The British Legion Parties Down for Yule 1780

Christmas party blog hop logoWelcome to the Christmas party blog hop, and thank you for stopping by. Have you ever wondered how people from other times and places celebrated the winter holiday? Each of the authors on the list at the end of this post is sharing an idea about it today. Some authors also have giveaway prizes for you. Visit the blogs, and enjoy this festive season with us.


It certainly wasn’t “all work and no play” for King George III’s army when it attempted to subdue that pesky insurrection in North America. The Brits did their share of “entertaining” while on American soil. Mischianza, anyone?

Banastre Tarleton Some Brits qualified as true party animals, and one of those party animals, Banastre Tarleton, commanded the British Legion, a provincial unit that wreaked havoc among the patriots living in the southern colonies in 1780 and 1781. A drinker, gambler, and womanizer, Tarleton had goofed off at University College, Oxford and blown through his inheritance before hitting his stride as a light cavalry officer during the American Revolution.

Tarleton is a secondary character in my novel Camp Follower: A Mystery of the American Revolution, set in late 1780 and early 1781. (Here’s why I included him.) And because Tarleton was the kind of fellow who’d never have passed up seasonal festivities, there’s a December winter holiday feast and dance in Camp Follower to give readers an idea of how a Crown forces unit might have celebrated in the backcountry of South Carolina. It’s a Yule party, not a Christmas party—and here’s why. Writing that scene gave me the opportunity to show another side to Tarleton and the Legion: soldiers at rest, not fighting their way through the backcountry. A devastating battle would come all too soon for them on 17 January 1781 and is depicted in the book’s climax.

Here’s an excerpt from the Yule party in Camp Follower:

The morning of the twenty-fourth, day of the Yule celebration, [Helen] awoke to the aroma of roasted hog and root vegetables, slow-cooked the night before in pits…A substantial amount of cooked hog and vegetables, baked apples and pears, and cornbread vanished before dark — largesse from Tarleton, distributed among the rank and file.

After nightfall, in a torch-rimmed field north of the manor house, Helen, her garnets at her throat and ears, wandered from a huge bowl of mulled cider to a huge bowl of waes hail to a supply of the best wines from market…During the first course of onion soup, she was seated next to Fairfax, but they ignored each other, and the fellow on her other side stayed sober long enough to hold a lucid conversation about deer hunting…The soup was cleared away, a bell rang, and the men scrambled to switch seats, to the laughter and surprise of the ladies. Broiled bass appeared on the tables, and Helen got to hear about horse racing and advantages of various firearms from a cornet and a captain…

The bass vanished, the bell rang again, and Tarleton, ruddy-cheeked, wine goblet in hand, redirected an officer of the militia so he could plant himself next to Helen and scowl at her. Gold and braid on his uniform winked in the candlelight. “You’ve no idea how I’ve had to fight my way over here…Madam, I need your advice on a delicate matter. With whom should I dance the first tune?”

Camp Follower book coverGiveaway prize: Want a book to read? Use the comment form to tell me something you learned from this blog post and what your 2014 holiday plans are like. I’ll send you an ebook copy of Camp Follower, nominated for two awards. Make sure you provide your name and an accurate email address so I can contact you. Offer expires 31 December 2014.

Happy holidays to all my readers. And don’t forget to check out the authors’ posts on the following list.

Thank you for joining our party
now follow on to the next enjoyable

1. Helen Hollick : “You are Cordially
Invited to a
Ball” (plus a giveaway prize) –  
2. Alison Morton : “Saturnalia surprise – a winter party tale”  (plus
a giveaway prize) –
3. Andrea Zuvich : No Christmas For You! The Holiday Under Cromwell –
4. Ann Swinfen : Christmas 1586 – Burbage’s
Company of Players Celebrates –
5. Anna Belfrage :  All I want for Christmas (plus a giveaway prize) –
6. Carol Cooper : How To Be A Party Animal –
7. Clare Flynn :  A German American Christmas –
8. Debbie Young :  Good Christmas Housekeeping (plus a giveaway prize) –
9. Derek Birks :  The Lord of Misrule – A Medieval Christmas Recipe for Trouble –
10. Edward James : An Accidental Virgin and An Uninvited Guest – and – 
11. Fenella J. Miller : Christmas on the Home front (plus a giveaway prize) –
12. J. L. Oakley :  Christmas Time in the Mountains 1907 (plus a
giveaway prize) –
13. Jude Knight : Christmas at Avery Hall in the Year of Our Lord 1804 –
14. Julian Stockwin: Join the Party –  
15. Juliet Greenwood : Christmas 1914 on the Home Front (plus a giveaway) –
16. Lauren Johnson :  Farewell Advent, Christmas is come” – Early Tudor Festive Feasts –
17. Lucienne Boyce :  A Victory Celebration –
18. Nancy Bilyeau :  Christmas After the Priory (plus a giveaway prize) –
19. Nicola Moxey : The Feast of the Epiphany, 1182 –
20. Lindsay Downs:  O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree (plus a giveaway prize) –
21. Regina Jeffers : Celebrating a Regency Christmas  (plus a giveaway prize) –
22. Richard Abbott : The Hunt – Feasting at Ugarit –
23. Saralee Etter : Christmas Pudding — Part of the Christmas Feast –
24. Stephen Oram : Living
in your dystopia: you need a festival of enhancement…
 (plus a giveaway prize) –
25. Suzanne Adair: The British Legion Parties Down for Yule 1780 (plus a giveaway prize) –



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.

Enter your email address:

Christmas Party Blog Hop 2014

Christmas party blog hop logo Some call it Saturnalia, some call it Yule, some call it Christmas. Are you curious how people from other times and places celebrated the winter holiday? Meet me on my blog one week from now, and look for the logo on the left. Twenty-seven authors of historical fiction will offer you essays and good cheer—and a few freebies.


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.

Enter your email address:

Commodore John Paul Jones and the Battle at Flamborough Head

Michael McCloskey author photoRelevant History welcomes Michael C. McCloskey, who has spent the last ten years studying American History at Millersville University and received his MA in 2013. His focus is on the colonial Atlantic world, and the development of American identity. Currently courting several doctorial programs, Michael looks forward to the day he will have a classroom of his own. He has also been active in Public History programs serving as historic interpreter at the Army Heritage Education Center during their time line events and guest lecturing on revolution and its causes, bringing alive the past for the next generation. For more information, connect with him on his web site at Millersville University.


John Paul Jones as depicted by his enemiesIn looking at the American War for Independence, one of the more uncommon aspects is that of the United States Navy, and no one was more famed of that arm than Commodore John Paul Jones. Perhaps most famous for uttering the immortal words “I have not yet begun to fight…” in the Battle at Flamborough Head on the eastern coast of England touching the North Sea.[1] The war had not been going well for the colonists in 1779, and they needed a victory to help bolster their spirits and carry them on to fight until Cornwallis was defeated in 1781 at Yorktown, Virginia. That victory came in the form of Commodore Jones at the Battle of Flamborough Head. Outgunned and even in the face of treachery by one of his captains, he managed to escape what could have been an ignominious end and emerge the hero in a contest which seemed mismatched once the engagement began.[2]

The Engagement Begins
On the afternoon of 23 September 1779, a flotilla of supply troops arriving from the mouth of the Thames River was ferrying material from England for the war effort against the Americans.[3] It was just such a prize that Commodore Jones was waiting for. In the small squadron commanded by Commodore Jones was the Alliance commanded by Captain Pierre Landaise, the Pallas commanded by Captain Henry Lundt, and the cutter Vengeance. Coming around the cape was the H.M.S. Serapis of 50 guns commanded by Captain Richard Pearson RN. The Countess of Scarborough was not far along and commanded by Captain Thomas Piercy with a large number of ships in tow carrying supplies for the British.[4]

By 6:00 p.m. the battle began with Commodore Jones having the Stars and Stripes hoisted up the mainmast revealing his true intent. Even though the Bonhomme Richard was outgunned and facing a much more maneuverable enemy (the Serapis had a copper lined hull making her much faster and maneuverable than the Richard), Jones was relying on his squadron to help even the odds.[5] In the case of the Alliance, that was a trust misplaced, as we shall see. The other two vessels did what they could against the Countess of Scarborough keeping her busy while the Richard and Serapis faced off for the next three to four hours. Early on in the engagement, the Richard wound up running her bowsprit into the hull of the Serapis while maneuvering to gain advantage. Captain Pearson asked Commodore Jones if he was going to strike his colors. To which the immortal words were uttered “I have not yet begun to fight!” At which point the engagement renewed.[6]

A Questionable Alliance
While the Richard and Serapis were dancing with each other in the waters off the coast of England, the Alliance was keeping her distance, waiting to cut in, but not with the expected party. Meanwhile the Pallas engaged the convoy and the Countess of Scarborough, and the Vengeance could do little but watch the battle unfold. With the Richard and Serapis now locked, broadside to broadside, the Alliance began to maneuver closer, but instead of firing on the H.M.S. Serapis, Captain Landaise fired on the Richard! Not just once, but three times. It turns out, according to historian Samuel Eliot Morison, the commander of the Alliance had designs of sinking the Richard and taking the Serapis as a prize for himself and getting Commodore John Paul Jones out of the way in the same move, a shrewd but treacherous act indeed.[7] This act seemed to be a streak through many of the foreign commanders subordinated under Jones’s command throughout his life and demonstrates the complexity of the politics he had to navigate throughout his career and most especially during his final command in Russia.

The Alliance notwithstanding, Commodore Jones and Bonhomme Richard held on to the Serapis and both railed away at one another. Jones’s iron determination and sheer will seemed to keep the Richard afloat as the engagement got hot. Even many under the command of Jones on the Richard itself were ready to call for quarter and ask for terms. Commodore Jones did not allow for such an action. Finally at 10:30 in the evening, the mainmast of the Serapis began to give way, and Captain Pearson struck his colors. No easy task, as Morison relates that he nailed his colors to the mast, and owing to the loss of men to killed and wounded, he had to climb up top to strike them himself.[8] When Commodore Jones received Captain Pearson upon the deck of the Bonhomme Richard to accept his surrender, the ceremonies of war during the period were well observed, honor being done to both sides in the battle, much in contrast to the reputation of John Paul Jones as a pirate, rapacious and without mercy.

John Paul Jones as depicted by his friendsAfter the battle, the Bonhomme Richard was so damaged that she wound up sinking the next morning, giving her last full measure to provide Commodore Jones with his victory that day. But what did that victory demonstrate? It lay plain to the people and government of England that a war fought an ocean away can be brought to their own back yard. The world was no longer as large as many thought it was. Also, while this convoy did have the good fortune to escape to a safe port while the Serapis and the Countess of Scarborough did their job engaging Jones and his small fleet, England’s merchant fleet ran the same risk as American colonial merchant ships, that of being taken as a prize of war. As a result the merchant fleets cried for naval protection.[9] England now had to reevaluate where to place its resources when mapping out a strategy. The war became “not so distant” anymore.

1. Barbara W. Tuchman, The First Salute, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1988), p. 83
2. Samuel Eliot Morison, John Paul Jones, (New York: Time Incorporated, 1959), pp. 234, 235; Tuchman, The First Salute, p.110
3. Gardner W. Allen, A Naval History of the American Revolution, Vol 2, (New York: Russell & Russell Inc, 1962), pp. 456, 457
4. Morison, pp. 224-226
5. Ibid, pp. 226, 227
6. Tuchman, p. 83; Morison, p. 231
7. Morison, p. 235
8. Tuchman , p. 83; Morison, p. 237


A big thanks to Michael McCloskey!


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.

Enter your email address:

Black Friday 2014 Camp Follower sale

Camp Follower book cover“An excellent offering from a skilled novelist” — Armchair Interviews

Looking for a great deal on an award-nominated, historical holiday read? Camp Follower, stand-alone third book of my “Mysteries of the American Revolution” trilogy, is on sale 28 – 30 November. The book was nominated for the Daphne du Maurier award and the Sir Walter Raleigh award, and it shows the Yule and Christmas Day celebrations of 1780 for the British Legion, encamped in the South Carolina backcountry.

Here are the sales and where you’ll find them:

Please spread the word. Many thanks.


A deadly assignment. A land poisoned by treachery and battle. She plunged in headfirst.

Late in 1780, the publisher of a loyalist magazine in Wilmington, North Carolina offers an amazing assignment to Helen Chiswell, his society page writer. Pose as the widowed, gentlewoman sister of a British officer in the Seventeenth Light Dragoons, travel to the encampment of the British Legion in the Carolina backcountry, and write a feature on Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton. But Helen’s publisher has secret reasons for sending her into danger. And because Helen, a loyalist, has ties to a family the redcoats suspect as patriot spies, she comes under suspicion of a brutal, brilliant British officer. At the bloody Battle of Cowpens, Helen must confront her past to save her life.

The Winner of Death in the Time of Ice

Georgia Wilson has won a copy of Death in the Time of Ice by Kaye George. Congrats to Georgia Wilson!

Thanks to Kaye George for her insights into her research of Neanderthals living 38,000 years ago. Thanks, also, to everyone who visited and commented on Relevant History this week. Watch for another Relevant History post, coming soon.


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.

Enter your email address:

Why On Earth Did I Choose Neanderthals?

Kaye George author photoRelevant History welcomes national best-selling and multiple-award-winning mystery author Kaye George, who writes several series: Imogene Duckworthy, Cressa Carraway (Barking Rain Press), People of the Wind (Untreed Reads), and, as Janet Cantrell, Fat Cat (Berkley Prime Crime cozies). Her short stories appear in anthologies and magazines as well as her own collection, A Patchwork of Stories. Her reviews run in Suspense Magazine. She lives in Knoxville, TN. For more information, check her web site and blog, and look for her on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.


One day I decided I wanted to write about something in the past. I rejected a few periods, mostly because I had studied them in history class. It seemed to me, at the time, that history consisted of memorizing dates and wars, with a few kings and queens. Boring! It was only after I left high school and started reading historical fiction that I realized some of those periods were interesting, even fascinating.

What else was there?
However, lots of people were writing about those times. What was there that no one had done before? Here’s where my interest in anthropology kicked in. I was an avid fossil hunter at one time and used to have a terrific trilobite—wish I knew what happened to that!

Add in the fact that Neanderthals, long thought to be low-browed savages, were turning out to be misunderstood. As scientists sequenced one of their genomes, startling discoveries were made. One that they sequenced was red-headed and probably freckled! When you considered how many thousands of years they thrived, then factored in the climates they survived, everyone had to drastically change their opinions of their intelligence.

Conflicting theories
I ordered a few textbooks and heavily underlined and post-it-noted the pages. I found that, for every theory, there’s a conflicting one. Perfect for a fiction writer! Some said it was unlikely they could speak. Others said that of course they could. Some said they buried their dead with ceremony, others said probably not. So I was able to pick and choose what fit my fiction.

No one knows how their society was ordered, so I ordered it to suit myself. My tribe, the Hamapa, is matriarchal with the wise old woman as the leader, advised by two of her male partners. In order to be able to describe things to the reader from outside, I chose one main character, Enga Dancing Flower, who was adopted into the tribe with her twin, Ung Strong Arm. It is assumed that her tribe abandoned her and her sister, as very small children and near to the Hamapa tribe, because they could no longer feed everyone. I chose another main character to be a young male of the tribe, Jeek, still a child, and younger than Enga Dancing Flower.

I had the most fun inventing their language, since at one time I considered majoring in linguistics in college. Going from a French major to Russian, I sort of gathered some linguistics. Putting together knowledge about how babies learn to speak, how disabled people manage, and early language studies, I used only the sounds easiest to make, just in case it was hard for them to speak. Also, they save the spoken language for ceremonial announcements and communicate mostly by telepathy. (Not a theory by anyone but me. But, hey, if the Australian Aborigines can do it, Neanderthals might have.)

Where to put them
One problem was setting. I knew I wanted to use the end of their time on this planet as a separate people, about 38-40,000 years ago, but I didn’t know much about Europe or Asia then, which was just before the last Ice Age. I did know something about North America (and learned a lot more!). Then it came to my attention that the theory of peopling the Americas was being called into question. So I decided it was people much, much earlier than the main theory (and now that theory is almost totally debunked in favor of earlier migrations). Why not let the Neanderthals go just a bit farther east and come on over?

The advantage of doing that is that I can use the mega-fauna that existed on this continent in those days: mammoth, mastodons, saber-tooth tigers, dire wolves, flat-faced bears, giant beavers and sloths. Everything was gigantic! And presented challenges as food sources for my tribe. The approaching glaciers from the north were also driving the game south as the story opens. Some neighboring tribes were having a hard time feeding themselves.

Other prehistory fiction!
I’ve recently made the acquaintance of a group of prehistory fiction writers who write the gamut, from fairly recent times, just before the discovery of the Americas by the Europeans, to 70,000 years ago. It’s fun to share our interests in primitive peoples. If you’d like to know more about them, visit the group. Some of the other writers (all fiction—I’m the only mystery writer) are Mary Black, Kathleen Rollins, Bonnye Matthew, Ron Fritsch, Michael Gear (of W. Michael and Kathleen O’Neal Gear), Simon Townley, Sandra Saidak, Gary McCarthy, and Sharman Russell. (Though I might call the Gear books at least part mystery). If you like prehistory fiction, look up all of these!

More respect for the Neanderthals
By the way, one marker of progress is that I read, in a textbook published well after 2000, that scientists all agreed that Homo neanderthalensis didn’t interbreed with Homo sapiens. Today, I know that I’m 2.9 percent Neanderthal from a simple DNA test I took a couple of years ago. The old myths about these long-misunderstood people are falling day by day! They were added to the genus Homo only very recently. I’m so gratified that some of my theories about them are being added as new discoveries. I love writing about my Neanderthals!


Death in the Time of Ice book coverA big thanks to Kaye George. She’ll give away a trade paperback copy of her book, Death in the Time of Ice, 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.


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.

Enter your email address:

Boys with Whips

Flogging as a form of punishment was dispensed by company drummers during the American Revolution. In my recent post on flogging, I included the following statement:

…the desired outcome of flogging wasn’t usually the recipient’s death. That meant that often the flogging was delivered by a boy who didn’t have the upper body strength of a man.

A history buff queried me about the statement, said that all drummers were adults, and wanted to know where I’d gotten the rationale about using boys to go easy on the punishment.

One place I’d seen it was in Dr. Tony Scotti’s 2002 book Brutal Virtue: The Myth and Reality of Banastre Tarleton. Here’s the quote from his book:

Starting in 1740, some restraints appeared during floggings. Soldiers lived through large numbers of lashes, say one thousand for desertion, because they were administered at intervals over several weeks and supervised by a surgeon. Furthermore, drummers now carried out the punishment. The rationale for all this is simple. Aside from being more humane, it saved a valuable if momentarily wayward soldier for future service. In addition, a drummer boy of thirteen or fourteen years of age did not have the upper body strength of an adult corporal or sergeant. The youth could not last long at full tilt when whipping his comrade.

I bolded the portion of the quote most pertinent to this post and will get to the issue of drummers’ ages in a moment. This bolded part supplies a rationale that drummer boys administered floggings because they didn’t have an adult’s upper body strength and could thus go easier on the prisoner. Documentation exists to support the points about the flogging intervals, surgeon supervision, and duty of drummers. But the rationale itself doesn’t appear to have primary documentation supporting it. (If you find such a source, please send it to me.)

Years after the Revolution was over, that rationale may have been acquired to supply a motive or reason for why boys were involved in the business of floggings. How would a rationale be attributed? Unfortunately, people have “embellished” pieces of history all along to support personal and organizational agendas. If you don’t believe in these agendas, take a look at “Molly Pitcher.”

Here’s where matters get murkier. It’s a fact that units enlisted boys as young as twelve years of age. I checked into some primary sources—pension applications and, via a fellow researcher, muster rolls—to see what they could tell me about the ages of drummers. In both the British and Continental armies, there were plenty of adult drummers. However, boy drummers also became members of units as early as twelve years old. So were all drummers adults? No.

George W Joy"s "An English Drummer Boy"Life on a campaign trail was obviously harsher than that in garrison. Any boy who could endure the rigors of battle as a drummer and march all day carrying a heavy drum would have to be strong and stout. Such a boy would be expected to perform all the duties of a drummer. Most likely he’d be older than twelve—but that doesn’t mean he’d necessarily be a man. One pension application I read included a direct reference to the drummer flogging someone, and when he did it, he might have been fifteen years old. Tantalizing data.

We don’t yet know why drummers were chosen to administer floggings. Nor do we know if there was a minimum age requirement to perform the duty. In a unit, drummers were rotated through the task of flogging. If a prisoner was to receive a great number of lashes, several drummers could be assigned to carry out the sentence. Thus some boys may have been included in the duty rotation and wielded the cat-o’-nine-tails. Such circumstances don’t support the rationale that armies used drummer boys for a light touch with the whip.

Why would this rationale be attributed in the first place? For Americans living in the past century, the ideas of enlisting children as combatants, whipping a man’s back to shreds as corporal punishment, and using children to dispense such floggings are alien, horrific, and repulsive. But that level of social consciousness didn’t exist in the 18th century. The notion that boys were assigned to deliver floggings because they didn’t have the upper body strength of a man sounds like a very modern attribution. Maybe it’s an “agenda” to soften some grim realities: that “childhood” looked very different during the American Revolution, and that corporal punishment was brutal business in the British and Continental armies.


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.

Enter your email address:

The Winner of Bluffing is Murder

Kaye George has won a copy of Bluffing is Murder by Edith Maxwell. Congrats to Kaye George!

Thanks to Edith Maxwell for her insights into Quakers, midwifery in the 1800s, and abolitionist and poet John Greenleaf Whittier. Thanks, also, to everyone who visited and commented on Relevant History this week. Watch for another Relevant History post, coming soon.


12 November 2014 NEWS FLASH! Kaye George has generously offered her giveaway, an ARC of Bluffing is Murder, to another commenter. The new winner is Nancy Whitt. Congrats, Nancy, and thank you, Kaye!


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.

Enter your email address:

Taking Liberties with John Greenleaf Whittier

Edith Maxwell author photoRelevant History welcomes Edith Maxwell, who writes the Local Foods Mysteries. The latest, ‘Til Dirt Do Us Part, was released in May 2014. As Tace Baker, she also writes a modern Quaker series, the Lauren Rousseau Mysteries; book 2, Bluffing is Murder, will be released 11 November 2014. Under the pen name Maddie Day, she writes the Country Store Mysteries. Her historical Carriagetown Mysteries series is in development. Maxwell has also published award-winning short stories of murderous revenge. She lives in an antique house north of Boston and blogs every weekday with the Wicked Cozy Authors. For more information, check her web site, and look for her on Facebook and Twitter.


No, not that kind of liberties! But John Greenleaf Whittier is a secondary character in my new historical Carriagetown Mysteries series, and I’m having fun bringing him back to life.

Meetinghouse in the snow, photo credit Edward MairI’ve been a Quaker for a long time, and I worship at the same Friends Meetinghouse in northeastern Massachusetts where Whittier worshiped. He lived down the street (Friend Street, felicitously enough) and was on the building committee for the lovely simple light-filled structure that was completed in 1851.

I also live in a house built in 1880 for the mill workers who wove cotton cloth in the tall brick buildings only a block away. And I worked as a childbirth educator and doula many years ago, stopping just short of being a midwife.

Amesbury in the 1890's, a bird's eye viewSo I’ve put all these experiences together in a completed novel called Breaking the Silence, in which Quaker midwife Rose Carroll hears secrets and keeps confidences as she attends births of the rich and poor alike in 1888 Amesbury. When the town’s world-famed carriage industry is threatened by the work of an arsonist, and a carriage factory owner’s adult son is stabbed to death, Rose is drawn into solving the mystery. Things get dicey after the same man’s mistress is also murdered, leaving her one-week old baby without a mother. While struggling with being less than the perfect Friend, Rose draws on her strengths as a problem solver to bring two murderers to justice.

What did being a Friend in 1888 mean? And what was it like to deliver babies at home without advanced medical assistance, antibiotics, or sterile procedure?

Quakers have always followed several testimonies: simplicity, integrity, peace, equality, community. For a couple of centuries they wore plain dress—simple clothes in muted colors—as a way to demonstrate simplicity and equality. They refused to go to war. They did not doff hats to those of higher class and did not use titles. They refused to swear an oath in court, because integrity guided their lives and they considered that they always told the truth. Friends of 1888 might still have used “plain speech,” using “thee” and “thy” to both familiars and strangers, which originally was to avoid distinguishing between two classes of people when “you” was used in a more honorific way. But by the late 1800s “theeing” and ”thying” only set Quakers apart, since the language had regularized to “you” for all second-person usage.
The testimonies haven’t changed for modern Quakers, although the manifestations have. Many Friends have been conscientious objectors, and simplicity might be now expressed by living in a modest-sized dwelling, owning a used car, and wearing a jacket from the consignment shop. Many modern Friends still refuse to swear an oath in court, instead requesting to affirm the truth.

John Greenleaf WhittierMy protagonist, 27-year old Rose, is happy in her calling as a midwife, but she’s also being courted by a young doctor whose family is in high society one town over. When she’s invited to a fancy dinner dance, Rose consults with Whittier about wearing a party frock, and he gives his blessing. I’ve greatly enjoyed joining the Whittier Home Association and immersing myself in his life, and was gratified when one of the docents read my completed manuscript and said he thought I had captured the famous poet and abolitionist’s appearance and essence. And Rose lives in my house with her late sister’s widower and his five children, so I can imagine the story as I walk through not only my own home but the streets of my town.

Pinard hornAs for attending births, Rose uses a Pinard horn to listen to a baby’s heartbeat, and struggles with infections and the common diseases of the day, sometimes losing a baby to prematurity or a fever. But germ theory was already known, and she practices hand washing and sterilizing what she uses to cut the umbilical cord. She encourages her pregnant mothers to eat well and take fresh air and exercise, and helps postpartum women with both breastfeeding and depression. She’s had experience, as most modern independent midwives have, with difficult births like breech, twins, or when a baby’s shoulder gets stuck. These are skills that are falling out of many modern obstetricians’ tool boxes, because of the relative ease of surgical births, despite its still real risks to both mother and newborn.

A Time of Change
Women on safety bicyclesIt’s a fascinating period to write about, just before the electric trolley replaced the horse-drawn system. When rich people might have electric lights indoors but most still used gas lamps. When the telephone existed but wasn’t common. When women wanting to ride the safety bicycle, with its equal-sized wheels, started to wear bloomers and cycling costumes and developed a less restrictive style of dress so they could move about more freely.

I piloted the premise of the Carriagetown Mysteries in an award-winning short story, also called “Breaking the Silence,” that was published in the anthology Best New England Crime Stories 2014: Stone Cold from Level Best Books. The series is not yet under contract, but I’m determined that it will be somewhere, sometime. “A Questionable Death,” a short story featuring Rose and her friend Bertie Winslow, will appear in History and Mystery, Oh My from Mystery and Horror, LLC. Stay tuned for news in this space, as they say!


Bluffing is Murder book coverA big thanks to Edith Maxwell. She’ll give away an uncorrected proof (ARC) of her soon-to-be released book, Bluffing is Murder, 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 within the United States 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.

Enter your email address:

The Winner of Cherish

Tracy Smith has won a copy of Cherish by Norma Huss. Congrats to Tracy Smith!

Thanks to Norma Huss for discussing her memories of Pearl Harbor and Japanese internment. Thanks, also, to everyone who visited and commented on Relevant History this week. Watch for another Relevant History post, coming soon.


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.

Enter your email address: