Putting the History in the Historical Novel: The Carmel Mission

This is the eighth in a series of articles in which I share my methodology for crafting a story, which I hope is both interesting and informative. Last week, I wrote about the California Gold Rush. This week, I turn to the Mission San Carlos Borromeo del Rio Carmel, better known as the Carmel Mission.

In the Writer’s Note for Trouble at Mono Pass, I inform the reader that the novel highly fictionalizes the mission, in that it was largely inactive from 1836 to 1884. Early in the story, however, the mission is dilapidated after years of having been abandoned. The mission comes into play as Union Army veteran Jack Grier returns to California after the Civil War. Jack hopes to build a relationship with the daughter he left with friends fifteen years earlier. Helen has been raised with the understanding that she is the child of Eli and Sofie Monroe. In this scene (pp. 27-29), Jack visits the grave of his wife Ileana, Helen’s mother.

Jack hitched Bishop to one of the posts outside the cemetery walls of the long-abandoned church. It was just as he recalled. Mid-morning, the fog had drifted into Carmel Bay. Jack took in the salt air and the warmth of the early morning sun as he walked into the small cemetery.

***

Meanwhile, Helen hitched Saladin next to Bishop, black like her horse, but a hand higher. She wondered who had come to this largely abandoned spot. She stealthily approached the entry and watched as the middle-aged man spoke to the grave that had attracted her curiosity over the years. She had made it her mission to learn the past of all those buried here, but had learned little about Ileana Cortes.

The mission’s dilapidated condition is described by William Brewer in the journal compiled while he served as a member of the Josiah Whitney survey, the first geological survey of the state of California. Up and Down California in 1860-1864: the Journal of William H. Brewer (New Haven, CT, Yale University Press, 1930). I relied on Brewer’s description of the mission in a scene where Jack’s brother Richard visits the Monroe family. Richard asks Sofie Monroe if the family attends services at the mission (p. 74):

“No. The mission is practically falling down. Squirrels have overrun the grounds and the birds have turned the sanctuary into an aviary. *** We hope to rebuild the mission someday. Helen is leading the campaign.”

From this point forward I exercise the fiction writer’s prerogative to take liberties with the facts. It is consistent with the fictional characters I have introduced into the history of the period following the Civil War. Helen successfully leads a campaign to bring the mission up to snuff. In the story I restore the mission to its current condition, absent the modern amenities of electricity and plumbing (p. 181):

Repairs had been made to the crumbling brick and stone exterior, which was resurfaced with fresh stucco. Terra cotta barrel tiles were laid on the arched roof. New bells had been installed in both towers. Miguel had repaired the eight statues on the altar wall, the two most prominent being Jesus on the cross and San Carlos, the Spanish saint for whom the church was named. Lois had carefully painted all of the statues with their original colors. Unlike American Protestants, whose marble statues were left unadorned, the Spanish had carved these statues from wood and painted them in vivid life-like colors.

Helen had ordered six two-tier wrought-iron chandeliers to light the center aisle of the church. Hector and Jorge Montoya had laid the red-tile floors. Other local craftsmen had built the black oak pews.

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Thus, any visitor to the Carmel Mission will recognize the church as described in the novel. Had there been a Helen Monroe, I am convinced she would have brought the mission back to life well before it actually occurred.

Please consider a longer read. Trouble at Mono Pass is available on line from Amazon, Apple, and Barnes & Noble. Each website includes a “look-in” feature with the first few chapters of the novel. In Greensboro, NC, the novel is available at Scuppernong Books and the Greensboro Historical Museum Bookshop. In California, it is available at the Mono Lake Tufa State Reserve (Lee Vining) gift shop, the Mono Lake Committee Bookstore (Lee Vining), and the Donner Memorial State Park Bookstore (Truckee, California).

The prequel, New Garden, is available on line and at the referenced Greensboro locations.

 

 

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Putting the History in the Historical Novel: The California Gold Rush

This is the seventh in a series of articles in which I share my methodology for crafting a story, which I hope is both interesting and informative. Last week, I wrote about kutsavi, an important trade good among the tribes east and west of the Sierra Nevada. This week, I turn to the California Gold Rush.

In my research of the Gold Rush, I consulted many historical texts: The Age of Gold, by H.W. Brands; The World Rushed In, by J.S. Holiday; Roaring Camp – The Social World of the California Gold Rush, by Samuel Lee Johnson; They Saw the Elephant – Women in the California Gold Rush, by Jo Ann Levy.

I immersed myself in the material to put myself in a position to give the reader a flavor of the period in the context of a story. New Garden’s main character, Jack Grier, marries the daughter of a wealthy Mexican after the Mexican War. Jack’s father-in-law funds a miners’ supply company, Sierra Dry Goods, which Jack operates in California. Very few miners prospered during the Gold Rush; a number of suppliers became very wealthy. Thus, the story sets up Jack for success. When he arrives in Monterey, California, he finds most of the locals have left to search for gold (New Garden, p. 93):

“All of the men have left for the gold fields.”

Father Jesus only slightly overstated the truth. The old men and young boys had remained in Monterey. Any able-bodied man with a horse or a mule headed northeast toward the Sierra Nevada. Others walked or rode with friends. The Presidio’s enlisted men, with no legal authority and under no legal obligation to serve in California, abandoned their posts. Their officers soon joined the gold rush.

Ship captains were warned to avoid the port of San Francisco for fear of losing their crews. It happened so often that many abandoned ships were converted to lodging or warehouses. Jack and his partner Eli worry about how gold fever will affect their prospects (New Garden, p. 99):

Jack and Eli could not manage the supply venture by themselves. Before leaving Mexico, Jack had recruited thirty-two American army veterans to work for Sierra Dry Goods in California. **** Cortes warned Jack that he might lose his men to gold fever. It was this fear, not the usual seasickness, that rocked Jack’s stomach as the ship docked in San Francisco.

Suppliers’ costs were high and their profits even higher. Once Jack’s venture gets underway, the story illustrates the miners’ desperation and begrudging acceptance of the suppliers’ high prices (New Garden, p. 103):

“That’s highway robbery, mister. I ain’t buyin’ what I don’t need.”

Delmar Reed, the same age as Jack, looked ten years older after a summer in the diggings. He wore the pale blue wool britches and matching shirt Jack recognized as a United States infantry uniform, with the private’s stripe removed. He had replaced his blue forage cap with a wide-brim straw hat after baking his neck half the summer under the California sun. Summer temperatures frequently hit one hundred degrees in the diggings. His hair and beard, coal black and gritty, reeked from dirt, grit, and sweat. The loose soles of his army-issue boots flapped whenever he walked.

“Suit yourself,” said Jack. “You don’t have to buy and I don’t have to sell. The prices will only go up the closer I get to Sonora.” ****

“I reckon I don’t have much choice, do I?”

Many miners gave up after losing everything, often relying on a loan or passage paid from a relative back home. In the story Jack recruits a skilled carpenter to come to work for him at his hacienda in Carmel Valley, but only after the man has exhausted all hope of gaining his fortune (New Garden, p. 107):

He had tired of living in squalor, chasing the whisper of the Gold Siren’s song: Just a little longer, Miguel. Just down the river, Miguel. Just up the creek, Miguel. Just over the hill. Others have found me and become rich. Why not you?

Please consider a longer read. New Garden is available on line from Amazon, Apple, and Barnes & Noble. Each website includes a “look-in” feature with the first few chapters of the novel. In Greensboro, NC, the novel is available at Scuppernong Books and the Greensboro Historical Museum Bookshop.

The stand-alone sequel, Trouble at Mono Pass, is available at the same locations. It is also available at the Mono Lake Tufa State Reserve (Lee Vining) gift shop, the Mono Lake Committee Bookstore (Lee Vining), and the Donner Memorial State Park Bookstore (Truckee, California).

 

 

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Putting the History in the Historical Novel: Kutsavi

This is the sixth in a series of articles in which I share my methodology for crafting a story, which I hope is both interesting and informative. Last week, I wrote about how one’s legal status – slave or free – was determined in antebellum North Carolina. This week, I turn to a very different subject, kutsavi, an important trade good among the tribes east and west of the Sierra Nevada.

I learned about kutsavi on a family vacation to California many years ago. On the way to Yosemite National Park, we stopped at the Mono Lake Tufa State Reserve visitors center in Lee Vining. While there, a California Park Ranger led us on a tour of the lake’s western shore. We learned about the Monachi. In my research for New Garden, I further researched the history of the Mono Basin and incorporated it in the story.

His brother Richard is at the pinnacle of his career, now serving as a United States Senator from North Carolina. Kutsavi has become critical to Jack surviving a Sierra Nevada winter. So, the reader is introduced to the Monachi and kutsavi.

The Yokuts of the western Sierra had given the Paiutes east of the mountains the name “Monachi,” meaning “the fly people.” The whites understood the name as “Mono,” and used that name for the people and the lake where they lived, an ancient terminal saltwater lake on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada. The lake is populated by algae, brine shrimp, and alkali flies. A small migratory tribe with no more than two hundred members, the Mono women harvest the alkali fly each summer. They dry the pupae in the sun and then rub off their shells, leaving a yellow kernel the size of a grain of rice. Each pupa, which the Monos call kutsavi, is rich in fat and protein, providing fifteen calories of nourishment. The kutsavi store easily, critical to surviving a long winter. For hundreds of years, the Monos had used the kutsavi as a major product for trade with the tribes of the western Sierra Nevada.

New Garden, Prologue, p. vi.

Before the onset of the previous winter, Jack traded his horse to a miner for food.

Among the provisions were a bushel of pinon pine nuts and three four-pound bags of kutsavi. Jack would never be able to bring himself to touch the kutsavi unless he was starving to death.

* * * *

Starvation took hold in early March. At first, Jack ate the kutsavi by the handful, but the sudden consumption of the high-calorie food bloated his stomach and he soon learned to eat the kutsavi in smaller portions. The food he had avoided for five months sustained him until early April when he could trap and shoot game.

Several of my readers have told me that the passage about Jack’s winter in the Sierra Nevada, particularly the discussion of kutsavi’s importance to his survival, is among the passages forever etched in their memory.

New Garden is available on line from Amazon, Apple, and Barnes & Noble. Each website includes a “look-in” feature with the first few chapters of the novel. In Greensboro, NC, the novel is available at Scuppernong Books and the Greensboro Historical Museum Bookshop.

The stand-alone sequel, Trouble at Mono Pass, is available at the same locations. It is also available at the Mono Lake Tufa State Reserve (Lee Vining), the Mono Lake Committee Bookstore (Lee Vining), and the Donner Memorial State Park Bookstore (Truckee, California).

SOURCES:

Indian Life of the Yosemite Region, Miwok Material Culture, by Samuel A. Barrett and Edward W. Gifford, Bulletin of Milwaukee Public Museum, Vol. 2, No. 4, March, 1933 (republished by Yosemite National Park, California, Yosemite Association).

Taxonomic Inventory, Insects as Food, by Gene DeFoliart, http://www.foods-insects.com/book7.

Kutzakika’s People, by Thomas C. Fletcher, http://www.monolake.org.

Flies of Fancy: Alkali Flies, by David Carle, Park Ranger, Mono Lake Tufa State Reserve, http://www.thesierraweb.com/monolake.

 

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Putting the History in the Historical Novel: Partus Sequitur Ventrem

This is the fifth in a series of articles in which I share my methodology for crafting a story, which I hope is both interesting and informative. Last week, I wrote about the portrayal of young Ulysses S. Grant in the Mexican War. This week, I shift to slavery in North Carolina, where one’s status in life was determined by that of the mother. Specifically, I turn to a moral and legal dilemma faced by young attorney Richard Grier, whose father-in-law, Edward McAllister, has given him Alicia, Edward’s slave daughter. Alicia is now pregnant with Richard’s child. (Alicia’s mother, Annie, was given to Edward by his father.)

Richard rushes to Johnston County, North Carolina, where Edward is on his deathbed in a cottage. In New Garden (196-199), I depict North Carolina law and Richard’s dilemma.

[Richard] returned to the cottage, uncorked one jug [of whiskey], and placed it on the sill.

“Thank you, lad.” Edward took a long swallow, then coughed up more blood.

“Richard, nothing shames me more than the wrong I have done to Annie and Alicia.”

“You’ve treated them very well, sir, like family.”

“Richard, the fact is, they are family, in every sense of the word.”

Richard swallowed hard. “What do you mean by that, sir?”

“Richard, you must not perpetuate the wrong committed by my father – and by me. Before I left Virginia, my father told me the truth about Annie. You do know that she is a mulatto?”

“Yes, of course.”

“In most such cases, the father is white and the mother is black.”

“Yes.”

“Annie’s mother was white. The father was a mulatto. Partus sequitur ventrem.

***The legal doctrine held that the status of a child followed that of the mother. Early English common law had held that among English subjects, a child’s status was inherited from the father. In the seventeenth century, Virginia colonists adopted the partus sequitur ventrem doctrine to protect slave owners from legal responsibility for their slaves’ offspring. Other colonies followed Virginia’s example.

“And you, sir, I surmise, are Alicia’s father.”

“That’s hardly news, Richard. Strangers often ‘mistake’ Alicia and Lydia for sisters. There’s no ‘mistake’ about it. Which brings me to you. Alicia is with child. Are you the father?

“I believe so. I mean … there is no doubt.”

“Richard, give me your solemn promise that you will make this right. Annie and Alicia must be free.”

Richard chose his words carefully. “On my honor, sir, I will do right by you and the family.”

So now Richard is faced with a terrible dilemma. He was raised in a Quaker household, which also served as a station on the Underground Railroad. His parents taught him that slavery is immoral, but he has married into a family of slave owners. If Alicia has been free from birth, Richard, who has married Alicia’s half-sister, has violated his marriage vows by committing adultery. If she is still treated as a slave, she remains Richard’s mistress, and Richard is free of reproach under North Carolina law.

In just a few pages, the reader learns how partus sequitur ventrem could play out. The historical details, gathered in many hours of research, are told in the context of a story, not sometimes mind-numbing text.

New Garden is available on line from Amazon, Apple, and Barnes & Noble. Each website includes a “look-in” feature with the first few chapters of the novel. In Greensboro, NC, the novel is available at Scuppernong Books and the Greensboro Historical Museum Bookshop.

 

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Putting the History in the Historical Novel: Ulysses S. Grant and the Mexican War

This is the fourth in a series of articles in which I share my methodology for crafting a story, which I hope is both interesting and informative. Last week, I wrote about the portrayal of the San Patricio Battalion in the Mexican War. This week, I return to the Mexican War, to talk about my portrayal of Ulysses S. Grant as a young officer.

Many historians have written about the Mexican War as the training ground for many of the officers who later served in the Civil War – Grant and Kearney for the North; Lee and Stonewall Jackson for the South, just to name a few.

In his memoirs, Grant spoke about the United States’ provocation of the war:

The presence of United States troops on the edge of the disputed territory furthest from the Mexican settlements, was not sufficient to provoke hostilities. [The United States Army was] sent to provoke a fight, but it was essential that Mexico should commence it. It was very doubtful whether Congress would declare war; but if Mexico should attack our troops, the Executive could announce, “Whereas, war exists by the acts of, etc.,” and prosecute the contest with vigor. Once initiated there were but few public men who would have the courage to oppose it.

The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant (1885), reprinted by Konecky & Konecky, Old Saybrook, CT, p. 45.

[T]o this day [I] regard the war, which resulted, as one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation. It was an instance of a republic following the bad example of European monarchies, in not considering justice in their desire to acquire additional territory.

Memoirs, p. 37.

In New Garden, main character Jack Grier serves in Grant’s company. Grant suggests his opinion about the merits of the United States Army’s position in disputed territory in a scene where Grant has invited Sergeant Donovan and Private Grier to his tent to inform Jack that he is about to be promoted to corporal (page 53).

Grant slipped into his tent. A moment later he returned with a whiskey bottle in his hand. He uncorked the bottle. “It looks like you brought cups for the occasion.”

Jack and Donovan stood and extended their tin cups. Grant filled both of them and then his own. “Congratulations, Corporal Grier. I expect a lot from you. You’ll get your stripe in the morning, in front of the men.”

“Thank you, sir.”

As the men sipped their whiskey, Grant lowered his guard. “Where are we, Grier, the United States or Mexico?”

“Well, sir, the Texans say we’re in Texas, but the Mexicans say otherwise.”

“But what do you say?”

“I say we’re where we’ve been ordered to go, sir. I figure the United States and Mexican governments will work out their border issues.”

“But, Grier, don’t you find it a little peculiar that our ‘Army of Occupation’ was ordered to establish our base in disputed territory?”

“I’m just following orders, sir.”

Grant also spoke about the quality of the Mexican army.

The Mexicans have shown a patriotism which it would be well if we would imitate in part, but with more regard to truth. They celebrate the anniversaries of Chapultepec and Molino del Rey as of very great victories. **** At these two battles, while the United States troops were victorious, it was at very great sacrifice of life compared with what the Mexicans suffered. The Mexicans, as on many other occasions, stood up as well as any troops ever did. The trouble seemed to be the lack of experience among the officers….

Memoirs, p. 102.

I depict the Mexican soldier’s frustration with the lack of success on the battlefield [New Garden, p. 61]:

Private Jorge knelt for morning prayers. The day before he was certain his fellow Mexicans would rout the Yankee invaders. “What went wrong? I stood my ground, as did my fellow soldiers. We closed ranks after the hellacious cannon fire from the Americans. Why did our commandante not provide cannon adequate to mow down the proud Americans? Why did our officers lack the knowledge and skill to lead our brave soldiers to victory?”

In just a few pages, the reader receives a hint that Grant has misgivings about the war and that the Mexican soldiers do not lack for courage. The historical details, gathered in many hours of research, are told in the context of a story, not sometimes mind-numbing text.

New Garden is available on line from Amazon, Apple, and Barnes & Noble. Each website includes a “look-in” feature with the first few chapters of the novel. In Greensboro, NC, the novel is available at Scuppernong Books and the Greensboro Historical Museum Bookshop.

 

 

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Putting the History in the Historical Novel: The San Patricio Battalion

This is the third in a series of articles in which I share my methodology for crafting a story, which I hope is both interesting and informative. This week, I turn to the Mexican War, more specifically, to the San Patricio Battalion.

Military recruiting has not changed dramatically since the 1840’s. Recruiters then and recruiters now have their greatest success among the poor. There are exceptions to the rule, of course, but on the eve of war with Mexico, German and Irish immigrants made up roughly forty percent of America’s regular army. In turn, the Mexican officers actively recruited those men to switch sides.

Among the characters in New Garden is main character Jack Grier’s NCO, Sergeant Donovan, an Irish immigrant. American troops are encamped across the Rio Grande from the Mexican town of Matamoros in March, 1846. A chapter captioned “The San Patricio Battalion” (57-58), portrays Donovan’s dilemma and the choice made by him and other immigrant soldiers.

The next morning Donovan obtained permission to attend mass at a Catholic church in Matamoros. He discreetly packed most of his valuables in the event he chose not to return.

Donovan did not object to fighting Seminoles or Apaches, but he was less enamored with making war on fellow Catholics. He had observed the priests mingle among the Mexican troops. He had heard the American officers question their orders to march south of the Nueces River into disputed territory. The Irish made up 24 percent of the American troops. Many of them shared Donovan’s doubts.

Mass and communion settled Donovan’s dilemma. Kneeling in church, absorbing the Latin litany, inhaling the incense, receiving Holy Communion, Donovan felt Catholic once again. After the service two Mexican officers approached him. Other American soldiers were also approached by Mexican officers. The Mexicans offered them incentives to leave the United States Army for the Mexican Army. They offered Donovan the rank of major, as well as four hundred acres of land outside Puebla, in the cooler, higher elevations of Mexico.

****The United States behaved like England, bullying its way into the territory of North America’s other democracy. He had left Ireland because of the English. Leaving the United States felt the same. He threw his lot in with the Mexicans.

Over the next eight days more soldiers swam across the Rio Grande. Taylor grew alarmed and issued orders to fire on any deserter. The sentinels shot several deserters and several others drowned, but over one hundred and thirty men made it across the river. Over the next two years they would serve Mexico in the San Patricio Battalion.

Seventeen months later, the Americans fight the San Patricios at Churubusco. Jack Grier has risen to the rank of sergeant, and now commands the unit previously run by Donovan. Dying in Jack’s arms, Donovan begs Jack to care for his widow, Ileana. Jack’s decision to honor Donovan’s dying wish will have consequences, good and bad, for the rest of Jack’s life.

Time seemed to stand still. Donovan rose behind his improvised barricade and began to fire on Bryan and Chandler. Jack could not move his Paterson revolver fast enough. As Bryan and Chandler fell, Jack emptied his revolver on Donovan. All five shots hit their target.

Hit, but not yet dead, Jack and Gold bent down over Donovan, while the other soldiers tended to their fallen comrades. Donovan held a letter in his left hand, forcing it in Jack’s right.

“Illeana,” he moaned. “Care for her, Jack, please.”

“Who?”

“Ileana, my wife. Puebla. Please, promise.”

Jack tried looking away. “Save your breath, Donovan. We’ll take care of these wounds.”

Struggling to laugh, Donovan coughed up blood. “No, Jack, the wounds are fatal. I don’t want a noose. Ileana. Promise, promise.”

“I promise.”

Two months after Churubusco, thirty of the San Patricios draw their last breath as the American flag is raised at Chapultepec (New Garden, pp. 67-69).

Within minutes thereafter, another American hoisted the United States flag over Chapultepec. This was the hangman’s signal. At Mixcoac, only two miles from Chapultepec and well within sight of the battle, thirty San Patricios stood on makeshift scaffolds constructed on United States Army wagons. They had stood there all morning, their hands and feet bound, ropes around their necks. Once the colors unfurled above Chapultepec, the teamsters ordered the mules foreward. Thirty San Patricios swung in the Mexican sunshine.

In just a few pages, the reader learns about the San Patricios. The historical details, gathered in many hours of research, are told in the context of a story, not sometimes mind-numbing text.

New Garden is available on line from Amazon, Apple, and Barnes & Noble. Each website includes a “look-in” feature with the first few chapters of the novel. In Greensboro, NC, the novel is available at Scuppernong Books and the Greensboro Historical Museum Bookshop.

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Putting the History in the Historical Novel: The Underground Railroad

This is the second in a series of articles in which I will share my methodology for crafting a story which I hope is both interesting and informative. In my first article, I discussed slavery in the context of the slaveholding household and women’s non-existent legal rights. This week, I turn to the underground railroad, which played a significant role in the antebellum history of Guilford County, North Carolina.

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Levi Coffin                          Source: Biography.com

Among the underground railroad’s leaders was its unofficial president, Levi Coffin, who was born in the Quaker community of New Garden. He moved to another Quaker community in Richmond County, Indiana, as a young man and later moved to Cincinnati, Ohio.

My research for the novel included many hours of perusing microfilm of the period’s weekly newspaper, the Greensborough Patriot. Although the newspaper’s editor, often spoke out against slavery, he married a woman who owned slaves and he ran advertisements offering rewards for the capture of runaway slaves. Slavery, as they say, was a “peculiar institution,” and William Swaim was not the only person who fell in love with someone whose circumstances differed dramatically from his or her own.

My research also included many hours researching the Greensboro Public Library’s rare books room. There and from many other sources, I learned much about the operation of the underground railroad. Nails were sometimes hammered into the bottom of fence rails as a sign that a farmhouse was a safehouse for runaways – a “station” on the underground railroad. “Station masters” sometimes hid runaways in cellars, not in a typical cellar, but one with a niche dug adjacent to an open square, with barrels or other objects employed to conceal the niche.

New Garden includes one chapter (pages 12-14) dedicated to Tom and Sara Grier’s operation of a station on the underground railroad. I open the chapter with a newspaper advertisement similar to one a subscriber might read in an 1843 edition of the Greensborough Patriot:

$20 REWARD

Ran away from the subscriber on Sunday the 5th of September, instant, a negro man, named JOE, about 5 feet, 9 inches high, black complection, a cook by trade. It is suspected that he is attempting to get to a free State in company with some free negroes. The last account of him he was in Asheboro; had on a white hat, and in his shirtsleeves. The above reward will be given for his apprehension and confinement, or delivery to me in Wentworth. JAS. W. WOODLEY Oct. 21st.

The story then goes on to find Joe near the Grier farmhouse:

The sun’s last rays finally dropped below the western tree line. Joe rubbed his left hand along the bottom rail of the split-rail fence, just as the blacksmith at the last station had instructed. This had to be the right house. ****

The story continues, as Joe, with some trepidation, knocks on the door and is admitted into the farmhouse. Tom leads Joe into the cellar to change into different clothes.

Tom led Joe down the ladder. At first glance the cellar appeared to be a twenty-by-twenty-foot square. When Tom removed some barrels, however, there was an additional four-by-eight-foot space off to one side with a cot in the middle.

The next day, Tom transports Joe in a false-bottom wagon to the next station. A runaway would not spend his entire journey in such a wagon, but he would do so when traveling through areas where he might be seen.

Joe crawled into the false bottom. He could barely move. Stories about the slave ships sailing the Middle Passage from Africa’s Gold Coast had passed through generations of American slaves. The slave trade had been so profitable that the ship captains had crammed Africans into every available crevice. As Joe thought of those horrible stories, his mouth opened into a wide grin. This was a different vessel, one that would carry him to freedom. He would escape the land of the Pharaohs while walking this earth, unlike the millions of his brethren who listened to the slave preachers and would do so only after drawing their last breath.

In just a few paragraphs or pages, the reader learns about an evening on the Underground Railroad. The historical details, gathered in many hours of research, are told in the context of a story, not sometimes mind-numbing text.

New Garden is available on line from Amazon, Apple, and Barnes & Noble. Each website includes a “look-in” feature with the first few chapters of the novel. In Greensboro, NC, the novel is available at Scuppernong Books and the Greensboro Historical Museum Bookshop.

 

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