An economist’s debut historical novel focuses on the roots and impact of the Virginia Uprising of 1675-76.
At the beginning of this ambitious work, violent attacks by the Susquehannock spread fear throughout Virginia. A brutal military retaliation leads the tribe to plan a getaway west to “Kain-tuck-ee” while its warriors continue raiding farms. Burgess Thomas Swann advocates brokering peace, but unscrupulous Sir William Berkeley, governor of the Royal Colony of Virginia, concentrates on profitability: “If some get killed, that’s in our interest. It makes land available for men of quality.” When peace efforts fail and the conflict intensifies, settlers petition Sir William to authorize strikes against the Native Americans by troops under Commissioned Officer Nat Bacon. But this leads to an elaborate sequence of cat-and-mouse machinations between the troops and Sir William, who bristles at anyone trying to influence how he runs Virginia. When Bacon successfully ends the assaults, Sir William regains the upper hand by declaring all of the soldiers traitors, hunting them down for execution and seizure of their property. He is ousted and replaced when King Charles II intervenes from England in response to the petition of people like Swann who seek a fair level of representation returned to the populous without threat of retribution. Crabbe convincingly argues in her book that this “popular insurgency” in Virginia yielded significant socioeconomic changes with far-reaching effects on America’s future. Her judicious research is evident by the long bibliography of both primary and secondary sources. In addition, the author boasts an extensive vocabulary of arcane words appropriate to the era. In terms of cultural sensitivity, engrossing details are offered in the Native American passages, but they too often fall into the noble savage trope. The novel’s constantly changing locations, mix of Native American and Gregorian calendars, and more than 70 characters could deter casual readers from wading through the daunting labyrinth for what is at heart an intriguing retelling of an underrepresented event.
A well-researched but overly complex dissection of a forgotten yet pivotal episode in American history.