REVIEW: Answering Liberty’s Call: Anna Stone’s Daring Ride to Valley Forge: A Novel by Tracy Lawson
In January 1778, Anna Stone is a twenty-nine-year-old healer, wife of a rebellious Baptist-preacher-turned-soldier, and mother of three. Her husband, Benjamin, writes from Valley Forge with worrisome tidings. Anna’s brothers, Henry and Jeremiah, who are in Benjamin’s unit, have contracted smallpox. Benjamin downplays the severity of their illness in his letter, which arouses Anna’s suspicions that he, too, is ill.
Not content to remain at home in Virginia, Anna packs food and supplies, leaves her children with family, and strikes out alone on horseback for Pennsylvania. Anna knows that, should Benjamin perish, the county orphan’s court will appoint a male guardian to oversee her children’s futures—without regard for her preferences. After her experience being raised under the care of a guardian, Anna vows to move heaven and earth to keep her children from suffering the same fate.
In her efforts to render the aid that will hold her family together, Anna is swept into a plot that could spell dire consequences for George Washington, the Continental Army, and the new nation’s quest for liberty. Answering Liberty’s Call is based on family legend and events in the lives of the author’s six times great-grandparents.
CW/TW – Heroine is threatened with violence and rape, a secondary enslaved character is raped, it is implied that other enslaved women are raped
Dear Ms. Lawson,
After reading the blurb for this book, I couldn’t recall reading anything similar. I was intrigued by the mention that it’s based on family lore. Anna Stone is certainly a strong woman – and adored by her husband for that – but what I ended up liking the most is that she’s not anachronistic-ly so. Yes, she does shock some people with her outspokenness and does spend part of her journey wearing her husband’s clothes as a disguise but she is very much an eighteenth century woman.
The book starts off with a bang as we join Anna on the final night of her exhausting journey to bring aid to her husband and brothers – two of whom are stricken with smallpox. Someone is after her, someone determined to catch her and stop her from reaching her destination with news that could change the outcome of the war. Who is he, what is she carrying, and will she make it?
We have to wait quite a while as the story weaves back and forth between Anna’s trip and her past life showing how she becomes the person she is. In order to understand why she was willing to brave the dangers of the road that faced any traveler of the time, much less a woman and one traveling alone, we have to learn what she had to lose. Modern US women probably have no idea what faced a widow then. Unable to act on her own, her children would have been assigned a guardian and her wishes might not have been taken into account. Anna herself was bound out as an indentured servant at age ten when her father died in debt and her father’s brother then took over the care of the family … and called the shots.
But why was fighting for American independence so important to her family? Anna falls in love with and marries a Baptist minister but in Virginia, the Church of England was recognized as the state church and supported in part by taxes collected from all colonists. Dissenters, which Baptists were considered to be, were often attacked, jailed, and had their prayer meetings broken up. Both Anna and her husband saw independence as a way for them to escape that religious yoke.
The trip she makes is arduous at the best of times but deep in the winter of 1778, under icy and cold conditions, by herself, takes guts. She wouldn’t always know who is friend or foe, Patriot or Loyalist, as well as needing to venture onto roads where brigands lurked. Anna doesn’t always do the best thing and does face real danger but she’s smart, thinks on her feet, and surprises the men she comes up against.
I did have two issues with the story. There is a secondary character who, though not mystical, is basically a Magical Negro. Rhoda enters the story when Anna is indentured and spends the next seven years protecting Anna – often at the cost of herself being violated – from sexual abuse by the men of the house. Hers is the on screen sexual assault mentioned in the warnings. Though when her indenture is complete, Anna proposes trying to buy Rhoda out of slavery, Rhoda won’t leave her slave husband and that’s pretty much it for her character. There are a few other African-American enslaved characters as well as some (no mention of whether or not they were enslaved) who are briefly mentioned as attending the Baptist church where Anna’s husband preaches so the story isn’t totally whitewashed. We also never see a resolution for a black-market weapons incident that Anna gets involved with trying to end.
On the other hand though, the details are well researched and included without them turning into a history lesson. I really got a good idea of how life was then. The tension from the opening scene is carried through until the end of the book. The section in Valley Forge, while interesting and indicative of the suffering the army endured, dragged a bit as by this point, I felt things ought to be wrapping up. So overall, well done with only a few problems. B-