Category: Fiction


“Will you kill me?”; an excerpt from Prisoners of Hope by Mary Johnston (1898)

In this excerpt from the novel Prisoners of Hope (1898) by Mary Johnston, Ricahecrian Indians, led by a chief called Grey Wolf, join a group of servants, led by Luiz Sebastian and a man called Roach, in an attack on Verney Manor in Gloucester County in 1663. The home is defended by Colonel Richard Verney, his kinsman Sir Charles Carew, his daughter Patricia, the convict servant Godfrey Landless, and various others. Johnston’s book is loosely based on the Gloucester County Conspiracy.


“World of Books” (1899)

In this short notice, published on March 6, 1899, an anonymous writer for The Macon Telegraph reports on critical praise for the novel Prisoners of Hope by Mary Johnston. Set in 1663, the novel is based in part on the Gloucester County Conspiracy, which involved a planned rebellion by indentured servants, who intended to march on the home of Governor Sir William Berkeley (and not, as the review suggests, Robert Dinwiddie, who served as lieutenant governor from 1751 until 1758).


Blake; or the Huts of America (1859–1861)

Blake; or the Huts of America is a novel by Martin R. Delany that was serially published in the Anglo-African Magazine in 1859 and the Weekly Anglo-African in 1861 and 1862 (it was not published in complete book form until 1970). Delany was born free in 1812 in Charles Town, Virginia (later West Virginia). Giving a panoramic view of slave life in the nineteenth century, Delany’s novel tells the story of Henry Blake, an escaped slave who travels throughout the southern United States and to Cuba in an effort to plan a large-scale slave insurrection. Written in part as a response to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 and the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857), Blake‘s strong, militant, and revolutionary protagonist offers a counterexample to the seemingly docile Uncle Tom character popularized by Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852). Because the final installments of the novel have been lost, twenty-first-century readers may never know if Blake’s planned revolution is successful; still, the novel offers an important nineteenth-century depiction of slavery and a potential way to end it.


Cavaliers of Virginia, The (1834–1835)

The Cavaliers of Virginia; or, The Recluse of Jamestown. An Historical Romance of the Old Dominion (1834–1835), published in two volumes, is the second of three novels by William Alexander Caruthers, a physician who helped originate the romantic Virginia novel and who died of tuberculosis in 1846. An action-adventure story and romance set in Jamestown during Bacon’s Rebellion (1676–1677), the novel uses the backdrop of colonial Virginia to tell its story, making characters of such noted figures as Nathaniel Bacon and Sir William Berkeley but in general not following the history. Unlike the historical Bacon, the novel’s character is the ward of a Virginia aristocrat who vies for the hand of that aristocrat’s daughter. At the same time, an Indian “princess” covets Bacon, even during conflict with the English invaders. These romantic tribulations overlap with political discontent within the colony, which erupts in open warfare between Bacon and his men and the governor and his followers. Caruthers drew on the myth of the Virginia Cavalier—a dashing and gentlemanly hero—in his portrayal of Bacon, and the novel was well received by reviewers, better than either of the author’s other two novels. Modern-day scholars have debated the book’s use of history and the Cavalier archetype but otherwise have not paid it more than cursory attention.

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