Let’s start our New Year off with a book as cold and blustery as our own weather has been! I used to read this constantly as a teenager obsessed with Ann Rinaldi’s books and the Revolutionary War. This book involves a famous local legend of a young woman named Tempe Wick who hid her horse in her house. As most legends go, the story has several variants, and our author has chosen to tie the legend in this case to the Pennsylvania Line’s 1781 New Year’s Day Mutiny.
The fictional story unfolds through the eyes of Tempe Wick’s cousin Mary Cooper, who is staying with the Wick family to help Tempe care for her elderly parents. Mary is an awkward teenager with an ardent devotion to the Patriot cause (of which her Loyalist family highly disapproves) and a gigantic crush on General Anthony Wayne, quartered near her aunt and uncle’s farmhouse in Morristown, New Jersey.
Her cousin Tempe is a beautiful, sharp-witted woman with a gorgeous white horse named Colonel and a host of problems to solve. With the very recent death of her father, Tempe is now responsible for her ailing mother and a large farm on which thousands of American soldiers are camped. In addition, Tempe must worry about her derelict and insane elder brother who stays in camp, and whom her mother believes is dead.
While the Patriot cause excites Mary, Tempe has seen the reality of soldier’s lives and frustrations thanks to the two winters the Pennsylvania Line has camped on her father’s farm. She believes that the strain of hosting the army killed her father, and is exhausted and disillusioned by her own responsibilities, the war, and the camp followers who come begging for food or supplies at the farmhouse.
Tempe finds solace in her daily rides on her horse and her friendship with Billy Bowzar, a sergeant who plans to present a list of grievances on behalf of the soldiers, namely their lack of pay for over a year. Billy wants Tempe to loan him Colonel as part of the presentation, but Tempe is unsure.
Mary’s own soldier friends in camp warn her that Billy Bowzar, a defector from the British army, may have more sinister motives than simply presenting his grievances. Her friends believe that Bowzar may lead soldiers to mutiny or worse, have the Line defect to the British. They warn her not to let Tempe get involved in any way, and Mary must convince Tempe not to loan Billy Bowzar Colonel.
Ann Rinaldi skillfully conveys Tempe’s dilemmas and complex relationship with the Patriot cause through the eyes of a completely different character (Mary). Of course, Mary and Tempe are often at odds with one another, and must learn to work together in order to protect the farm and Colonel. They layering of historical detail, interesting characters, and an enjoyable conflict and resolution, with just a touch of romance makes this a story that I think will appeal to a wide audience. There is a satisfying growth and change in both Tempe and Mary, which empathizes love and teamwork to drive the story to its conclusion. In addition, the author does not leave us hanging at the end. She gives a detailed historical afterword, explaining what actually occurred at the Wick farm on January 1, 1781 and what happened to the players, major and minor, in our story, in addition to providing the several variations of Tempe and Colonel’s legend.
Although this is an older children or teenager’s book, the skill of the writing and nuance also make this an enjoyable read for adults as well. This might be a great story to share with the whole family, and maybe top off with a visit to the Wick farm in Morristown. Happy New Year and New Reading, everyone!
A ride into morning : the story of Tempe Wick, by Rinaldi, Ann.
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