When I was growing up, books about the American Revolution were mostly like this:
I am sorry if this one was your favorite! Apart from the occasional (and excellent) My Brother Sam is Dead, I didn’t read many books where I saw myself as a person affected, disaffected, participating, or even by-standing during the American Revolution. Over the past five years, I’ve read many books about groups of people greatly affected by the Revolution, though their contributions and experiences were new to me. I’m including a short list here; your public library will have more!
I’m including blurbs from Amazon, as well as links (just click on the book image or highlighted link) but I urge you to visit your public library where most, if not all, these books will be available.
Sally Wister’s Journal is an engaging account of a young Quaker girl’s experiences during the American War of Revolution.
Sally Wister is a boy-crazy 16-year-old Quaker girl living in Germantown during the Siege of Philadelphia by the British in 1777. British and American soldiers visit and are quartered at her family’s summer house. This book is great if you need some insight into dialect of the time or want to hop into the head of a girl not so different from teens of today (she muses on clothes, the cuteness of various soldiers, pranks she pulls, and perhaps most memorably for me and I paraphrase here–“Men, all they talk about is food and how hungry they are!!” Good for research or a laugh.
Hannah Callender Sansom
Hannah Callender Sansom (1737–1801) witnessed the effects of the tumultuous eighteenth century: political struggles, war and peace, and economic development.
Tea. Ironing. More tea. Tea with Sukey. Tea with the Drinkers. Ironing. More ironing. Made a patchwork quilt.
This is why I have always resisted reading primary materials/diaries of little-known people when people have told me that they are just as important as the diaries of leaders (those who have the power, ill-gotten or not, to make things happen). BUT STOP THE PRESSES…
I’m reading this for research for my writing project, highlighting all the tea drinking with Sukey and making quince wine when all of a sudden a story will just burst out from Hannah like…paraphrasing here…”did I tell you I went over to someone’s house and her daughter decided to go to Jamaica and the captain sold her to a planter so that she became a kept woman? The enslaved women were jealous of her position so they tried to poison her…so she tried to sneak away on a ship which ran aground so that she then had to take a tiny boat with her infant child and nothing but the clothes on her back and try to get back to Philadelphia where she had been abused by her second husband?” WHAT? and then…samplers…more tea.
So if you keep reading you’ll not only find a clear picture of what Hannah Callender Sansom’s life was like, you’ll also get a couple of incredible stories of wealthy Quakers in the Revolutionary-era. These, to me, are worth more than the editors’ comments on Sansom’s unhappy marriage and neglected quilting.
You can read more about Sally and Hannah here in my blog about women’s friendships in Revolutionary-era Philadelphia.
As his world erupts in open warfare, Robert Harris’ Quaker faith guides him away from the use of violence for any purpose, even if the war could cost him the freedom to practice that faith.
The book is a nice look at Quakers’ struggles during the American Revolution. I liked the idea of the Free Quakers wanting to create boundaries against “evil.”
Aaron Sullivan explores the British occupation of Philadelphia, chronicling the experiences of a group of people who were pursued, pressured, and at times persecuted, not because they chose the wrong side of the Revolution but because they tried not to choose a side at all.
For research…really well-written and thought-provoking about those (especially Quakers) who remained “neutral” during the American Revolution…why they did so and the costs and benefits. Also lots of great details on the Siege of Philadelphia.
An independent-minded young maid tells the story of social-climber Peggy Shippen and how she influenced Benedict Arnold’s betrayal of the Patriot forces.
More Quakers in the midst of the American Revolution. A fun middle-grade read.
An intimate account of the American Revolution as seen through the eyes of a Quaker pacifist couple living in Philadelphia.
Death or Liberty
In Death or Liberty, Douglas R. Egerton offers a sweeping chronicle of African American history stretching from Britain’s 1763 victory in the Seven Years’ War to the election of slaveholder Thomas Jefferson as president in 1800.
Every paragraph in this book could be a book in itself. An in-depth look at the promise of liberty for all that fell short for Black Americans (including those who fought on both sides of the War), but inspired many uprisings.
In this compelling sequel to Chains, a National Book Award finalist and winner of the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction, acclaimed author Laurie Halse Anderson shifts perspective from Isabel to Curzon and brings to the table the tale of what it takes for runaway slaves to forge their own paths in a world of obstacles – and in the midst of the American Revolution.
Really well written. I think I would have liked the first third better had I read the first book in the trilogy but this book also stands on its own.
The Pox Party
Young Octavian is being raised by a group of rational philosophers known only by numbers — but it is only after he opens a forbidden door that learns the hideous nature of their experiments, and his own chilling role them.
Let it Begin Here
One rash decision will lead him down the path toward revolution…Nathaniel Hill, eldest son in a well-connected and respected English family, is offered two choices by his father after being caught in a compromising situation: public shame to force his good behavior, or to sever his family ties and leave on the first ship for the colonies in America.
Queer characters in a Revolutionary world…I enjoyed R W Winton’s debut. The book worked best for me when it slowed down and focused on the relationships between characters, and their feelings about the war. Bonus that it takes place in Boston. I look forward to hearing more from the author.
At a time when rigid societal norms seemed absolute, Deborah Sampson risked everything in search of something better. Revolutionary, Alex Myers’s richly imagined and carefully researched debut novel, tells the story of a fierce-tempered young woman turned celebrated solider and the remarkable courage, hope, fear, and heartbreak that shaped her odyssey during the birth of a nation.
Myers, in this debut novel, took some big risks in writing it: writing about a well-known and admired figure, Deborah Sampson (about whom we actually know very little) and the nature of gender and how we experience it. Even the switching back and forth between the “he” and “she” pronouns/Deborah and Robert made me stop and think about how the character might be trying to resolve, or just experience, the feeling of being both in a very conservative time period.
The military research seemed solid to me, and I liked that some of the book focused on the experience of war and how that felt for the MC.
Which brings me to…
A Girl Called Sansom
A young woman who dares to chart her own destiny in life and love during the American Revolutionary War.
I was prepared not to like this, especially after reading Alex Myers’s “Revolutionary,” which I thought was great, and after reading all the lower-starred reviews complaining about the deviation from Samson’s actual history. However, I found this book quietly subversive even wrapped as it is in romance and mainstream Christian content. I mean, the general falls in love with her thinking she’s a man!! And she misses dressing like a man later in the story. There were occasional history dumps but I was there for the romance and the character. Not bad!
What would you do if your country was counting on you to deliver a message? That’s sixteen-year-old Sybil Ludington’s urgent mission.
Apparently, there were a few girls riding around doing cool things during the American Revolution; Sybil Ludington was one of them. There’s a Quaker character in the book so that was also of interest. This book had some good insights into daily life at the time as well as the War.
Susanna’s Midnight Ride
As the former Colonies struggle for freedom, the American Revolution is in the hands of a brave and resourceful teenage girl.
Boy Soldiers of the American Revolution
Between 1819 and 1845, as veterans of the Revolutionary War were filing applications to receive pensions for their service, the government was surprised to learn that many of the soldiers were not men, but boys, many of whom were under the age of sixteen, and some even as young as nine.
This book is not just about the subject matter; it’s about the nature of history. The author, who I learned had died before completing the book, in writing about gleaning information from things such as pension records and diaries, says reminiscences from veterans and others “are, of course, burdened by the problems of the fallibility of human memory.” Thus, I liked that she began many sections where she tried to reconstruct stories of what had happened from snippets in diaries, or accounts of court decisions about pensions, with “perhaps it was like this…” There are a lot of tiny details that are fascinating as well Cox’s writing on how societies have viewed “childhood” at different points in history.
What books about the Revolution do you love? Drop a comment below!
Happy Independence Day, Kate
P.S. I had a wonderful time at the HNS NA conference! I will write more about my experience, and HNS in general, next month.