CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 26 . . . . March 9, 2012
Freedom Bound is the third volume of Jean Rae Baxter's trilogy about the American War of Independence, focussing on those who chose the side of the British crown rather than that of the Thirteen Colonies. In the first volume, This Way Lies North, (reviewed by Betty Klassen in CM, Vol. XIV, No. 7) 15-year-old Charlotte Hooper and her family leave what is now New York state in 1777, and, with the guidance of members of the Mohawk Nation, arrive at Fort Haldiman in British territory (present day Ontario). There, they and other Loyalists endure a tough winter under canvas. Eventually Charlotte marries Nick Schuyler, her old schoolmate, who serves as a courier for the British.
I reviewed Broken Trail, the second volume of the trilogy (CM, Vol. XVII, No. 26), which centred on a New York youth kidnapped and raised by Oneidas, then captured by British redcoats and eventually used as a courier to warn a British officer in North Carolina of an imminent attack. The historic Battle of King's Mountain, (October 1780) a turning point toward eventual American victory, was important in Broken Trail and is mentioned in Freedom Bound in a letter that Charlotte receives from Nick shortly after her arrival in Charleston in 1780.
Eighteen-year-old Charlotte Schuyler has travelled from Quebec to Charleston, South Carolina, to meet her husband, Nick. To her disappointment, he isn't there to greet her. He is spying in the interior, gathering intelligence about the level of Loyalist support so that General Cornwallis can decide whether or not to invade. Since Charleston is controlled by the British who have 8,000 British and Loyalist troops there to defend it, both Nick and Charlotte imagine that she will be safe.
But Charleston is crowded and tense because of the thousands of homeless slaves who have flooded the city to claim their freedom. The British promised freedom to the slaves of "rebels" (a.k.a "patriots" : supporters of American independence) as a tactic, not as a humanitarian step. Slaves owned by Loyalists to Britain were not set free.
"All a slave had to do," Captain Braemar tells Charlotte, "was stay behind British lines for one year, helping the military. At the end of the year, he'd be granted a General Birch certificate. Owning that certificate made him a free man." Many slaves don't know which side their owners were on, and didn't care. Loyalist owners are pursuing their runaway "property," and many slaves face brutal physical punishment if caught. Baxter succeeds in showing the fallacy of labelling one side as "good" and the other as "bad" in this war.
Since the officers' quarters have no room for Charlotte, she boards with a widowed Quaker laundress. Soon, she learns that Mrs. Doughty hides runaway slaves in her cellar. The plight of Phoebe and her baby enlists Charlotte's sympathies and assistance. When Nick returns, the two form a plan to save Phoebe, but the project is interrupted when Nick is kidnapped by rebel sympathizers who know that he has been spying and want to extract from him the identities of Loyalist sympathizers.
Charlotte's physical ability to hike through a 'gator filled Carolina swamp to rescue Nick should have been established earlier in the novel. A wilderness journey is evoked with more atmosphere in Broken Trail. Also disappointing is the muted nature of Charlotte's emotional responses. For instance, the only thoughts she expresses about Phoebe's violent experiences in contrast to her own happy relationship with Nick are those quoted at the beginning of this review. Again, after a trying journey, when Charlotte finds her husband chained in a cave, their exchange does not convey the strong feelings that one might expect:
Have Charlotte's wartime bereavements and hardships numbed her, or is she simply someone with a limited emotional range?
Other novels for young people have better conveyed the excitement of teenage love without being improper or in bad taste. Charlotte and Nick are more like good buddies than newlyweds starved for each other's company. Near the end, Nick declines the offer of a room for them in Lewis Morley's luxurious mansion which has been appropriated by the British to house their officers. Nick supposes, rightly, that his bride would prefer to stay on at Mrs. Doughty's small house, occupied by six people in addition to themselves, and sleep on a straw pallet on the hard wooden floor of the main room.
Any passion in this novel is directed against the evils of slavery. The sections dealing with this abominable system are well presented, particularly the final twist in which a slave owner attempts to seize and sell his infant son.
The sophisticated subject matter and the newlywed status of the principal characters might have attracted older teenagers, but the novel's potential is undercut by the simple vocabulary, suited to the 10 to 12-year-old set, and the handling of the young couple's relationship. Older teens might prefer Lawrence Hill's The Book of Negroes.
Ruth Latta's latest novel, The Old Love and the New Love (Ottawa, Baico, 2012, $18.95) blends humour, romance, history and action.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.