I read aloud to my children a lot. Most days can find us sprawled on our couches for a good two hours--children facing in all directions, my nose in a book reading aloud as quickly as the words will come from my mouth. We average a new book every three or four days, so we have lots of opportunities to explore different titles. Without a doubt, some of the most riveting books I've read to my children in the past months have been The White Seneca and Seneca Castle by William W. Canfield, historical fiction titles originally penned in 1911 and republished by Salem Ridge Press in 2006.
The first book opens in the year 1774 with fifteen-year-old Henry Cochrane and his sister suddenly surrounded by Indians. In a split-second decision, Henry makes a move that helps his sister escape and ensures his capture by the band of Seneca Indians, part of the Iroquois Nation. Thus, we then enter the tribal life of this group of Indians located in central New York State. Throughout the next two years, Henry embraces life among his adopted people and comes to love them deeply while learning their customs and the skills that enable them to survive their harsh conditions.
So far this plot sounds like many other tales of settlers captured by Indians; yet I promise, this one is different! The author's foreword reveals what sets these books apart:
The writings of men who came early among the Indians and set down those things which they observed, bear truthful descriptions. But a great mass of readers do not have opportunity to search these accounts, or to bring together the scattered scraps of information that lie hidden in the archives of historical societies, or are buried in official reports. . . . With a view to setting before the young, and such adults as have not lost taste for a tale of adventure and stirring times, a better understanding of the Indian, this story has been written. But coupled with the story itself is presented a careful study of Indian character and a truthful description of their manner of living, thus bringing to the mind of the reader a faithful picture of conditions and peoples at the time of the Revolutionary War.
Canfield's vast research results in fascinating details. The story line in both of these books is gripping, yet my favorite aspect of Mr. Canfield's writing are the points at which he says, "My readers will pardon me, I trust, if at this point I drop the thread of my story for a short chapter in which I will describe . . ." and then goes on to give interesting details of Indian life, culture, or history. My children and I learned a tremendous amount about life among these Indians; in fact, we had to correct many of our misconceptions. The descriptive portions are not dry textbook-style lessons. Mr. Canfield's writing is clear and interesting and only whets the reader's appetite for the continuation of the story.
The relations of customs and manners here set down are accurate, and the hope is expressed that they may be so understood by the readers. For through this means many false impressions may be corrected, and knowledge of those beginnings of our country's life may be broadened and strengthened in both old and young.
The White Seneca covers the two years Henry lives with the Seneca, including his capture by an enemy tribe, which puts the skills he's learned to the ultimate test as he escapes, rescuing a young girl recently taken captive as well. The book ends with a dramatic twist. Henry's tribe, stirred up by the British, has ventured into the Wyoming Valley and is attacking the setters. Henry discovers his mother and sister are among the women and children in the fort, and an exciting conclusion follows as Henry is forced to choose between the Seneca he has come to love and his loyalty for his own people. Never have my children and I been so happy that there was a sequel to a book!
Seneca Castle begins with 18-year-old Henry (who is now settled with his mother and sister) being sent to the Continental Army with a message from the settlers of Wyoming Valley, Pennsylvania, requesting help defending their settlement from Indian attacks. Henry meets General George Washington and, at Washington's request, becomes a scout for General Sullivan, who aims to destroy the power of the Iroquois Confederacy forever. Henry strikes out ahead of the army, seeking to warn his Indian "family" and also hoping to rescue his beloved Constance Leonard, whom he was forced to leave in captivity the year before.
The publisher recommends these books for ages 12 to adult. I read them aloud to my children between the ages of 4 and 13, and we were all fascinated. Henry's loyalty and strength of character are qualities I want my six sons to have. These books held powerful lessons and led to great conversations within our family.
I was pleasantly surprised to see that the founder of Salem Ridge Press is a young homeschool graduate named Daniel Mills. The website states,
The underlying philosophy of Salem Ridge Press is found in the Bible: "Whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things" (Philippians 4:8). Daniel firmly believes that what we read matters and what we take into our minds is a major factor in forming our ideas and character. His goal is to be a blessing to others by providing reading material that fits the qualifications outlined in the Bible. While not every title that Salem Ridge Press publishes is explicitly Christian, all of our titles have strong moral values and encourage positive character.
I'm thrilled to have found a new source for quality reading materials for our family. The website shows five additional historical fiction titles as well as a book of allegories they've republished. I look forward to seeing what additional titles they'll find to reprint.
The White Seneca is about the life of Henry Cochrane in the year 1774. He is captured by the Seneca Indians near his home in New York State at age fifteen and is adopted by one of the Senecas. He learns the Indian way of life and grows to love it. He is given the Indian name Dundiswa, "the White Seneca." When the Revolutionary War begins, Henry has to choose between the Indians or his people.
In the sequel, At Seneca Castle, 18-year-old Henry Cochrane has to deliver a message from settlers in Wyoming Valley, Pennsylvania, to the Continental army. He then becomes a scout for a general who is trying to break the power of the Iroquois Confederacy.
The White Seneca was an easy read because the story was easy to follow. The descriptions of the events were very good, and I could picture what was happening. At Seneca Castle was more difficult to understand because the story switched from Henry to the army and back again repeatedly. I couldn't picture the events as well. However, the characters were well developed throughout both books. These books are recommended for ages 12 to adult. I would recommend both books if the reader likes historical fiction. Although originally published in 1911-12, the Seneca books are now being reprinted for the third time and would add nicely to a student's study of the Revolutionary War time period.