William Henry Is a Fine Name and I Have Seen Him in the Watchfires

Reviewed by Karen Lange

William Henry Is a Fine Name and I Have Seen Him in the Watchfires are two novels telling the story of Robert Glover before and during the Civil War.

William Henry Is a Fine Name—a Christy Award winner—introduces us to Robert and his family just prior to the war. Robert’s father, Charles, works as overseer on a Quaker farm in Maryland. Mr. Heath, Charles’s employer, freed his slaves and now pays them to work the farm. Robert’s mother, Caroline, hails from a prominent slave-holding family in North Carolina.

Big secrets surface the summer Robert turns thirteen, including the fact that Mr. Heath and Robert’s father work with the Underground Railroad. William Henry, son of freed slaves who work for Heath, is Robert’s best friend. Robert and William Henry grew up together, but until this summer, William Henry has a better idea than Robert of why skin color matters.

Robert also meets his mother’s North Carolina relatives this year, which further challenges his growing convictions about slavery. Will Robert step up and fill the shoes his grandfather wants him to fill as sole heir of the North Carolina family plantation? Or will Robert join his father in the Underground Railroad?

I Have Seen Him in the Watchfires—the action-packed sequel—brings young Robert Glover unimaginable challenges. His father is working as a mapmaker for the Union, and his mother is tucked away at her father’s plantation in North Carolina. Robert struggles with his promise to wait to enlist with the Union until his eighteenth birthday.

Emily, Robert’s cousin, asks him to visit her father, an officer in the Confederate army. Uncle Albert is a prisoner of war at Fort Delaware. Robert agrees, due partly to family obligation, but mostly because he loves Emily. After he visits Albert, Robert plans to go help his mother, whom he has not seen in four years.

Robert’s mettle is tested when he is mistakenly caught in a prison escape plan, is abducted and left for dead, and faces charges as a spy. His adventures in this Christy Award nominee include a persistent enemy and a friend from his past who travels on the Underground Railroad.

Cathy Gohlke’s wonderful stories present an opportunity to see Robert’s faith and integrity grow while bringing history to life. Both titles offer informative and entertaining value that will appeal to ages twelve and up.

Parental Note: William Henry Is a Fine Name and I Have Seen Him in the Watchfires contain subject matter pertaining to the realities of war and slavery. Depending on the ages and maturity levels of your children, you may wish to preview these books before allowing your children to read them or before reading aloud together. I recommend this as independent reading for mature preteens and up.

Information and availability subject to change without notice.