Stephen W. Meader was an author of 40 novels for children published from 1920 to 1970. He’s largely forgotten now, but when I was a boy he was quite popular, and I found many of his books in libraries, and some at book sales. Meader’s stories were of two main types: either a teenager or young man finding his way to making a living in the current times through hard work and perseverance (from growing blueberries to driving a big rig truck), or similar boys caught up in moments of American history full of danger and excitement. This book from 1962, found at a sale recently, is one of the latter.
Anse O’Neal grew up on Ocracoke Island on the coast of North Carolina sailing and fishing from an early age. When Civil War battles came to his home state, he joined the crew of a Confederate Blockade Runner, small fast ships whose job was to sneak past Yankee naval ship blockades around the port of Wilmington carrying cotton to Bermuda where it could be traded for weapons and supplies for the Confederate troops. This dangerous business brought death or imprisonment to many, but the captain and crew of the “Gray Witch,” not to mention the ship herself, are expert at the task. Even so, Anse’s voyages are full of sea battles, close shaves, and cannon fire. When the ship takes on two female passengers, Lucy Harcom and her mother, Anse soon finds a new friendship turning into something more. That makes survival even more important, and as the Confederacy comes ever closer to losing their fight, Anse and the crew have to leave their ship in hiding and strike out across war-torn country attempting to get Lucy and her mother to safety.
As with all Meader’s books, this is a great read, bringing history to life, and teaching me a lot about the period and people. The characters are well-done, though their attitude and efforts are always positive, and the hero always wins in the end. Fun stuff. And there are still about half his books I either haven’t read or don’t remember to look for. I’ve just discovered that Southern Skies has reprinted most of them, so perhaps Meader’s work will fine new readers.