The Past: Not So Much of a Foreign Country?

Annie Whitehead author photoRelevant History welcomes back Annie Whitehead: an author, a historian, and a member of the Royal Historical Society. Her first two novels are set in tenth-century Mercia, chronicling the lives of Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians, who ruled a country in all but name, and Earl Alvar, who served King Edgar and his son Æthelred the Unready who were both embroiled in murderous scandals. Her third novel, Cometh the Hour, also set in Mercia, tells the story of seventh-century King Penda and his feud with the Northumbrian kings. She is currently working on a history of Mercia for Amberley Publishing, to be released in 2018. For more information about her and her books, visit her web site and blog, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.


Research for my history of the ancient kingdom of Mercia has seen me studying various primary and secondary sources covering a period of four and a half centuries, ending with 1066 and beginning with the pre-Christian seventh century. Sometimes, I’ve only had one written record from which to glean evidence; these people lived long ago, and far away, in a place we wouldn’t recognise.

Imagine then, my delight, when I read what at first glance seems a rather turgid tome: William of Malmesbury’s Deeds of the Bishops of England.

It’s true that back then, people thought, spoke, and prayed differently. But among the tales of saintly bishops, and miraculous goings-on, I found some nuggets which prove the adage plus ca change, plus c’est la même chose (the more things change, the more they stay the same).

William of MalmesburyWilliam of Malmesbury was born around 1095, of an English mother and a Norman father. He is probably best remembered for his Deeds of the Bishops and the Deeds of the Kings of England, and one does not have to be a scholar to guess the nature of these books.

And yet…This is how William ends his Deeds of the Bishops: ‘It has also been a black year for weather. Every month has had thunder and lightning. It has rained almost every day without stopping. Even the summer months were wet and muddy.’ Now, maybe you’re reading this in the USA, but let me tell you, walk down any street in England today, or any day, winter or summer, and you’ll hear someone saying almost exactly the same thing.

Elsewhere, when William writes of the bishops in Northumbria, he says: ‘The whole speech of the Northumbrians, especially that of the men of York, grates so harshly upon the ear that it is completely unintelligible to us southerners. The reason for this is their proximity to barbaric tribes and their distance from the kings of the land who, whether English as once or Norman as now, are known to stay more often in the south than the north.’ Again, speak to anyone in England and they will have an opinion on the north/south divide. Southerners complain about uncouth northerners, while northerners bewail the London-centric government and clamour for their own high-speed rail links and ‘Northern Powerhouse’.

In 1005, Bishop Ælfheah of Winchester was famously, brutally, murdered by the forces of King Cnut. Some sources say he was stoned to death, some that he was pelted with ox bones. William writes about Ælfheah at length, describing how the good bishop drove away a plague, and by God’s grace was able to put out, with the sign of a cross, a raging inferno which was threatening to destroy a village. Fanciful? A little, perhaps, to our cynical, twenty-first-century minds.

But William also tells us that one night, Bishop Ælfheah saw a drunk monk being battered by demons sent by God to punish him. ‘After Ælfheah told the others about this in the morning, it is not surprising that his drinking companions turned teetotal.’ Who among us doesn’t have a story about someone—maybe ourselves—swearing off the drink after a heavy night, with the words, ‘Never again’?

Miracles, saintly acts, devotional prayers. A different language, sensibilities, culture and set of beliefs, and a ‘lack’ of technology. All these things are to be expected when we begin to examine the past.

William’s little asides remind us that in some respects, human nature does not change. And it is useful to remember, as we go about our studies, that these are not simply names from a bygone age, but that they were real people, with real lives.


Cometh the Hour book coverA big thanks to Annie Whitehead. She’ll give away a paperback copy of Cometh the Hour to someone who contributes a comment on my blog this week. I’ll choose the winner from among those who comment by Friday at 6 p.m. ET. Delivery is available worldwide.


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The People of the Salish Sea and Hudson’s Bay Company

JL Oakley author photoRelevant History welcomes back award-winning author J.L. Oakley, who writes historical fiction that spans the mid-19th century to WW II with characters standing up for something in their own time and place. A UH Manoa graduate, she has always wanted to write about Hawaiians in the Pacific NW. When not writing in noisy cafes and researching history, she demonstrates 19th-century folkways at English Camp on San Juan Island. For more information about her and her books, visit her web site, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.


Set between Vancouver Island, British Columbia and Washington, San Juan Island is one of the most beautiful places in the Pacific Northwest. With wide-open prairies on the southwest side, rolling valleys and forests in the interior and the northern end, and endless coves and secret harbors dotting its shores, the island is a magical place reached only by ferry or small airplane. On any given day you can spot the black and white forms of killer whales or orca as they hunt salmon and seal in Haro Strait or see eagles, dolphins, and seals in and around of the rest of archipela known as the San Juan Islands.

Before settlement by whites in the 1850s, San Juan Island was the home to the Coast Salish nation, Lummi of Bellingham, WA. The Songhees from modern day Victoria came over to fish the huge streams of salmon on their way to the Fraser River. For centuries, the peoples of the Salish Sea came ashore at South Beach to catch and smoke salmon and trade.

Then the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) arrived in Victoria on Vancouver Island in 1843. Not long after, they set up a salt station on the southern end of San Juan Island. In 1851, they claimed the island and created Belle Vue Farm up above South Beach. There the company farm ran sheep. To herd the flocks, they brought in company employees, Hawaiians or Kanakas, as they were called in the 19th century.

Readers might be surprised to learn that Hawaiians were living and working on the west coast of the United States before the Americans really set foot in the Oregon Territories, but Hawaiians first saw these shores in 1793 when George Vancouver brought some ali’i over from the Sandwich Islands. Twenty years later, Hawaiians were an integral part of the workforce for the Hudson’s Bay Company on the Columbia River in 1824. Their presence there is well documented at the Fort Vancouver National Park and Fort Langley (1827) in British Columbia.

Hawaiians on San Juan Island
Kanaka BayA graduate of University of Hawaii Manoa, I have always wanted to write about Hawaiians in the NW. My first inkling of their presence came from a Honolulu Star article; Hawaiians were on Salt Spring Island in British Columbia. When I moved to Washington State years ago, I wanted to know more about the history of the area. At the library, I came across the annuals of the Washington State Historical Society. In its first volume (1904), I found the journals of the HBC Fort Nisqually. In several of the entries, the trader named actual workers, one spelled “Cowie.” I knew I was onto something. Cowie had to be the Hawaiian name, Kaui. I soon found out I was right. On a trip to San Juan Island several years later, I discovered the landmark, Kanaka Bay. Here Hawaiians lived with their Hawaiian and native wives in a place known as Kanaka Town. I was thrilled to know that Hawaiians were so close to my home.

My latest historical novel, Mist-chi-mas: A Novel of Captivity, seemed like a good place to start writing about Hawaiians in the Pacific NW. To create the Hawaiian characters for Mist-chi-mas—Alani and Moki Kapuna and Kaui Kalama and his Coast Salish wife, Sally and their son Kapihi—I turned to the archives at Fort Vancouver National Park. “The Village,” an international community of HBC workers was established outside the Fort Vancouver’s walls in the late 1820s. The archives has records of the “Three Kanaka Bachelors” who lived in one of the huts. Extensive materials were also available at Fort Langley in British Columbia. At the San Juan Island National Historical Park, Kanakas performed many tasks, chiefly as shepherds. Kanakas are noted in the journals kept at Belle Vue Farm on San Juan Island:

(June) Monday 12th
Forenoon calm & clear afternoon blowing fresh from S:W: —
–an Express from Nisqually handed me by Governor Mason – Page, two Millbanks & two Kanakas.

(July) Saturday 1st
Fine clear day
Sent Nahua & all the Inds off for shells to burn for lime – oxen hauling wood for do. – killed a wedder for ration.

Leaving San Juan Island
The island and its surrounding islands were left out of the Oregon Treaty of 1846. As there was no international water boundary, both Britain and the United States claimed it. In 1859, an HBC pig from Belle Vue Farm was shot by an American settler (squatter in HBC’s eyes). This led to the infamous Pig War in 1859. Captain George E. Pickett of Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg fame was sent down from Fort Bellingham to hold American interests at the lower of the island. The Royal Navy sent over a top commander with a state of the art vessel to protect British interests. Other than the pig, no one died, and a formal agreement was made up to have both militaries jointly occupy the island until the water boundary could be decided by an international committee. They did so for twelve years. In 1872, the islands were awarded to the United States. The Royal Marines left immediately. As the Hawaiians were considered British citizens, they left as well, many returning to Victoria or Salt Spring Island in British Columbia.

The story of Kanakas is often overlooked or simply not known, but they gave much to the founding of Washington State and British Columbia. Visitors to Friday Harbor, for example, are always surprised to learn that this lively tourist destination got its name came from Peter Friday, a Kanaka shepherd whose hut was perched just above the harbor. Sailors seeking a safe, deep harbor looked for the smoke coming out of his cabin’s chimney. Friday’s Harbor, it was called then.

I hope that Mist-chi-mas will encourage readers to learn more about the Kanakas and other ethnic groups who are an integral part of Pacific Northwest history and whose contributions should be recognized and honored.

Mahsie, tillicum.


Mist-Chi-Mas book coverA big thanks to J.L. Oakley. She’ll give away an ebook copy of Mist-chi-mas to someone who contributes a comment on my blog this week. I’ll choose the winner from among those who comment by Friday at 6 p.m. ET. Delivery is available worldwide.


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Anza’s 1775 Expedition: Arizona to San Francisco in Five Months

Linda Covella author photoRelevant History welcomes award-winning children’s author Linda Covella, whose varied work background and education has led her down many paths. But one thing she never strayed from is her love of writing. In writing for kids and teens, she hopes to bring to them the feelings books gave her when she was a child: the worlds they opened, the things they taught, the feelings they expressed. Linda has been a member of the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) since 2002. She lives in Santa Cruz, CA with her husband, Charlie, and dog, Ginger. For more information about her and her books, visit her web site, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Pinterest, and Google+.


Issues at the forefront of the news today—immigration and race, religion, and the treatment of women—were also important factors that, in 1775, helped shape the future of California and even the United States. Here I discuss these issues in the context of a colonization expedition in 1775–1776 from Mexico to California led by Juan Bautista de Anza, which is the setting for my novel Yakimali’s Gift.

Race relations
In 18th-century Mexico, New Spain, there were distinct classes depending on a person’s heritage. Those with “pure” Spanish blood enjoyed many societal privileges. Otherwise, people were labeled mestizo (Spanish and Indian), mulatto (Spanish and African), coyote (mestizo and Indian), or castizo (Spanish and mestizo).

Over two hundred years later, race and immigration are still issues that divide us here in the United States, as well as other countries. The Anza expedition brought some of the first Spanish and Mexican colonists to California. When I learned of this expedition, I was surprised that, especially since I lived in California, we were only taught about the settlers from the Eastern United States. I believe if we learn more about how and why people come to this country, we’ll better understand and accept the cultures and diversity that make the United States so special.

The Spanish mission to convert the Indians
Today, many people find it difficult to accept different religious beliefs; this was also the case in 1775 New Spain. On the expedition, Pima and Yuma Indians traded produce and chickens with Anza and the colonists for tobacco and beads. The Spaniards, shocked by the Indians’ scant clothing, were intent on dressing them in a “more civilized” manner, as well as converting them to Christianity. The Pimas had their own religious beliefs and gods. They honored Elder Brother and Earth Doctor. They didn’t believe in an afterlife of heaven or hell, reward or punishment. Instead, their souls went to Morning Base where they celebrated with dancing and feasting.

Before 1775, many Pimas were coerced or forced to live at the Spanish missions. And in 1751, they revolted, claiming brutality and land theft. Peace was eventually negotiated. Spanish colonization efforts were suspended.

In 1767, Franciscan priests replaced the Jesuits in New Spain, and the Franciscans continued the Spanish undertaking to convert the Indians. As the missions rose in California, conflicts between the Indians and Spaniards continued. And today, Native Americans still struggle to have their voices heard and conflicts resolved throughout the United States.

Women and children on the expedition
The de Anza TrailOver half of the colonists on de Anza’s expedition in 1775 were women and children. Most of my sources are from the male perspective, but I wanted to know more about the women and children. Who were they? Why did they choose to go on this arduous journey? What were they leaving behind, and what did they hope for their future? This is what inspired me to write Yakimali’s Gift from the perspective of fifteen-year-old Fernanda.

The diaries of Anza and Father Pedro Font, one of three Franciscan priests on the expedition, give just cursory mention of the women’s experience, and almost nothing about the children. For instance, Anza briefly writes about the death of a woman during childbirth on the first night of the journey, 24 October 1775, without even mentioning her name (which was Manuela Feliz), and then goes on to talk about the weather:

At three o’clock in the morning, it not having been possible by means of the medicines which had been applied in the previous hours, to remove the afterbirth from our mother, other various troubles befell her. As a result she was taken with paroxysms of death, and after the sacraments of penance and extreme unction had been administered to her, with the aid of the fathers who accompany us she rendered up her spirit at a quarter to four. At seven o’clock today it began to rain, and continued until half past ten…

One character in my novel, Maria Feliciana Arballo, was a real-life woman who went on the journey. At that time in Mexico, women of all classes were expected to be modest, unassertive, and devoted to God and home. Women could choose their husbands; however, they needed parental consent if they were under the age of twenty-five.

Because of the strict class structure, mixed marriages were frowned upon. It’s believed that Feliciana came from “pure” Spanish ancestry, and her parents disapproved of her marriage to José Gutierrez, a mestizo. Possibly to escape the prejudicial Mexican society, Feliciana and José decided to join the expedition. However, José died before the journey began. Still, Feliciana, with her two young daughters, chose to go on the journey.

Besides her two daughters from her first marriage, Feliciana had seven more children with her second husband, Juan Lopez. Many of her descendants became important figures in California history, including one daughter who was granted more than 8,000 acres in what is now Santa Rosa in northern California. Her husband had died, and she was one of only a few unmarried women to receive such a grant.

Benicia, the California capital in 1853-1854, was named after Feliciana’s granddaughter. One grandson, Andrés Pico, was the Commander-in-Chief of the Mexican military during the Mexican-American War, and his brother, Pío Pico, was the last Mexican governor of California before it became part of the United States in 1850.

Feliciana’s great-grandson, Romualdo Pacheco, became the State of California’s first and only Hispanic governor in 1875. He promoted the establishment of the University of California.

A story of hope
In the end, for me, Yakimali’s Gift is a story of hope. Hope that, like Fernanda, we have the determination and passion to live the lives we truly desire among the people we love. Hope that we value all people’s contributions regardless of gender or race. And hope that we appreciate the richness of our country’s diversity.


Yakimali's Gift book coverA big thanks to Linda Covella. She’ll give away ebook copies of Yakimali’s Gift to three people who contribute comments on my blog this week. I’ll choose the winners from among those who comment by Friday at 6 p.m. ET. Delivery is available worldwide.


Did you like what you read? Learn about downloads, discounts, and special offers from Relevant History authors and Suzanne Adair. Subscribe to Suzanne’s free newsletter.

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The Great Hurricane of 1780

No question about it—the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season has been a tough one. Across the Caribbean, Antilles, and southern United States, major hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of people, with thousands left homeless and billions of dollars in property damage done.

Hurricane IrmaOne haunting tale of devastation comes from the island of Barbuda, which received a direct hit from Category 5 Hurricane Irma on 6 September. The island’s entire technological infrastructure was demolished by the combination of storm surge and sustained winds of 185 mph, rendering it uninhabitable. Occupants were evacuated to neighboring Antigua, also damaged in the storm, although not as heavily.

Many people wonder how so much death and destruction can occur when we’re able to see these hurricanes coming every time and prepare. What’s the historical perspective on hurricanes? What sort of impact did a Category 5 storm have before satellite imagery, before radar, before electricity, telegraph, or steam power?

By 1780 during the American Revolution, the war’s focus had shifted to the South—Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia, Florida, and Alabama—while the ferocity of fighting showed no sign of abating. However the death and destruction caused by warring humans in that conflict was trivial in comparison to what was generated by three major hurricanes that plowed through the Caribbean and the Antilles in October 1780. Yeah, the 1780 Atlantic hurricane season was a tough one, too.

Areas affected Great Hurricane of 1780In particular, the storm with the easternmost track of those three, later called “the Great Hurricane of 1780,” was a Category 5 monster with estimated wind gusts exceeding 200 mph and a storm surge at least twenty feet in height. It likely originated west of the Cape Verde Islands, as do many powerful Atlantic hurricanes. On 10 October, it demolished the island of Barbados—which, from witness accounts, received the storm’s eye wall but not the eye. Within a week, it had gone on to devastate the islands of St. Vincent, St. Lucia, Martinique, St. Eustatius, Puerto Rico, and San Domingo—all crucial ports on the colonial chessboard. (Bermuda received a glancing blow that wrecked ships.)

On every island in the hurricane’s path, thousands of people died. Trees were yanked out by their roots or stripped of leaves, branches, and bark. (Tornadoes spawned in and around the eye wall of hurricanes have the capacity to strip bark from trees.) Thick-walled stone buildings and forts were ripped from their foundations and swept out to sea. Wind and water carried cannons hundreds of feet. Dozens of ships from the British and French fleets were caught in the hurricane and damaged or sunk, with heavy casualties.

By the time the Great Hurricane of 1780 spun off into the Atlantic and dissipated, approximately 18 October, it had killed more than 22,000 people. Some historians believe that the death toll was closer to 30,000. This storm is the deadliest Atlantic hurricane on record. In one week during the American Revolution, it killed more people than warfare killed in a year.

That’s quite a display of power from Nature. In the 21st century, if we expect to lower the death toll and property damage from these storms even further, we’ll have to be a great deal more prepared than we already are.

Suggested reads:


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Is the Traditional American Western Dead?

Mike Torreano author photoRelevant History welcomes Mike Torreano, who has a military background and is a student of the American West. He fell in love with Zane Grey’s novels in the fifth grade. He has taught University English and Journalism and is a member of The Historical Novel Society and Western Writers of America. He brings his readers back in time as he recreates western life in the late nineteenth century. For more information about him and his books, visit his web site, and follow him on Facebook.


South Park ColoradoMy western mystery, The Reckoning, was released last year by The Wild Rose Press. It’s set in 1868 and follows Ike McAlister, a Union soldier who returns from the Civil War to his hometown of Lawrence, Kansas to find his parents have been killed by Quantrill’s raiders. He sets out on a single-minded hunt to find the murderers, a search which takes him to the high plains of Colorado.

I’ve heard some people say the traditional American western is dead—all of which prompts the question, ‘If that’s so, why write a western?’ Well, it’s true the golden age of westerns was some time back. Since then, there’s been a bit of a dry spell until recently when several big box office westerns have been released.

Are they’re coming back? I don’t know, but I hope so. Why would they be mounting a return? Perhaps because westerns and the Old West embody timeless values, places where right triumphs over wrong. Not always, certainly, but you get the idea. The American West in the nineteenth century was a black and white society with clear-cut rules—there were things you were supposed to do as well as things you weren’t. And if you did wrong, there were consequences, oftentimes immediate.

Code of the West
There was a code of the West, even among the bad guys. Simple rules for simpler times. Unwritten, but adhered to nonetheless. The Code drew its strength from the underlying character of westerners, both men and women alike. Life back then was hard, but it was also simple. Things that needed to get done got done. Whining wasn’t tolerated. Complainers were ignored. You weren’t a victim; you just played the hand you were dealt.

If you’re getting the idea I like that kind of culture, I guess you’re right.

The world we live in today sometimes baffles me. Everything seems to be different shades of gray. Honor and fidelity seem to be out of fashion. Our culture is filled with victims. People are entitled. The media are advocates, not observers.

While the Code of the West was unwritten and existed in various forms, there were certain common elements everyone—from the hard-working sodbuster, to the law-abiding citizen, to the hardened criminal—typically abided by. Granted, there were exceptions, but generally that held true.

In 2004, Jim Owens synthesized the Code into ten guiding principles in his book, Cowboy Ethics-What Wall Street Can Learn from the Code of the West.

  • 1. Live each day with courage.
  • 2. Take pride in your work.
  • 3. Always finish what you start.
  • 4. Do what has to be done.
  • 5. Be tough, but fair.
  • 6. Keep your promises.
  • 7. Ride for the brand.
  • 8. Talk less and say more.
  • 9. Some things aren’t for sale.
  • 10. Know where to draw the line.

Let’s look at three of these.

How about number seven—Ride for the brand. It means be loyal to the people in your life—from family and friends, to those you work for. It’s the idea when you’re involved with someone, you should be loyal to them.

Take a look at number four—Do what has to be done. Life is oftentimes messy. Our days are filled with ups and downs, and we make choices all the time. This is about choosing to get done what has to be done, then getting on with something else.

Next, there’s number nine—Some things aren’t for sale. The Code gave westerners a guide to live by that they broke at their own peril. Are there still things today that aren’t for sale? What are they for you? They might be different for each of us, but at the end of the day I’d wager we all still have values that are non-negotiable. After all, values don’t really change—only times, circumstances, and people do. So, if that’s true, then nineteenth century America is still relevant to today’s America.

Out where the West begins
Out Where the West BeginsThe good news is the values the Code embodied haven’t vanished, but more often than not they seem to have been marginalized. Popular culture tends to look down on old-time values, or should I say the timeless values of nineteenth century America. We’re an instant gratification society that focuses on the here and now, and too often disregards the lessons of the past. Imagine a world where you sat with your family for dinner at night, sometimes even talking with each other. A novel concept. Imagine a world where a man’s word, and a woman’s, was their bond. Where handshakes took the place of fifty-page contracts. These principles were captured by Arthur Chapman in “Out Where the West Begins,” a poem he wrote in 1917.

Where there’s more of singing and less of sighing,
Where there’s more of giving and less of buying,
And a man makes friends without half trying—
That where the West begins.

So, yes, occasionally I yearn for those simpler times amid the hustle and bustle of our world. We’re inundated with various media from morning to night. Sometimes Ike’s and Lorraine’s, my main characters, simple, straightforward lives look pretty appealing. Especially now.

Westerns serve to remind us of our solid roots, and that’s why they will never die.


The Reckoning book cover imageA big thanks to Mike Torreano. He’ll give away a trade paperback copy of The Reckoning to someone who contributes a comment on my blog this week. I’ll choose the winner from among those who comment by Friday at 6 p.m. ET. Delivery is available in the U.S. only.


Did you like what you read? Learn about downloads, discounts, and special offers from Relevant History authors and Suzanne Adair. Subscribe to Suzanne’s free newsletter.

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Émigré Spies in the News—in 1793?

Nicola Pryce author photoRelevant History welcomes historical fiction author Nicola Pryce, who trained as a nurse in St Bartholomew’s Hospital. Her interest in literature and history saw her completing an Open University degree in humanities, and while her children were young she qualified as a library assistant to work in school libraries. Her love of Cornwall, her fascination with the Enlightenment, and her increasing desire to write saw her leave nursing to begin her novels. Pengelly’s Daughter was published in 2016 and The Captain’s Girl in July 2017. The Cornish Dressmaker will follow in 2018. Nicola lives in the Blackdown Hills in Somerset. For more information about her and her books, visit her web site, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Pinterest.


Cornwall 1793: Britain is at war with France

Magnifying glassI was in the Cornwall Record Office in Truro, holding my magnifying glass against the tightly written letters. The voices leaping from the fading ink were urgent:

Consider, I beseech you, what inestimable interests are exposed when your country is at stake: not merely your persons and property, but your dearest relatives and friends, the wives of your bosoms, and the girls of your heart.

I thought of this morning’s news and felt a rise in my heartbeat:

They are coming against us…not for glory, territory, or dominion, but for the very sinews, the bones, the marrow, the very HEART’S BLOOD of Great Britain.

The words jumped out at me. …to glut their lust with our wives and daughters… I could feel their dread. Every document shouted their fear. Your aged parents and your tender offspring—the fruits of your labour, and the means of your subsistence.

Reading their voices was enough to make my heart beat faster. But what if I couldn’t read? What if I was huddled in a frightened group listening from the pulpit, or in the market square? They were coming against us …to punish us for outrages. The south coast of Cornwall was but a twelve hour sail from France. They could invade any moment.

Those who read the letters or heard the town crier must have been terrified, nodding in agreement at the wise words of their betters. Attend, therefore, with alacrity to the calls of your Government.

The calls of your government
Imagine looking along the cliff tops at the woeful state of the defences, the tumbled-down batteries and crumbling fortifications, knowing that the Militia of Cornwall was deployed elsewhere? Britain was defending her shores on two fronts, the Irish Papists were proving sympathetic to the French, and local Militia were thought to be more effective away from their home towns. Imagine realizing there was nothing between you and the immediate invasion of brutal French Revolutionaries?

I read the signature on another letter. It was dated 1798, from Henry Dundas, Secretary for War in William Pitt’s Government. His writing was neat, urging the Lord Lieutenant of the County of Cornwall to do everything in his power to man the batteries …that the allowance for cloathing and one shiling per week will be given to every man residing in the neighbourhood of a battery.

His call was heard. Across Cornwall, companies of volunteers were being mustered. Hundreds of men came forward to learn how to march and drill, how to fire muskets and cannons. Redoubts were dug, the newly fortified batteries manned. A watch was set and secret signals put in place:

In case Captain Bray should come under the Gribbon with his cutter you are to know him by the following signal. By day he will show the customs house colours. By night he will show a couple of lights abreast each other.

The French called a Levée en Masse, placing every citizen at the disposal of the French war machine. I spread out the closely written papers, document after document outlining the need to be vigilant and prepare for invasion. Every man, woman, and child (even un-christened infants), all livestock, all barns, carts and boats …to be recorded on a list of returns and sent up the chain of command for the Secretary of State to lay before the King.

A Posse Comitatus was definitely in the air. Schedule of Papers sent herewith…all men between the ages of 15 and 60…all live and dead stock…all persons willing to serve…Returns of all boats, barges, carts. Recruitment would follow. It would be by ballot, men called up for three years to defend their country.

I searched the papers and found the fading brown ink full of a new concern. What if the French already had spies in place? What if they were watching Britain, reporting every movement back to France?

The hunt for spies
The government knew to clamp down and prevent any possible revolution in Britain. New powers of arrest were implemented, all hint of revolution quelled. Radicals and dissenters needed to be rounded up, seditious meetings infiltrated and their organisers arrested. Those under suspicion would be imprisoned without trial. Spies would be hanged, and any form of corresponding with the enemy seen as treason.

Chief among the suspects were the French émigrés fleeing persecution in their thousands. My mind jumped to the morning’s news. In 1793, the émigrés were fleeing for their lives, warmly welcomed into Britain and given safe haven, yet what if those among them were spies, using the guise of fleeing persecution as cover? Border patrols were set up—a close surveillance kept on every French national entering Britain.

Certificate of ArrivalI started a new search and found The Aliens Act of 1793. Every French citizen needed to register at their port of arrival in Britain. Severe fines were levied for non-registration. The Alien Office was set up, a Superintendent of Aliens appointed to oversee the registration of all migrants. Detailed directions were given to all agents, mayors, and local officials regarding the detention or expulsion of migrants. Every alien was to hold a valid Certificate of Arrival.

And so my book was born
The voices of my characters had begun speaking to me from the faded ink in the Truro Records Office, but someone was still missing. As I read the terms of the Aliens Act, a commanding voice began speaking across my mind, and I knew which way my book would turn. My story is set in Cornwall in 1793, but the troubles they faced then are just as relevant today—the threat to stability, the need for increased surveillance, even the suspicion that those we give refuge to may be spies.


The Captain's Girl book cover imageA big thanks to Nicola Pryce. She’ll give away a paperback copy of The Captain’s Girl to someone who contributes a comment on my blog this week. I’ll choose the winner from among those who comment by Friday at 6 p.m. ET. Delivery is available worldwide.


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Popping the South Sea Bubble

Catherine Curzon author photoRelevant History welcomes back Catherine Curzon, a royal historian and author of Life in the Georgian Court, Kings of Georgian Britain, and Queens of Georgian Britain. Her work has been featured online by “BBC History Magazine” and in publications including Explore History, All About History, History of Royals, and Jane Austen’s Regency World. She has spoken at venues including the Royal Pavilion, Lichfield Guildhall, the National Maritime Museum, and Dr Johnson’s House. Catherine holds a Master’s degree in Film. Her novels include The Crown Spire, The Star of Versailles, and The Mistress of Blackstairs. She lives in Yorkshire atop a ludicrously steep hill. For more information about her and her books, visit her web site, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, and Instagram.


The reign of George I seemed to be beset by challenges and opposition, with domestic and political thorns never far from his side. In Parliament he looked increasingly to the likes of Sir Robert Walpole for guidance whilst in public, he tried and failed to cultivate the image of a social sort of sovereign. Yet no matter what he did, trouble was always following George I.

And nothing was more troublesome than the South Sea Bubble.

The South Sea House on Bishopsgate StreetThe South Sea Bubble has become legendary, synonymous with ruin and bankruptcy, with big business running rampantly out of control. It starts with a name, and not a very memorable name. The company behind all the trouble was officially known as The Governor and Company of the Merchants of Great Britain, trading to the South Seas and other parts of America, and for the encouragement of fishing. Created in 1711, the organisation became better known as the South Sea Company, a far more manageable moniker!

The gamble
The company took a gamble and based much of its business model reliant on monopolising South American trade. The company assumed that once the War of Spanish Succession ended they would be free to commence trading, and stocks sold well. The company’s reputation was helped when king himself became its governor in 1718!

In 1719, the company offered to buy up the national debt of Great Britain, ploughing millions into the national war chest. George listened to the canny lobbying of his mistress, Melusine von der Schulenberg, and though he wholeheartedly supported the scheme, Walpole had strong reservations.

South Sea company trade labelUnder the terms of the agreement, the company would underwrite the entire national debt in return for 5% interest. It was an enormous amount and one that investors could scarcely believe, but with the backing of king and Parliament, what could possibly go wrong? Soon the value of shares in the South Sea Company rose to ten times their initial value, and it seemed as though everyone, from the lord in his manor to the tradesman in his corner shop, was buying up stock.

And for the con-men, it was a dream come true.

Those with little experience in dealing with the stock market were easy prey to charlatans, and soon there was a brisk trade in companies that never even existed or were fanciful at best. Yet it was soon apparent that investors in the genuine South Sea Company weren’t much better off, and as the king gadded about Hanover in 1720, the company directors attempted to sneakily sell off their own stock. Once their investors realised that the value of the stocks was about to plummet, they joined the clamour to sell, until the stocks were worth nothing.

The collapse
Fortunes were lost, and George I headed home to England. Allegations of corruption were rampant, and in the face of accusations of bribery the Postmaster-General, James Craggs the Elder, apparently took his own life. The collapse of the market brought with it a rash of suicides and bankruptcies, and across both Houses of Parliament, hundreds were left in dire straits.

The king was heckled in the streets, and it was left to Walpole to ride to the rescue. His decisive actions in Parliament placed the meltdown under control, narrowly avoiding a complete collapse of the banks. Walpole didn’t punish everyone who was responsible though, well aware that it can be useful to have influential movers and shakers in your debt.

For commentators and satirists, the affair was a bitter gift, and Jonathan Swift famously composed The Bubble, a furious poetic swipe at the men who led the catastrophe:

Directors, thrown into the sea,
Recover strength and vigour there;
But may be tamed another way,
Suspended for a while in air.

Meanwhile Earl Stanhope, the former First Lord of the Treasury who shouldered much of the blame for the affair, finally succumbed to the pressure on the floor of the house in 1721. He was forced to abandon a debate thanks to a violent headache and was killed by a fatal stroke on the following day. His supporters blamed his passionate debating skills for his death though in fact, it might be to do with the fact that he had spent the preceding thirteen hours drinking a cocktail of champagne and liqueurs!

The South Sea Bubble had very definitely burst, and the damage to George’s reputation was done. In the wake of the catastrophe he came to rely on Walpole more than ever in Parliament, whilst Melusine was a constant comfort in matters intimate and domestic. Perhaps, though, he might not be quite so keen to take her advice when it came to stocks and shares…


  • Belsham, W. Memoirs of the Kings of Great Britain of the House of Brunswic-Luneburg, Vol I. London: C Dilly, 1793.
  • Black, Jeremy. The Hanoverians: The History of a Dynasty. London: Hambledon and London, 2007.
  • Clarke, John, Godwin Ridley, Jasper and Fraser, Antonia. The Houses of Hanover & Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000.
  • Coxe, William. Memoirs of the Life and Administration of Robert Walpole. London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme & Brown, 1816.
  • Inglis, Lucy. Georgian London: Into the Streets. London: Viking, 2013.
  • Pearce, Edward. The Great Man: Sir Robert Walpole: Scoundrel, Genius and Britain’s First Prime Minister. London: Random House, 2011.
  • Saussure, Cesar de. A Foreign View of England in the Reigns of George I & George II. London: John Murray, 1902.
  • Shawe-Taylor, Desmond and Burchard, Wolf. The First Georgians: Art and Monarchy 1714-1760. London: Royal Collection Trust, 2014.
  • Swift, Jonathan and Hawkesworth, John. Letters, Written by Jonathan Swift: Vol III. London: A Pope, 1737.


Kings of Georgian Britain book coverA big thanks to Catherine Curzon. She’ll give away an ebook copy of Kings of Georgian Britain to someone who contributes a comment on my blog this week. I’ll choose the winner from among those who comment by Friday at 6 p.m. ET. Delivery is available worldwide.


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Hunting Waterfalls in Snowbird Country

Lisa Carter author photoRelevant History welcomes Lisa Carter, bestselling author of seven romantic suspense novels, four historical novellas, and a contemporary Coast Guard series. Lisa enjoys traveling to romantic locales and researching her next exotic adventure. Beyond the Cherokee Trail is a 4 1/2 star Romantic Times Top Pick. The Stronghold is a 2017 Daphne du Maurier finalist. Under a Turquoise Sky, won the 2015 Carol Award for Romantic Suspense. Her latest contemporary romance, The Bachelor’s Unexpected Family, releases in September 2017. A native North Carolinian, Lisa has strong opinions on barbecue and ACC basketball. For more information about her and her books, visit her web site, and follow her on Facebook and Pinterest.


Historical basis behind the book
In 1835, a minority faction in the Cherokee Nation brokered a treaty with the United States government, agreeing to the removal of all Cherokee citizens to beyond the Mississippi in Indian Territory. This deal—without the official authorization of the Cherokee National Council—became the legal basis for the enforced removal of an entire ethnic group.

When gold was discovered within its borders, the fate of the Cherokee Nation was sealed. But Chief John Ross promised an eleventh-hour intervention. And so in May 1838, most of the Cherokee were caught completely unaware. With crops planted in the field, washing hung on the line, breakfast on the table . . . soldiers appeared at their doors.

On a virtual death march—estimates range from four hundred to six thousand—men, women and children perished along the twelve-hundred mile route that became known as the Trail of Tears or Trail Where We Cried. The Trail came to symbolize the oppression of all Native Americans in the American expansion to the Pacific Ocean.

In the isolated mountain terrain of western North Carolina near the town of Cherokee, some refused to surrender to removal. These few hundred became the Eastern Band of the Cherokee.

Also eluding capture, an even smaller number hid in the rugged Snowbird Mountains—still considered one of the last wilderness regions within the United States. They became known as the Snowbird Cherokee.

Why I wrote the book
Snowbird mountainsWhat fascinates me most is the modern-day Indian and their juxtaposition into the larger American culture. Beyond the Cherokee Trail is a contemporary romantic suspense novel with historical elements. But why a story about Cherokee?

My first encounter involved coming face to face with fake Cherokee Indians as a three-year-old on board the Tweetsie Railroad when I wandered too close to the staged Indian attack. Raised tomahawks leave an impression—fake or not. Thus, my fascination with the Cherokee and with the larger Native American population began. That’s it in a nutshell. Thank you very much, Tweetsie.

When my in-laws settled in Colorado near Four Corners, guess where I wanted to go? Out of that was born Beneath a Navajo Moon and Under a Turquoise Sky.

But my thoughts drifted back home eventually to North Carolina, which has the largest Native American population east of the Mississippi. I knew a lot of Lumbee as a teenager so I wrote Vines of Entanglement.

When I read about the Snowbird Cherokee and how they’d escaped the mass roundup, I realized the 180th commemoration of the Trail was on the horizon in 2018.

Tatham Gap Road signOne of the best things about writing is visiting the actual places where I’ve set my stories. Another great thing about writing is the people I meet along the way. Like T.J. Holland, curator of the tribally-owned Junaluska Museum. A renown Snowbird Cherokee artist, he patiently answered my many questions and helped me to locate what remains of the Tatham Gap Road where the gouged wagon ruts made on the Trail can still be seen. Deep in the woods outside Robbinsville, it is a painfully beautiful yet slightly haunted place. As if the earth itself remembers the suffering of those who once trod this path.

Then T.J. mentioned the waterfall . . .

Ever since “Last of the Mohicans,” I’ve been a fan of waterfalls. I became a bit obsessed with finding the waterfall under which the Snowbird Cherokee hid and successfully eluded the army.

WaterfallObsessed because after a four-hour hike of finding nothing, crossing knee-deep streams of rushing water, scrambling over rocky outcroppings perched precariously over river torrents, I had to be dragged off Snowbird Mountain. A mountain so remote and isolated, it doesn’t surprise me that the Cherokee evaded capture. In this age of satellites and reconnaissance planes, I feel sure most of the modern-day Cherokee Nation could hide out there again and never be found.

But to quote Scarlett, “Tomorrow is another day.” I’ve been studying geographical maps, and I think I know where I took a wrong turn. I just need to ford the creek . . .turn left . . . and head up the eastern face until I either run smack into it or fall off. Anyone up for a hike?


Beyond the Cherokee Trail book coverA big thanks to Lisa Carter. She’ll give away a trade paperback copy of Beyond the Cherokee Trail to someone who contributes a comment on my blog this week. I’ll choose the winner from among those who comment by Friday at 6 p.m. ET. Delivery is available in the U.S. only.


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The Forgotten Jungle War

Anne Lovett author photoRelevant History welcomes Anne Lovett, a native Georgian descended from generations of cotton farmers, as well as teachers, preachers, and pioneer women from the Wiregrass region. She has published literary short stories, personal essays, journalism, and poetry. She lives in Atlanta with her husband and rescue cat. Rubies from Burma, a finalist in the Pacific Northwest Writers Competition, is her first novel, and has recently earned a Kirkus-starred review. For more information about her and her books, visit her web site, and follow her on Facebook.


“Did Americans really serve in Burma in World War II?” someone asked recently. “That is, besides the Flying Tigers?” The legendary group of American fighter pilots flew for China before Pearl Harbor, gaining fame from a 1942 movie about their exploits. (There’s talk of another film in the works.)

“Have you heard of Merrill’s Marauders?” I countered. “The Burma Road? The Army Corps of Engineers helped to build that. And,” I said, “the movie Francis, the Talking Mule, was set in Burma.”

“Oh, yes!” was the answer. But how quickly we forget.

American soldiers cross river with mulesSome people think that Vietnam was American’s first taste of jungle warfare. While researching Burma’s involvement in World War II, it struck me that if our military could have taken what was learned in Burma and applied those lessons in Indochina, lives might have been saved.

Of course, Burma wasn’t America’s main interest as we struggled in Europe and the Pacific. The country was then a colony of the British, and the Burmese had been clamoring for independence. Did America really want to save Britain’s colonial presence? But the Japanese plan was to create their own empire. Our interest was in driving out the Japanese and ending their plans of conquest.

OSS and Detachment 101
An important part of this American strategy was Detachment 101 of the OSS. The Department of Information, later to become the Office of Strategic Services, was President Roosevelt’s brainchild, a way for him to get clandestine information about the enemy firsthand. That office found the supremely able Captain Carl Eifler, who’d headed a successful spy mission in Mexico, and appointed him to lead a contingent of well-trained officers and enlisted men into Burma, behind the lines, for information-gathering, sabotage, and rescue missions.

Why did I choose that service for my hero, an honest, upright guy? Doing so gave me a poignant question to explore in my novel. What would happen if a soldier found that to do his duty, to use his talents to help win the war, he had to take actions that went against his core values? I wanted to tell that story. As well, I had a logistical reason to choose Detachment 101.

All I knew about my character when I began writing Rubies from Burma was that he served in Burma, had come back with “battle fatigue”, what we now call PTSD, and brought rubies. I had to come up with the details. I didn’t see him building a road, I didn’t want him to be a pilot, and Merrill’s raid came at the wrong time in the war for my purposes. That left Detachment 101, its mission, and its question for my hero.

Research for Rubies from Burma
My research involved reading as much about that war as I could. History class was far behind me, so to brush up my knowledge, I watched both the mini-series “The Winds of War” and “War and Remembrance,” based on the novels by Herman Wouk. I then plunged into reading books. (See bibliography at the end of this essay). After I finished my reading, I felt I had a good enough window into the mind of my soldier to allow me to write his war diary.

JungleI found during my reading that the Burmese nation consisted of many different tribes or ethnic groups, some with customs which might seem primitive, such as cutting off the heads of their enemies and drying them. They had no love for the British, but they wanted badly to drive out the Japanese, and were willing to help the Americans fight them. The Kachins, for instance, knew the jungle, and were willing to lead those who parachuted there to safety. They had their price, and it wasn’t American dollars. What they wanted was opium.

Whatever it takes, was the attitude. Opium was acquired. What was not so easy to come by was weaponry other than spears and knives to fight the invaders. They wanted guns. How to arm these fierce fighters? The officers in charge sent back to the U.S. and found, with the war raging in Europe and the Pacific, that there were no guns to be spared for this mission.

Eifler, by then a colonel, insisted that they had to have some kind of weapon. Finally crates arrived from America. Opening them, the Americans were stunned to see muzzle-loaders left over from the Civil War. A large cache had been had been found in an Army warehouse.

The locals happily put them to use.

Partial Bibliography for Rubies from Burma:

  • This Grim and Savage Game: O.S.S. and the Beginning of U.S Covert Operations in WWII, Tom Moon, Burning Gate Press, Los Angeles, 1991
  • A Connecticut Yankee in the 8th Gurkha Rifles: A Burma Memoir, Scott Gilmore with Patrick Davis, Brassey’s, Washington, 1995
  • Quartered Safe Out Here: A Recollection of the War in Burma, George MacDonald Fraser, HarperCollins, London, 1995
  • Battle for Burma, E.D. Smith, Holmes & Meyer, New York, 1979
  • The Stilwell Papers, Joseph W. Stilwell, Willian Sloane Associates, New York, 1948
  • Burma Surgeon, Gordon S. Seagrave. M.D, W.W. Norton, 1943
  • Wartime: Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War, Paul Fussell, Oxford University Press, 1989


Rubies from Burma book coverA big thanks to Anne Lovett. She’ll give away an ebook copy of Rubies from Burma to someone who contributes a comment on my blog this week. I’ll choose the winner from among those who comment by Friday at 6 p.m. ET. Delivery is available worldwide.


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Re-creating Everyday Life in Late 1880s New England

Edith Maxwell author photoRelevant History welcomes back best-selling historical mystery author Edith Maxwell, a 2017 double Agatha Award nominee for her historical mystery Delivering the Truth and her short story, “The Mayor and the Midwife.” She writes the Quaker Midwife Mysteries and the Local Foods Mysteries; as Maddie Day she writes the Country Store Mysteries and the Cozy Capers Book Group Mysteries. Her award-winning short crime fiction has appeared in many juried anthologies, and she is honored to serve as President of Sisters in Crime New England. A former doula, Maxwell lives north of Boston with her beau and three cats. For more information about her and her books, visit her web site and group blog, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.


[Note: A version of this post first appeared on Storybook Reviews.]

My Quaker Midwife Mysteries take place in a bustling New England mill and carriage factory town in the late 1880s–which happens to be the town I live in. The family my midwife Rose Carroll lives with resides in my house, or the way my house was when it was brand-new and built for workers who toiled in the textile mill a block down the hill. By now it has had two additions to the back, but the heart of the home remains.

Old New England houseWe bought this house five years ago, and my boyfriend has renovated the entire structure, right down to the studs. We now have new plumbing, new wiring, insulation, smooth walls and ceilings, but we kept the original wide pine floors and the window and door trim. We’ve tried to keep the additions reminiscent of the period when the house was built, so the kitchen has old-timey looking subway tiles for backsplash, as does the bathroom.

Old timey wood stoveWe opened up the kitchen to the sitting room, and I love to perch on the couch and gaze into the kitchen, imagining Rose and her teenage niece Faith cooking and cleaning for the family. But what would it have looked like back then? This is a modest three-bedroom house, not a big fancy Victorian with maid’s quarters and a deluxe dining room.

I have visited several museum homes of the period. One was Orchard House, where the Alcott family lived. It’s only an hour from my home. I also stayed at a living history farmhouse in Maine where the public is invited for 24-hour live-in experiences. The Norlands-Washburn center features late nineteen-century life, from the wood cookstove to the chamberpot under the bed! And I often peruse Miss Parloa’s New Cook Book and Marketing Guide, where she speaks extensively of what a “hygienic” kitchen needs.

Wide table and water pumpRose’s kitchen would have had a wide soapstone sink and running water from a pump. The wide wooden table would have been used for food preparation as well as eating meals, and the cabinet space would have been limited. They might have had gas lighting on the walls, but not yet a gas stove. Certain places in town were starting to be electrified, but definitely not Rose’s home. Refrigeration would have been an icebox. The door to the outside was fitted with a screen door, a new invention that did wonders for keeping the bugs out but letting a breeze circulate in a hot July when Called to Justice takes place.

The family did hire out the washing, and by Book Three in the series (Turning the Tide, 2018) Rose has convinced her widower brother-in-law to hire a kitchen girl, too. Rose has a busy midwifery practice, and Faith works full time in the Hamilton Mills, and Rose argued that it wasn’t fair to either of them to have to do all the housework, too.

I also often think of the Laura Ingalls Wilder series, which I read several times as a child. Those stories take place primarily on the prairie and the frontier, certainly, but many of the everyday household tasks would have been the same.

Readers: Do you have any fabulous late Victorian research sources? Knowledge of everyday life from back then? Please share!


Called to Justice book coverA big thanks to Edith Maxwell. She’ll give away a paperback copy of her Fourth of July mystery, Called to Justice, to someone who contributes a comment on my blog this week. (Here’s a good review of the book.) I’ll choose the winner from among those who comment by Friday at 6 p.m. ET. Delivery is available worldwide.


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