"The Martyr and the Traitor"

In this compact, compelling tale, Virginia Anderson relates the parallel narrative of two young men from Connecticut farming communities during the Revolutionary War years. The book highlights the tragic, interwoven nature of the 18th Century civil conflict that pitted neighbor against neighbor.

The dual biography’s central figures are Nathan Hale, a member of the local gentry and Moses Dunbar, a farmer who struggles on the margins of society. Both men become ensnared in the Revolutionary War. Each was hanged for his loyalty to a nationalistic cause he thought to be honorable.

Nathan Hale, an American patriot and schoolteacher was captured by the British while spying on Manhattan Island and was hanged. Moses Dunbar, a devout Anglican was hanged by rancorous Americans in March 1777 for having remained loyal to the British Crown and the state church. Hale was eventually celebrated as a martyr and enshrined in American history; Dunbar was tagged a traitor and forgotten.

This tight micro history discloses in just 228 pages that the Revolutionary War was not all declarations and ideals, but also a bitter divisive conflict among colonists that wreaked havoc on individuals, families and communities. Anderson gives particular attention to the Congregationalist and the Anglican congregations in New England, the former being for independence, and the latter choosing to remain a part of the British Empire. She reveals how churches and other entities became politicized as the revolutionary crisis intensified and made an impact on ordinary lives.

Anderson, a professor of history at the University of Colorado at Boulder, vividly juxtaposes the ideas of loyalty and treason in wartime. She offers a carefully researched and deftly written account of two young men from similar locales who get caught up in the tumult of war. In the midst of the narrative, she asks readers to re-examine their knowledge of Revolutionary War history and leaves them with the question: “Who is the martyr and who is the traitor?”

Several maps and archival photographs add interest to the volume. Virginia Anderson has written several other books about New England history. Oxford University Press is the publisher.