Rebels, Turn Out Your Dead

Written by Michael Drinkard
Review by Jeff Westerhoff

Salt, a Yankee hemp farmer, lives in New York with his wife, a teenage son and his Tory father-in-law. The American Revolution comes to their home when Salt’s son shoots a British army officer. Salt is forced to leave his family and his son joins the British army stationed near the Salt farm.

“Rebels, turn out your dead” is the command given on board the prison ships in New York harbor to order the rebel prisoners, kept below deck in a squalid environment, to remove the bodies of the dead. The story revolves around Salt, his wife Molly and several British officers who make life difficult for the Salt family. The book is based upon actual events. The story subtly explains the value of liberty and how war can change an individual’s beliefs in men’s treatment of other men.

I enjoyed the story and found the characters of Salt and the British officer, William Cunningham, most intriguing. Salt learns how to survive during his imprisonment on board a British prison ship docked in New York harbor. Dependent on smoking hemp to escape what he considers a routine life of farming, his character evolves as the story progresses. The British officer, Cunningham, is the antagonist in the novel, and wants to achieve faster advancement in the British army. He has no compassion for the rebel soldiers. Molly, his wife, is forced to manage the hemp farm alone. A local magistrate and a British officer want to “help” her survive alone without her husband. This is a very good character study of how people must cope with life when change is forced upon them through war.