The Prisoners of Niagara, originally published in 1810, opens in the final days of the Revolutionary War in British Fort Niagara where the novel’s frisky young hero, Evermont, is confined. The story takes many hilarious turns as Evermont (who bears a close resemblance to Henry Fielding’s famous scamp Tom Jones) emerges as an engaging rascal, rambling between good deeds and mishaps from which he narrowly escapes. Scandalous in its day, The Prisoners of Niagara is unique for the period because of its candor. Very few copies survive because the author, Jesse L. Holman, attempted later in life to buy up and destroy the entire edition as “the morals of the book were not suitable for the minds of young people.” Having written the novel at age twenty-six, Holman later became an Indiana Territorial Legislator, a Territorial, State, and Federal Judge, and a Baptist elder and minister.
Abigail Davis gives a masterful literary analysis in the introduction. The book is a picaresque, an historical romance, and a mystery; it employs the captivity tradition, the theme of seduction and abandonment, multiple disguises, forged letters, cross dressing, and deathbed confessions. Evermont charms the reader with his good intentions and profoundly poor judgment when it comes to women; he never meets one he doesn’t like.
Jesse L. Holman and Abigail Davis
(1810), 2006, 5½x8½, paper, 300 pp.