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Historian Brings to Life the Hardships of the French and Indian War for Immigrants

In 1753, Johann Oberstrasse’s wife, Christianne, announces that their sons will never soldier for the Landgraf of Hesse like their father, will never be hired out to serve King George of England. In search of a new life, Johann and the family join an expedition to the New

World, lured by the promise of land on the Maine coast. A grinding voyage deposits them on the edge of a continent filled with dangers and disease. Expecting to till the soil, Johann finds that opportunity on the rocky coast comes from the forest, not farmland, so he learns carpentry and trapping. To advance in an English world, Johann adapts their name to Overstreet.

But war follows them across the sea. The French and their Indian allies attack the English settlements of New England. To protect their growing family and Broad Bay neighbors, Johann takes charge of the settlement’s militia, leading the company through the British assault on the French citadel of Louisbourg in Nova Scotia. Left behind in Broad Bay, Christianne, their small children, and the old and young must stave off Indian attacks, hunger, and cruel privations.

Peace brings Johann success as a carpenter, but also searing personal losses. When the fever for American independence reaches Broad Bay in 1774, Johann is torn, then resolves to kill no more…unlike his son, Franklin, who leaves to stand with the Americans on Bunker Hill. Soon enough, Johann must face old demons and a new crisis when an escaped prisoner—a hired Hessian soldier, as he had been—arrives at his door.

Author Bio:

After many years as a trial and appellate lawyer, David O. Stewart became a bestselling writer of history and historical fiction. His first novel, The Lincoln Deception, about the John Wilkes Booth conspiracy, was called the best historical novel of 2013 by Bloomberg View. Sequels include The Paris Deception, set at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, and The Babe Ruth Deception, which follows Babe’s first two years with the Yankees. The New Land is the first book of the Overstreet Saga trilogy; the second book, The Burning Land, will be published in May 2022, followed by The Resolute Land in October 2022.

Stewart’s histories explore the writing of the Constitution, the gifts of James Madison, the western expedition and treason trial Aaron Burr, and the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson. In February 2021, Dutton published Stewart’s George Washington: The Political Rise of America’s Founding Father.

Book Excerpt:

In September 1753, Christiane Oberstrasse can’t sleep, lying below decks on the Mary Anne, the aging ship that is carrying some two hundred German immigrants to a new settlement on the coast of Maine. Christiane’s older son, Peter, was buried at sea yesterday, leaving Christiane, her husband Johann, and their baby Walther.

Her mother had warned about the sea and its terrors, its storms and its shipwrecks, its pirates and its diseases. Peter might have died even if they had never left their village, though he had always seemed strong. It was Walther who struggled more in his first months. Yet Walther shrugged off the fever that stole Peter away. Perhaps that meant that Walther was meant for some special purpose. Christiane would like that.

She knew her mother prayed for them, even without knowing about the boys’ fevers. Christiane had never found much solace in church rituals; that was something she and Johann shared. She wished that prayer would help her now, or help Johann, that they might find peace for Peter wherever he was. Did he still float in the water? Had he reached the ocean bottom? Had some sea brute made a meal of him?

A sob tore through her, and she clutched the baby. Johann started. Through tears she shushed them both. She knew her thoughts were bad but what could she do? No Bible readings or pastor’s sermon ever kept away her bad thoughts.

She was with child again, she was certain, though she had said nothing about it. Before Peter sickened, she hadn’t wanted Johann to worry about her. He worried enough. She valued that. A man without worries is a fool who brings only sorrow. Yet she tried to protect Johann from some worries, ones he could do nothing about. And there was no reason to tell him this, after Peter. When this new baby’s time came, they would either be safe in America or they would be with Peter below the waves.

She dropped her head close enough to feel Walther’s breath on her face. Her mind slipped away again. She thought of having babies and then burying them. Or casting them into the sea. She saw herself doing it again and again. Peter had been part of her but then no longer, and now he was gone. She couldn’t see him now, not ever again. She wiped her face with a corner of the blanket. An empty feeling opened inside. She placed her hand over her stomach. It was too early to feel the baby. She was too thin. How many times could she give herself away to a baby, then watch what had been part of her, what she still felt to be part of her, die? How soon would there be nothing left of her?

Her mother had been rough with her brothers, angry when they did something reckless or foolish, when they treated so thoughtlessly the life that had cost her dearly to give them. “Don’t expect me to weep at the grave of such a fool,” her mother would say, as though a mother could choose how much grief she would feel when her child was gone.

It had been Christiane’s idea to go to America. Johann thought it was his. When she accepted him as her husband, she had admired his bearing, the respect he commanded as a common man who rose to be sergeant, a man with dienst. Her father had questioned the match. Johann had no land, and Christiane wasn’t bad to look at. But she was the fourth daughter, and the dowry money had run out. Johann required no dowry. She overheard her mother say that Johann was respectable and probably wouldn’t beat her, that was enough. That would be better, Christiane had thought, than two of her sisters had done.

Christiane grew to care for Johann but to hate the army, not only because it took him away. Even when he was home, he was still in the army. Christiane couldn’t tell if the soldier’s life ground harder on him each year, or if she learned to see better the toll it exacted each time he left for a campaign of more hardship and more danger. Always quiet, he grew quieter. Christiane couldn’t bear for him to continue, to keep killing or be killed for his precious dienst. And she knew he couldn’t be satisfied living in Hesse, working on her family’s land or hired by another landowner. A man like Johann couldn’t be that way. Christiane couldn’t ask it.

When Peter came, she realized it was up to her. If she did nothing, she would watch her sons march off in the Landgraf’s uniform, like their father. They had no land. She went to find the man in the market, the one who talked about America, always in a loud voice.

He was short and fat, with eyes that never rested on what he saw. She didn’t like his looks, like a man who shortweighted grain, so she wasn’t sure she could believe what he said. They called men like him, men who recruited for America, the soul-sellers.

The soul-seller said that in Massachusetts, in the Maine district of Massachusetts, the soil was rich, the land empty, the seasons gentle. He had a pamphlet, just a sheet of paper folded down the middle, describing a settlement in Maine owned by a man named Waldo. General Waldo. It was a strange name. The paper, he told her, said that General Waldo had land for settlers who were willing to work hard to grow fat and rich.

She thought he must be lying about some of it, maybe all of it, but she had to do something. She brought the pamphlet home and left it on the table. She said nothing to Johann about it. He picked it up and read it, but said nothing. He placed it on the windowsill. After he left in the morning, she put it back on the table. He read it again that night. On the third night, she asked what it said. He told her that it offered land that settlers could work for, and only half-fare to get to America where the English were, a land called New England. People in their parish had gone to America before but always to Philadelphia. Johann was intrigued by New England. He had fought beside the English during the war and learned some of their language, or enough of it. They weren’t so bad. Their officers were better than some German officers, and they were good fighters. They did what they said. Why, he wondered, does this man trade land for our work and only charge half-fare? Is the land bad? Is it full of these Indians and bears? It’s too good to be true, this New England.

She didn’t answer. There must be something wrong, she knew, with the land or the offer or the ship on which new settlers were to sail. But it was the only way for Johann to get land. They had to go. He said he would talk to Fritz Bauer about it; Fritz knew about land. Then maybe Johann would go to the market and speak with the man who looked like he shortweighted grain. She nodded. She had been in her final month with Walther, heavy and sluggish, so Johann expected no more from her.

She felt Johann start awake in the dark. He gripped her shoulder and said her name. She leaned into him. Her tears came but not the sobs. She shivered. Johann stroked her cheek, then reached to cover her with his coat. Awkwardly, he placed it over her and Walther. She hoped it would be warmer where they were going. It was still only September.

Book Reviews

“In The New Land, David O. Stewart goes deep into the lives of a band of immigrants who landed in Maine before there was a Maine. This is the rare historical novel that has it all: a family love story, a panoramic war story, victories and losses in the daily

struggle for survival, and, from the shadows, the quiet but unmistakable thrum of the tragedy of the European invasion of North America.”

Patricia O’Toole, author of acclaimed

biographies of American figures, including The Five

of Hearts: An Intimate Portrait of Henry Adams and

His Friends

“A dazzling and wrenching novel of history that marks the beginning of an American epic. A story of immigration, the inheritance of violence, and the love of a father for his son, told in language that stings with salt and sawdust and gunpowder. A novel of our revolutionary past that speaks truth to our fraught and furious times. David Stewart is a master of history and the human heart that beats within it.” —Kent Wascom, author of The New Inheritors


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