Brrr….Happy New Year!

On January 11, Russell Shorto will be at the John Jay Homestead State Historic Site in Katonah, New York, to talk about his new book Revolution Song: A Story of American Freedom (New York: W.W. Norton, 2018). Shorto is the author of several books, perhaps the best known being The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony That Shaped America (New York: Vintage Books, 2005).

In his new book Shorto has taken a different approach to writing about the founding of our nation. This “change of focus” involves “weaving six different lives into one story” creating what he calls “a narrative song.” The characters are a Seneca warrior named Cornplanter; England’s Secretary of State for the American Department, Lord George Germain; George Washington; Venture Smith, an American slave who bought his freedom; Margaret Moncrieffe Coghlan, the daughter of a British military officer, with connections on both sides of the Atlantic; and Abraham Yates, Jr. of Albany, New York, a self-made man whose views and writings reflected the tradesman’s perspective and a distrust of elites on both sides, British and American. Shorto’s research is prodigious; he has drawn on primary source material for all of his characters—letters, diaries, account books, scribbled orders—managing to orchestrate the lot into a cohesive narrative.

Of course, I am particularly interested in the woman he has chosen as one of the six characters: MARGARET MONCRIEFFE COGHLAN. Women’s lives at that time were circumscribed, largely limited to duties as wives and mothers, and subject to the control of men: fathers, husbands, brothers, and even sons. Moncreiffe’s rebellion was against forced marriage, her situation made more horrible by an abusive husband. Shorto follows Moncrieffe as she tries to make a life on her own. I plan to ask the author why he chose this particular woman. (More on Coghlan, with extracts from her Memoir in future posts.)

The lecture on January 11th will take place in the Iselin Wing at John Jay Homestead. Registration and refreshments begin at 6:30 pm; the lecture begins at 7 pm. $25; $20 for members. Limited free seating is available for students.

posted January 6th, 2018 by Janet, CATEGORIES: Book Beat, Coghlan, Margaret Moncrieffe

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