Alice of Old Vincennes by Maurice Thompson, published in 1900, was in its time a hit nearly as popular as Ben Hur, written by Thompson's friend, Lew Wallace. An historical novel, it takes place in 1779 at Fort Sackville in what is now Vincennes, Indiana. The novel is based on the history of the takeover of the fort by the British and its retaking by George Rogers Clark.
I was delighted with the feisty heroine of this adventure story, a woman who quickly sews a flag to fly over the fort when news reaches Vincennes of the rebellion of the colonies, who despite her fear of him nurses an American Indian back to health after he has been attacked, and who can fence as well as some men and with much more skill than many.
And this was written in 1900! I wonder if Alice Roosevelt read the book when she was living in the White House. She would have appreciated the spunky Alice Roussillon.
Alice is an orphan who was originally named Alice Tarleton. She was kidnapped by the Indians as a small child and rescued by Gaspard Roussillon, the unofficial mayor of Vincennes, who with his wife has brought her up to be independent, intellectually curious, and eager to live life fully. In 1779 the "northwest" as it was then called, was a Francophone, Roman Catholic world peopled mostly by hunters and fur traders. Vincennes was fortunate to be a settled village with a church and old Father Beret, a Roman Catholic priest from France with a mysterious past.
Alice is good friends with Father Beret, who has taught her how to fence and who tries to guide her reading toward Montaigne and other great French writers. Alice prefers Scarron, Scudery, and Prevost, whose romances she reads when Mme Roussillon is not watching. Although Father Beret does his best to make a Roman Catholic of her, Alice vaguely remembers her mother teaching her the Lord's Prayer and she holds firmly to her somewhat uninformed Protestantism. She still has a locket her mother gave her that is engraved with the Tarleton family crest.
When the Americans arrive to announce that the colonies are breaking away from the mother country and to strengthen Fort Sackville, Alice falls wildly in love with the young second-in-command, Lieutenant Fitzhugh Beverley, a Beverley of Beverley Hall, Virginia, obviously a FFV. The lieutenant is equally smitten with Alice.
The fort is taken by the British, Lt Beverley escapes and after a frighteningly near thing when captured by the Indians, joins up with George Rogers Clark and his men as they return to oust the British. Once again the colonial flag that Alice made is run up the flagpole. The lovers sail off down the Wabash River to live happily ever after in Virginia.
The thing is, it's a true story. Well, perhaps Alice didn't disarm a British officer with her epee. And there is some question whether the original Alice was in real life quite as daring as the fictional one. But the bones of the story are there and the flag that Alice made now resides in a house near Monticello.
This is one of the books mentioned in 100 American Novels You've (Probably) Never Read (2007) by a Vermont librarian, Karl Bridges. You can read this novel online at Project Gutenberg.