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Book Review: The Trial and Execution of the Traitor George Washington

The following review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right side bar.

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The Trial and Execution of the Traitor George Washingtonby Charles Rosenberg is a great Fourth of July novel.  Anyone who feels a sense of patriotism will want to read this gripping story about America’s General George Washington. The suspense ratchets up as readers wonder what will happen to one of America’s greatest heroes. 

This thought-provoking alternative history book takes place in the midst of the American Revolution. An English plot to kidnap General George Washington, brings him overseas to England, and puts him on trial as a traitor. But some like British Prime Minister Frederick North want to use him as a bargaining chip to put an end to a very costly war. British special agent Colonel Jeremiah Black, an officer of the King’s Guard, is assigned the task of landing on a deserted beach in late November 1780. Aided by “Loyalist” Americans he is able to sprint Washington aboard the HMS Peregrine.  Upon their arrival, Washington is imprisoned in the Tower of London to await trial on charges of high treason.

An interesting controversy explored, are the US colonies in rebellion and therefore subject to charges of treason, or are they a separate country; thus, Washington should be treated as a prisoner of war? “I found out these were actual arguments at the time. Washington would argue he was a prisoner of war, and that under the laws of war, he must be released at the end of hostilities or exchanged for another prisoner.  The debate: were the colonists a legitimate authority or rebels, as the King proclaimed in 1775, in a state of rebellion? Although, there were actually exchanges of prisoners.  In 1781 Henry Laurens was swapped for the British General Lord Cornwallis who was famous for losing the Battle of Yorktown. I think given the chance George III would have wanted Washington executed.” 

Although Washington is more of a secondary character, throughout the novel his presence looms significantly.  Key characters include the American ambassador, Ethan Abbott, sent to negotiate Washington’s release, the British Prime Minister Lord North, and the defense attorney chosen to defend Washington, Abraham Hobhouse, an American-born barrister with an English wife. An added highlight has all the characters’ debating key issues of the time.  Rosenberg does this with a great writing style where readers do not feel as if they are being hit over the head with a history lesson.

Rosenberg noted, “He is definitely not the protagonist of the novel, but is more of a topic in it.  I realized that the first third of the book, where the planning and capture of the General happens, would have him not commenting at all.  For the second part, where he is on the ship, he is a prisoner, who is basically helpless.  This means that he would not have a lot to say. Because various people would have objected and commented that Washington would not have thought that or done this.  I tried to present him as his contemporaries described him. There were not a lot of personal writings since Martha Washington burned his letters after he died. This made it hard to get a lot of material.  However, I did read his speeches and hope that I came close to the way he would have said things when I did quote him.”

This alternative history is informative and interesting, within a gripping novel.  Part adventure story, part spy novel, and part courtroom drama it has many twists. This what-if plot has an intriguing storyline.

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