Harper Lee on Romance and High Adventure in Alabama

In 1983, Harper Lee attended the Alabama History and Heritage Festival—a rare public appearance for the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of To Kill a Mockingbird. She presented a paper entitled Romance and High Adventure, which would later be published in an anthology called Clearing in the Thicket. In this piece, Lee discusses the “unique treasure” that is Albert Pickett’s History of Alabama.

Romance and High Adventure in History

Harper Lee wrote "Romance and High Adventure" in 1983
Harper Lee wrote “Romance and High Adventure” in 1983
Photo by Aaron White Photography

Published in 1851, Pickett’s History of Alabama is a collection of historical accounts about Alabama before it entered the union. It details the Native American tribes of the area—their customs and cultures—as well as the experiences of the colonists and the ongoing and escalating conflicts between these groups.

In Romance and High Adventure, Harper Lee describes Pickett’s history as “composed of small dramas within a huge drama, much of it drawn from the memories of those who were there, from individuals whose bravery and sacrifice created the state of Alabama.”

With an air of nostalgia, Lee begins her essay by lamenting our current society’s treatment of the study of history. “We Americans like to put our culture into disposable containers,” she writes. “Nowhere is this more evident than in the way we treat our past.”

Lee believes that television has made us crave drama, and we’ve lost our taste for long hours of reading history, especially when that history isn’t filled with scandal and adventure. But Pickett’s long-forgotten work will satisfy even the most drama-craving readers because, Lee explains, the collection is “fraught with romance and high adventure.”

Albert Pickett’s History of Alabama

Pickett’s history begins with the arrival of Hernando DeSoto in Alabama and ends with Alabama’s admission into the union in 1819. Lee spends much of her essay on the Native American tribe known as the Creeks. She details Pickett’s descriptions of their customs and traditions, including their modern approach to divorce and their devotion to a game similar to lacrosse.

“The Creeks were a remarkable people,” she says. “Their social and political structure was as complex as anything in Europe, and in some ways was far more advanced than that of the earliest settlers.”

But Lee’s essay—and Pickett’s book—shows the darker side of history as well, including the colonization of the Native American’s territories and the conflict between the settlers and the tribes, and the conflicts within the tribes themselves. Throughout Romance and High Adventure, you can tell that both Lee and Pickett believed these stories—the histories of the people of Alabama—were important stories to be told.

“Pickett’s History of Alabama, this unique treasure, now lies hidden in old family bookcases, has been discarded by libraries, sometimes turns up in rummage sales, and is certainly not used in our schools,” Lee writes. “In my opinion it should be in every school library in the state.”

Have you read any of Harper Lee’s articles? In addition to this essay on Alabama’s history, she’s written about love, reading, a special Christmas memory, and the importance of seeing America while you’re young. Let us know what you think!

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