Book Review: “The Take of Jemima Boone”, by Matthew Pearl


There is no reason to question that the Warriors treated the girls as well as they could under the circumstances, but the rumor that Hanging Maw was in love with Boone’s daughter seems to be entirely a gossip construction. of white settlers in published and unpublished sources consulted by Perle. More revealing are the parallel accounts of captured settlers that Pearl weaves into her tale to provide historical context, particularly the well-known story of Mary Jemison, abducted with her family in rural Pennsylvania in the mid-18th century and adopted by the Indians. Seneca. His biography exposes the insufficiency of the conventional representation of the westward expansion featuring white victors and doomed Native American resistance fighters. Jemison opens a window to a vanished frontier world of fuzzy family lines and shifting loyalties, as white captives were sometimes adopted by tribal members as compensation for relatives lost in border wars.

Pearl meticulously reconstructs this world of tribes and settlers, caught between British and American military ambitions, interacting in a Kentucky that for a brief moment functioned virtually as a “shared space.” “The Take of Jemima Boone” presents a fascinating picture of the Kentucky border in which, along with incidents of violence and atrocities, Native Americans and settlers married, raised interracial offspring, exchanged, shared survival skills and changed alliances, as all struggled to survive.

Jemima’s rescue takes place less than halfway through the book, and she recedes into the background as the story turns to the conflict between Daniel Boone and two men: Chief Shawnee Blackfish, whose son was killed, can – to be by Boone, during the rescue, and Richard Callaway, who competed with Boone for the management of Boonesboro and who later accused him of trying to sell the ailing fortification to the British. These conflicts are closely linked to the geopolitical ambitions of Great Britain and the United States in the War of Independence; As the two nations vied for control of Kentucky, Boonesboro’s survival was seen as crucial to the outcome.

All of this is a lot for the reader to understand. Pearl opens “The Take of Jemima Boone” with a quote to the effect that if a novelist can use his imagination, a historian is “chained to the file before him”. But there is more to effective story writing than just gathering facts, and the techniques of a novelist can and should be used. In her Historical Mysteries, Pearl skillfully presents the story by taking the reader on the emotional journey of a main character, whose private reflections move seamlessly between the present and the past. In “The Take of Jemima Boone,” on the other hand, he tends to insert essential historical context into the story quite abruptly, distracting us from the characters and events at hand. New characters are introduced frequently, along with their back stories – even in the midst of action scenes, such as those about Boone’s pursuit of the three girls – with the result that the suspense is riddled and the narrative momentum is built up. lost.

Pearl writes that literary and artistic interpretations of Jemima’s kidnapping fail to capture all the “verve, excitement, and stakes of these original events,” telling us, indeed, that the fact is often stranger than The fiction. This is true, but the facts are also usually much more complicated. This is a challenge for historians who wish to tell a compelling story, and their problems multiply even more if they choose, as Pearl did, a period and events that are beyond the realm of common knowledge.

The story of Jemima’s kidnapping, an exciting and revealing episode in the history of America’s westward expansion, is worth telling. To her credit, Pearl resists oversimplifying a story too often presented as a frontier romance, showing us that it is as much about the women, children and Native Americans who played a role in it as it is about the famous men. who assured it. remembered.

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