Colonel Harry Burwell had served with Benjamin Martin in the French and Indian War. In the film he is the voice of the Continental Congress and later the Continental Army. He respects Martin, so much so that he defends Martin even while Martin takes a opposite position in a debate concerning Burwell's plea for support from the South Carolina Assembly. Immediately upon Benjamin's arrival in camp, Burwell gives Benjamin a field commission of Captain and command of the state militia. They obviously have a long history and great respect between them that is hinted at in the movie.
The long friendship between Burwell and Martin is better fleshed out in earlier versions of the script. There is some added tension, when Burwell is excited about news of his first child and relates it to the Martins, but he has poor timing since this scene takes place not long after Gabriel's wife, Anne is killed in the Church and was with child in this script draft. In an early version of the script, Colonel Burwell names his first child Gabriel, out of respect for Benjamin Martin.
Perhaps Burwell's backstory was trimmed to better focus the movie on the Martin family and Benjamin and Gabriel's relationship. One way to perhaps give more insight to the character of Burwell is that he is what Martin could have become had he not married and settled down. Otherwise, Burwell is left to be little more than a static, two-dimensional character, with hints of depth. The only ties between Burwell and 'Lighthorse Harry' Lee are their first name.
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