘St. Elsewhere,’ and the stars of scheduling aligned. Alfre arrived with such passion – brimming with questions and thoughts about the character – she really helped shape Hattie, infusing her with life.

What can viewers expect for the second half of the season?
A continuation of what we’ve seen in the first half – exploring our characters, challenging them, seeing how they handle the hardships that come with life in this time… and in this neighborhood. Some manage to overcome it, some are undone, and some don’t make it at all.

Have questions or comments for Kevin? Leave them below! And for more of Kevin’s ‘Copper’ musings, check out his personal blog, Ithaca Mafia, and follow him on Twitter at @Kluv32.

3 Questions, 2 Biscuits and 1 Cup of Tea with Tom Weston-Jones!

Settle in, and make a cuppa –  it’s 3 Questions, 2 Biscuits and 1 Cup of Tea with Tom Weston-Jones!

Hear from Detective Corcoran about where – and when – he’d go if he had a TARDIS, his wish to face off against a zombie (but only a slow one) – and why all he really needs is a puddle and a stick!

Metropolitan Police Under Siege

Series historical adviser Daniel Czitrom explores the hostility the New York Police Department faced during the Civil War.

Keating threatens Annie.

Philemon Keating threatens Annie’s life during his takeover of the Sixth Ward.

The shocking attack upon the Sixth Precinct police takes the murder and blood off the Five Points streets directly into the station house. As the ensuing hostage crisis unfolds, we get a visceral sense of just how violent Civil War New York could be. No one understood better than the police the tight connection between the war on the battlefields and the increasingly brutal reality on city streets.

As the 1865 Annual Report of the Metropolitan Police Board noted, “A state of war is a school of violence and crime…. During the war there has been a marked tendency to crimes of violence towards persons, and other crimes of the graver character…Probably no city in the civilized world is human life so lightly prized and subjected to as great hazards from violence as in New York.” The city swarmed with soldiers on their way to and from battle, along with thousands of men who had been discharged, many of them armed. Police noted more and more criminals carrying concealed weapons. And, as the commissioners put it, “The practice of taking human life on slight or no provocation has fearfully increased.”

1863 Draft Riots

An illustrated portrayal of the 1863 Draft Riots.
Harper’s, ‘Charge of the Police at the Tribune Office, 1894.

The NYPD’s heroic actions fighting rioters during the cataclysmic Draft Riots of 1863, featuring the effective deployment of small groups of cops against large crowds of rioters, laid to rest lingering questions about the force’s discipline, devotion to the job, and its ability to maintain order. But fighting organized gangs of violent criminals presented different challenges. The sense of police under siege helps explain the extremely insular job culture among New York police. Station houses by necessity served as dormitories, where men on reserve slept in spartan quarters and ate bad food, squeezed in among prisoners, homeless lodgers, and the endless bustle of precinct routine. New men learned the job from the accumulated experience and knowledge of veterans, who honored physical courage and loyalty to other cops above all and subjected recruits to extreme forms of hazing. The shared risk of death and injury, the feeling of isolation among hostile citizens and unreliable politicians, the sense that they were forever misunderstood—all these shaped the policeman’s identity and the unique job culture of the force.

“Shoving the Queer”: Professional Counterfeiters

Series historical adviser Daniel Czitrom details a new type of criminal emerging in Five Points during the late 19th century – professional counterfeiters.

Counterfeit Money

Philomen Keating admires his work.

Episode Four introduces the highly intelligent, charismatic, and utterly ruthless counterfeiter, Philomen Keating. Keating’s character personifies a new type of criminal that emerged in the Civil War era: professional counterfeiters who exploited the new Federal “greenback” currency as a route to fortune.

Manufacturing counterfeit money had a long history dating back to Colonial times. Creating bogus coins was often the best ad hoc solution to personal debt, especially in rural areas where currency was often scarce. By the mid nineteenth century American commerce increasingly depended upon paper money, printed notes issued by some 1,400 banks chartered by states. This chaotic profusion of bank notes and the reliance upon local law enforcement made counterfeiting quite easy to get away with. As much as half the money in circulation by 1860 was counterfeit.

In 1862, as one means of financing the cost of the Civil War, Congress passed the Legal Tender Act, authorizing the Union government to print $150 million in legal tender notes, good for the payment of all debts. The new federal currency carried the full faith and credit of the national government, even though it was not backed by gold specie. Some $450 million in “greenbacks” were in circulation by the war’s end.

The new federal currency presented enormous opportunities for professional counterfeiters. “Shoving the queer” — slang for passing counterfeit money — became a specialized part of the urban underworld. Successful counterfeiting gangs were highly skilled operations combining fine art work, entrepreneurship, and maintaining regional networks of customers. New York City, the financial center of the country, became the capital of counterfeiting. In 1865 Congress created the Secret Service to suppress counterfeiting and protect the integrity of the federal currency. Establishing a federal currency, along with the new law enforcement regime to guard it, were two important examples of the how the Civil War expanded the role of the national government in American life.

3 Questions, 2 Biscuits and 1 Cup of Tea with Donal Logue

Settle in, and make a cuppa – it’s 3 questions, 2 biscuits and 1 cup of tea, with Copper‘s Donal Logue!

Hear from the Tammany Hall-backed ward leader General Donovan about the danger when he meditates (“It’s really powerful, it generates a lot of something. Not inner-peace, that’s for sure!”) – and his favorite childhood toy that predicted his future role on the 1865 historical drama.

Pus, discover why DONAL always thinks about an old girlfriend every time he brews a fresh cup of tea. “To the British army!”

Recruiting for War: ‘Bounty Brokers’ in New York City

Learn more about the bounty brokers who caused trouble for the detectives in ‘Copper’ from the series historical adviser, Daniel Czitrom.

Doman is interrogated.

Detectives Corcoran and O’Brien interrogate Tim Doman.

Detective Corcoran is under great pressure to find who is responsible for the kidnapping and murder of many young Five Points men. He discovers that the culprits Tim Doman, and later Brogan McGrath, are “bounty brokers,” men who receive a payment for every new recruit they provide for the Union army.

Raising the manpower to sustain a drawn out, bloody war had become increasingly difficult. The violent Draft Riots of July 1863 had been sparked by President Lincoln’s announcement of the first draft in U.S. history. The so-called “substitute” provision allowed a man to buy his way out of the draft if he could pay $300 for another to take his place. This “class legislation” enraged many poor and working class New Yorkers, as $300 represented roughly a year’s wages. To help maintain social peace after the Draft Riots, the city created a Volunteer Committee. Its goal was to fill as much of the city’s draft quota as possible through the recruitment of volunteers and substitutes, each of whom received a bounty payment of up to $700. The money was provided by a city bond issue and contributions from wealthy New Yorkers eager to avoid a replay of the Draft Riots.

Harper's Weekly Cartoon portraying a volunteer broker trying to pass an old man as a healthy recruit.  (via http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3c32935)

This political cartoon shows a volunteer broker trying to pass an old man as a worthy recruit.
Harper’s Weekly, ‘The Recruiting Business’, 1864

The Volunteer Committee (dominated by the rising Tammany power William M. Tweed) relied heavily upon an informal network of bounty brokers who received large profits from a share of the bounties. Some New York brokers made small fortunes of between $50,000 and $200,000, and they were often ruthless in their efforts. Men were sometimes drugged or kidnapped from ships and saloons. The naïve were often persuaded that they were signing up for civilian employment. Immigrants could be enlisted before even landing at Castle Garden. By 1865 the system based on the profit motive rather than patriotism had become so corrupt that Colonel Lafayette C. Baker, chief detective of the US Secret Service, was sent to investigate the situation, concluding that a “vast machinery of bounty-swindling” existed in the city. By the war’s end the Volunteer Committee had raised nearly 100,000 men to meet draft calls, saving many New Yorkers from enforced service in a war they did not want to fight.

Who’s the Boss: Tammany Versus Republicans

Series historical adviser Daniel Czitrom offers a closer look General Brendan Donovan’s career, and “ward bosses” of the mid-nineteenth century.


Five Points newcomer, General Brendan Donovan.

General Brendan Donovan embodies the successful and popular Tammany Hall politician of the day. Tammany Hall was the dominant faction of the city’s Democratic Party. It attracted votes from recent immigrants and the city’s working classes, largely in exchange for services. In the harsh urban world of the mid-nineteenth century—before Social Security, Medicare, unemployment insurance, food stamps, welfare—the local “ward boss” could provide some relief for families who needed it. Unemployed laborers looking for work, parents whose teenager ran afoul of the law, a widow desperate for coal to get through the winter, saloon keepers and other small businesses needing help with the city bureaucracy—these became the base of Tammany’s support. Donovan career first as policeman, then as building contractor, was a typical Tammany success story. His military service in the Mexican War and then the Civil War reminds us that not every Irish immigrant supported the Draft Riots or refused to fight. Indeed a large number of Irish, most notably the 69th Regiment, fought with distinction for the Union. For many,  this proved the best path to citizenship. Donovan was what was known as a “War Democrat,” someone who supported the Civil war as the only way to force return of the Confederate states to the Union.

By 1860 the Democratic Party consistently controlled most NYC elections. But the Republican Party, founded in 1854, had risen rapidly with the national crisis over slavery. They elected Abraham Lincoln president in 1860, and they also controlled the state government in Albany. Republicans there had forced through creation of the city’s Metropolitan Police Force, replacing the old Municipal Police, in an effort to weaken Tammany’s power. The appointment and promotion of police had long been a key source of patronage and influence. Lincoln won re-election in 1864, but New York City voted overwhelmingly for his Democratic opponent, General George McClellan.


Frederick Douglas, portrayed by Eamonn Walker.

Frederick Douglass, a former slave who became a leading abolitionist in the 1840s and 1850s, was now an important ally of the Republicans. For Douglass, as for most African Americans, the Civil War was fundamentally a struggle to destroy slavery and to make former slaves into American citizens. His powerful oratory and influential writing offered a sharp rebuke to the white supremacist views held by the great majority of Democrats and Americans.

Unearthed Civil War Speeches: Brother to Brother

Read a speech written by General Brendan Donovan during his tour as a brigadier general in the Union Army.


I know you are tired, weary  Our feet ache, blistered. Our stomachs yearn for something more satisfying than hard tack and desiccated vegetables. Sleep is a commodity in short supply, almost as much as bath powder  with the only item more desired being Lieutenant Wilson’s supply of home-stilled liquor… Yet, through all our pains, we continue to grow stronger endure. Against all odds, we push forward in the midst of such madness. How?

It is at this point where my superiors expected me to suggest that our communal drive stems solely from a sense of duty. To our country. Our nation. And while that may be true – on occasion – as I’ve come to learn I suspect the realities are much more varied: a paycheck… revenge… fidelity.

As a young soldier, I learned an important invaluable lesson from my commanding officer: the motivations for our drive matters not.  Whatever fuel fills the engine in your belly chest: cultivate it. Rely on it. Consume it in massive quantities.  For that flame will often likely be the only force keeping one foot in front of the other.  It will keep and sustain you throughout the trying times ahead.

When those times arrive, we will, each of us, be forced to lean upon one another. Brother to brother. And so, until those days arrive, I simply ask two things of you:

Keep your eyes ahead, free of distraction. Tend to the fires in your chest.  Do this, and victory will be ours.


Don’t miss Donal Logue as General Brendan Donovan, Sundays at 10/9c on the all-new season of ‘Copper.’

Irish Struggles: The Great Hunger

Series historical adviser, Daniel Czitrom, offers a closer look at the Irish potato famine that brought ‘Copper’ characters Maguire and O’Brien to Five Points.

Detective O'Brien visits Maguire.

Detective O’Brien pays Maguire a visit in the Tombs.

In the second season premiere of Copper, Detective Andrew Maguire pays a visit to his old friend ex-Detective Francis Maguire, now held on murder charges in the city prison known as “the Tombs.” There they talk about the struggles of their Irish childhood, and how Maguire’s family barely managed to escape “the Great Hunger” on a “famine ship.” Their lives, like hundreds of thousands of others, were forever re-made by the stark reality of the Irish potato famine.

In 1845 a mysterious blight began spreading through the potato fields of Ireland, causing widespread failure of the most important staple crop in the Irish diet. Widespread starvation and malnutrition related diseases followed in the blight’s wake. Over the next ten years as many as 2 million Irish, out of a total population of 8 million, died from “the Great Hunger.” Desperate for relief, some 1.8 million Irish emigrants left their homeland, with a large fraction of these landing in the United States and Canada. Those who managed to emigrate often received a shove from their landlords who found it cheaper to pay the ship passage for their tenants than to support work houses and poor relief at home.

Woman, on shore of Ireland, holding up a sign for help to American ships; her foot rests on rock inscribed "we are starving". Family huddled behind her. (via http://1.usa.gov/12l6pTL)

Woman, on shore of Ireland, holding up a sign for help to American ships; her foot rests on rock inscribed “we are starving.”
‘The Herald of relief from America,’ Thomas Nast

New York had long been a magnet for European immigrants, but the unprecedented poverty and wretchedness of these newcomers drew widespread comment. Describing a group whose way had been paid by Lord Landsdowne , County Kerry, in March 1851, the NY Herald editorialized: “It is really lamentable to see the vast number of unfortunate creatures that are almost daily cast on our shores, penniless and without physical energy to earn a day’s living. Yesterday groups of these hapless creatures were to be seen congregated about the City Hall Park and in Broadway, looking the very picture of despair, misery, disease, and want.” New York City became home for hundreds of thousands of these immigrants, and by 1860 the city’s 800,000 people included over 200,000 born in Ireland. The vast majority were Roman Catholic, poor, and perhaps a third spoke Gaelic but no English.

The Irish made the Five Points neighborhood their hub, transforming the Sixth Ward; by 1860  the Irish constituted about two thirds of the Sixth Ward. The Points had a reputation as a center for crime, prostitution, drinking, and vice of all sorts. But most Irish immigrants were industrious. They toiled mostly as menial laborers: ditch diggers, porters, cart drivers, washerwomen, seamstresses, and peddlers. Recent historical research reveals that a surprising number of theme were able to start accounts at the Emigrant Savings Bank, accumulating nest eggs for their families,  and sending money to loved ones in Ireland.

Unearthed Civil War Letters: My Darling Caoilinn

Read a letter from General Brendan Donovan to his wife, written during his tour as a brigadier general in the Union Army.



Friday Eve

My Darling Caoilinn,

I write to you from my tent, unable to sleep as the wind howls through camp, canvas flapping and echoing, and so, here I sit, scribbling into my portfolio.

I trust life in New York continues at it’s usual pace. I miss you and the family terribly. Did you stop by so and so’s place this week?  After losing Rebecca, I worry for her. Company should help.

Daughter’s birthday is coming soon. It pains me to be away, and so I hope she understands. With any luck, Anna’s constant pestering of her suddenly older sister should aid. Their Da misses them very much.

We are moving within the week. Write soon. Reading your words provides a balm for my loneliness.

Your loving husband.


Don’t miss Brendan Donovan’s official introduction to Five Points in the season premiere of ‘Copper,’ airing this Sunday, June 23 at 10/9c, only on BBC America.