CM . . .
. Volume XXII Number 9. . . .October 30, 2015
Hope's Journey is the fifth novel in Jean Rae Baxter's "Forging a Nation" series about United Empire Loyalists who leave the thirteen colonies for British territory during the American Revolution. Her novels involve two families, the Hoopers and the Cobmans. Hope's Journey includes some characters from the earlier works. This fifth "Loyalist" novel takes place in 1791, the year in which Britain divided the colony of Quebec into Upper and Lower Canada. It opens with 13-year-old Hope Cobham, who is wearing an orphanage dress, signing papers in a Kingston lawyer's office to indenture herself for three years as a servant in a backwoods pioneer household.
Hope insists that she is not an orphan. Though her mother is dead, she has a father and three brothers somewhere who do not know of her existence. The Cobham family situation shows the upheaval and dislocation of this period in North American history. Mr. Cobham, with his eldest son, Silas, joined Butler's Rangers to fight the "rebels", losing contact with his wife and not knowing that she was again with child. She made it to Fort Haldimand where soldiers' families were quartered and gave birth to Hope there.
On the Cobham family's journey north, one son, Moses, was kidnapped as a child by Oneida Indians. Readers of the series know what happened to him from the novels Broken Trail and The White Oneida, but Hope does not, and Moses does not appear in this novel. When Hope was four, her brother Elijah, a private in the King's Royal Rangers, was stationed at Fort Haldimand, and she and her mother saw him briefly, but soon he was sent south and they never saw him again. After her mother's death, Hope was placed in an orphanage.
Hope's story unfolds in conversation with the lawyer and her employer. Ephraim Block, a settler trying to clear and farm his land grant who needs her to take care of his elderly mother. Unaccustomed to a rough life in a backwoods cabin, Hope quickly learns to cook and take care of Mrs. Block who is paralyzed and has a sharp tongue.
When taking the cow back and forth to the nearest neighbours, the Anderson family, Hope becomes friends with Adam, the Andersons’ eldest son. From Adam's father, Hope learns that Butler's Rangers were given land grants on the west bank of the Niagara River. He advises her to write to Colonel John Butler, now a military commander in the Niagara area, to find out if her father is there.
Because Hope lacks confidence in her composition skills, Adam suggests that she go to Milltown, an hour's walk through the woods, to consult the schoolmaster, Nick Schuyler. The name rings a bell with Hope who believes that this is the same man who married a friend of her family, Charlotte Cooper. Fans of Baxter's series will remember Charlotte Hooper and Nick Schuyler from This Way Lies North and Freedom Bound. Hope's mother had given Charlotte and her parents a safe place to hide during their flight from the Mohawk Valley. Charlotte had known Hope since the day she was born."
Now the mother of four, Charlotte and Nick are raising their family in a small but comfortable home near the schoolhouse. Charlotte helps Hope write her letter and shares some bad news about Elijah. Charlotte and Elijah crossed paths during the war when Charlotte went to South Carolina to try to find Nick. Elijah has deserted the British for the Americans. "The state he was in nearly broke my heart," says Charlotte. "He'd been through more in the war than he could bear."
The blunt practicality that characterized pioneer life is brought home to Hope when Mrs. Block dies. Ephraim, who is 40, tells 13-year-old Hope that he would like to marry her if he could, but that he is already married to a woman who has deserted him. "Since I cannot marry you," he says, "I want to assure you that I shall always be as respectful, caring and loyal as if you were my lawful wedded wife and... make provision for whatever issue results from our union." Outraged and terrified by this proposition from a man she considers old, Hope calms herself when she sees that Ephraim is too much of a gentleman to force himself upon her. Instead, he offers to pay her a year's wages so that she can go to Niagara to look for her father.
Hope travels to Niagara in a packet boat where there is hardly room to "swing a cot", that is, to put up a hammock to sleep in. The happy reunions of other passengers with loved ones on shore intensify Hope’s loneliness and longing for family ties. In Niagara, she meets the sympathetic and kindly Colonel Butler, but her quest for her father is unsatisfactory. Hope attracts yet another possible suitor, an Ensign Dunn, assigned by Colonel Butler to escort her in her search.
The last half of Hope's Journey involves another reunion and a wilderness journey. The rescue and reconciliation near the end are melodramatic, but it is gratifying when Hope lands on her feet. Although the plot involves much luck and coincidence, the novel is effective in showing an Upper Canada "awash in people searching for lost relatives" and in depicting the physical and psychological toll upon both soldiers and civilians.
For information about Ruth Latta's books, visit http://ruthlattabooks.blogspot.com. An Ottawa, ON, resident, Ruth is working on an historical novel for young adults.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any
other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.