Tales From a Revolution: New Jersey
by Lars D. H. Hedbor
See below to get your free copy of The Declaration.
Having established himself, with The Prize, as an able and talented author of historical fiction set in Revolutionary America, Lars D.H. Hedbor presents to us more of this era from the perspective of another colonial citizen. This time round the author of The Light sets his tale in New Jersey, where many of the events lead up to General Washington’s famous crossing of the Delaware.
Hedbor writes his novels as events that occur alongside the Revolution, putting the spotlight on ordinary people and in the process giving us an authentic glimpse into what life was like for those such as ourselves. While Washington is referenced several times in the course of the story—and the thrill of this is palpable for characters and readers alike—Robert Harris and those around him are the real stars of the show.
Robert is a well-regarded blacksmith in Colonial Trenton, though as a devout Quaker he faces a crushing choice in light of his and his community’s circumstance. As a peace-loving people, the Society of Friends abhor the use of violence, and decline to take part in activities against the king’s rule. However, as Robert predicts, there will come a time when they no longer will be able to ignore the abuses committed against the colonists, as their freedoms, including that of religious observance, will be stripped away.* His own father has spoken with their worship group and suggested Robert be “read out” of their meeting—that is to say, denied participation in Society of Friends’ fellowship.
Creating a Quaker protagonist is a marvelous choice, not merely for the sake of diversity, but also because it reveals the colonies’ complex nature. Having to flesh out the significance of revolutionary activities from a variety of perspectives tells a much larger story of how a small and ragtag army took on a superpower and won. Hedbor also has Quakers in The Light utilize speech that includes such linguistic features as the familiar first-person singular pronoun thou (you at the time being the plural form). This was a familiar address they engage, regardless who they are talking with, to indicate their belief in the equality of all, in opposition to the practice of the time in which thou was used to address one’s social inferiors. An intriguing word in the author’s end notes informs readers of the difference between this and modern-day usage, which exists minus the corresponding verb forms (typically ending in st ).†
“Father, [Robert said angrily, “]thou knowest that the King and Parliament are committing violence against these colonies, in contravention of all commitments to respect the freedoms we are due as Englishmen. How long can it be before they sweep away all of their commitments, and we are forced to attend services in the King’s churches, or to tolerate the keeping of slaves by our neighbors? If they can change their word so easily in one matter, what stops them from all things being malleable in their hands?”
Nevertheless, Peter insists upon Robert’s return to Quaker ways or be read out, and the narrative foreshadows the establishment of the Free Quakers, a schism supportive of the rebels but keen to maintain relationship with their inner light, a metaphor referring to the light and guidance of Christ. In meeting, Quakers meditate upon the Bible, and when they feel the presence of Christ in their heart, they address their peers. Robert’s friend Charles later voices his fear of exclusion from this setting in following their conscience, but also for the group as a whole: “What have we to gain by staying within a community that fails to act in its own defense?” Robert later concurs, wearily stating that “the only peace they are working toward at present is the silent slumber of the grave.”
Hedbor’s dialogue from opposing sides is remarkable as he manages to articulate perspectives from all involved parties, credible in tone as well as word. Though many of us might find for Robert in this situation, Peter and the others’ objections are persuasive, and readers are given an exceptionally effective view to how truly difficult it was to quit one’s own community, and the losses they face no matter which way they turn.
On another level—as if the possibility of war and break from everything one holds dear isn’t enough—Robert faces conflict with a fellow colonial and businessman determined to undermine him. The dual plots run parallel as events carry Robert, friends and family from one instance to the next, not realizing all the while how intertwined it all really is. The author successfully brings us through Robert’s wins and losses, touching on themes such as patriotism, defense, justice, punishment, compassion, responsibility, acceptance and community. Though there are no actual battle scenes, Hedbor illuminates the inner turmoil of one set of individuals, and the warring that occurs within one’s self.
As is true of The Prize, Hedbor crafts a magnificent story that stays fresh, captivates and thrills, with beautiful prose of his own and at least one famous quote recognizable by every American: “Now we have our freedom again, if we can but keep it.” The passions of the characters are acutely felt, and readers sense the rising glory of Charles’s joy, and indeed will share his sentiment that it is an “exciting day to be an American and a patriot”—or anyone at all who cherishes freedom. That the author manages to skillfully pack all of this and more into less than 200 pages is a testament to his ability to write with economy, still telling a story larger than any of us could imagine living.
As a final note pertaining to dialogue and prose, Hedbor’s is amongst the finest. Poetic at times,
He quietly left the house, breathing in the crisp morning air as the world around him seemed to stretch its limbs and welcome another day.
fluid and smooth in its transitions, readers are likely to complete The Light in short order (perhaps excepting young adult readers, to whom I highly recommend this tale as one not likely to be learned in any classroom), while retaining a sense of longing for more of these stories. To that end they shall not be disappointed, as Hedbor has several more of these treasures telling stories of some early inhabitants of our nation, a collection not to be missed.
*For a brief introduction to origins of Quakerism the Colonies, click here.
About the author ….
What made the American Colonists turn their back on their King, and fight for independence? How were they different from us–and how were their hopes and fears familiar to our own hearts?
These are the sorts of questions that I think are important to ask in examining the American Revolution, and in the pages of my novels, I suggest some possible answers.
My first novel, The Prize, was published in 2011, followed by The Light in 2013, and The Smoke, The Declaration, and The Break in 2014; The Wind was published in 2015. I’ve also written extensively about this era for the Journal of the American Revolution, and have appeared as a featured guest on an Emmy-nominated Discovery Network program, The American Revolution, which premiered nationally on the American Heroes Channel in late 2014.
I am an amateur historian, linguist, brewer, fiddler, astronomer and baker. Professionally, I am a technologist, marketer, writer and father. My love of history drives me to share the excitement of understanding the events of long ago, and how those events touch us still today.
You can follow and learn more about Lars D.H. Hedbor and his books at his website and blog (where you can also obtain a free copy of The Declaration, Hedbor’s favorite in the Tales From a Revolution series), Twitter and Facebook. The Light may be purchased in paperback (signed copies available upon request), as Kindle, Nook, iBook or Kobo.
See my review for The Prize (Tales From a Revolution: Vermont) here.
Photos courtesy Lars D.H. Hedbor
A free copy of The Light was furnished to the blogger in exchange for an honest review