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The Fixer

There’s nothing more historical than U.S. Presidential elections. With Ted Cruz’s recent stunning endorsement of Donald Trump, I thought a little political humor I wrote below might help us get through the current election cycle.

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Brethren of the True Faith Mitch and Paul had spent over six years in the Desert, cast adrift among the sands. They took some solace from having prevented the Usurper from achieving most of his objectives. And now they smiled at one another, knowing the Usurper’s days were numbered. As they witnessed the fifteen from the Tribe and two outsiders enter the ring, surely, they thought, one of their peers will seize the mantle and lead the Tribe to victory in the Ultimate Battle against The Others.

“Surely, we can simply anoint Sir Jeb as our champion,” whispered Brother Mitch.

“No,” said Brother Paul. “There must at least be the appearance of a contest.”

“Perhaps, but why allow the Joker and the Witch Doctor into the contest? They are Outsiders, not Brethren of the True Faith.”

“Fear not, Brother Mitch. They won’t last among the seasoned warriors. We need their followers in the Ultimate Battle. Allow them to make fools of themselves. A misstep here and a misstep there, and they’re out of the contest.”

Fifteen Months Later

And, lo, it came to pass on the 462nd day, Brothers Mitch and Paul shielded their faces with their robes as the desert sands swirled around them.

“Why?” asked Brother Mitch.

“How?” asked Brother Paul.

“He made every mistake in the book,” said Brother Mitch. “He insulted all of the lords.”

“And even Ladies Carly and Megyn,” said Brother Paul.

“Low Energy Jeb, Little Marco, 1 for 38 Kasich.”

“And Lyin’ Ted,” piped in Brother Paul.

“Not to mention his impersonation of the crippled beggar who sits outside the city gates.”

“And that comment about blood coming from Lady Megyn’s whatever.”

“And everyone who disagrees with him is a LOOZAH.”

“Just how does he get away with it?” asked Brother Mitch.

“Too many contestants. The Joker charmed the Dispossessed. They didn’t fall in line this time.”

Suddenly, a great sand spout arose in the distance and headed directly toward the two great men. They ran in all different directions, but the sand spout shifted in turn and came to a halt before them. The sand spout disappeared as quickly as it arose, but in its place stood Lucifer in the guise of a well-tanned Wall Street banker.

“Who are you?” asked Brother Mitch. “Where did you come from?”

Lucifer smiled. “You have come to me many times in the past. Do not insult me by pretending otherwise. I heard you speaking poorly about The Fixer. I’ve come to ease your minds about your champion.”

“How so?” asked Brother Paul. “He is profane. He’s insulted half of the voters and all of the Tribe’s great leaders.”

“Tell me, Brother Mitch, what is your heart’s greatest desire?”

“To put one of our own on the throne. To have unfettered control of the Empire.”

“That is not the rumor whispered by all inside my palace walls.”

Brothers Mitch and Paul looked at one another. “Ah!” shouted Brother Paul. “Yes, we yearn to designate the successor to Brother Scalia on the Empire’s Court of Ultimate Justice.”

“And to what lengths will you go to fulfill your hearts’ desire?”

“Why,” said Brother Mitch, “we’d go to the ends of the Earth.” Brother Paul nodded in agreement.

“Then you would throw your support behind The Fixer?” asked Lucifer.

Brother Mitch grimaced like he was sucking on a lemon. Brother Paul ground his teeth like two stones in a mill. The two men gauged one another. Both nodded. “Why, yes,” said Brother Mitch, “if we knew for a certainty that would guarantee our choice of Brother Scalia’s successor, we would do anything.”

“Anything?” asked Lucifer.

“Anything,” said Brother Paul.

Lucifer pulled a tablet from his breast pocket and recorded their names. “If you bow down in humble submission to The Fixer, I shall fulfill your greatest desire.”

“But how?” asked Brother Mitch.

“How can you make such a promise?” asked Brother Paul.

“I am he,” said Lucifer with a smile that revealed bright sharp teeth and a forked tongue, “who fulfills the wishes of those who lust for power, just as both of you have done since your youth.”

“You are God?” asked Brother Paul.

Lucifer laughed. “Heaven forbid. I am he who was once favored by God. Nevermore. I curry favor among those who know the poor will always be among us, those who will sacrifice their very souls to achieve their worldly ambitions. You have always followed me and always will. Now, go, and just as The Fixer shall obtain his heart’s desire, so shall you.”

“And by what sign shall we know you can fulfill such a promise?” asked Brother Mitch.

Lucifer’s eyes opened wide to reveal tongues of fire, before simmering down. The Brethren’s faces turned white as a sheet. “Very well, I will provide you a sign. Before the sun sets four days hence, Brother Ted will prostrate himself before the Fixer. All the Brethren of the True Faith shall follow.”

With that, Lucifer’s eyes flared again as he spun into a sand spout and disappeared from their sight.

“What just happened?” asked Brother Mitch.

Brother Paul surveyed the landscape. “The Devil’s in the details, Mitch, but if Lyin’ Ted does the implausible, we just sold our souls.”

Short story copyrighted by J. Edward Gray/James Gray

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Putting the History in the Historical Novel: The Associates

This is the eleventh 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 Collis P. Huntington, one of the principals in the Central Pacific Railroad, the company that built the western leg of America’s first transcontinental railroad. This week, I turn to the “entire team,” of which Huntington was only one.

They called themselves “the Associates.” In addition to Huntington, they included brothers Edwin B. and Charley Crocker, Mark Hopkins, and Leland Stanford. During most of the construction period, Huntington remained in New York as the company’s Eastern Agent. E.B. Crocker, called “the Judge” because of a brief term on the California Supreme Court, served as the company’s general counsel and Western Agent. Stanford handled the western political connections and Hopkins managed the books. In contrast to the Union Pacific’s principals, who led construction of the eastern leg from Omaha to Promontory Point, the Associates worked well as a team. That’s not to say they never disagreed, as illustrated in the following passage from Trouble at Mono Pass when fictional character Richard Grier, Judge Crocker’s right-hand man, returns home from the office at the end of the day and talks with his wife Lydia about a recent acquisition:

“Another late evening, Richard?” asked Lydia as the grandfather clock in the foyer struck eleven o’clock. “You do nothing but work.”

“We put the finishing touches on a major deal today, Lydia. The Central has acquired the Western Pacific. We now have rail rights to Stockton and San Jose. I’m sorry, but I could not discuss the details with you before now.”

“Is that why you have spent so much time lately in San Francisco?”

“Yes. It was touch and go, not so much with Charlie McLaughlin, who wanted to sell the Western, but among the Associates. Stanford and Judge Crocker saw it as a golden opportunity. Hopkins and Charley Crocker thought they had enough on their plates already.”

“So, I guess Huntington cast the deciding vote?”

“Not really. He sent a telegram neither approving nor rejecting the transaction. In essence, he left it up to the others. Hopkins did not really want to go along, but he did so once the Judge convinced his brother.”

Trouble at Mono Pass, p. 69.

Richard goes on to discuss the merits of the transaction.

I also provide the reader insight about Charley Crocker, who managed construction of the railroad. He was quite a contrast to his better educated brother, E.B. In one chapter, Richard’s son Richie tells his father that he wants to quit school and go to work on the railroad. Richard obliges his son in hopes that the back-breaking labor will change his mind:

They took the five o’clock morning train to Cisco. The train steadily chugged uphill from Sacramento through the foothills, where Richie detected small patches of snow in the amber fields of Spanish oats. Once the train climbed into the Sierra Nevada, the snow could be measured in feet. As the train slowed just after four p.m. for the Cisco stop, well over a mile higher than Sacramento, Richie found himself in a world of snow and ice. Sierra winters last well into May.

 

Charley Crocker stood at the platform waiting for them. Standing a hair above six feet, he weighed well over two hundred pounds. “Good afternoon, Grier. So this is the young man who is bored with the classroom. Can’t say I blame him. I spent most of my youth doing farm labor. I worked in a saw mill and an iron forge, too. If you want to drive men to accomplish a task, it’s best to have done hard labor yourself sometime in your life. What’s your name, son?”

Trouble at Mono Pass, p. 106.

In their correspondence, Judge Crocker and Huntington often took potshots at Stanford’s work ethic. I make several references to Stanford’s work habits, including one in which Judge Crocker makes a locomotive available to main character Jack Grier after the Crawford Gang has kidnapped Richard’s daughter Ellen and the Judge’s daughter Kate:

“As far as I know, [Wessels, Crawford’s inside man] never laid eyes on us,” said Jack.

“You can’t send a whole army after him. He’d know right away. *** It would help if we can get to Truckee before Wessels.”

“That’s no problem,” Crocker replied. “We’ve got the Governor Leland Stanford sitting idle, just like its namesake. It can haul one passenger car and one horse car. You can be out of here in an hour if that suits you.”

Trouble at Mono Pass, p. 225.

These are just three brief examples. I try to use history accurately in the context of the story. I hope the reader is entertained and learns a little history along the way.

 

Please consider a longer read. New Garden, the novel in which I introduce the reader to the Grier family, 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.

 

Trouble at Mono Pass, the sequel to New Garden, is available on line and at the referenced Greensboro locations. 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).

 

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Putting the History in the Historical Novel: Collis P. Huntington

This is the tenth 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 Mariposa Indian War. This week, I turn to Collis P. Huntington, one of the principals in the Central Pacific Railroad, the company that built the western leg of America’s first transcontinental railroad.

The main character in Trouble at Mono Pass is Jack Grier. His brother Richard is a close second. The novel opens a few months after the end of the Civil War. Richard, a lawyer and politician, remained in North Carolina throughout the war years, but sent his family to Canada to keep them out of harm’s way. Fifteen years earlier, Jack left his infant daughter with friends in California when he was unable to deal with a personal tragedy. His daughter, Helen, has grown up with the understanding that Jack’s friends, Eli and Sofie Monroe are her parents.

Jack decides to return to Carmel Valley in California, hopeful he can find redemption and form a relationship with the daughter he has not seen since she was an infant. Richard decides North Carolina’s prospects are poor and that the railroads offer the most promising opportunity. He travels to New York to meet Collis P. Huntington, who serves as the Eastern Agent of the Central Pacific. It is, after all, on his way to Ontario Province, where he will gather his family.

Richard rose from his chair as his guest approached the table in the Fifth Avenue’s dining room.

“Mr. Grier, I presume?” At six feet one, Collis P. Huntington, forty-five years old, with thinning pepper-and-salt hair and a close-cropped beard, seldom had to look up at anyone. Both men dressed conservatively, in black frock coats and tweed trousers. In Huntington, Richard had found a man every bit as calculating and driven as himself.

***

[I]n Richard, [Huntington] saw a younger version of himself, and admired Richard’s abstention from alcohol, a requirement he had imposed on his hardware clerks back in Sacramento.

Trouble at Mono Pass, p. 11.

Huntington hires Richard to serve as the company general counsel’s right-hand man. Two years later, Richard returns to New York to meet with Huntington. He had only a smattering of an education, which is reflected in the correspondence quoted in David Lavender’s biography of Huntington, The Great Persuader. I reflect Huntington’s grammar in his conversation with Richard (Trouble at Mono Pass, p. 191):

Charley [Crocker] told me there’s lots more work to do on culverts and trestles, but, by God, he pulled it off. He could always sell picks and shovels, but Charley’s more of a showman than I ever gave him credit for. There was three inspectors. One was our old friend Lloyd Tevis, so Charley didn’t worry about him. And I didn’t worry none about Sherman Day. I’ve known him for over ten years. But the third one, a Colonel Williamson – well, none of us knew what to expect from him.

Thus, with Lavender’s biography as a resource, I realized that I had to coarsen Huntington’s language to accurately reflect his limited education.

Please consider a longer read. New Garden, the novel in which I introduce the reader to the Grier family, 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.

Trouble at Mono Pass, the sequel to New Garden, is available on line and at the referenced Greensboro locations. 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).

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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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