Martin R. Ganzglass is the author of the new novel The Price of Freedom, the sixth and last in his series of novels about the Revolutionary War. The series includes Treason and Triumph and Spies and Deserters. A retired attorney, he lives in the Washington, D.C., area.
Q: This is your sixth (and final) book about your Revolutionary War-era cast of characters. How have they evolved over the course of the series?
A: The main characters, Will and Elisabeth Stoner, Adam and Sarah Cooper, and Samuel and Mercy Hadley, all mature, marry and have children. The course of the war interferes with their desire for normal lives. In the beginning of the series they are soldiers going off to battle, imbued with enthusiasm for the cause. As they form romantic attachments, marry, and have children, their thoughts are dominated by concerns about and by their loved ones and the pain of long separations.
Will Stoner, after two encounters with his Loyalist brother, is consumed by thoughts of revenge to the point of almost undermining his marriage to Elisabeth. Only her love ultimately convinces him to accept the blessings of peace and forgo his desire to kill John.
With John Stoner, I deliberately made him more and more villainous with each book. By the end of the series he is truly a despicable coward stopping at nothing to further his own interests and lacking any empathy toward any other human being. Every novel needs a good villain for the reader to hate.
Elisabeth grows from a young girl whose head is filled with romantic notions of chivalry to a courageous and beautiful young lady willing to spy on the enemy in British-occupied Philadelphia.
Adam, prompted by his deep love for Sarah and driven to gain her freedom from slavery, commits an act of bravery that is only hinted at in his character at the beginning of the series.
As the war progresses, Adam becomes more angry at the injustices he sees in the evils of slavery and more conflicted about fighting for liberty when the victorious patriots will continue to enslave African Americans. It is only toward the end of the war, with two young children and Sarah at his side that his simmering rage subsides and he looks forward to returning to Marblehead, Massachusetts, and living as a free African American in peace.
As for General and Mrs. Knox, since they are historic characters, I have to follow the documented course of their lives. They suffer greatly from lengthy separations, rejoice at the birth of two children, and despair at the deaths of two others in their infancy.
One of my favorite characters is Private Peter Bant, a soldier with what today would be diagnosed as PTSD. His demons pursue him throughout the series and since there was no name for his condition and no treatment, he remains pretty much the same. His mental condition is ameliorated by being away on his own as much as possible and killing as many British cavalry as he can.
Some of the new characters, introduced throughout the book, are wealthy Loyalists, ordinary soldiers, and slaves. Some are more fully developed than others, such as Corporal Caleb Wade and Private Matthias Vose, who begin as carousing, drunken soldiers and both get religion due to traumatic experiences.
The character of Sergeant Henry Gillet gave me the opportunity to explore the relationship of the historically accurate, integrated Rhode Island Regiment and the experiences of black soldiers throughout the war.
And of course there is Big Red, the splendid artillery horse, who survives the battles, weather, and lack of hay and grain to become the Stoner family's carriage horse in liberated New York City.
Q: How did you research this particular volume? Did you learn anything that especially captured your attention?
A: My research methods were the same as for the previous novels in the series. I strive for historical accuracy. The Journal of the American Revolution and its blog, All Things Liberty, as well as Boston 1775 were especially helpful. I read numerous articles on the web and biographies, research papers and other works by historians.
My research about American prisoners of war, held under horrific conditions in the prisons and prison ships of New York City, led me to Edwin G. Burrows' book, Forgotten Patriots - The Untold Story of American Prisoners During the Revolutionary War, and Katie Turner Getty's articles in All Things Liberty, entitled "Walking Skeletons - Starvation on Board The Jersey Prison Ship" and "Death Has Almost Lost It Sting."
I learned two major historical facts that certainly captured my attention. The first is between 15,000 and 18,000 American prisoners of war died in British hands. The mortality rate was between 50 and 70 percent, as compared to 35 percent among Union prisoners at the Confederate prison at Andersonville.
Prisoners were dying on the prison ships seven to eight per day, 50 to 60 per week and about 230 per month. There was no way out of these hellholes of death other than to escape (which very few were able to do), to be exchanged, (and most prisoners died before that happened), or to enlist in the British Army or Navy.
The evidence is anecdotal but very few American prisoners opted to change sides and those that did, once in the field, seem to have deserted the British at the first opportunity. I am in awe of the courage, fortitude and conviction of the ordinary soldiers who, when faced with almost certain death in these truly Godforsaken rotting ships, remained true to the cause of freedom.
The second fact has to do with the British evacuation of former slaves who, having been promised their freedom, fled behind British lines. In 1783, there were approximately 3,000 such former slaves in New York City, when the Peace Treaty was signed. The British prepared to evacuate their troops and Loyalists from the city, as well as these freed African Americans.
General George Washington, to his discredit, interpreted the treaty to mean all Negroes, including those to whom the British had granted freedom, had to be returned to their American owners. The British commander, Sir Guy Carleton, insisted that the treaty could not mean the British would renege on their promise of freedom to former Negro slaves.
It was decided the two sides would form a commission and prepare identical ledgers listing the former slaves the British claimed were free and who they were evacuating to Nova Scotia. If the British government agreed with General Washington, then the owners of the evacuated former slaves would be compensated.
The compilation of the 3,000 names was called the Book of Negroes. One original, as written by the British, is in the National Archives in Kew, England. The American original is in the National Archives in Washington, D.C. Those claiming free status were interviewed by the commission at Fraunces Tavern on Pearl Street.
Among the men listed in the Book of Negroes is one Henry (Harry) Washington, described as age 43, "fine fellow, [Formerly the property of General Washington; left him 7 years ago)]". Harry Washington was evacuated to Port Roseway, Nova Scotia and eventually voluntarily emigrated to Sierra Leone.
These facts about Washington's interpretation of the treaty and his attempt to claim all former slaves as property the British had to return to the victorious Americans, along with animals, furniture, homes, and farm equipment, adds to our knowledge of our first president. He had many admirable attributes but we cannot ignore his moral blindness on the issue of slavery.
Q: How did you pick "The Price of Freedom" as the title for this last book in the series?
A: I definitely want readers to realize the immense sacrifices made by ordinary people in the struggle for our independence. The last novel highlights the suffering of regular soldiers, who were ill-clothed, diseased, underfed and unpaid, many for the duration of the war. The quote on the back cover by Private Joseph Plumb Martin, who served the entire war, barely illustrates the deprivations endured by the soldiers.
The horrific conditions of American held as prisoners of war resulted in more deaths on British prison ships in New York harbor than all the American battlefield casualties of the entire war. Free African American soldiers, despite fighting for the cause, which obviously did not include freeing the slaves, suffered disrespect and indignities throughout the war. There was the tremendous upheaval and movement of slaves fleeing their masters to the British lines and their fear of being returned when the war was over.
The war for independence was in actuality a civil war, with brutal and vicious raids and atrocities on both sides. It divided families and neighbors and made it impossible for those on the losing side from ever returning to their farms and towns. Peaceful Quakers, who sided with neither the British nor the Americans, suffered continuously when they were under the rule of either.
Women endured a high incidence of infant mortality and death in childbirth while their husbands were away at war. They were in constant fear of rape by Hessian and British soldiers. Ordinary soldiers, when the army was disbanded, returned home almost penniless, literally abandoned by Congress and dependent on the generosity of their home states.
These substantial sacrifices by ordinary people were what made victory possible. The revolution was not won, as we are led to believe, by bewigged political philosophers who were members of the First Continental Congress, nor by wealthy merchants and plantation owners who helped to finance the Revolution, nor even the generals and officers who led the troops.
If the spirit and endurance of regular soldiers and ordinary people on the home front had flagged and had enough of them said the struggle was not worth the sacrifice, the army would have disintegrated and the men would have gone home to their wives and families and resumed their ordinary lives under British rule.
The last novel is entitled “The Price of Freedom” to recognize the spirit of such people and move the needle of our historic compass away from politicians and men on white horses toward the true north of the sacrifice and commitment of everyday citizens.
Q: Do you think you'll come back to these characters at some later point? What's it like to end the series after living with your creations for so long?
A: I will never say never but I would like to take a break from historical fiction. I want to sit down and just write without having to do research on facts and catch the voice of historical characters. Some of my readers have suggested I write an historical novel about the United States in the early years of independence. That is tempting. I may come back to Will and Elisabeth Stoner, residents of New York City, when it was the capital and Henry Knox was secretary of war.
I still think about my characters sometime. A news article about a soldier with PTSD will trigger thoughts about Peter Bant. I continue to read the blogs All Things Liberty and Boston 1775 and an article there will take me back to when Will and Adam and Samuel Hadley first met during the siege of Boston. But mainly they are retreating from my memory as I embark on new projects. Which brings me to your next question.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I have written down a series of ideas for short stories. I would like to try my hand at writing them. I think it will be more difficult because the writer does not have a full novel to develop character and interest. I know dog stories are a dime a dozen but I would like to see if I could write one that is entirely different.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Two thoughts on historical novels. First, the English actor, comedian, and writer Stephen Fry once wrote, “History is not the story of strangers, aliens from another realm; it is the story of us had we been born a little earlier.”
I believe that historical fiction lets the reader become intimately involved in the story and imagine himself or herself as a character in the novel. It forces the reader to question how he or she would have acted under the circumstances. For example, during the American Revolution, would I have sided with the Loyalists or the Patriots? Or would I have simply tried to continue with my life, protect my family and a plague on both sides?
So, my approach is that accurately researched historical fiction is a conversation with the reader, to make the reader become immersed in the events being described and think of how their moral upbringing would affect the decisions they would make in that setting.
The second thought is an observation made by Harper Lee at a lecture for the Alabama History and Heritage Festival in 1983. She noted that Americans have a bad habit of either erasing or romanticizing history.
I was very mindful of that in writing my series on the American Revolution. One of my goals was to correct the omission of the role of the invisible minorities - African Americans, women and Native Americans - in our Revolution. The other was to accurately depict well-known historical characters, warts and all. I hope I succeeded and wrapped the entire six-book series in a gripping saga of growing up in a time of turmoil, of falling in love, and of enduring friendships.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Martin R. Ganzglass.