A novel explores the history of Maryland, from Colonial times through the end of the War of 1812, as experienced by members of the fictional Kerr family.
In 1634, the first Lord Baltimore,
George Calvert, received a land grant from King Charles I, a parcel carved out
of the colony of Virginia. Calvert’s goal was to create a haven for
Roman Catholics, who faced persecution in England. His vision was for Maryland to be a colony in which “everyone would own a large estate, and live the life of an English aristocrat.” That is not how it turned out, of course, but Maryland’s original commitment to the concept of religious freedom brought in a wide mix of immigrants searching for a new start. This book’s family saga begins with patriarch Simon de Coeur, who leaves Spain for France in 1590. His son and grandson eventually depart France for better prospects in England. At the end of the 17th century, great-grandson Emmanuel Coeur (the family name will later be changed to Kerr) is rejected as a proper suitor for a daughter of the aristocratic St. James family—he is not of high birth and is a Catholic to boot. Heartbroken and angry, he heads to Maryland. There, he begins what will grow into one of the most successful mercantile businesses in the colony, somewhat inauspiciously by becoming a smuggler and, when necessary, a privateer (a government-sanctioned pirate). There is a lot of history packed into Hart’s (Lacey Blue and the Rejects, 2013, etc.) novel—perhaps too much. By the time Emmanuel arrives in Maryland, the reader has already perused more than a third of the book and endured long lessons in French and British royal lineages and misadventures. The story provides intriguing background for an assortment of characters who will eventually interact with the Kerrs, but this material also clutters the flow of the fictional narrative. The most compelling sections of Hart’s work, which constitute the second half of the volume, deal with Maryland’s pivotal role in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 and the lengthy philosophical arguments between sequential generations of Kerr fathers and sons about the economic underpinnings of the two conflicts.
A worthy but overstuffed saga about Maryland before and after the birth of America.