Abraham Byers moves with his wife, adult children, and members of his extended family to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to land newly available to homesteaders. There they establish a new settlement, with Abraham becoming the local preacher and his sons finding jobs at a neighboring sawmill. By 1893, ten years after their arrival, finances are tight as the community is going through tough economic times. Matters become worse when the tyrannical owner of the mill decreases wages, increases hours, and condones unsafe working conditions. Fed up with the unfair treatment of the mill workers, Abraham proposes starting a product-sharing community based on the writings of progressive political activist Walter Thomas Mills. Community members must agree to sign over their property to the newly formed Hiawatha Colony, work for the general good, and share in the profits. Abraham’s ideas may sound idealistic, but his neighbors aren’t afraid of hard work, and the thought of sharing the fruits of their labor appeals to them. The community struggles, however, as they face the difficult task of agreeing on how their community should be governed.
Byers is the author’s great-great-great-grandfather, and she honors her family with her thoughtful, well-researched novel. The first two pages list the names and brief descriptions of 41 characters, but don’t let that scare you off. Biaggio’s characters are so well developed, and she manages to weave them into her story gradually so that you won’t have any trouble remembering them. The book brims with pioneer spirit and determination. I particularly enjoyed reading about the daily lives of the members, especially the women. Highly recommended.