Sackets Harbor Powder Monkey: The War of 1812

by Hope Irvin Marston


Hope Irvin Marston has written more then thirty books for children. Sackets Harbor: Powder Monkey will not disappoint. This book has value on several levels. It is based on real historical events carefully researched and developed. The book reveals a glimpse into the life of families who lived there. Last, but certainly not least, the story is an adventure tale that tweens, teens and adults will not be able to put down.

The story begins with a ten year old boy named Rankin sneaking out of bed to catch a glimpse of the warship sent to guard Lake Ontario from imminent attack by the British. The embargo forbids the local farmers from trading with the Canadians preventing the Americans from smuggling potash in for sale. Rankin, his brother Will, and his Pa risk arrest every time they cross the river. Rankin is enthralled by the warship and is determined to find a way to enlist in the fight. Will convinces his parents to allow them to try. Captain Woolsey is impressed with the boys’ enthusiasm and astounded that they can write. Rankin will become a powder monkey, which means he will be transporting the gun powder to the cannons. Will, who had been an apprentice with a gunsmith, will be an armourer working with weapons aboard the ship.

Marston does an excellent job of portraying the emotions of these two boys. The glamor soon wears off as Rankin must swab the bilge and Will spends hours cleaning rust off the old cannons. Much to their dismay, their ship is dispatched to catch smugglers; friends and family trying to sell potash just as they had done. Rankin is becoming despondent. Finally, one year later in 1812, war is officially declared.

Their ship, the Oneida, is no match for the British fleet. How will they and the hard working families of Sackets Harbor face the overwhelming odds?  Can they succeed in defeating the British?

The author provides lots of resources to help the reader fully comprehend the historical events. There is a map of the area, a list of the historical characters, a glossary of time period and naval terms, an annotated bibliography including internet resources, how to visit the battlefield, and even the local folklore associated with it. Teachers and homeschooling parents will be able to take this story and use it as a springboard for discussion and activities in many other areas of the curriculum.This book is so well written that most children and adults will want to read it in one sitting. Even though there are no illustrations within the story itself, the text is large and double spaced making it easy to read and follow for those with vision or learning disabilities. The main characters are male, but I do not see it as a “boy’s ” book. Authentic period language words like “Huzzah” and “Thankee” make it easy to imagine yourself being there. The spirit of camaraderie in battle displayed by the settlers will make you want to stand up and cheer them on to succeed. This book is targeted for a middle grade audience, but adults will find it equally enjoyable and informative. If you choose to read this book, you won’t be disappointed!