S O M E R S E T T
Benjamin Franklin and the Masterminding of American Independence
Benjamin Franklin and the Masterminding of American Independence
There is no dearth of writings about the founding of America, but in this under-reported and under-taught story of the American Revolution, light is shed on the little-known role Benjamin Franklin played in bringing the northern and southern colonies together against corrupt British rule. Along with an “Inner Circle” of British Abolitionists, Franklin worked behind the scenes to help free one American slave, James Somersett; and then, in cooperation with a vast network of colonial allies, set in motion a series of events that provided the impetus for northern patriots and reluctant southern slaveholders to join forces.
In 1757, Benjamin Franklin cared most about the security and prosperity of his beloved adopted home of Philadelphia. Threatened by the French during King George’s War and with little help from the proprietors of Pennsylvania, the hated Penn family, Franklin sought assistance and support in London to no avail, thus leading him to develop a secret plan to gain freedom from Great Britain for Pennsylvania, and ultimately all the colonies. The success of this plot would hinge upon politically motivating both the northern and southern colonies, each with vastly different individual interests. In the end, it was two unrelated historical events: that of the freeing of the slave Somersett in London’s highest court; and the discovery, and leaking of, the Hutchinson letters, that turned the tide in favor of independence.
This assiduously researched work of American history is transformed into a political thriller by a cast of award-winning actors who electrify the drama as they bring to life over 30 historical characters in intermittent scenes presented in stage play form. In the London Courtroom of King’s Bench, we meet the most brilliant legal minds of the era as both sides argue their case for or against Somersett’s manumission. In the drawing room of London’s most prestigious physician, John Fothergill, we are witness to Franklin and the members of his Inner Circle as they grapple with, and meet, the massive challenges that planning a revolution entail.
It goes without saying that the path toward American independence was long, fraught, and led by men whose political ambitions were often at odds with their highest moral principles. Case in point, Franklin: stalwart abolitionist and shrewd strategist and tactician, who anonymously used his power and financial resources in support of the first court-ordered freeing of an American slave.
Delving into over fifty different sources, Goodrich came to the conclusion that Franklin did so not, in the main, because it was just. Rather, Franklin sought, with cunning and calculation, to make clear to politically cautious southern slaveholders that revolution, and only revolution, was sufficient to ensure their right to chattel labor. Because liberty for the colonists was prioritized over the human rights of all people, the freedom that was gained for one man led to a stunning victory for the United States and centuries of brutality and enslavement for Africans.
This critically important story adds to our understanding of yet another complicated founding father whose role in mobilizing weak southern support for revolution is not well known and further illustrates that the ugly stain of racism and slavery is embedded in every moment of our history.
This full cast recording audiobook will be released by Blackstone Publishing and available for purchase on Amazon.com on July 1, 2021.
Robert Petkoff is the principal narrator and plays characters familiar to many listeners: Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Thomas Penn, Arthur Lee and a host of other historical figures, both British and American.
Robert Petkoff is an award-winning American stage actor, singer and voice artist known for his work on Broadway, the West End, regional theatre, and work in film and television. In the latter category, among his credits are Irrational Man; Elementary; The Good Wife; Chappelle’s Show; and Law & Order. Shows performed on Broadway include leading roles in All The Way with Bryan Cranston; Anything Goes; Ragtime; Spamalot; and Fiddler on the Roof. Mr. Petkoff is an Audie and Earphones Award-winning narrator with over 325 audiobooks to his credit, including two books by Atul Gawande; Rage by Bob Woodward; The Room Where it Happened by John Bolton; and the forthcoming Changing History by Carl Bernstein; and fiction titles by Michael Koryta, David Foster Wallace, Jonathan Safran Foer, Thomas Mallon, Jonathan Franzen, Oscar Hijuelos, and George Dawes Green.
Joe Morton narrates the 3 hour “Interlude” section which introduces us to the American slave James Somersett and brings the courtroom drama to life. He plays Somersett; the British slave Thomas Lewis; as well as the soft spoken, but fiercely committed Quaker abolitionist David Barclay. Barclay was the financial genius who masterminded the funding of the Revolution and is a founder of today’s Barclays Bank. After the Revolution, Barclay became so disgusted with America’s lack of effort to end slavery, that he disavowed his role in the Revolution, burning all evidence of his involvement and swearing his family to continued secrecy.
Joe Morton is an Emmy® Award-winning film, television and stage veteran, best known as Rowan/ Eli Pope in Shonda Rhimes’ groundbreaking series Scandal. He most recently starred as Reverend Arthur Finer on the series God Friended Me and recurs on The Politician. Morton is also known for his iconic roles in the films The Brother From Another Planet; Terminator 2: Judgement Day; Justice League; and Speed, among many others. Morton made his Broadway debut in the Tony® Award-winning musical Hair followed by his starring role in Raisin, for which he garnered a Tony nomination and Theatre World Award. In 2016, Morton returned to his theater roots portraying the iconic comedian Dick Gregory in the one-man show Turn Me Loose off-Broadway and was honored with the NAACP Theatre Lifetime Achievement Award. He reprised this role at The Wallis-Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in the fall of 2017.
Among the roles played by Simon Jones are: the Quaker abolitionist John Fothergill, Franklin’s prestigious London physician; Granville Sharp, the devout Anglican, self-taught in English Law who Fothergill introduced to Franklin. Sharp championed the Somersett cause and made abolition his life work.William Murray, Earl of Mansfield, Lord Chief Justice of the Court at King’s Bench whose decision to free Somersett changed the course of history; John Alleyn, the young barrister whose closing remarks helped to win the case for Somersett.
Simon Jones may be best known for his portrayal of Arthur Dent in the radio, television and stage adaptations of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. His high-profile television appearances also include Bridey in the iconic mini-series Brideshead Revisited, and his portrayal of Sir Walter Raleigh in Blackadder. His association with the Monty Python team led to appearances in a variety of projects including American Friends; Brazil; 12 Monkeys; and The Meaning of Life. Jones has appeared on stage in both the U.K. and the U.S., notably in the original New York productions of The Real Thing; Benefactors; and Private on Parade. He also appeared with Angela Lansbury in the revival of Blithe Spirit (on Broadway, in London’s West End, and on North American tour); opposite Joan Collins in Private Lives (on Broadway and the U.S. tour); and with Lauren Bacall and Rosemary Harris in Waiting in the Wings. He last appeared on Broadway with Mark Rylance in Farinelli and the King. He was seen most recently in the hit feature film version of Downton Abbey. His forthcoming HBO series The Gilded Age debuts in 2021. He is an Audie Award-winning narrator with almost 150 titles to his credit.
Among the roles played by Euan Morton are: Thomas Pownall, British bureaucrat and first to join Franklin’s “Inner Circle”, whose dedication to the promotion of the American colonies, and whose knowledge of the inner workings of British and colonial governance was surpassed by none. He served as Governors of Massachusetts and South Carolina, and Lieutenant Governor of New Jersey. It is Pownall’s inadvertent discovery, and the subsequent leaking of the Hutchinson letters, that spurred increased violence by the Northern colonies against the Crown’s military presence and resulted in the Boston Massacre. Also, Thomas Paine, author of “Common Sense” who served in Washington’s Army and became the first “Secretary of State” for the Continental Congress; and the “dueling” attorneys on opposing sides of the Somersett case: the idealistic Francis Hargravespeaking before the King’s Bench for the first time and English jurist and politician, John Dunning, 1st Baron Ashburton, a force with which to be reckoned.
Euan Morton is Hamilton’s reigning King George III and he doesn’t find it hard to do at all, despite being originally from Scotland! Euan was nominated for a number of awards (Tony, Olivier, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle and Drama League) for his acclaimed 2003 portrayal of Boy George in the West End and Broadway productions of Taboo. He also starred on Broadway in Cyrano de Bergerac alongside Jennifer Garner and Kevin Klein and in James Lapine’s Sondheim on Sondheim. Euan spent a year in the heels of Hedwig in the national touring hit, Hedwig and the Angry Inch. His regional productions include Parade at the Ford’s Theatre in Washington, DC, for which he won a Helen Hayes Award and Tony Kushner’s Brundibar for Berkeley Repertory Theatre. In addition to singing concerts across the US and Europe, Euan is thrilled to be gainfully employed as a voice actor in the world of video game and audiobook recording. He is an Audie Award-winning narrator with over 50 titles to his credit, including the role of the Sith Inquisitor in Star Wars – Knights of the Old Republic.
Nicola Barber plays Lady Caroline of the formidable Howe dynasty, one of three siblings, all grandchildren of King George I and thus second cousins to the Crown.
Nicola Barber’s voice can be heard on television and radio commercials, popular video games such as World of Warcraft, and even in talking toys. Honored to be included twice in AudioFile’s Best Voices, her narration has earned four Audie Awards, multiple Earphones Awards, a SOVAS award, and a Library Journal starred review. Originally from England, Nicola currently resides in New York—her multicultural background enables her to bring a broad range of accents and characterizations to her voice-over work.
Phillip Goodrich at Evolution Studios in Kansas City, Missouri where he recorded the Author’s Note that begins the book, and the Afterword, bonus material that covers the American legacy of James Somersett.
Phillip Goodrich, a practicing general surgeon and American history enthusiast, has developed a fascination with the lesser-told tales of America’s founding years. His interest has led him to extensive research into the personal and political lives of American greats thus pointing him to this little-known, and little-taught, slice of American Revolution history. Learn more about Phillip.
May Wuthrich is the producer and director of Somersett. She worked with the author to develop the script for a full cast recording, adding the Afterword, as well as many new scenes of dialogue that do not appear in its original editions.
May Wuthrich, a veteran media executive with a rich background in theater, film, and traditional book publishing is an award-winning producer/director of spoken word programs who has developed a reputation for dealing astutely and sensitively with tough subject matter. May directed two titles recognized during the 2020 Audie Awards: her production of City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert, narrated by Blair Brown won the Audie Award in the fiction category, and The Testaments by Margaret Atwood was one of five finalists in the Audiobook of the Year category. With almost 400 titles to her credit, May has worked with a wide range of talent: including notable authors such as Mona Hannah-Attisha, Senator Mazie Hirono, Robert Iger, Hisham Mitar, Azar Nafisi, Gloria Steinem, Bryan Stevenson, Amber Tamblyn, Natasha Trethewey, and Jacqueline Woodson reading their own works; to the multi-talented award-winning voiceover artists who comprise this cast; to celebrity narrators such as Alan Alda, Jane Alexander, Blair Brown, Allan Corduner, Jane Curtin, Hope Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard, Derek Jacobi, Carol Kane, Kate Mulgrew, and Debra Winger. To learn more visit MayWuthrich.com.
The Somersett audiobook is distributed by Blackstone Publishing and is to be released on July 1, 2021.
For further Information contact:
May.Wuthrich@gmail.com or call 646-734-8200.