Roger Ekirch


On his book The True Story that Inspired Kidnapped

Cover Interview of January 24, 2010

The wide angle

Although the inspiration for five novels, Annesley’s ordeal has attracted scant attention from historians, in part because the principal primary source associated with his abduction is a volume, first published in 1743, entitled Memoirs of an Unfortunate Young Nobleman, Return’d from a Thirteen Years Slavery in America. . . .Upon my first encounter twenty-five years ago with this text, of which Annesley was not the author, my own reaction was much the same as that of other historians— to dismiss it out of hand as fiction, and bad fiction at that.  A reprint, in fact, appeared in 1975 as part of Garland Publishing’s “Flowering of the Novel” series.

More recently, a stray reference to Annesley’s tribulations in an obscure English diary in Oxford’s Bodleian Library caused me to probe further, only to discover transcripts of court proceedings held in London as well as Dublin.  And, too, along with newspaper reports, I was fortunate enough to locate nearly four hundred legal depositions, wholly pertaining to Jemmy’s youth, in the National Library of Ireland in Dublin and in the National Archives outside London.  Although few scraps of personal correspondence have survived, members of the Annesleys, an English family who over the course of the 1600s achieved wealth and fame in Ireland on a grand scale, left a vast trove of legal documents in their wake.

My aim has been to use this small mountain of evidence to relate the fascinating story of Annesely’s life with as much attention to accuracy and historical detail as possible.  There is next to no reliance upon literary theory, nor is the book highly analytical apart from the occasional paragraph in which I endeavor to expand upon the broader context of events, whether it be the kidnapping trade, childrearing, or the issue of attorney-client privilege.  In this regard, two models, which I aspired to emulate, were Sebastian Junger’s The Perfect Storm and Nathaniel Philbrick’s In the Heart of the Sea.  Both relate gripping stories, all the while paying scrupulous attention to the larger historical milieu.