Saturday, January 4, 2014

Stealing Andrew Jackson's Head by Charles D Rodenbough

Stealing Andrew Jackson's HeadStealing Andrew Jackson's Head by Charles D Rodenbough
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I haven't read many books like Stealing Andrew Jackson's Head. The one that comes to mind is The Indians of New Jersey: Dickon Among the Lenapes by Mark Raymond Harrington. Both of these books are carefully researched novels telling readers something about history through a story. In both cases there are interesting plots, but the real charm comes from the facts. Stealing Andrew Jackson's Head is the story of Samuel W. Dewey, a merchant marine captain with multiple other interests, including geology. The novel begins when Dewey is an old man. A young boy named Jake follows him to a small room he calls an office, but which is really a place where he stores memorabilia from his many adventures. Among the items he has kept are a cannonball from the Battle of Lake Erie, tools from a commercial brig he sailed, and a model of a huge diamond found in North Carolina's Sauratown Mountains.

The novel is framed as an old man, Samuel, telling his memories to a young boy, Jake. A relationship develops between these two. Jake is in awe of what Samuel has accomplished in his life, while Samuel is thrilled with the opportunity to tell his tales. Here's a sample of one of Samuel's first stories:

“Well, I know you know where Boston is, and when I was three my family moved there. Then when I was in my seventh year, the United States had its second war with England. I remember my father got very excited in those days every time an American sailing ship was boarded from a British ship and our sailors were impressed into the British navy. It was the tactic of a bully and it was against international laws of sailing rights. Or course Massachusetts, like Philadelphia, depended on the commerce of the sea so we were in direct competition with Britain for control of any part of the sea. Since my father was already a sea captain and he had his own ship, he and his ship were placed under command of the United States Navy...”

Each story Samuel tells has its own charm. The stories of sailing are very different from the stories of mining in North Carolina, but they are all fascinating. The title story is wonderful. It's about the politics of the times and about the audacity of a young man. When I googled Samuel W. Dewey I found a number of references to that incident. The other stories are more obscure, but this book is a great place to find out about them.

Stealing Andrew Jackson's Head is appropriate for all ages. I think it would be an interesting fit for a history classroom with a creative teacher.

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