The war shattered tale of Gil Martin and his newlywed Lana after they venture out to their pioneer home by the Mohawk River in Upstate New York.
From 1776 to 1784 the Martins and their fellow settlers suffered British, Tory (Loyalist) and American Indian attacks before General Sullivan marched in to restore peace and prosperity. Historical characters include Nicholas Herkimer, Adam Helmer, and William Caldwell. Historical events include the Battle of Oriskany and the 1778 attack on German Flatts. All characters, real and fictional, show personal faults and weaknesses.
The leadership of New York State’s landed gentry is pushed to the sidelines in favor of the struggle of common working people. Native Americans are neither demonized nor characterized, and there is little mention of any racist hatred. This is a bit improbable, since many Iroquois had been hired as mercenaries by the British to burn homes and crops, but Edmonds can be forgiven for this oversight. He also goes easy on General Sullivan, whose ethnic cleansing of the region was largely accomplished with scythes (the thing the Grim Reaper carries). Soldiers used them to mow down crops to prevent them from bearing fruit or producing seeds. This forced the Iroquois to travel north and west for British food aid, and few ever returned.
Wartime violence described too well will tend to unsettle readers. To go easy on us, Edmonds allows the characters a little black humor.
“The Indian whooped and the next moment he was coming in long buck jumps straight for the log. He was a thin fellow, dark-skinned like a Seneca, and stark naked except for the paint on his face and chest. Gil felt his insides tighten and rolled over to see what had become of Gardiner.... He had set down his musket and taken the spear. The Indian bounded high to clear the log and Gardiner braced the spear under him as he came down. The hatchet spun out of the Indian’s hand. A human surprise re-formed his painted face. The spear went in through his lower abdomen and just broke the skin between his shoulders...’Hell... No sense wasting powder,’ joked Gardiner.”
Edmonds’ narrative talents shine in his ability to inspire pity for John Wolff, a man who was hard for his neighbors to get along with and who was largely the author of his own misfortune. He is wrongly assumed to be a Tory, an active opponent of the Revolution, and this error led to injustice and deep misfortune.
Reader stress will hit its peak during the account of Adam Helmer’s famous run for military assistance, following the destruction of Andrustown. He is pursued through the forest by the fastest legs the Iroquois Nation could offer and Edmond’s description sharpens the meaning of the phrase ‘run for your life.’
Drums Along the Mohawk is an excellent work of fiction. Frontier settlement in the midst of war is brought color, sound, and smell, through the ability of Edmond’s imagination to fill in the gaps in the dry accounts of historians. Daily labors go on in an atmosphere of impending threat, and the enemy is defeated as much by patience as by bullets.
Not part of a series.
Moderate violence. No disturbing content. P.C.
Available in audiobook format.
Adapted as a 103 minute movie.
Walter D. Edmonds on Wikipedia. (click here)