1 Pinelands: Historical Fiction

When most people think of the Revolutionary War, they think of landmark towns like Lexington and Concord, Boston, and Philadelphia, not of the South Jersey Pinelands.  Through the years, however, the Pinelands have caught the fancy of many authors who have written tales of soldiers, ­pirates, battle, victory, and defeat.  With perspectives varying from the heroine Kate Aylesford to runaway apprentices and chimney sweeps, it becomes clear that colonial history owes much to the rural pinelands.

When a novel is republished nearly 150 years after its first printing, it is likely to be an intriguing piece of fiction.  Kate Aylesford, the first novel set in the Pine Barrens, is just that.  Written by Charles J. Peterson and published in 1855 (reprinted in 2001), this novel describes the pinelands (at what is now Pleasant Mills, Atlantic County) during the Revolutionary War, especially highlighting the 1778 Battle at Chestnut Creek and the notorious “Pine Robbers.”  At the Sign of the Blue Anchor (1909), another Revolutionary War tale, is told from the perspective of a young soldier.  Written by a ­local, Grace Osgood, At the Sign of the Blue Anchor is a hidden treasure of the pines; this particular copy was housed at the Hammonton Public Library for decades.  Soot Devil (1971), by Charles Greer, describes the early days of the Revolutionary War through the eyes of a runaway chimney sweep.  This work of juvenilia tells the story of a boy who, having escaped a cruel master and dangerous job, finds himself in Philadelphia’s surrounding wilderness.  Stranger in the Pines (1971), by May Yonge McNeer, is another wonderful piece of Pinelands juvenilia.  In contrast to Greer’s novel, it is a historical mystery set in the post-revolutionary period that tells the story of a runaway apprentice exploring Philadelphia.

Peterson, Charles J. Kate Aylesford. Philadelphia: T. B. ­Peterson, [1855].

Peterson, Charles J. Kate Aylesford. Medford: Plexus Publishing, 2001.

Osgood, Grace R. At the Sign of the Blue Anchor. Boston: Clark Publishing, 1909.

Greer, Charles. Soot Devil. New York: Grossett & Dunlap, 1971.

McNeer, May Yonge. Stranger in the Pines. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1971.

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