The Immigrant: One from My Four Legged Stool
by Alfred Woollacott III
About the book:
A historical saga that covers a winter of 1650-1651 journey of John Law, a young Scotsman captured by the English Lord Cromwell’s forces in seventeenth-century Scotland during the Battle of Dunbar. He survives a death march to Durham, England and is eventually sent to Massachusetts Bay Colony as an indentured servant, arriving aboard the ship Unity that was carrying around 150 prisoners of war from different Scottish clans. Now an outcast, and in the sanctuary of the new colony, John starts over as an immigrant in a Puritan theocracy. He is first indentured to the Saugus Iron Works and then to Concord as a public shepherd in West Concord (now Acton). The young man faces obstacles often beyond his control, and his only ally is his faith. After his indenture is served he struggles a near lifetime to obtain title to his promised land. From start to finish The Immigrant is an intoxicating journey that follows the travails of John, his faith in God, his good wife and growing family.
Paperback: 416 pages
Publication Date: January 1, 2015
My Review and Examination:
“We all have unique four legged stools, each leg an outshoot from our grandparents who contributed to our being.”
So begins author Alfred Woollacott III’s introductory remarks to The Immigrant, historical fiction detailing the life of John Law, an unwilling Scottish immigrant—from the stool leg representing the author’s maternal grandmother—whose time co-incides with such historical figures as Mary Rowlandson of the famous captivity narrative and Metacom of King Philip’s War, though his own life is “too insignificant for the historian’s lens.”
Woollacott’s musings on how we are shaped includes consideration of our forebears, the histories they endured and repetitions that occur through time, pulsing along with biological bonds and ancestral recall, a sort of collective memory inhabiting each of us that we receive and pass down, along with our own additions. This is illustrated in The Immigrant’s opening scenes, wherein Reuben Law’s inner essence carries readers from the American Revolution’s opening salvos at Lexington and Concord (1775) back in time to the Battle of Dunbar (1650), part of the third in a series of English civil wars. Doon Hill is where we meet up with Reuben’s—and the author’s—ancestor, John Law, who is captured, sold into indentured servitude and sent off to the colonies.
From the beginning Law harbors negative attitudes toward the English, as they demonstrate much the same, though he aims high for his future while simultaneously mourning the loss of his mother—who probably thinks he has been killed in battle—and any way to communicate with her.
Central to the larger story, however, is a parcel of land he acquires and names “New Scotland,” and which through time he fights for as key within a gift he is building for his future, that being the time ahead within his own life as well as long after. A sense of place runs through the novel, not only as pertains to New Scotland, but also within Law’s focus forward and the land’s role as conduit in his relationships with those yet to come. On one occasion he stands atop a hill on a peninsula near Charlestown and contemplates a foreboding.
“[The hill] sent chills though John’s back muscles to the nape of his neck. The hill wasn’t a windswept brae, it was nothing like Doon Hill, yet, for some reason, it was. He stepped toward it and saw the future. He sensed soldiers storming the hill, and fear-filled men atop the hill, hiding behind breastworks. John was afraid, and an incomprehensible eeriness captivated him. Perhaps his soul knew a descendant, Reuben Law, years later would be behind the breastworks, atop of what would then be known as Bunker Hill.”
It is a bit of a twist for the sense of history when past figures contemplate those not yet born—not merely for what these figures hope to gift descendants, but also what they might experience and the kinship of emotion that reverberates through time. Periodically Woollacott’s narrative reminds readers of the running memory known to the soul, though not necessarily the individual, solidifying a contemplation of the links between generations infused with an essence that survives death.
On its face, however, The Immigrant is John Law’s story, told mainly through his point of view, though jaunts into others’ perspectives occur as well. We travel through his days and years as he works for independence, marries, has children and the family rise and fall together. Though the book could do with a more vigorous edit, Woollacott quite finely guides us through individual days or longer periods, deftly gifting us experience of the time, with finer details of what it was like to live in an era many of us cover only briefly in our lessons as we pass through a series of disputes, battles and wars between colonists and Natives. Historical figures make appearances, as do those whose lives we know nothing of but for authors such as Woollacott, whose painstaking research maps out for us a greater structure and narrative to better understand what it is we may be remembering in our biological bonds.
One thing I liked the very best about Woollacott’s style is his ability to tell a simple story that can easily be read as such, while also containing these and other layers and threads of historical reality, contemplation and an almost paranormal tincture that can be explored as little or much as readers wish. He also has a way with foreshadowing that sends little prickles down one’s neck, a response that indicates how much we really are invested not only in the past, but also our past.
Centuries from now, most of us, having occupied the same rungs of society’s ladder John Law did in his own time, will be remembered on various levels, the challenge being the question of which. Woollacott references a quote from British poet and historian Thomas B. Macaulay:
“People who take no pride in the noble achievements of remote ancestors will never achieve anything worthy to be remembered with pride by remote descendants.”
A fascinating glimpse into the history of one family, a colony, region and seventeenth-century society, The Immigrant details the differences through time between its Scottish and English settlers with emphasis on how they see their lives, themselves and each other, not how we do, bringing voice to those who too often do not have one.
About the Author:
Alfred Woollacott III retired after a career spanning 34 years, choosing to reside full time at his summer residence on Martha’s Vineyard. Being “45 minutes from America” and with a 50—60 hour per week void to fill, he began dabbling into his family history. His dabbling grew into an obsession, and he published several genealogical summaries of his ancestors. But certain ones absorbed him such that he could not leave them. So he researched their lives and times further while evolving his writing skills from “just the facts ma’am” to a fascinating narrative style. Thus with imagination anchored in fact and tempered with plausibility, a remote ancestor can achieve a robust life as envisioned by a writer with a few drops of his ancestor’s blood in his veins.
When not writing, Al serves on several boards and keeps physically active with golf, tennis, and hockey. He and his wife of 44 years, Jill, have four children and ten grandchildren.
Tour Schedule: Blog Stops
Book Review – Locks, Hooks and Book
Book Review– before the second sleep
Book Excerpt – A Bookaholic Swede
Guest Post – A Literary Vacation
The author provided a copy of The Immigrant
in order to facilitate an honest review
It has been a pleasure to co-ordinate with Novel Expressions Blog Tours
and I look forward to more great reading and recommendations!
This blog entry has been updated to reflect a
correction within the list of blog stop dates.