Friday, December 23, 2005

The Trial of Abraham Hunt: An American Christmas Story

The Trial of Abraham Hunt: An American Christmas Story, by Michael A. Davis, combines a lawyer’s style of writing (the courtroom) with a thorough presentation of a slice of history from the American Revolution. Abraham Hunt was a wealthy merchant in Trenton, New Jersey in 1776, and a strong patriot in the early days of the American Revolution. Yet he signed a statement of loyalty to the British in December 1776, and then entertained the British troops occupying Trenton, including giving a Christmas Eve party to the British in the hours while Washington secretly moved his men across the Delaware River. George Washington’s surprise attack the next morning revived the Revolutionary spirit, and Abraham Hunt’s actions played a role as well: he could very easily have warned the British, but did not.
Though nothing ever happened to Hunt after his pledge of loyalty to the British, Davis injects a fictional “trial” to explain to a modern-day audience all the details of events during this part of the Revolution. Davis’ story takes the form of a courtroom drama transcript, in which we read each character’s dialog part. The dialog is well written, though the very use of this style makes the content – conveying the events to 21st century readers -- rather unrealistic. In an actual court trial of the times, the characters would not elaborate in such detail about things that were commonly known to all. Also, at various points in the dialog one side or the other “objects,” and the objection would normally be valid; but since the real purpose is to enlighten modern day readers, of course the characters are allowed to elaborate and explore seemingly non-relevant material.
Though at first the story is hard to get into, the material draws itself out for an interesting and educational reading, complete with photocopies of original (though very hard to read) documents from the time. Not surprisingly, we soon learn that indeed Abraham Hunt’s actions were not traitorous but actually helped the Patriotic cause. (After all, in reality nothing happened to Hunt, and thus his contemporaries at least understood what was really going on even if later historians have not.) Still, the story is interesting, a little-known episode of the American Revolution. The Trial of Abraham Hunt: An American Christmas Story is a nice, brief account (182 pages, including photocopies of original documents) concerning the amazing, Providential events of Christmas 1776.

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