Review | Hemlocks : by Ben Schulz

I found Ben Schulz’s first book, “Hemlocks”, to be of personal interest, historic interest, and of interest to the naturalist in me. Having caught my attention on all these levels, I applaud Mr. Schulz on the degree of research reflected in his story. This tale, covering close to a decade (1773 – 1781) in the life of Aaron Abbott/Peters, transports the reader on a young man’s journey from Somerset County, New Jersey, to Venango, Pennsylvania, while the British and the Americans engage in the Revolutionary War.

The Abbott family of Somerset County, New Jersey are loyalists. Consequently, when Aaron and his older brother, Jacob, join -up to fight they serve His Majesty’s Army and find themselves as soldiers in Philadelphia.

“Circumstance and fate violently disrupt their lives, removing them from a war to a dangerous peace.”


By 1778, the brothers are fugitives, sought by the British Army. They embark on a journey across the Pennsylvania wilderness. A change in surname from Abbott to Peters aides in distancing identity.

As a native Pennsylvanian, I have a lifelong (70 year) familiarity with the state. Not only have I resided in several of the areas documented in “Hemlocks”, my family has deep roots in Northwestern Pennsylvania that date back to the Revolutionary War. It is hard to miss natural wonder and historic significance in Pennsylvania. The “Wilds” and history are everywhere. “Hemlocks” richly represents both.

Historically, the Tory loyalist approach to the American Revolution is interesting. The animosity toward the “Sons of Liberty” and the revolutionary cause is the side of history less represented and therefore revealing. Once free of the military, the brothers encounter diverse populations – freed slaves, native Americans, Germans, French, Canadians – all struggling to survive and searching to grow and prosper. Hardship and losses are suffered. Strength through faith and experience is granted and gained.

“Hemlocks”, as the title choice is an indication of the degree of significance the natural world has on the story. Topography, forestation, weather, animal life, reptiles, and insect populations all produce challenges on the almost three hundred mile trek across the diagonal path from southeastern to northwestern Pennsylvania. In particular, the eastern hemlock was of interest to me. Around the mid 1970’s, I experienced hemlock ravines at the McKeever Environmental Learning Center in Sandy Lake, Pennsylvania (not far from Venango and French Creek where Ben Schulz ends his story).

As happens so often, reading leads to more reading. I believe this a sign of a “good read”. In an article on the Eastern Hemlock by R. M. Godman and Kenneth Lancaster, I found a few facts to share:

  • Hemlocks are slow growing long lived trees which unlike many trees grow well in shade.
  • It may take 250 to 300 years to reach maturity and the tree may live for 800 years or more.
  • Fully stocked stands of eastern hemlock tend to develop damp, cool micro climates because of their dense canopy, dense shading, deep duff layer, and subsequent retention of moisture and uniformly low temperatures.
  • In the Lake States, the species grows on upland sandy loams, often with an abundance of ground or coarse rocky material throughout the upper profile deposit from glacial or fluvial material.
  • Fully stocked stands of eastern hemlock form such a dense canopy that an understory is seldom able to develop.
Eastern Hemlock – Pennsylvania State Tree

I enjoyed reading “Hemlocks” and see a possible path for a sequel. Aaron Peters is only 22 years old at the conclusion of “Hemlocks”. His future and the future of a new republic are bright. The story line presents possibilities for Aaron and Ben Schulz.

Published by Audrey Newhall

I am an avid reader and contributor to Penna Book Reviews

One thought on “Review | Hemlocks : by Ben Schulz

  1. Are you Audrey Armstrong from Lancaster? I found this site by accident while searching for reviews of Ann Cleeves and Vera. Hi from an old friend and classmate! Love your reviews!


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