In his new book "Birthright," Virginia Tech professor of history A. Roger Ekirch brings to life an extraordinary story of intrigue and scandal, corruption, betrayal, and redemption.
Ekirch details the story of an orphaned aristocrat - freed from years of indentured labor in America to claim his rightful place as a peer of the realm – an ordeal that captivated eighteenth-century Britain. The saga inspired no fewer than five novels, including Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic adventure tale, Kidnapped.
Ekirch, the award-winning author of At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past, recounts the conflicts of the Annesley family, evoking the scents, sights, and sounds – the ancient rituals and violent debauchery – of life in Georgian Ireland. Birthright is based upon research in Ireland, the United Kingdom, and the United States, where Ekirch draws upon courtroom transcripts, newspapers, personal correspondence, and nearly 400 rarely seen yet remarkably detailed legal depositions. “An extraordinary work of history by one of America’s most imaginative historians, a true story more fascinating than fiction,” proclaims Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, Gordon S. Wood.
Per the publisher, W.W. Norton and Company:
“In 1728, at twelve years of age, Jemmy Annesley was kidnapped from Dublin and shipped by his uncle to the colonies as an indentured servant. Uncle Richard, his blood rival, usurped the boy’s inheritance of five aristocratic titles belonging to the mighty house of Annesley, together with sprawling estates in Ireland, England, and Wales. Only after twelve more years, in the American backwoods, did James successfully escape to Jamaica, then to England and Ireland where he set about reclaiming his birthright, all the while defying accusations of being a “pretender,” the bastard son of a maidservant, in addition to repeated attempts on his life. How, after such a long absence, in an age without DNA laboratories, fingerprint records, or photographs could an impoverished prodigal prove his identity, let alone his legitimacy? At stake during the epic trial held in Dublin - the longest in memory – was the greatest family estate ever put before a jury. Thus began a tortuous quest on the road to redemption – full of unforeseen twists and turns – followed closely by a rapt public, including George II, king of England.”
Now modern readers can experience for themselves the story of James Annesley’s journey. BIRTHRIGHT: The True Story that Inspired Kidnapped [W. W. Norton & Company; $24.95 cloth] will be released on Jan. 25, 2010. Ekirch will be discussing Birthright at the Library of Congress in the Mary Pickford Theater on April 15 at noon.