Newport This Week

Local Author Explores Early American History


 

 

“Forgotten Founders” by Mifflin Lowe is a beautifully-presented book designed for young readers, but it is also instructional for adults.

Lowe, who lives in Newport, writes that the point of the book is to broaden readers’ perspective, celebrate those who have not been sufficiently recognized, and make the story of America’s founding everyone’s story. His message is timely.

Lowe’s introduction explains how the Revolutionary War came to be. He traces events back to 1585 and Sir Walter Raleigh’s establishment of a British colony in what is now North Carolina. In brief, simple, well-written summaries, he explains the French and Indian War, the notion of taxation without representation, the First and Second Continental Congress, and the Declaration of Independence after the Patriots’ success over the British in the Battle of Yorktown.

With the background set, Lowe briefly mentions names well-known to Americans, such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, but notes that more than two million people lived in America at the time of the Revolution and had a profound impact, even if lesser known.

 

 

Lowe also speaks of women who played vital roles but had few rights. They could not vote or hold public office, while married women could not make a will or own property. Much of this data is condensed in colorful boxes, some containing beautiful illustrations.

There is an informative section on African-Americans and slavery, including a reminder that from earliest Colonial days, slavery was practiced in all 13 Colonies.

After an interesting account of how differently slaves were treated by the British and the Patriots, Lowe notes that slavery continued to be a complex issue, finally “boiling over in the American Civil War, more than 70 years after the country’s founding.”

Following a well-presented timeline of slavery in America from 1619 through 1790, Lowe introduces stories of heroic women, African Americans, Native Americans and immigrants.

Lucie-Anne has been an inveterate reader all her life, owns hundreds of books, and enjoys sharing her thoughts about what she reads.

Lucie-Anne has been an inveterate reader all her life, owns hundreds of books, and enjoys sharing her thoughts about what she reads.

Readers meet Nancy Hart, a tall muscular woman with a fearless spirit who was an excellent shot and used her skills to capture six Loyalist soldiers. Hart on some occasions dressed as a man and spied on the British.

Lowe also writes about Salem Poor, born a slave near Salem, Massachusetts, who purchased his freedom and fought valiantly on the Patriot side in the Battle of Bunker Hill.

Finally, he talks about Anna Smith Strong of New York, known as the “clothesline spy,” who hung her laundry with handkerchiefs in plain view of the British; the number of handkerchiefs letting a commander of whale boats along Long Island Sound know where messages could be found. These messages provided valuable clues without which the Patriots may not have prevailed.

According to Lowe, Native Americans were dealt a harsh blow. Most supported the British, initially hoping if they prevailed, they would keep American boundaries the same. The Mohicans, from Stockbridge, Massachusetts, were the first to support the Patriots.

But in the end, the British gave the new nation all the territory east of the Mississippi and south of Canada that belonged to Native American tribes without considering what Native Americans thought, needed or wanted. The Patriots, sadly, were no kinder to Native Americans.

Included throughout are “think deeper” questions that invite readers to ponder the content and lead to further discussion. Lowe also includes footnotes, which are informative in a conversational way.

For example, the first time the word “Loyalist” is introduced, a footnote indicates Loyalists were colonists who supported the British. Several times when the Battle of Bunker Hill is mentioned, a footnote reminds the reader that the so-called Battle of Bunker Hill was actually fought on Breed’s Hill.

A section of the book entitled “Foreign Aid” makes reference to contributions of individuals from France, Germany, Ireland, Poland and Italy. The author states that without them, “the United States would not be a country today.”

One cannot review this book for a Rhode Island newspaper without mentioning the page devoted to the First Rhode Island Regiment, which became known as the first Black battalion in United States military history. The regiment eventually totaled about 235 men, approximately 140 of whom were likely Black. Regiment soldiers participated in the Revolution from beginning to end.

It’s hard to find anything to criticize about this amazing book. In only 64 pages, the book packs valuable and well-researched information in a pleasing display. Lowe revealed that it took him about eight months to research and write the book. He did his research online focusing on “credible insights” on the topics and people. He added the mantra for all his history-related books is to be “accurate” and “honest.”

When asked how different from his other books writing “Forgotten Founders” was, he said after his success with “The True West,” an earlier book about diversity, he followed the same process.

It is obvious the author and his talented illustrator, William Luong, worked closely together to produce the work. While an index may have been helpful, the comprehensive table of contents is useful.

No words could better describe the value of this book than those used in a School Library Journal review: “This book will delight visual learners, history lovers and trivia enthusiasts. It would also validate the diversity of the United States’ heroes, encourage critical thinking and inspire further research. A solid addition to any library or classroom.”

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