W. Ferrell. The Secrets of Sterling Shearin. Kernersville, NC: W. Ferrell, 2013.

Using the device of a diary, this novel tracks the life and emotional development of Sterling Shearin, a young man living in Warren County in the early years of the American republic.  Sterling has been mentored by Nathaniel Macon and through Macon meets other public figures of the period and is exposed to political ideas that shaped the philosophies of the Founding Fathers.  But Sterling doesn’t just live in a world of ideas.  He is a young man, trying to build up a farm, a family, and his position in his community.  Not all of his impulses and actions are noble–his relationship with his wife sours even as he savors the memory of his relationship with an enslaved woman and dallies with another man’s wife.  He finds his way in part by weighing his behavior against what he sees around him. The Secrets of Sterling Shearin does what historical novels are meant to do–it makes clear that this was a different time. Readers can ponder what they would have done had they lived back then.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.


Filed under 2010-2019, 2013, Ferrell, W., Historical, Piedmont, Warren

2 Responses to W. Ferrell. The Secrets of Sterling Shearin. Kernersville, NC: W. Ferrell, 2013.

  1. George Machen

    But in terms of the political issues portrayed in the story, it *wasn’t* a different time. With all of today’s controversies and Congressional deadlock, everything is still Jeffersonian vs. Hamiltonian philosophies — small vs. big government, liberty vs. statism, individualism vs. collectivism, freedom vs. sacrifice, self-sufficiency vs. “the public good,” parsimony vs. altruism…

  2. Bruce Washburn

    Below is a review I wrote, which I want to share here also:

    North Carolina’s native son Will Ferrell has written a historical novel–“The Secrets of Sterling Shearin” –which should not remain a secret!

       Sterling Shearin was a real person who lived in North Carolina in the late 1780s and `90s, and Ferrell uses the fictional journal of Sterling–a young man who aspires to be more than just a farmer, and who believes wholly in the freedom of individuals, even as he holds and uses slaves–to tell this story of a man not so different from most of us, perhaps: a person of contradictions and convictions, a person who never stops trying to do what he thinks best for his family, his community, and his country.

       Many of the challenges that Sterling faces–with the exception of slavery–are the same sorts of issues, intrigues, and entanglements that Americans are facing today: the proper role of government and how to finance it, the rights of the individual versus the state, the duplicity of politicians, the fighting within and among political factions, and–perhaps most interesting–the sorts of frailties, insecurities, and dilemmas we each must often deal with as we decide on what the proper course of action is in our own lives, both public and private.

       “The Secrets of Sterling Shearin” is a story that entertains, enlightens, educates, enthralls–and sometimes titillates–and Ferrell tells it by adroitly using the language of that time. That language is sometimes quaint, often beautiful, occasionally surprising, and–after taking only a page or two to become accustomed to–it is always compelling.

       I highly recommend this book.

    Review by Bruce Washburn