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Western Animation / Liberty's Kids

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"I'm lookin' at life through my own eyes
I'm searchin' for a hero to idolize
Feeling the pain as innocence dies
Looking at life through my own eyes"
Opening theme song

Liberty's Kids (2002-2003) is an animated Edutainment Historical Fiction series produced by DIC Entertainment in association with PBS. The series follows the events of The American Revolution, from the Boston Tea Party in 1773 to the signing of the US Constitution in 1787, through the lens of three children (and their caretaker) whom are in the employ of Benjamin Franklin's newspaper and publishing business. The major characters are:

  • James Hiller, a young reporter who is an enthusiastic supporter of the colonial resistance who has to learn that there are hard realities in the events around him that fly in the face of his ideals.
  • Henri Richard Maurice Dutoit LeFebrve, a young French troublemaker who finds himself swept up in the politics of the day.
  • Sarah Phillips, a dignified British girl who is initially a staunch Loyalist determined to present her side's perspective of the conflict as a reporter under Franklin, only to ultimately side with the Revolution.
  • Moses: An African-American ex-slave who works in Franklin's printing business. A self-taught engineer, he serves as a respected adult authority over the kids.

Although the series was created for a juvenile audience (ages 7 to 14), it nevertheless takes a surprisingly sophisticated and nuanced look at the American Revolution — something that was and still is rarely seen both in children's media and in the average United States classroom — not just highlighting the heroes and achievements of the independence movement, but also addressing the less palatable aspects such as the role of slavery, mob violence and the privations that Native Americans suffered in this conflict. As a result, Liberty's Kids remains just as powerful and popular a show more than twenty years since it first aired. It's been bounced from PBS to syndication to online streaming platforms, with availability having been affected accordingly.

Tropes employed in this series include:

    open/close all folders 

    Tropes A to H 
  • Aborted Arc: Sarah doesn't see her father again after the episode where they reunite. In the last episode, when her mother has joined her in the city, she mentions that he's found some land and they're going to move in together.
  • Adobe Flash: The "Liberty News Network" segments are clearly animated in flash, while the rest of the show is traditional animation.
  • Animated Actors: During the "Liberty News Network" segments, the show's main characters Rick out of their roles in the main story to provide further exposition and lead the audience in trivia games.
  • Ascended Fanboy: Lafayette comes all the way from France to become this to Washington.
    • Henri is Lafayette's biggest fan. He is promoted first to army drummer under Lafayette, and then to family as Lafayette adopts him and takes him back to France.
  • Been There, Shaped History: The premise, basically. The kids are involved in every event of the Revolution that could form the plot of a show.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: James and Sarah.
  • Berserk Button: As General Charles Lee finds out the hard way at Monmouth, insulting Washington's troops is a surefire way to get on Commander-in-Chief's bad side.
  • Big Eater: Henri and has scenes of eating all sorts of yummy things like bread, pastries, pancakes, bread, apples, and syrup. It's hard to blame him!
  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: James, Henri, and Sarah.
  • Bloodless Carnage: For a show that talks a lot about killing and wounding people, there isn't a whole lot of blood shown.
  • Bound and Gagged: After Sarah makes the less than wise decision to invoke King George's name in demanding safe passage through territory occupied by the Green Mountain Boys the next scene shows the kids being delivered to the militia's camp, bound and gagged in the back of a wagon.
  • Boyfriend Bluff: A variation on this trope in "One Life to Lose." When British sailors attempt to kidnap James and press him into service, Sarah and Henri show up just in time and demand they let him go. When the sailors ask for a reason to let James go, Henri gleefully pipes up and says Sarah and James are engaged. Hilarity Ensues as Sarah immediately picks up on the lie and launches a dramatic tale of their love and how James is eager to join the English navy, but she demanded he "hold on just a little longer, dearest" until they were married. She begs them not to take "her love" away, not after all they'd been through (at which point, even Henri is rolling his eyes). When asked if that was true, James awkwardly smiles, clenches his teeth and says that yes, she is his fiance and they are "very much in love." The sailors buy it hook, line, and sinker and even have a nostalgic moment for "young love" as James and Sarah shuffle away hand in hand.
  • Book Ends:
    • The first episode starts with a British flag coming down in a storm. The last episode ends with an American flag coming up on a sunny day.
    • In Lafayette's first episode, Henri told Lafayette that he could be the latter's son and hold his "shiny buttons". In Lafayette's last episode, he reveals to Henri that he wants to adopt him and take him back to France.
  • British Stuffiness: Sarah starts out like this, but is still likeable.
  • Broken Pedestal:
    • As it did in Real Life, this trope concerns itself with Benedict Arnold. He is a revered war hero at first (he's the soldier whom Sarah looks admiredly at in the show's intro), and as such many are struck by his Face–Heel Turn.
    • Also Thomas Jefferson for Sarah on learning that despite his writing the Declaration of Independence, he owns slaves. Although she doesn't write an expose on him and listens to his point of view, it's a notable moment.
  • The Bus Came Back:
    • Cato returns as one of the Yorktown soldiers who realizes Armistead is a spy but doesn't rat on him. After a British soldier frees him and the others from being left behind and returned to their owners, he vanishes for a few episodes (and years according to Moses), and comes to Moses for help.
    • Benjamin Franklin comes and goes depending on if he's in England or France.
  • Can't Get Away with Nuthin': Poor Moses. He generally abides by the law, knowing what happens to a black man who even appears to stand outside of it, and he only breaks one to try and rescue his brother, by stealing him from a plantation. He gets caught immediately, is only let go because Sarah and James vouch for him.
  • Cavalry Betrayal: Happens in "Not Yet Begun to Fight", where during his fight with the Serapis, John Paul Jones sees the American frigate Alliance come to their aid, only to fire a full broadside into the Bonhomme Richard before retreating. This is true to the real-life account of what happened and it was never definitively established why the captain of the Alliance acted as he did.
  • Chained Heat: James is imprisoned with a Hessian deserter, and the chained-together pair have to cooperate to escape.
  • Character Development: Averted with Henri, but played straight with James (who starts out as a full-on Jerkass who accepts everything political without any opinions of his own), and Sarah (who is certainly well-meaning but also an Ice Queen who is solidly British and can't understand why the colonists would want to rebel).
  • Cheerful Child: Henri; he's the only youth in the main cast who hasn't entered adolescence yet.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Cato, big time.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Sometimes Henri gets really excited about what's going on around him.
  • Coming of Age Story: The theme song sums it up thus: I'm looking at life through my own eyes/Searching for a hero to idolize/Feeling the pain as innocence dies...
  • Complaining About Shows You Don't Watch: An in-universe example when Sarah vilifies Thomas Paine's "Common Sense" even when she meets the author personally. Once she gives it a read, she learns to at least appreciate it.
  • Cool Big Bro and Cool Big Sis: James and Sarah to Henri.
  • Cool Old Guy: Benjamin Franklin, much like in Real Life.
  • "Could Have Avoided This!" Plot: Zigzagged. When Sarah is found by British scouts near Breed's Hill, she identifies herself as a Loyalist and asks to see a lieutenant that may know where her father is. Instead, they hand her off to a corporal that is assigned to escort her from the battlefield, though the corporal is sympathetic. Sarah makes an excuse to ride off with the corporal's pass, only to fail to find the lieutenant in question. She encounters the corporal after the battle, who reveals that the lieutenant died and was his brother. The corporal implies that if his brother had lived — which he wouldn't have regardless of Sarah knowing or not knowing — then he would have arranged their meeting later so that Sarah could find her father.
  • Darker and Edgier: By PBS standards, absolutely. Along with the Redwall cartoon, it may be the darkest kids' show to have aired on PBS.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Sarah, although it doesn't take her long to warm up to them.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance:
    • Despite being for children, the show never glosses over or whitewashes the prejudices of the era it's set in. Anti-black racism in particular is a recurring element.
    • Sarah hates lying, even if it's for The Needs of the Many. She tells James that his lie to protect their mail delivery got them in trouble, while James maintains it prevented British scouts from confiscating it.
  • Disappeared Dad: Sarah's father.
    • Alexander Hamilton's father, as he reveals in his Backstory, abandoned his family when Alexander was 10.
  • Dissonant Serenity: Sarah's introduction; calmly writing a letter to her mother even as the ship she's boarding is rocked by a big storm.
  • Divide and Conquer: The series shows how the British went through great lengths to woo the Loyalists, Native Americans, and even slaves to their side, and they were very good at it.
  • Eagleland: Call it America's birth story. The show utilizes the trope's third kind; the show has patriotic theming to it all around, but it's not afraid to give the darker aspects like native genocide, slavery, mob violence, and many of the other historical warts a time in the spotlight. This is also why the show has suffered through No Export for You in several countries.
  • Edutainment Game: There is also a CD-ROM title of the same name released for Microsoft Windows (PC) and Apple Macintosh.
  • Exact Words: In "Lafayette Arrives", the Continental Congress never received the letter the King of France told Benjamin Franklin to write because he was told to write it but not to send it.
  • Face–Heel Turn: Benedict Arnold.
  • Failed a Spot Check: In "The Intolerable Acts", James comes home one night shouting an angry tirade about the redcoats, completely overlooking the fact that the home he just walked into is loaded to the brim with them (thanks to the Quartering Act) who hear every word he says. Needless to say, they're not amused.
  • Fan Disservice: Ben Franklin taking a bath in one episode.
  • A Father to His Men: A bunch of the officers are this way: George Washington repeatedly calls his circle of officers his family, Baron von Steuben encourages inspiring devotion in the men and at one point spoonfeeds a sick soldier, and Lafayette charges into a battle to calm the retreating Continentals down. Benedict Arnold also counts, which actually makes his inevitable Face–Heel Turn more of a Tear Jerker than it is normally portrayed.
  • Feed the Mole: After finding out that the Paul Wentworth he's been consorting with is a Loyalist spy, James feeds him disinformation about the Continental Army.
  • Felony Misdemeanor: The soldiers are outraged at Baron von Steuben for demanding such unreasonable things as drilling for battle, having discipline, keeping the camp clean, and winning the devotion of their underlings.
  • Fiery Redhead: Sarah. Among the historical domain characters, the most notable is Thomas Paine, whose temper is alluded to by both himself and Ben Franklin.
  • Food Porn: Just about any scene with Henri is loaded with this.
  • Founding Day: The aptly named "The First Fourth of July" revolves around the first celebration of America's independence from Great Britain.
  • Frozen in Time: In a weird way — the historical events progress at a reasonable pace, spanning about fifteen years, but the kids don't age.
    • Confusingly, the passage of time is mentioned occasionally, such as in the penultimate episode when Sarah mentions it's been ten years since the Declaration of Independence. She looks exactly the same.
  • General Failure: Many see Washington as this after his disastrous defeats in New York; as history foretells though, he quickly turned the tables on that.
    • General Charles Lee becomes this when he nearly costs Washington's army the battle at Monmouth, and is quickly stripped of command when he slanders both Washington and the soldiers he commanded. No more is heard of him after that.
    • General Horatio Gates, who took credit for the victory at Saratoga when it was actually Benedict Arnold who won the day, even getting shot in the leg for his troubles. Most of his other appearances see him trying to replace Washington with himself. As history demonstrates, the two men couldn't be further apart in terms of their successes in the war.
  • Grease Monkey: Moses.
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: Both sides of the Revolution are portrayed this way, both their positive and negative qualities being shown as far as a kid show can display.
  • Going Native: It turns out Sarah's father is a frontiersman who is close with the Shawnee Tribe.
  • Happily Adopted: Henri's fate; he is eventually adopted by the Marquis de Lafayette.
  • Heartwarming Orphan: James, a fervent Patriot, and Henri, who has a sunny outlook.
  • Heel–Face Turn:
    • Sarah becomes a Patriot in "Not Yet Begun to Fight."
    • Happens to a Loyalist couple when some British soldiers ransack their food and supplies for their own needs while the Revolutionaries had passed by an hour or so back and didn't take a thing. The commander even ordered them not to harm the land at all.
  • He's Back!: John Paul Jones motivates Sarah, who decided to return to England following her seeing a Shawnee chief and his son executed, to decide to become a Patriot.
  • Historical Domain Character: Heaps of them, naturally.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: Washington gets one of these, in a sense. He owned slaves, but only one of his slaves is ever shown, and he refers to Washington as "sir" rather than "master." His views on slavery were never made public, though he did support the abolition efforts of Lafayette and Laurens, and was the only founding father to free all of his slaves in his will. Nonetheless, as a younger man, he was of the same mind toward slavery as any other southern property owner. The subject of Washington as a slaveholder is never touched in the show.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: Averted very well with Benedict Arnold, who is shown to be an invaluable part of the colonial army before he switched sides. The section of the series that focuses on him explains the events surrounding his turn better than a course on American history is likely to.

    Tropes I to P 
  • Idiosyncratic Wipes: Not unlike The Wild Wild West.
  • I'm a Doctor, Not a Placeholder: James protests at one point that he's a journalist, not a mechanic.
  • Indentured Servitude: Discussed Trope, as it was very common in real life. Notably it's part of Henri's backstory and also (in real life) Deborah Sampson's.
  • Informed Ability: Much like in real-life, General Charles Lee is repeatedly touted as the best officer in the Continental Army owing to his wartime experience with the Royal Army, despite being in the presence of fellow veterans like Washington. Also much like in real-life, his actions throughout the war do more harm to the colonial cause than good, eventually getting him court-martialed and spelling the end of his career.
  • Innocence Lost: James in particular when his naivety about the revolution collides with its unpleasant realities he witnesses with it.
    • Heck, it's in the opening theme lyrics! ("Feeling the pain as innocence dies...")
  • I Resemble That Remark!: In Lafayette's introductory episode, Washington complains that he dreads meeting what he perceives as another "preening foreigner playing at war" and only seeking glory—to Alexander Hamilton, a cocky foreigner who is definitely here for the military glory. Hamilton flinches and bites his tongue.
  • Jerkass: James starts out as something of this, but has a My God, What Have I Done? three episodes in.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: James. Sarah could count at the beginning of the series.
  • Karma Houdini:
    • Mr. Petty-John, Sarah's guide to Ohio, would count considering what he does.
    • Also, Benedict Arnold, who managed to evade capture, but is not ultimately on the winning side.
    • All of the slave owners in the show, including Jefferson and Washington.
      • Unless you count Henry Laurens. While the fact that he owns slaves is never brought up in the series, his relationship to slavery historically took something of a tragic turn. He was somewhat estranged from his abolitionist son, Lt. Col. John Laurens. But after the younger Laurens was killed in battle while trying to realize his vision of giving slaves freedom in return for military service, Henry began to reconsider his stance on slavery, and eventually supported proposals for gradual abolition.
  • Kick the Dog: Various historical characters get their own moment. However, one of the most obvious is during the American siege of Yorktown. In order to conserve supplies, Cornwallis leaves the blacks who joined his army to fend for themselves.
    • Ben Franklin's older brother abuses him after he learns that Ben has been writing a popular newspaper column under a pseudonym. This treatment is what causes Ben to ultimately leave Boston.
  • Kid Detective: Well, kid investigative reporters.
  • Kid Hero: And they stay that way.
  • Kleptomaniac Hero: Henri starts out as this.
  • The Knights Who Say "Squee!":
    • Captain John Paul Jones is a huge fan of Benjamin Franklin, even naming his ship Bonhomme Richard after "Poor Richard's Almanac". When his crew rescues a shipwrecked Sarah, he's delighted to have one of Ben's newspaper correspondents on his ship. Sarah later explains her reasons for quitting, and John Paul sympathetically tells her that eventually she'll have to make a choice on how she wants to live with the horrors that she's seen.
    • The Marquis de Lafayette escapes from France to the States so that he can work with George Washington, the American general he admires. At first Washington thinks that it's an act, that Lafayette is seeking glory, but then he realizes that Lafayette is sincere.
  • Limited Wardrobe: In the 14 years that took place, the main characters went absolutely everywhere wearing the same outfits. Even when crawling through the mud and forests, Sarah would still wear her dainty little gown (she DOES end up in men's clothes on two occasions.)
    • Actually, this is accurate, as folks of the time only would have 1-2 sets of clothes. Still, you'd think in 14 years they might grow.
  • Made a Slave: Moses and Henri in their backstories. Yes, Henri, a white boy, and it's specifically said not to be indentured servitude. Try finding a high-school textbook that makes the distinction.
    • Slavery in the colonies was not initially race-based. It only became so because the African slave trade was flourishing (thanks to Muslim invaders in Africa making some very lucrative trade deals with privateers and pirates from Europe and the Americas). The Irish, Roma and several other European peoples also suffered as slaves in America up until the time slavery was legally abolished by the 13th amendment. It is possible that Henri is Romani himself, and that's why the captain exploited his situation.
  • Lyrical Dissonance: The theme song is a bouncy bubblegum pop tune about having your innocence dashed by the horrors of reality.
  • Man Hug: Lafayette and Washington are very fond of these.
  • Meet Cute: James getting struck on the head with a book-stuffed pillowcase by Sarah who assumes he's come to capture her... in the midst of the Boston Tea Party.
  • Memento Macguffin: James has his mother's wedding ring and Sarah has the gold locket her father gave her. Then it's twisted around when said locket is lost in Boston Harbor and James uses his ring to forge a new one for Sarah.
  • Minored In Ass Kicking: Thomas Paine, albeit very briefly. When rabble-rousers try to attack him and the kids, he grabs a brick, screams, and starts chasing them.
  • Mysterious Past: All the main characters have one.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: General Howe sets up winter quarters in Philadelphia and occupies the American capital, forcing the Congress to flee and many residents to write off the war effort as hopeless as Howe and his troops make themselves comfortable. As history states, Howe was to support General Burgoyne in his offensive in New York to cut off New England and "cleave the colonies in two"; come Burgoyne's surrender at Saratoga and the announcement of France's entry in the war, Howe and his concierge certainly aren't celebrating.
    • Lampshaded by Ben Franklin when he meets the British in their bid to win him over to their side.
    British Spy: Perhaps you haven't heard, but General Howe has taken Philadelphia.
    Ben Franklin: I like to think Philadelphia has taken Howe.
  • No Hugging, No Kissing: Lots of hints dropped, but James and Sarah never did end up as anything more than friends.
  • No Sympathy:
    • James to Sarah when she decides to return to England, but she changes her mind.
    • Not to mention the initial lack of sympathy towards the poor guy who gets tarred and feathered...
    • It's subverted when John Paul Jones learns why Sarah stopped writing for Ben Franklin's newspaper. They have a serious talk about how to live with the horrors of war, including the injustices that she's seen. While John Paul Jones would rather have Sarah on his side, he tells her with sympathy that deciding where you stand is never an easy choice to make. You have to make that choice sooner or later, however, and can't put it off.
  • Not Allowed to Grow Up: Although the events of the series span 14 years of history, the show featured kid characters who never appear to age even while the adults around them do. After all, by the end of the series, the trio should have been entering their late 20s. Henri doesn't even get Character Development!
  • Officer and a Gentleman: Sarah's father, a major of the Seven Years' War, Ohio territory explorer, and even a friend to the Indians sheltering him.
  • One-Steve Limit: An interesting variation dealing with hair color, in that Sarah is the only true ginger in the series. This despite the fact that some of the historical characters—among them, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton—were redheads in real life. Any historical ginger has their hair either darkened to auburn or lightened to strawberry blond, or even just plain blond.
    • Played straight with the general absence of historical characters named Sarah, including Ben Franklin's own daughter (who went by Sally). Averted with James, however; African American spy James Armistead plays a prominent role in the climactic episodes of the series.
    • Moses also meets a historical character, Moses Michael Hayes, who points out their shared first name. Played for Laughs when James comes looking for his friend Moses in Moses Hayes' store.
  • Opposites Attract: James, the poor, orphaned, American patriot, and Sarah, the rich English loyalist.
  • Parental Abandonment: None of the main teenage characters live with their parents. Sarah is the only one whose parents are still alive.
    • Mentioned by Alexander Hamilton as part of his backstory. His father abandoned the family when Alexander was 10, and his mother died two years later.
    • While it's oddly not brought up in the series, this is part of the reason Lafayette admires Washington and regards him as a father figure. His own father was KIA during the French and Indian War, when Lafayette was too young to remember him.
  • Parental Substitute: Moses for Henri and James. He's more grounded in the realities of the world they're in.
  • Pet the Dog: The British soldier that goes back for Cato and the slaves abandoned at Yorktown, hiding them until the battle is over and does Shoo the Dog because it's the right thing to do. Cato when he finds Moses again mentions that other people have done the same over the past six years since Yorktown.
  • Pietà Plagiarism: Tom
  • Plucky Comic Relief: Henri.
  • Politically Correct History: Mostly averted. Although the kids are friends with Moses, most of society still treats blacks the way they were in the 18th century, albeit in a way that children's programming can swallow.
  • Put on a Bus: General Howe after France's entry into the war. Justified as history states he resigned shortly after this turn of events despite his success against Washington and was replaced by Sir Henry Clinton, as confirmed onscreen by General Greene.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: John Paul Jones succeeds in catching a British ship with valuable supplies, but at the cost of losing his beloved Bonhomme Richard. He mourns her as she sinks.

    Tropes R to Y 
  • Recursive Canon: One of the "Now and Then" segments talks about spending an evening at home. "Now" a kid is seen watching TV in his room. The show we hear playing is none other than Liberty's Kids!
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized: Not that it dwells on it for very long, but the show doesn't dismiss that the American Revolution was initiated by angry colonists who were mostly seen as radical idiots at the time. Not to mention the tar-and-feathering...
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Vilified: Monkeywrenched. Although generally the American Revolution is portrayed as a good thing, the British and Loyalists are allowed to express their points of view and even look like the good guys on occasion, what with the Brits offering freedom to slaves and the Continentals, especially slaveholders like George Washington, refusing to do so. It even shows the colonists as actual bad guys at some points, especially considering the mob violence against the Loyalists and the privations the Native Peoples suffer in the war.
    • Not that it justifies anything, but the Native Americans weren't exactly innocent themselves. Joseph Brant, to the show's credit, mentions that he fought on the side of the British and lost. He didn't like what happened, obviously, but he was not surprised by the results of his defeat.
  • Romanticism Versus Enlightenment: The American and French Revolutions are firmly on the enlightenment side. Sarah Phillips is much more Romanticist in her values.
  • Running Gag: In the final episode, Sarah and James are trying to listen to the American politicians drafting the Constitution and multiple laws. The guards keep escorting them out, closing doors and windows, and cornering them when they get caught.
  • Sacrificial Lion: Sarah's cousin Tom, among others.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: Early in the show, when Sarah's still a loyal British subject, she often uses this as a reason to still tag along to help foil the British if letting them be would lead to bloodshed or her friends getting hurt.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: In The New Frontier, after pacifistic Shawnee chief Cornstalk and his son are wrongfully executed by Patriots at Fort Randolph, Sarah quits her job as a reporter and outright leaves the colonies and returns to England. She comes back though three episodes later.
  • Senseless Sacrifice: James can't understand why Nathan died, why he gave up his life for an ideal at first while writing his obituary.
  • Sequel Hook: In the final episode, Moses is angered that the Constitutional Convention does not outlaw slavery, and says that it will likely take another war to end it for good.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: Moses when he tries to free his brother Cato from slavery. At first he tries to buy them, but the auctioneers protest a black man making a purchase at an auction. Then he tries to break into Cato's new "home" and save him, only for Cato to refuse because he doesn't want Moses to get in trouble, though Moses gets caught anyway. Years later, Moses learns Cato is fighting for the British at Yorktown, and searches for him among the slaves that were caught by the Americans. Then he keeps looking for about six years afterward, only for Cato to come to him and revealing that he's a fugitive. To save Cato from being returned to his owner, Moses agrees to send him with a loyalist woman to Canada.
  • She Is Not My Girlfriend: James and Sarah, as noted below.
  • Shown Their Work:
    • Some elements of Politically Correct History aside, the show is a rather insightful look into its time period and gives several facts about its prominent figures that most U.S. history books would leave out.
    • There actually were black people who bought and owned slaves. Some were former slaves who went on to buy slaves themselves for profit (concentrated in the South), some were fellow slaves trying to keep their family together, some were mixed race offspring of slaves and slave owners and inherited their parent's slaves, and some were ex-slaves who bought slaves with intent to free them, similar to Moses. (Which form was the most common is a matter of some debate, as is who the first slave owner was and whether they were black or not.)
    • Books on the American Revolutionary War that are written for children often mention Tar and Feathers in passing detail, giving the impression that it was some bizarre but ultimately harmless form of humiliation. This show goes to great lengths to show how exceptionally painful it actually was, including the fact that the tar would stick to the skin, similar to napalm.
  • Sick Episode: Sarah contracts Smallpox in "An American In Paris." More accurately, she gets inoculated for smallpox and has a reaction, most likely a mild form of the disease. She gets better, though.
  • Silk Hiding Steel: Do not underestimate Sarah Phillips. She's full of British Stuffiness, but she knows how to defend herself in a tight spot, come up with quick plans to save herself or her friends, and has written newspaper articles that even pirates from abroad have read.
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: James and Sarah's relationship can be interpreted this way.
  • Slipknot Ponytail: Actually happens once to Sarah.
  • The Smurfette Principle: While at first glance this appears to be Sarah's role, her being female is more of a bonus; her main purpose in the story is to be a loyalist contrast to the rest of the revolutionary main cast.
  • Sorry That I'm Dying: Nathan Hale, of course.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: The result of an innocent man getting subjected to Tar and Feathers, the show intentionally undermining the seriousness of it until James comes to mockingly interview the man and finding him near-death instead. The tar is boiled so the feathers (and underlying clothes) stick to the victim's skin, which results in having to peel and tear the skin layer off to remove any of it. The doctor present even specifies that the risk of infection from such severe injuries is so high that it already settled in, meaning the victim is likely to die in the near-future, and to top it all off, the salty tears of pain trigger the burns and removed skin enough to make the man continuously cry in a never-ending cycle of agony. James takes all of this to solemn heart.
  • Sympathetic P.O.V.: In many of the episodes, a good deal of time is spent seeing the conflict through the eyes of the British, and showing the reasoning and justifications of their actions during the war.
    • Providing this is actually Sarah's job in the newspaper.
  • Sweet Polly Oliver:
    • John Paul Jones dresses up Sarah in sailor's garb when they encounter a ship worried about meeting the famed pirate, and not knowing that they're talking to the actual Jones.
    • Sarah is present when "Robert Shurtlieff," actually Deborah Sampson, is outed after she gets shot in combat and contracts illness.
  • Tagalong Kid: Henri at times, although he certainly has his uses.
  • Tar and Feathers: In episode 3, James watches as an innocent man is tarred and feathered by a mob and joins in their mocking. This lasts until he is later informed how horrific the act can be and meets the man being treated for it, near-death.
    • Later in the series, in episode 27, he stands up to a mob of angry laborers who want to tar-and-feather a wealthy Tory, delaying them long enough for soldiers to arrive and restore order.
  • Team Mom: Sarah, as shown when she hugs Henri after a horse nearly tramples him.
  • The Theme Park Version: Averted, for the most part.
  • Throw the Dog a Bone: In Lafayette's first episode, Henri told Lafayette that he could be the latter's son and hold his "shiny buttons". In Lafayette's last episode, he reveals to Henri that he wants to adopt him and take him back to France. Small wonder that Henri jumps into his arms with joy.
  • Token Good Teammate: Many of the Loyalist forces use the slaves as cannon fodder at Yorktown. One Hessian soldier runs back for the slaves abandoned by the British at Yorktown. He tells them Come with Me If You Want to Live and hides them until the battle is over. When Cato asks him why, the Hessian said that someone had to do the right thing.
  • Token Trio: Sarah, a Loyalist, James, a Patriot, and Henri, a Frenchman. They all represent key actors involved in the American Revolution.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Henri loves pastries with jelly on them.
  • Tokyo Is the Center of the Universe: Well, Philadelphia.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Nathan Hale, a spy in British territory. He admits to Henri, James and Sarah that he's a spy, without knowing of their allegiances, and calls out to "patriots" to an approaching boat before he realizes it's full of British soldiers. This leads to him getting caught and killed.
  • Traveling at the Speed of Plot: Played with. The characters mention roughly accurate travel periods for the time, but often, news makes it to faraway places way faster than it should have.
  • True Companions: The three kids eventually form this amongst themselves, with Ben and Moses.
  • Tsundere: Sarah is often a Type A towards James throughout their story arcs, and this element to her personality brings the underlying UST in their relationship.
  • Vague Age: The characters' ages are rather unclear, considering how many years are passing during the context of the show despite everyone's appearances not aging at all.
  • Vocal Evolution: While the three kids' physical designs don't change, their voices do sound somewhat more mature with the show's progression.
    • They probably didn't think they looked older and that's why. Also, most children's clothing of the era was just scaled-down copies of adult clothing, so their style of dress wouldn't have changed at all.
  • We Hardly Knew Ye: Sarah’s cousin Tom, a redcoat who dies on the first day of the war, in order to demonstrate that War Is Hell.
  • Wham Line:
    • Delivered by Sarah: "I want to go home... to England!"
    • A doctor delivers one to Sarah after examining a wounded soldier with chest bindings: "Robert isn't a he. He's a she."
    • For Sarah, Great George's, "Your home is secured for the winter, master," to Thomas Jefferson is this, as she comes to realize he owns slaves.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?:
    • Benedict Arnold vanishes from the scene just before things gear up for the climactic Battle of Yorktown; Justified, as Arnold was not present in the battle and ultimately returned to England before he could ever face justice for his treachery.
  • What the Hell, Hero?:
    • The basic plot for Sarah visiting Thomas Jefferson's home and discovering that the writer of "All men are created equal" is a slaveholder.
    • General Charles Lee voicing his disregard for General Washington and insisting that attacking the British forces retreating from Philadelphia is a pointless endeavor. So much so that even Henri is questioning his loyalty. Justified given Lee's actions at Monmouth shortly after.
    • Also Sarah calling out Washington for returning slaves that aided the British to their owners after the battle of Yorktown. He only tells her it's the law, and "one war at a time" when she insists that the law is terrible.
    • Sarah and James to James Madison when they're not allowed to cover the Constitutional Convention as part of the press. He jokes that he wants the historians to read his notes and Franklin insists that the politicians need to focus, but they have a point in that great changes will be coming to the country.
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist:
    • Befitting their age, James and Sarah are initially blind to their patriotism toward their respective home countries, though it doesn't take long for them to see the truth of things. This is referenced in the lyrics of the theme song: "Feeling the pain as innocence dies."
    • Lafayette is also one, even as he's exposed to the horrors of war. He comes to aid the States at a great personal cost because he believes in the ideals of freedom and hopes to bring the same to France.
  • Worf Effect: Moses is tall, black and intimidating. So when he's left beaten and unconscious after an assault on the print shop, the kids know the fears of Philadelphia's denizens are justified.
  • Yank the Dog's Chain: Just as Sarah finds her father at last, she witnesses atrocities that happen to a Native chief and his son, and realizes that she can't handle the horrors. He reluctantly lets her go back to England, and they never reunite onscreen for the rest of the series.

"I'm hoping and praying for a brighter day
I listen to my heart and I obey
How can I see it any other way?
Looking at life (looking at life)
Through my own eyes"