Battles of Saratoga engulf family in young adult novel
Many of us have enjoyed walking, biking or skiing the roads and trails of the Saratoga National Historical Park, and now Saratoga Springs author Jack Reber has made that area come alive with the sights and sounds of the historic battles in his new young adult novel “Saratoga Captive.”
The main character is 12-year-old Ruth Anna Cunningham, who lives on a farm beside the forest near Fort Edward on the east side of the Hudson River.
“She loved this farm. The farmland was fertile, the well water was sweet, and the forest supplied plenty of wood. Ruth Anna longed for the day when the cursed British sailed home and her family would be together again.”
Family at war
When the story begins, Ruth Anna is living alone with her mother on the farm. Her 16-year-old brother Martin and her father have joined the militia to fight the British.
“They’ll be home soon, she thought. Won’t take long to defeat these British. We’re going to have them outnumbered in no time.”
What worries Ruth Anna, though, are the Hessians. “The soldiers looked invincible. They are so well-trained. Their comical gold helmets are pointed like stiff nightcaps. They are German killers hired by the British to shoot New Yorkers. Why don’t they go home and earn money doing honest work?”
One day at the farm some British soldiers arrive to steal some food and supplies for the troops. Ruth Anna’s mom tells them to leave and even shoots one of the soldiers. She is ultimately shot in the arm.
After the soldiers leave, Ruth Anna tends to her mother. The next morning she leaves early in search of Sally Fritts, who will know how to better treat her mother’s wound. Ruth Anna tells her mother, “Don’t worry. The Redcoats have left. I’ll walk like a mouse and stay off the road.”
After a short while in the woods, though, she is captured by a group of Indians who tie her up and bring her to a British encampment in the hope of selling her to the British as a prisoner.
Ruth Anna is fortunate to arrive when she does because she is saved by the Baroness von Riedesel, the wife of the Hessian General von Riedesel who commands the Brunswick soldiers with Gen. John Burgoyne.
Soon she is summoned before the general. “It seems that my wife and Captain Willoe have saved you from the Indians. I fear that if we release you now, you will come to harm. You shall help the baroness with the children until we reach Albany. Then we shall see to a safe passage for you. It should only be for a few more days.”
What the British and the Hessians have underestimated is the resolve and the tenacity of the fighting American troops led by Gen. Horatio Gates, who has decided to have his soldiers occupy Bemis Heights.
“Not much can escape our notice from here. This is the perfect spot. We can see the whole valley. The Redcoats will be easy pickings if they try to pass our position.”
Reber has done a nice job telling the story in alternating chapters from Ruth Anna’s point of view and then from the perspectives of her father and brother.
The reader is allowed to see both sides of the war, and Reber brings the battles to life so that we can vividly see the soldiers, hear the canons firing and smell the smoke from the guns.
Legends come alive
Legendary characters like General Burgoyne, Philip Schuyler and Benedict Arnold come to life, and Reber does an effective job creating main characters we care about.
“Saratoga Captive” is the type of book you remember long after you finish reading it, and the next time I walk the trails at the Saratoga Battlefield I know I will be thinking of Benedict Arnold, the Hessian soldiers and the Cunningham family.
This story is based on real characters, and students studying this time period will enjoy reading it for its historical accuracy and its exciting plot.