True Freedom

Michael Dean

How America came to fight Britain for its independence

Sample Passages

  • Chapter 1 – Boston Lieutenant Governor & Governor's Residences

    Lieutenant Governor Thomas Hutchinson sat alone in his mansion on Garden Court Street, the loveliest dwelling in Boston. His restless pale blue eyes swept over Turkish carpets and painted hangings; over mouldings and gildings; over marble tables and St Domingo mahogany panelling with the arms of England in the recesses of swan-like arches.

    There was a polite tap on the door which led from the Hall Chamber into the Great Chamber, where he sat. A footman in the Hutchinson blue-and-gold livery walked softly in, ushering a Negro slave runner, as if he were driving a sheep to market.

    ‘A message for you, sir,’ said the footman.

    Hutchinson raised one eyebrow, a trick handed down to him from five generations of Bostonian aristocracy. ‘From?’

    ‘From the Assembly, sir.’

    Hutchinson permitted himself a bleak smile. Sure enough, the note, when the Negro slave runner handed it over, confirmed that the petition to the Massachusetts Assembly had been received and would be discussed.

    Hutchinson’s smile widened. The petition was in the name of the Governor of Massachusetts, Hutchinson’s superior, Thomas Pownall. It requested the Assembly to approve measures designed to reduce smuggling and so increase the tax revenue from traded goods.

    ‘No reply,’ Hutchinson said.

    ‘Very good, sir.’ The footman shepherded the Negro slave from the room, watching him closely as if he feared some unspecified crime.

    Thomas Hutchinson re-read the note. ‘That’ll show you, you little popinjay,’ he said aloud to the absent Governor. ‘Now what will you do, I wonder?’


    Like all his predecessors as Governor of Massachusetts, Thomas Pownall lived in the Province House on Milk Street. This place, selected by the early settlers for their governor to dwell in, lacked the grandeur of the Hutchinson mansion but it was pleasant enough, being a three-storey brick building set in finely timbered lawns.

    Governor Thomas Pownall was that most gregarious of creatures, an underlyingly lonely man. No wife for Thomas Pownall, at least not yet. Not even a regular companion in his bed, much as he loved women. The two moth-eaten lions on the Pownall coat of arms, the Governor used to joke, represented himself and his brother rampant and pawing the air because they were looking for a mate.

    But at this moment, as he gathered together his drawing materials in his chamber, the Governor soared above the torments of his flesh. His mind was roaming the realms of art.

    His sketch of the Boston waterfront, as seen from the British garrison, out on its island at Castle William, showed promise, he told himself judiciously. He had caught both the grace and the power of the British men-of-war at anchor. It needed more work … But at the last minute he decided to improve his map of Boston instead.

    A footman in red and green livery appeared. He had neither knocked at the door nor sought permission to enter. The footman carried a message.

    The Governor took the message and said ‘Wait, please’ to the footman. The footman smiled. This may have been because the Governor was famously polite to the underlings. Or

    it may have been that the majority of people who encountered Thomas Pownall smiled at the sight of him.

    His short, plump figure presented no threat. His artless grin aroused affection. He looked like the Lincoln Imp. This stone figure, grinning and gap-toothed, was mounted high on the east wall of Lincoln Cathedral, near the Pownall family home. It sat on a stone bench with one calf crossed over the other thigh. Whether by chance or out of impish imitation, Thomas Pownall habitually sat like that, too.

    But as he read the message, the Governor’s half-smile faded. Even the laughter lines round his eyes appeared to droop. Thomas Pownall knew very well he was seen as pleasant but trifling. He did not particularly mind that. Usually, the love he won from those who knew him outweighed the occasional lack of respect. But this … THIS …

    Thomas Pownall just stopped himself from screwing the message into a ball and throwing it on the floor. He thought hard, while the footman waited, looking concerned. The message confirmed a motion before the Massachusetts Assembly. It was in the Governor’s name but tabled by Lieutenant Governor Thomas Hutchinson. The motion was designed to reduce smuggling and increase revenue from customs duties.

    Thomas Pownall had of course discussed this issue with the Lieutenant Governor, again and again. He had discussed it with everybody; it was vital. But Thomas Hutchinson putting it before the Assembly in the Governor’s name was the most rampant mischief. Of course they would reject it. It would arouse the utmost irritation – even fury. And he, Governor Thomas Pownall, would look crass and clumsy for such an inept attempt at root-and-branch reform.

    Lieutenant Governor Thomas Hutchinson wished to wreck Governor Pownall’s policy once and for all. And he had been fiendishly clever about it. As he calmed, to a degree, and felt some of the colour come back into his face, Pownall could not help but admire Hutchinson’s political skill – or low cunning. It was worthy of Machiavelli himself.

    Thomas Pownall sighed. His only course of action, the only one Hutchinson had left him, was to get this wrecking motion withdrawn from the Assembly. Then Pownall could go on pressing for what was clearly best for Boston – proper payment of customs duties – in the subtle manner he had always employed, working with the grain.

    But Hutchinson and his faction dominated the Assembly. The only way to get the motion withdrawn was to go on bended knee to the Lieutenant Governor. Oh, how Hutchinson would enjoy that!

    Pownall addressed the footman, speaking absently, mind elsewhere. ‘Make ready the landau and the greys.’

    ‘Not the chaise?’

    ‘No! Not the chaise.’

    Should he have insisted the footman address him as sir, or as Governor? He did not know how to treat the servants and they knew it. They sensed it. A man carries his past like a sack on his back.

    When he first arrived as Governor, some three years ago, the staff at the Province House assumed Pownall had been brought up in a house with footmen. And Thomas Pownall did not disabuse them. Nobody in Boston knew how far below the salt the Pownalls were. Thomas Pownall had hardly seen a footman, a servant or a secretary before he came to Boston.

    His father, William, was a poor country squire and soldier who died young. With the family plunged into poverty by William’s death, they lived in the shadow of the Poor House, forever listening out for the heavy tread of the bailiffs. His mother, Sara, had to rent out part of the house in humble Saltfleet, Lincolnshire. In the nick of time, the industrious Sara Pownall had wangled a connection to Lord North. Otherwise they would have starved.

    While waiting for the carriage to be made ready, Thomas Pownall changed his clothes. He habitually dressed informally – a short frock coat, no ruffled shirt, no powdered wig, as often as not no sword. But not this time. Lieutenant Governor Thomas Hutchinson was about to be impressed by the full majesty of Governor Thomas Pownall.

    He would wear the yellow silk waistcoat. Oh yes! Hutchinson would not know what it meant, but he, Thomas Pownall, would. And that was all that mattered.

  • Chapter 12 – London American Department

    At five minutes before eight in the morning, John Pownall jumped out of a sedan chair outside the lobby of the Admiralty Building, in the Cockpit, Whitehall, where the American Department was housed. He hauled his leather bag after him, grinding his teeth at losing more work-time than he had lost in months.

    Seething with impatience, he paid the chair man with bad grace, proffering no tip, then ran into the building with the man’s sarcastic ‘Have a very good day, sir,’ ringing in his ears.

    He ran up the wooden stairs, taking them two at a time. The American Department was on the first floor. The outer office housed seven clerks at seven standing-desks but only two of them were in at this early hour. They were presided over by the Chief Clerk, William Pollock. He was already at his post, sitting at his imposing desk at the front of the office, facing the clerks.

    William Pollock stood as John Pownall burst in. He was steeped in the ways of the Civil Service, having spent twenty years at the Northern Department. He was greying at the temples, being over a decade older than the two Under-Secretaries, John Pownall and William Knox. That and his grand house in Downing Street, while the Under-Secretaries were both still in cheap lodgings, gave him a knowing air with his superiors, though he was never less than respectful.

    ‘Good morning, Mr Pownall, sir.’

    ‘Morning, Mr Pollock. Anything fresh in? Anything from Boston?’

    John Pownall glanced impatiently at the mahogany panelling of the outer office, covered in shelves, compartments and pigeon holes all containing myriad petitions from America, loosely tied in ribbon. Most of the petitions remained unread, if only because there were so many of them, but reports from spies were a different matter. That is what John Pownall meant by ‘Anything fresh in?’ Reports from spies, especially spies from Boston, were taken through to John Pownall and William Knox immediately.

    ‘Yes, sir. There are fresh reports from our informants in Boston.’

    ‘On my desk quick as you can, please.’

    ‘Yes, sir.’


    John Pownall walked through to the minuscule inner office. Hs face relaxed, as far as it ever did, falling into an automatic smile at the sight of Under-Secretary William Knox. He felt the familiar flush of affection, even love. Their work together, side by side at adjacent desks, elbows almost touching, had made them more like brothers than John ever felt towards his true brother, Thomas.

    William Knox was an Irish descendant of the protestant radical John Knox, but he was no radical himself – he was loyalist in his blood and bones. As usual in the morning, he was reading a newspaper with his feet up on his desk, appearing to do nothing. But there was an almost finished background report on his desk, the work of many weeks.

    Pownall regarded the last background report Knox had produced as the best analysis of the colonial question he had ever read. Knox’s paper pointed out that the Romans treated each colony differently, according to circumstance and need. The British tried to establish the same colonial policy not only for every American colony but for all the Caribbean colonies, and for India and Ireland. It was too broad and so, warned Knox, it was doomed to failure.

    Knox was the only man on the British side to look at colonial issues from the colonists’ viewpoint, perhaps because he had spent some years living in Georgia as a rice planter. Pownall, deep though his factual knowledge of America was, never did that. He never saw any need to.

    Having lived among its people, Knox understood the lack of hierarchy in American society: no religious hierarchy, no class hierarchy. Pownall always shrugged that off. Americans saw themselves as subject to the King and God only. They rejected every other man put over them, be it bishop or rule-maker. And they most certainly rejected the authority of the British Parliament.

    That analysis, like all the others, had made its way to Lord Hillsborough’s office, where it – like all the others – lay gathering dust, unread by Hillsborough or anybody else.


    William Knox lowered the newspaper as far as his nose, peering over it for comic effect. His deep blue eyes were twinkling, laughter lines creased his cheeks. The whole of his pleasant face appeared to be smiling, even the prow of his nose.

    ‘Top o’ the mornin’ to you,’ he said in a Drury Lane stage-Irish voice, exaggerating his natural Monaghan accent to the point of parody. ‘Where have you been?’ he added, speaking normally. ‘Secret meeting?’

    The remark was said with Knox’s usual twinkle, but it had an edge to it. John Pownall habitually kept information to himself, even if it should be shared. On one occasion this had led to an eyeball-to-eyeball quarrel between the two Under-Secretaries, the only time they had ever fallen out. While Thomas Pownall was still Governor of Massachusetts, John had spoken to the Head of the American Department, Lord Hillsborough, about him. He had done this on his own initiative, without consultation. Thomas, John told Hillsborough, was too close to the Massachusetts Assembly. He had gone native; it was handicapping their work. As John knew perfectly well, William Knox took a diametrically opposite view, seeing Thomas, as many did, as the best colonial governor then in post.

    Hillsborough had recalled Thomas soon afterwards. This may or may not have been what John had intended – it probably was not, in Knox’s opinion – but William Knox still did not approve, hence the row. The breach the incident had caused between the Under-Secretaries was healing, but slowly.

    John Pownall shook his head, ruefully. ‘No, no secret meetings, William. I’ve given them up for Lent. My journey was delayed. The rioting is getting worse. London is going to rack and ruin.’

    Knox, quickly mollified as ever, opened his arms in jokey avuncular embrace. ‘Come, come, now. Tell yer Uncle William all about it.’

    Pownall threw his bag on his desk but remained tensely standing. He shut his eyes, saying nothing.

    ‘Have you been working all night, John?’

    Pownall opened his eyes. ‘No. I slept for four hours. Maybe three.’ He smiled. ‘I nearly spent the night here at my desk but then I thought “What is the point of paying a princely three shillings and sixpence for exquisite rooms in Butcher Row, the envy of all who have seen them, and so convenient for a quick prayer at St Clements Church, if one is never in residence?” So I worked at home. Then I set off early, tried to do some work in a Hackney

    carriage and … bang.’

    ‘Bang, eh? Who were they?’

    ‘Spitalfields weavers mainly. We should deport the lot to America.’

    ‘No doubt we will.’ Knox looked concerned. Beneath the bravado, Pownall looked and sounded shaken. ‘They are not happy people, I fear. Our London mobs. Not much laughter about them, or wit, or grace.’

Sample Information


Set in Boston and London over sixteen years, True Freedom is a panoramic account of how America came to fight Britain for its freedom in the eighteenth century.

The Boston scene is set through vignettes about the people who shaped its history. Thomas Hutchinson, sixth generation of Boston aristocracy, whose wealth is seemingly unassailable. Self-taught medical doctor Thomas Young, an idealist, meeting his hero Samuel Adams who is determined to have his revolution. Their Sons of Liberty and Mohucks play a key role in the uprising, all the time supported from London by the radical politician John Wilkes.

True Freedom is full of vivid period details; you can almost smell Parliament in London or hear the clerks scribbling away in the American Department. So too, in Boston, you can picture the meeting-place Faneuil Hall, experience the might of the British navy in the harbour, and feel the determination of the Boston people to defy Parliament in London.

Together they form facets of the main character: the Boston uprising. The facts are described but by focusing on personal relationships Michael Dean takes us right to the heart of identity and sovereignty.

The story centres on two brothers Thomas and John Pownall, their sibling rivalry spilling over in their professional careers.

Thomas, the elder, favourite son, happy go lucky, tends to get things thrown into his lap. He enjoys his time as the Governor of Massachusetts in his beloved Boston, only of being accused of going ‘native’. After being recalled to London he is determined to fight for his Boston from the benches in the House of Commons rather surprisingly as one the King’s Men.

John, the younger brother, forges his career by working all ours of the day and often night and becomes the Under-Secretary at the American Department in London, so actually has the power to deal his older brother a terrible blow.

They both want to keep America within the empire but they have very different views about how to implement this.

Again, and again, intriguing details illuminate this historical upheaval. Take John Pownall’s spiky relationship with his Irish colleague William Knox: ‘No,’ Knox said. ‘You forget, John, how poor the colonies are. You always do.’ Or Thomas Hutchinson’s fall from grace which is beautifully put together and elegantly shows the shift in power.

You thought fake news or populism are new concepts? True Freedom shows how they were used during the Boston uprising in the eighteenth century. The novel provides a wonderful insight into a key moment in American history while at the same time giving food for thought in our time.

If you like your history and want to find out why George III lost America, or want to read a striking account of the Sons of Liberty’s Boston Tea Party and the Boston Massacre, True Freedom is your kind of book.

The first revolt brought vividly to life – Neil D’Arcy-Jones interviews Michael Dean in the Daily Gazette & Essex County Standard.

ISBN: 9781907320866
Number of pages: 305
Price: £0


‘True Freedom is a fascinating insight into the breakdown in relations between the British government and the American colonies. Michael has a wonderful, almost Dickensian, ability to sketch out vivid and entertaining characters from the palsied Samuel Adams to the obsessive mandarin John Pownall. He wears his research lightly, guiding us through the complex tensions at play with page-turning ease. I thoroughly enjoyed True Freedom.’  – Stephan Collishaw, author of A Child Called Happiness and The Song of the Stork

‘The Boston Tea Party is well known; the events surrounding and leading up to it are less so. In this intelligent and meticulously researched novel, Michael Dean introduces readers to the major players and guides them expertly through the developments that, ultimately, led to the birth of a nation.’ – Catherine Hanley, author of The Sins of the Father and Whited Sepulchres

‘Meticulously researched, True Freedom reconstructs the events that helped spark the American revolution. Dean brings his cast of historical figures to life, exploring their political, ideological and often bitterly personal motivations.’ – Heather Richardson, author of Doubting Thomas

‘History buffs will relish Michael Dean’s meticulously researched True Freedom – a poignant account of how America fought the British for its independence. Chock full of period detail and colorful complex characters, Dean skillfully sets the scene, reconstructing the tensions and chain of events leading up to the Boston Tea Party – reflecting the passion of those bent on shaping history.’ – Lisa Barr, award-winning author of Fugitive Colors

‘The remarkable achievement of this book is to show how the vested interests of British and American politicians collided (or not) and the reaction on each side of the Atlantic. This book is a masterpiece.
True Freedom can be highly recommended from both a literary and historical point of view.’ – Ruth Ginarlis in NB Magazine

‘Dean has a truly wonderful way of bringing people and places to life, which really takes you back to the past.

The reason I love this so much is that in his hands, history is never dry. I learn so much reading his work, and yet I never feel that I’m reading a history book or a historical fiction, I feel like I’m reading a moment in history.’ – Hermione Flavia on Bloglovin’

‘Its focus on interpersonal relationships of the key characters offer insight and readers see familiar events with a new understanding, enhanced by its tone of quiet commentary, which allows the drama to speak for itself.’ – Emma Lee on her blog

‘Dean deftly blends fiction with historical facts to create a highly entertaining as well as an educational read. He is a gifted storyteller and efficiently exploits the tensions between as different characters as chalk and cheese such as the aristocratic and opulent Thomas Hutchinson and his adversary, Samuel Adams and the Pownall brothers, Thomas and John who had starkly opposite views on America.’ – Debjani Ghosh on Debjani’s Thoughts

‘Light easy reading that will keep you hooked.’ – 06nwingert on LibraryThing

‘Well written piece. What struck me most – bear in mind, I’m a Libertarian through and through – was the depicted violence and the raging mob instrumentalized for the august vision of true freedom.’ – viennamax on LibraryThing

‘Michael Dean has done an excellent job of bringing the characters of this event in English/American history to life eliminating the ‘dry history book’ jargon. This will make an excellent addition to my Historical collection.’ – Kintra on LibraryThing

‘Brilliant! Michael’s usual deft hand at blending historical fact with fictional flourishes totally evident here. A hugely entertaining , educational read.’ – Helen on goodreads

‘Focusing on the period leading up to the American Revolution, I learned so many things while reading this book. A fascinating read!’ – ErinMa on LibraryThing

‘This is very much a well-researched and factual novel with real-life characters and events described in as much detail as possible. It seems that actual speeches are put into the mouths of the characters, so in some sense, it could almost be said to be a ‘faction’ rather than fiction book.’ –  Ann Northfield on Historical Novel Society website

‘It is plain that an enormous amount of meticulous research has gone into producing a fascinating portrait of the complex and, in many ways, ambiguous nature of the relationship between George III’s England and the increasingly radical independence movement in the uppity American colony of Massachusetts.

As with his previous works dry historical facts are seamlessly melded with the authors imagination to produce a wholly convincing tableau of the time.’ – Amexit on Amazon

‘I devoured the novel over two days and was left with a greater appreciation of both the complex transatlantic history that lies behind us, and the crucial nature of the decisions that lie ahead. An important book for our times!’ – Mrs. Leah Anne Witton on Amazon

‘American history with a British viewpoint – The book to me was an invitation to revisit and review the history of the pre-revolutionary war time in the colonies.’ – Claire Stafford on Amazon

‘Written as a novel, it is based on facts and minor characters that don’t usually make it into history books get major playing time here. A fascinating read!’ – ErinMa on LibraryThing

‘This book examines  – as with a microscope  – the events and machinations leading up to the first actual battle of the War for Independence.
Dramatic, it is. Michael Dean seems to have the inside track on many of the real people wrapped up in the actual events.’ – YesVirginia on LibraryThing

‘Michael Dean captures the spirit of the age and the irony that at the last moment the British Government decided to capitulate to the rebels’ demands – just too late to prevent war. If there ever has been a special relationship with America (then in its infancy) it has been a pretty frought one.’ – Ruth J. on Amazon