A SCATTERED PEOPLE: An American Family Moves West by Gerald McFarland

A SCATTERED PEOPLE: An American Family Moves West

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With this story of his ancestors' arrivals and relocations across America over three centuries, historian McFarland captures some of the tone and feeling of ordinary people living the epoch of migrations from Colonial settlements to California. But despite the surging historical drama of the period and plenty of familial incident, the account lacks excitement and color. The author identifies two great American dreams--the dream of purity and the dream of plenty, and does a good job of working out these ideas and tracing their persistence through the generations. He supports his thesis with a great weight of facts from county annals, legal files, tax lists, church records, correspondence, and family reminiscences. Unfortunately, his sources anchor his writing in the prosaic facts that have survived: the drama and passion of his subjects' lives rarely get to the page. In detailing how five generations of his own pioneer ancestors moved across the continent, the author makes clear the extent to which they maintained their search for material advantage and spiritual grace. Impressive is the remarkable consistency with which certain middle-class ideas, habits, moral views and social outlook were carried through the years and miles. In a rather lively account of a mid-19th-century relative, Emma Adair, and her black silk dress, the moral and social preoccupations of the time are neatly tied up. In general, the post-Civil War period, with its breaking of patterns and unbridled pursuit of money and power, gets a more lively and effective treatment, possibly because of more information available. In sum, a historically accurate saga about the making of American society through the expansion westward. Well-organized detail, flatly stated, is stitched together with historical events to make a story, despite what is presumably a family shortage of colorful characters and an absence of resounding events.

Pub Date: Sept. 27th, 1985
ISBN: 1566632978
Publisher: Pantheon