Saturday, April 11, 2020

Nina Sankovitch's "American Rebels"

Nina Sankovitch is a bestselling author, avid historian, and voracious reader. In addition to being profiled in the New York Times (twice), she has written for the New York Times, the LA Times, the Huffington Post, and other media. She is the author of several nonfiction books, including The Lowells of Massachusetts. A graduate of Tufts University and Harvard Law School, Sankovitch grew up in Evanston, Illinois, and currently lives in Connecticut with her family.

Sankovitch applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, American Rebels: How the Hancock, Adams, and Quincy Families Fanned the Flames of Revolution, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Looking out from the windows, it seemed to Abigail Adams as if all of Boston passed by their home, all day long and into the evening; sixteen thousand inhabitants, loud and boisterous and busy, a far cry from the five hundred or so families in Braintree, almost all of whom Abigail had known by name. But despite the “Noisy, Busy Town”—or perhaps because of its liveliness and energy—Abigail was happy those first months in Boston.

As she had hoped, now that they lived in Boston, John was often at home, with his law office set up on the ground floor of their house. The Adams family’s social life, which had once centered on the Quincys of Braintree, with Uncle Norton up on the hill and Josiah Quincy down the road, now expanded to include not only more Quincys—Josiah Quincy Jr. often came by for a meal—but also their new good friend and family physician Joseph Warren (whom they met through Josiah and Ned Quincy), and their old friends Jonathan Sewall and his wife, Esther Quincy Sewall, who lived just over the Boston Neck, in Charlestown.

Despite the published letters of debate that passed between Philanthrop (pen name of Sewall) and Governor Winthrop (pen name of Adams), the two old friends enjoyed spending time together; as John wrote, “although we were at Antipodes in Politicks We had never abated in mutual Esteem or cooled in Warmth of our Friendship.” The two men genuinely liked each other, and Abigail and Esther, cousins and girlhood friends, were also pleased with each other’s company. And yet when Jonathan Sewall came to Adams with a proposal to serve as advocate general in the High Court of Admiralty, upon the direct request of Governor Bernard, John wasted not a moment’s breath in turning down the offer.

As he recalled later, Sewall “knew very well my political principles, the system I had adopted, and the connections and friendships I had formed in consequence of them. He also knew that the British government, including the king, his Ministers, and Parliament, apparently supported by a great majority of the nation, were persevering in a system wholly inconsistent with all my ideas of right, justice, and policy.” He told Sewall, “therefore I could not place myself in a situation in which my duty and my inclination would be so much at variance.”

Sewall begged John to reconsider the offer, and even returned to the Adams home three weeks later to ask again, but John remained firm: “I told him my answer had been ready, because my mind was clear, and my determination decided and unalterable.”
I was amazed by how thoroughly page 99 of my book, American Rebels: How the Hancock, Adams, and Quincy Families Fanned the Flames of Revolution, presents the themes I explore throughout the book. And not only are themes presented but we also meet on this one page many of the main figures of the book, along with friends who played pivotal roles in their lives: Abigail Adams, John Adams, Josiah Quincy Junior, Esther Quincy, and Jonathan Sewall. The only key characters of the book missing on this page are Abigail Phillips, the wife of Josiah Quincy Junior (she’ll appear soon enough), John Hancock, his aunt Lydia, his uncle Thomas (deceased by page 56), and Dolly Quincy, who will become a Hancock just in time to play a pivotal role in the Continental Congress – but has a large role to play even before becoming the wife of John.

One of the main themes of the book, and the one which drove me to write American Rebels in the first place, is the difficult choice faced by colonists during the early 1770s of whether to rebel against England or stay loyal to King and Parliament. On page 99 we read about a dramatic confrontation between two very good friends over the very question. No matter how strong the relationship between John Adams and Jonathan Sewall, and how similar the struggles faced by the two men as they’ve risen in the world, they’ve taken opposite sides on the question of rebellion or loyalty. And despite the length and strength of their friendship, John Adams will not waiver from his choice to protest the measures imposed on the American colonies by the King and Parliament, no matter what Sewall offers or argues. We understand from this confrontation the depth of commitment on the part of the rebels to demand their rights from Britain: even though John Adams is offered a lucrative appointment if he only joins the loyalists, Adams remains committed to the rebel cause. His good friend Sewall promises security, riches, influence – and still Adams is unyielding. He will take the risks of loss of income, security, stability – and potentially, even of life itself - to fight for what he believes is right. He is committed to the rebel cause: “my mind was clear, and my determination decided and unalterable.” The only way forward for John Adams and the other American rebels is the way of revolution.
Visit Nina Sankovitch's website, Facebook page, Medium blog, and and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

The Page 99 Test: The Lowells of Massachusetts.

--Marshal Zeringue