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Fraser, J.

Erin (Ont.), Boston Mills Press, c1985. 142pp, paper, $9.95, ISBN 0-919783-20-1. CIP

Grades 10 and up
Reviewed by Cornelia Fuykschot

Volume 14 Number 2
1986 March

Daniel Fraser was a wheelwright, a Scotsman, and a Presbyterian, Ezekiel Taylor was a New Englander, a blacksmith, and a Puritan. They lived in New-town, up the Hudson River a little north of the Mohawk, and the wheels made by Daniel would be shoed by Ezekiel. They had every reason to be friends, yet they became bitter enemies: Daniel went recruiting men for the King's cause, while Ezekiel became a major in the rebel army. One of his recruits was John Fraser, Daniel's oldest son. How could two men, ostensibly so close socially, religiously, and culturally become such bitter enemies, and how could the son join his father's destructor? The philosophical fabric of New England and New York at the time of the American Revolution was made up of many strands, all of European origin: feudalism, with its strong sense of attachment to one's lord, predestination, with its unflinching self-reliance, and, surprisingly, on the rebel side, a strong attachment to a classicism that permitted every free man to swathe his moral self in a Roman noble's toga and be infused with an ardent desire to serve the "good of the republic." These and other myths marched men to their graves and nations to glory. It is these intangible wisps of thought that ultimately affect the lives of everyone.

As we follow Daniel's fate, we walk through Albany's grassy streets, where the cows amble home at night, each to be milked before her own master's house, while neighbours lean over their under-door for a quiet chat in Dutch; a scene of unsurpassed pastoral peace. Meanwhile, in the centre of town, below the town hall, a jail is so chock full of Loyalists, that the stench they emit makes it necessary for the staunch city fathers to smoke while they meet, in order to keep from fainting. When they begin to solve the problem by hanging a few prisoners each day, a prison riot breaks out. America's first?

After escaping from jail, Daniel and his recruits assist General Burgoyne in his difficult transportation problems. They work as bateaux men, bringing food and supplies down from Canada, and after Burgoyne's surrender, when Daniel finds that he can be of no assistance to his wife Sarah while he must remain in hiding in the woods, we move with him to Canada, where the governor parcelled out woods and food to all comers. Woods he had aplenty, but of food there was a great scarcity. Eventually, Sarah can join her husband and start a new life in Ernestown. The story ends with the onset of the war of 1812.

Here we meet all sorts of people: landlords and military men, preachers and Indians, women and children, all depicted with a warm understanding and a fine sense of humour that makes the book a pleasure to read. Then one realizes that this is no story, this is well-researched historical fact, documented by pages of footnotes. While the author's sympathies lie with the Loyalist cause, it becomes very clear that both sides considered the revolution a winner-take-all proposition, and that the heroics were mainly to be found in surviving in wintery woods and germ-infested jails, often with little or no food, and in the back-breaking work of clearing the primeval forest of Canada. Both the philosophical underpinnings of the revolution and its day-to-day execution come to life. This book is a must for every school library and strongly recommended to both students and teachers of the period.

Cornelia Fuykschot, Gananoque S.S., Gananoque, Ont.
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