In honor of the Revolutionary War Wax Museum biography projects going on this week at the Field School, today’s Old Favorite takes place during the American Revolution. Now, there is certainly one old favorite that takes place in the Revolution that everyone knows…Johnny Tremain! But there are others that were popular in their day, that have sadly fallen into relative obscurity… The Reb and the Redcoats, by Constance Savery is one of those books.
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Charlotte Darrington lives in England with her brothers, Joseph and George, and their little sister Kitty. They are currently living with their grandparents and Uncle Laurence in a large manor called White Priory while their father is away in the Colonies, fighting the rebels. Papa sends their Mamma long letters about his time there, and his children gifts. Charlotte even receives a doll, taken from a rebel household. Patty’s Patty (Charlotte discovers her name on the back of a flag the young rebel owner pinned to her doll’s dress) is beautiful, even though her mysterious smile seems to create trouble.
The Reb is a 15-year-old rebel, captured on board a ship from the American colonies, bearing American war dispatches to France. As a prisoner of war, he’s escaped several times, each time helping his fellow prisoners to disappear; he’s even succeeding in passing the information from the dispatches, via some French smugglers he somehow managed to locate before being recaptured. Charlotte’s uncle is now in charge of keeping him locked up and safely under guard. This is unfortunate for the prisoner, as Uncle Laurence has returned to England after being seriously wounded in a battle, and has just discovered that his best friend was executed for spying. Not only that, but it’s been rumored that the Reb was present at the time. Because of that, Uncle Laurence doesn’t have any patience for rebels, bad behavior or escape attempts. His arrangements for the young prisoner are treated with dismay by the rest of the Darrington family.
But the Reb is proud too, and refuses to even acknowledge his circumstances, or even Charlotte and her brother’s attempts to speak with him. After being ignored once too often, hot-tempered George flies off in a rage at the rebel, even calling him names. Charlotte in embarrassed and approaches the Reb with an apology. At first, the boy seems to think she’s trying to make fun of him, but she manages to win him over with her sincerity. She is gifted with his real name (Randal Everard Baltimore) and the wrath of Uncle Laurence. But she also gets a glimpse of a lonely boy with a determination she doesn’t understand.
After yet another failed escape that almost costs the Reb his life, Charlotte knows that she must do something to help him. Fortunately for the Reb, her plan works, and soon the young prisoner is given limited freedom and the friendship of the Darrington children. But in the long run, will Charlotte’s plan help or hurt their prisoner of war’s chances of returning to America?
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Originally published in 1961, I first found The Reb and the Redcoats in fifth or sixth grade, when we studied the Revolution. To me, part of the appeal was seeing the Revolutionary War from a very different point of view…in the eyes of the Darrington family, the Colonists are not only completely wrong, they’re foolish criminals. After reading all about the fictional Johnny Tremain, and the real Paul Revere, George Washington and other larger than life characters of the Revoltutionary War, it was not something I’d ever seen in a book by an American author!
The book holds up well, even after almost fifty years. The characters feel real, and I loved the Reb and his almost impossible situation. A few famous characters make an appearance later in the story, and their actions are viewed very differently in England than they were in America. Loyalties and Loyalists are different in England than in the rebellious Colonies, but love and friendship are universal.
If you like Historical Fiction, or enjoyed learning about the American Revolution, you should enjoy this book. It has a bit of a slow start, mostly because Charlotte seems much younger than the readers the book is written for, but give The Reb and the Redcoats a try. If you persevere through the first two chapters, you’ll find yourself intrigued by the story of a fifteen year old soldier with something to prove to himself, his captors and his country.