Washington’s Shadow, which was officially published on October 15, 2019, has been reviewed by BookTrib, an on-line source of book news and book reviews. Here is the review:
“In a cozy Virginian parlor in 1810, a widow, her daughter and two servants stare at a box containing letters from the Revolutionary War written by Col. Leven Powell, who had fought with George Washington at Valley Forge. Now, in the throes of grief after his passing, Powell’s family struggles with how best to capture his legacy, piece together his story from the letters, and in the process define their own futures.
In Washington’s Shadow (Gatekeeper Press), author Barbara N. McLennan submerges readers into our nation’s start like no history book ever could.
At the forefront of McLennan’s novel is the question of who controls Powell’s story and how it gets told. Should his biography be written by sons Burr and Cuthbert Powell, both politicians? Perhaps, but they hand the project off to their sister, Jane, who enlists the help of the other women.
Sally (Powell’s widow), Jane and the free servants Nancy and Dorothy act as a chorus for the reader. Amid letters about Native American wars, smallpox and slave armies, the women amend Powell’s words to account for the people most overlooked. In this way, McLennan expertly brings alive the Revolution by making the reader feel the immediacy of it.
But amid all the domestic work of mending, cooking and feeding relatives, the women are weighed down by the task. After all, women were not at the front lines but at home keeping businesses running and their families from starving.
McLennan’s novel is uniquely meta-textual; just as we are shown transcripts of letters describing major battles in the war, we see the women’s lives intersect behind the scenes. They know they are in the shadows of their husbands and that Col. Powell was in Washington’s shadow, but that their loyalty and talents are just as crucial to the success of the young country.
And when Jane’s brother Billy is hunted down for debt by one of Thomas Jefferson’s infamous hit men — the same who drove Aaron Burr out of the country — the past gets personal. Jane isn’t just reminiscing about her father anymore, but trying to piece together how her father’s involvement with Washington has made Billy a target.
Sally’s teenage grandkids are sent off to find Billy, following ancient Native American trails on their ponies and fighting back against thugs and thieves. It’s not quite a road trip by today’s criteria but just as riveting and atmospheric as the best of them.
Reading Washington’s Shadow is like being transported back in time and seeing a country where adventure and danger lurked at every turn. Part love story, political intrigue and coming of age novel, McLennan has created vibrant characters that will stay with readers long after the book ends.
As Edward, a house servant, explains the significance of Jane as the primary storyteller, “Make believe she’s Washington on his white horse. Show some respect.”
Washington’s Shadow is available for purchase.”
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Washington’s Shadow is my fourth historical novel and probably the last. All of my books focus on American nation building in our early history. Generally early American history is not being taught in elementary schools and later grades.
I’ll be addressing the process by which I produce these books at a discussion panel at the Williamsburg Book Festival on Saturday, October 5. Nation building is a subject that has always interested me. Virtually everything I write discusses some aspect of it. The people who build the nation have to be strong enough to understand they can’t do everything alone, by themselves. They have to risk danger in moving ahead, but they have to communicate with each other. They have to build coalitions and marriages. Nations, in my way of thinking, always begin with families and extended families and how they learn to deal with individual members and each other. Washington’s Shadow is about how Washington visualized the country and how the people who followed him interpreted the idea of nation building in his image.
I’ve spent a good part of my working life in and out of government jobs. I’ve worked as staff in the US House of Representatives and the US Senate. I held positions in the US Treasury Department, and the US Commerce Department. I worked for several Washington law firms and lobbies. I know how our government is supposed to work.
When I retired and moved to Williamsburg, Virginia, I met many people from outside Washington DC. I was surprised by how little most people knew about the practical working origins of the US government. More shocking was how little actual research had been done to explain and understand our history. There are very few serious books that explain the political institutions of the early colonies. There are publications, fictional and non-fictional, about Pocahontas, colonists starving, and the exploits of famous pirates. For the most part these are designed to entertain children and give little historical context.
What Americans Know About Nation Building and their History
On retirement I took a position as a volunteer docent in the museum at Jamestown Settlement. Jamestown as a city no longer exists. Jamestown Settlement, a modern park, is situated near the James River. It includes a gallery, a model fort, an Indian village, and a port holding three ships. The facility is designed to explain the founding and development of the first English settlement in the new world. I learned there that most people have heard of Pocahontas. However, many believe the three ships that arrived in Jamestown in 1607 were the Nina, the Pinta, and Santa Maria. The next Virginian most people can identify is George Washington, who lived a hundred and fifty years later.
Visitors coming to Williamsburg from Washington DC are often surprised by the familiarity of the old government buildings and institutions of colonial Virginia. Most people don’t know that Jefferson, who designed the US Capitol, previously served in Virginia’s House of Burgesses, as did George Washington. When they learn some facts, they begin to understand that our government didn’t somehow fall out of the sky. The American government was the product of long experience and practice. The US Constitution was written by people who knew what they were trying to do.
Nation Building and the Founding Fathers? Who Built the Nation?
The Wealth of Jamestown, The Wealth of Virginia, and Blackbeard’s Legacy are three short novels to the early 1700s. The books describe men and women, young and old, native Americans and settlers, the educated and the uneducated living almost a hundred years before the US Declaration of Independence. The characters are not European; they are American. They are engaged in politics and commerce on a grand scale. Blackbeard, the king of international trade in his day, was as much a Founding Father as Thomas Jefferson. Each of these books required at least two year’s research into original documents and obscure writings and sources.
Washington’s Shadow tells of people living at the edge of a wilderness in a time soon after the Revolutionary War. These people knew Washington. They are a later generation of Americans. They moved west to build towns and communities. They faced away from Europe with its wars and dynasties, a movement of people that began in 1607. Though taking place in 1810, Washington’s Shadow is the latest chapter in my fictional explanation of nation-building, American style.