Birthright: The True Story that Inspired Kidnapped

Written by A. Roger Ekirch
Review by Susan Higginbotham

In 1728, twelve-year-old James Annseley, heir to a large fortune, was snatched off the streets of Dublin by his uncle and sent as an indentured servant to America. Thirteen years later, he arrived in London, determined to reclaim his inheritance from his uncle, now the Earl of Anglesea. The ensuing confrontation would be played out largely in the courts, including the litigation-clogged Court of Chancery, resulting in an ironic ending that Charles Dickens, writing in the next century, would find apt.

Annseley’s story, which inspired novels by both Robert Louis Stevenson and Sir Walter Scott, is a gripping one, and Ekirch tells it with flair. The courtroom battles between uncle and nephew resulted in a wealth of documents, which the author has put to good use. If the real-life ending of Annseley’s tale isn’t as satisfying as that of the fiction it inspired, Ekirch nonetheless offers us a fascinating account of a man who refused to disappear into obscurity and whose quest for justice, as one observer wrote, “engrossed the attention of the three kingdoms.”