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September 25, 2023
WHO’S YOUR FOUNDING FATHER? ONE MAN’S EPIC QUEST TO UNCOVER THE FIRST, TRUE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE
by David Fleming.
Reviewed by Erik Nelson
The Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence was signed on May 20, 1775, in Charlotte, North Carolina, more than a year before July 4, 1776. Whaaat?
Thomas Jefferson’s tombstone states he was the author of the Declaration of Independence, so what about those North Carolinians? Anyone familiar with the Outlander series has followed a little-known rebellion by a group of Scots-Irish settlers against Governor William Tryon over land and taxes.
British regulars fought armed colonials, well before the shot heard ‘round the world at Lexington. Fed up with egregiously poor colonial administration, a group of prominent men met in Charlotte, in May 1775, and formally declared their independence from British rule.
The Mecklenburg Declaration was a bold step, but the other colonies were not yet ready to go there. The North Carolina group sent four copies of their document to the Continental Congress, then meeting in Philadelphia. Three copies went to each of their colony’s delegates and the fourth to the president of that assembled body.
Just making that delivery entailed a harrowing 600-mile ride dodging British and Loyalist authorities.
In 1775, however, the Continental Congress still held out hope for reconciliation. A declaration of independence was premature, too radical to even discuss.
Consequently, the North Carolina document was not presented for debate and so never entered into record. There is no reference to it in the Continental Congress’ official documentation.
Relegated to obscurity from the onset, some scholars discount the Mecklenburg Declaration, while others claim it has been deliberately obscured, mostly to protect Jefferson’s stellar reputation. Astute readers will realize where that part of the story is going.
David Fleming, an investigative journalist, has brazenly stepped into this world of historic theory and counter-theory. Rather than producing yet another scholarly study that would get lost in a pile of other scholarly studies, he jumps into the discussion with a journalist’s flair for a good story. He understands the need for solid evidence, though, and his search for documentation takes him from construction zones near Charlotte (to find historic sites before they are obliterated by development) to the British Public Records Office (to read the correspondence of North Carolina’s colonial governor).
Questions about whether Jefferson had plagiarized the Mecklenburg Declaration were first raised by John Adams. The issue lingered as historians and localities claimed the glory of various aspects of the American Revolution. Washington slept in many places in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere, but Virginia claimed authorship of the Declaration of Independence. But still there were those inconvenient North Carolinians.
The paper trail is the story. A fire in 1800 consumed the original Mecklenburg Declaration. There were copies, but those were routinely called into question. The full document had been published in its entirety in a Charlotte newspaper, but copies of that issue could not be found. The colonial governor of North Carolina, however, had included a copy with one of his reports to the home office. In the 1830s, an historian doing research for a biography of Thomas Jefferson wanted to address the Mecklenburg Declaration and asked his friend, the U.S. Minister to the United Kingdom, to check the British archives for him. Fleming checked that repository as well and details what he discovered (sorry, no spoiler here).
This is a rollicking good read that delves into a persistent historic controversy. An unimpeachable paper trail would make the case, but there are those who wanted that paper trail to disappear. These days prominent political figures write their own books, but back in the day doctoring the historic record was done more discreetly.
by Elizabeth Acevedo
Reviewed by Ashley Riggleson
Elizabeth Acevedo had an auspicious introduction to the literary scene when she published her debut Young Adult novel, The Poet X. While Acevedo is a successful writer in the young people’s literature scene, her latest work, entitled Family Lore, is her first novel for adults. And, although I had some problems with this text, overall, it does not disappoint. Acevedo instead proves to be a versatile and gifted writer.
Family Lore, a novel about a Dominican family tells the story of six women (four sisters and two daughters) from multiple perspectives over two generations. We start the novel with the perspective of one of the sisters, Flor, who has the unique and, one would imagine, sometimes burdensome gift of foreseeing death in dreams.
As the novel opens, she has decided to throw herself a living wake, even though she refuses to tell her sisters or her daughter what will happen and when. Told mostly in the days leading up to the wake, Acevedo uses this device not only to tell Flor’s story but also those of the rest of the family, and readers meet all the characters at turning points in their lives.
Matilde, who has not been able to have children, deals with her husband’s long history of infidelity. She’s a talented dancer and when a dance class opens new possibilities for her, she must decide what she wants out of life.
Pastora, who has a nose for truth and had a traumatic past in the Dominican Republic, must come to terms with what happened to her. While Camila, the youngest of the sisters, feels set apart from her siblings because they are all much older.
Meanwhile, the two daughters, Ona and Yadi, must navigate their own relationships and mental health issues.
As each woman prepares for the wake and for the change that is sure to come with it, Ona, an anthropologist, interviews her family members, allowing them to reflect on their pasts and embrace the future.
If Family Lore is about anything, it is that storytelling can lead to healing.
A sprawling novel like this tackles a lot of themes. Death, grief, infidelity, family, immigration, and home, just to name a few. And all these aspects of the novel are explored with nuance and depth.
Additionally, the characterization in this novel is very skillfully done. It can be tricky for novelists to differentiate between perspectives, but all the characters here are so distinctive that it feels as though they live outside of the page.
My only quibble with this novel lies with its plotting. The beginning and ending of “Family Lore” are flawless, and in these parts of the novel, I was happily flipping pages, wanting to know more. But Acevedo was not able to maintain that pace in the middle of the text. While the author is a gifted writer, Family Lore is so ambitious that she sometimes falters.
It is also fair to point out, though, that my opinion of Acevedo’s work has more to do with me as a reader than her as a writer. Family Lore has so much to recommend it that, although it is not a perfect novel, I would still encourage readers to pick it up.
Acevedo can only grow from here. Her characterization and development of themes are so well done that I cannot wait to see what she does next. Family Lore is a promising adult debut.
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