July 16, 2008

Loyalists and Layabouts: Review

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Another non-fiction for me. I'm pretty picky about my non-fiction reads. I don't want to be bored. I admit that I like to be entertained. Loyalists and Layabouts, The Rapid Rise and Faster Fall of Shelburne, Nova Scotia by Stephen Kimber did a good job of doing just that.

I picked this book to read for 2 reasons: 1) it's about my home province and 2) I have Loyalists roots. I wanted to learn more about the lives of Loyalists after becoming exiled from their homes in the new United States. I don't think my hard working farmer ancestors would have much in common with the group of people who tried to settle Shelburne. These 'pioneers' were a group of elitist middle class Americans who dreamed of a new New York in the wilderness. They were completely delusional. When fleeing their homes, they made ridiculous demands of the British government and expected to live the life of luxury to which they were accustomed. They landed in Shelburne (named Port Roseway at the time) and started building fantastic homes before they even had a road. They threw parties and good money after bad into their wardrobes, determined to outshine New York. Of course, New York had a proper infrastructure, Shelburne had trees.

At the same time, the black Loyalists (freed slaves who came to Nova Scotia because the alternative was horrific) fared off terribly. The white Loyalists, previous slave owners themselves, refused to except them. The blacks built their own settlement, Birchtown, just outside Shelburne but found that living even this close to the whites was impossible. The whites paid them small wages and resented any of the blacks finding religion for fear it would give them 'ideas'. It didn't help that everyone was in debt and starving. Everyone was looking for someone else to blame rather than look to themselves.

Kimber writes Loyalists and Layabouts in a way that kept me interested. He picked a few central characters and wrote Shelburne's story from their point of view. He also picked the most likeable people to tell the story. Guy Carleton, the man who managed to get all the Loyalists- black and white- out of the United States while George Washington was giving him the stink eye, Benjamin Marston, the much harassed surveyor of Shelburne, David George, ex-slave turned preacher searching for souls to save and Boston King, another ex-slave on a mission to save souls including his own.

While I felt sorry for these Loyalists at first, they were just people who picked the losing side and lost everything, I grew frustrated with their stubborn blindness. If they could have gotten it together, they would have realized a more modest version of their dream, instead they managed to fail spectacularly in less than 10 years. There's a good lesson for us all: live within your means.

Recommended for history lovers

I'm choosing this one for The 2nd Canadian Book Challenge.

4 comments :

  1. I was going to read this, but then I picked up a non-fiction book about the Bluenose Schooner instead in honour of my little trip in August. It does sound interesting, though, I might have to read it after my current one.

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  2. A lesson we seem to need to relearn all the time.

    It sounds pretty interesting. I'll have to see if our library has it.

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  3. Another great review Chris! I added a link on the ARC Challenge page on my blog.

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  4. Sounds awesome! I rarely read fiction at all...I was a history major in school and I never get far through a work of fiction before feeling like I'm being somehow defrauded by being asked to feel something for characters who don't exist. Besides, I can read about Krakatau, the Titanic, ancient Rome, Africa's challenges and promise, an illegal high-speed race across the US, Thomas Jefferson's relationship with Sally Hemings, and so much more and never leave the non-fiction shelves!

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