His love for history was nurtured by his mother and grandmother; his love for writing was encouraged at the university.
So when James Patrick Riley created, wrote and produced the mini-series, “Courage, New Hampshire,” his two passions came together in a way that fulfills most writers’ fantasy. “You gotta dream big,” said Riley in a recent interview.
This dream will be further enhanced on Memorial Day weekend when the four-part series set in the days leading to the Revolutionary War will be premiered on the INSP network on May 27 at 7 p.m. Eastern time. It will be repeated at various times through the ensuing weeks.
Riley’s interest in the American Revolution began as a youngster. He recalls hearing stories told by his grandmother of how his ancestors participated in that war. He became fascinated with the novel Johnny Tremain and his mother decorated their home with genealogy charts of their family trees that revealed ancestry that spanned back for generations.
“I love the Revolutionary War,” he said. “It’s a romantic attraction for me.”
When his family purchased hundreds of acres of ranch land in Southern California in the 1980’s, he and his brother, Scott, both history buffs, sought ways to share the heritage of the United States in various ways. Civil War reenactments led to school programs for thousands of local children.
While Scott Riley’s interest lay in the Civil War, James’ love of the war to free the country from England led to plays and programs featuring the American Revolution. Gradually, he began writing scripts for plays that were acted out on their ranch, complete with a New England style tavern that he and his wife had built as their home.
|James P. Riley as Silas Rhodes|
Riley’s love of fiction writing began to birth another idea: Scripts for a series that would be historically authentic. Thus, the seeds for “Courage, New Hampshire” were planted.
What began as an hour-long segment entitled “The Travail of Sarah Pine,” soon developed into a four-part mini-series that follows the characters that live in a fictitious town in New Hampshire.
So what are Riley’s hopes for “Courage, New Hampshire?” “I’d like to have a big enough audience to take it through the American Revolution.”
To that dream, most watchers of this series will shout a hearty “Huzzah!”
Here is a review of the series that I wrote for Colonial Quills in 2012:
Courage, New Hampshire is a fictitious township on the edge of the American frontier in 1769. A close-knit Christian community, it lives under the shadow of the growing discontent of the colonists, who fear the king’s increasingly despotic rule.
Episode 1 is called “The Travail of Sarah Pine.” An unexpected visit by three of the King’s soldiers (dressed as civilians) stirs the ire of the local justice of the peace and tavern keeper, Silas Rhodes (James Patrick Riley). He is disturbed by the fact that the soldiers are not in uniform, yet claim to be seeking deserters from the British Army. He accuses Sergeant Bob Wheedle of plotting a kidnapping, and promptly has the sergeant arrested.
During his incarceration in a local barn, a young woman named Sarah Pine brings the prisoner victuals. She naively thinks that all the British soldiers are trustworthy. In her sympathy, she gives the man more than a free meal and nine months later, she has born the soldier’s child. (This is family friendly in its presentation) When Bob Wheedle returns on military business a year later, he is arrested again, this time for the crime of bastardy.
The mini-saga of colonial justice coming up against one of the crown’s soldiers is fraught with tension and filled with emotion.
Episode 2 begins with the declaration by the justice of the peace Silas Rhodes that Courage seems to be covered with a black cloud. Not only has there been fornication in the community, but burglary and counterfeiting. Rhodes bemoans his choice in the last several years to invest in local mills and industry, rather than in hiring a minister of the gospel. Determined to amend the spiritual drought, he hires a temporary minister—but this wolf in sheep’s clothing may cause more harm than good.
Episode 3 sees increasing tensions between the crown and Courage as pressure is put on the local farmers to leave the white pines on their land. The British want the tall trees for naval ship masts; the farmers just want to clear the land for their crops. But felling these trees—even on their own property—can lead to the British government selling the farm at public auction. As Rhodes bitterly states, “You can’t grow potatoes under a pine tree.”
The increasing influence of the patriot group, the Sons of Liberty, keeps Rhodes walking a fine line between keeping the residents of Courage safe while keeping himself and the other patriots out of trouble.
Episode 4 keeps the action moving at a brisk pace, as the aforementioned reverend from Episode 2 has gone a step too far with a certain young woman in town. But the minister has an ally in the local crown-appointed governor and, in an extraordinary performance by Donal Thoms-Cappello, the reverend shrewdly taunts representatives of the law in Courage. He knows he has the upper hand. Although the patriots want justice, they know all to well that a political misstep on their part can put their entire town at risk for retaliation from the king.
This episode ends with a meeting between the leadership of Courage and the governor. It is militia training day in Portsmouth, New Hampshire and, in showing the colonial force of arms for all to see, the governor is confronted with the reality of the situation: The growing colonial rebellion is stronger than he ever imagined.
This extremely brief synopsis does not even begin to describe the rich characters, accurate historical details, lovely period clothing, and overall quality production of “Courage, New Hampshire.” James Patrick Riley has done his homework for the series and gets an A+ in accuracy.
Some of the industry’s finest actors are involved in this project, including Basil Hoffman who was in the Academy Award winning movie, “The Artist.” Hoffman brilliantly portrays the crown-appointed lawyer Simeon Trapp who does everything necessary to defend the King’s soldier accused of bastardy in Episode 1.
Although there are mature topics in this series, it is not graphic or explicit.