In the first novel ever written by a U.S. president, Jimmy Carter tells the story of the Revolutionary War in the South through the eyes of the farmers, British spies and American Indians.
“The Hornet's Nest,” released Nov. 11, weaves the lives of early Americans and the British into a bloody wartime narrative. It is his 18th book.
“It’s almost impossible to find this information in one place,” Carter said Monday from his home in Plains, Ga. “Almost all the impressions of the Revolutionary War are confined to Bunker Hill and Paul Revere’s ride.”
Carter’s story follows the paths of Georgia militia leader Elijah Clarke, British commander Thomas Brown and independent frontiersman Ethan Pratt. He paints a South filled with deadly battlegrounds, changing allegiances, Indian massacres, political dissent and undecided colonists.
The 79-year-old Carter got interested in writing the novel when he found a dearth of reliable information about the Revolutionary War in the South, where important battles were fought in places such as Savannah and Augusta, Ga., and Charleston, S.C.
“Since my ancestors were involved in it, and I had some reports on what they had done and their experiences, I decided to put it together as a combination of historical figures and fictional characters,” Carter said.
Many of the characters are based on real people, such as Gen. Charles Cornwallis, Gen. George Washington and Declaration of Independence signer Button Gwinnett, who dies in a pistol duel.
Others are fictional representations. One chapter creates a story about Quash Dolly, a slave woman who leads the British into the heart of Savannah after being raped. History books only mention an unnamed slave as the betrayer of the coastal town.
The book explains the war, from 1775 to 1784, from the perspective of the people who couldn’t avoid it.
Pratt, a fictional character, is a farmer who eventually gets drawn into the war after his brother, son and best friend are killed. Clarke is an illiterate and arrogant leader of the Indian-hating militia. Brown is the devious British spy bent on revenge against the colonists after he was tarred and feathered.
Carter spent seven years writing “The Hornet’s Nest,” which takes place in Georgia, Florida and the Carolinas. He read more than 35 books about the Revolutionary War and consulted with several professors to learn about creative writing. He painted the book jacket himself.
“Historians will find the book to be quite accurate, as far as what actually happened,” Carter said. “It will be good for us to remember the original concept of our country, that we have to relate intimately with other nations.”