Beyond the Book: Background information when reading Down River

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Down River

by John Hart

Down River by John Hart
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2007, 336 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2008, 384 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Vy Armour

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About this Book

Beyond the Book

Print Review

John Hart was born in Durham, North Carolina, the son of a surgeon and French teacher. His family later moved to Rowan County, the setting for his first novel, King of Lies, and his second novel, Down River. His favorite memory of childhood is a five-hundred acre farm that has since fallen to the sweeping tide of development. Hence his current passion to protect North Carolina's open spaces.

Hart earned graduate degrees in law and accounting, but his desire to write well and be published led him to "chase the dream". He spent the better part of a year in a carrel at the Rowan County Public Library writing King of Lies, which resulted in three nominations for Best First Novel: The Anthony Award, the Barry Award , and the Macavity Award.


Rowan County, North Carolina (official website), the setting for King of Lies and Down River, is seeped in fascinating early American history. According to Indian Tribal Records, the Saponi Indian Tribe was found dwelling on the Yadkin River in 1701, near the present site of Salisbury; they had moved to the area to escape attacks by their enemies, giving credence to the legend told on page 103 of Down River: "…this was all Sapona Indian country. Like most Indians, they didn't want to give up the land. … there were maybe three-hundred people living in that village. The men had been shot…but most of the women and children were still alive. They threw them in first and piled the dead on top. Legend says that so much blood soaked into the water table that the springs ran red for days after. That's where the name (Red Water) comes from."

In the video documentary, A Ramble Through History in Rowan County (click "view it online"), Dr. Gary Freeze, Professor of History, tells of George Washington's visit to Salisbury in 1791. In his diary, Washington describes Salisbury as "a pleasant village of about 50 homes and 300 inhabitants". His thank-you letter to the town is a source of local pride, now displayed in the Rowan Public Library foyer.

Andrew Jackson, seventh President of the USA, spent the year 1784 in Salisbury studying law, but local lore says his love of practical jokes and card playing ran him out of town with an outstanding hotel bill. It was, however, wiped off the books as a patriotic pardon after he led his troops to victory at the Battle of New Orleans, the final major battle of The War of 1812 (between the USA and the United Kingdom and its colonies).

For more history of Rowan County, read The Rowan Story, 1753-1953: A narrative history of Rowan County, North Carolina, by James S. Brawley (out of print but available in all good Rowan County libraries!).

Article by Vy Armour

This article was originally published in November 2007, and has been updated for the September 2008 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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