The character of Benjamin Martin was originally meant to be The Swamp Fox, Francis Marion, but for the sake of telling the best 'dramatic' story and perhaps avoiding some controversy, the filmmakers fictionalized the character and the story. They then added elements of the historic figures of Elijah Clarke, Brigadier General Daniel Morgan, Andrew Pickens and Thomas Sumter to the character of Benjamin Martin. Such a move also covered for the historical inaccuracies that always appear in films.
Martin's hit and run tactics and nickname 'The Ghost' were inspired by Francis Marion, while the tactics of using the militia on the front to draw the British in the final battle were based on similar tactics used by Daniel Morgan at the Battle of Cowpens. Thomas Sumter and Andrew Pickens' influence seems to be that both rejoined the fight after the British burned their homes and in Sumter's case, made his wife and son watch their house burn.
Benjamin Martin is the central character of the film since the film focuses on the Martin family, of which Benjamin is the patriarch. However he isn't THE Patriot. That title belongs to his son, Gabriel. Benjamin is a man who has been through war before with the French and Indian War and has a large family to care for now. Since his wife, Elizabeth died of illness in 1773, he is a single parent when war begins. As such his family is his priority and, as he tells Colonel Harry Burwell, his convictions are secondary, so he sits out the beginning of the war.
However, the actions of his oldest sons, Gabriel and Thomas, force him to join the fight not so much out of patriotism, but in an effort to protect and keep as much of his family together as he can. Benjamin also seems to be motivated by revenge which cultimates in his duel with the British officer responsible for both Gabrial and Thomas' deaths. The backdrop of war is an extreme case, but many of Benjamin Martin's decisions and personal sacrifices are common to all parents.
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