Jerry Genesio, a Bridgton resident who’s published three books in the last 14 years, ventures into historical fiction in his most recent work.

Based on documents and his own careful research, “Stoking the Embers of War” describes a tragic miscarriage of justice that happened in Portland 221 years ago. It’s the story of the trial and hanging of Thomas Bird, an illiterate British sailor charged with the murder of John Connor, the captain of a sloop on which Bird was a seaman.

The murder took place off the coast of Africa, where Connor was capturing and selling slaves. There were no credible witnesses to the murder when Bird and three other sailors were apprehended for a customs violation off Cape Porpoise. The fact that Capt. Connor was a vicious drunk who abused slaves and killed at least one crewman was not taken into account during Bird’s trial.

Bird happened to be the only Englishman on the crew of the sloop Mary, and hatred of the English was rampant in Portland after the 1775 bombardment and burning of the settlement by three ships under direction of Capt. Henry Mowat.

The trial in Portland before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (Maine was still a part of Massachusetts) was packed to the rafters with angry onlookers who called out for Bird’s death.

After a finding of guilty, Bird’s defense appealed to President George Washington for clemency. There was no response. In June 1790, Bird was publicly hanged before a crowd of onlookers.

His was the first death sentence handed down by a U.S. district court under the authority of the U.S. Constitution — a dubious distinction for Maine’s largest city.

“Stoking the Embers of War” begins in December 1789 as Bird and a Norwegian crewman named Hanson await trial in a Portland jail. Hanson, charged with abetting Connor’s murder, is later acquitted. Bird is charged with pulling the trigger that put a bullet in the captain’s chest.

In this book of historical fiction, the author introduces two fictional characters. One is Jeremy Haggett, a reporter for The Massachusetts Spy sent to cover the trial. He narrates the story in the first person.

Genesio succeeds in presenting daily life in a distant era. Fireplaces in Portland homes are barely able to ward off the knife-edge of winter drafts. Men of means wear “great coats” when venturing out of doors. Rich menfolk drink wine or spirits in the evening; women sip tea.

Dialogue is revealing. “I don’t understand it,” a woman named Emma says, intruding in a male discussion of war. “We call ourselves Christians, but we’re always killing one another. It seems to me there’s more than enough pain in the world and little need to deliberately inflict it on ourselves.”

“You’re a woman, Emma!” her husband replies, with not a little annoyance. “No one expects you to understand such matters.”

The novel has its weak points. The author provides history of the recently ended revolution largely through living-room conversation. Without action, it’s sometimes dull.

In addition, Genesio relays conversation in 1790 dialect that sometimes comes across like cartoon speech. “Aye!” one character says. “He’s good as any here ’bout I’d say. He settled here on the Neck jest a bit ‘fore we was burned out“

Despite its faults, “Stoking the Embers of War” is a thought-provoking novel that rings true to life.

Genesio, born in 1938, grew up on a farm in Massachusetts. He served six years in the Marine Corps, and has a bachelor of arts in history from the University of Southern Maine. He’s worked as a Maine historian and special collections assistant at the Portland Public Library, and held a variety of other jobs.

Past works by the author include “Portland Neck: The Hanging of Thomas Bird” (2010), “Unseen Hazards” (2009) and “Veterans for Peace: The First Decade” (1997). Genesio helped organize Veterans for Peace in memory of a brother killed in Vietnam.

“Stoking the Embers of War” is a window to our heritage. I enjoyed it.

Lloyd Ferriss is a writer and photographer who lives in Richmond.