Easier than Gretna Green

Maria Grace author photoRelevant History welcomes Regency romance author Maria Grace, who has her PhD in Educational Psychology and is a sixteen-year veteran of the university classroom, where she taught courses in human growth and development, learning, test development and counseling. None of which have anything to do with her undergraduate studies in economics/sociology/managerial studies/behavior sciences. She blogs at Random Bits of Fascination—mainly about her fascination with Regency era history and its role in her fiction. Her newest novel, The Trouble to Check Her, was released March 2016. To learn more about her and her books, visit her group blog, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Pinterest.

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Edmund Blair Leighton "The Elopement"A couple eloping to Grenta Green is a fairly common plot device for romances set in the early 1800s. But why was it done (other than because it sounds really romantic), and what cheaper, easier alternatives were at hand for a couple inclined to elope?

The Hardwicke Act
Starting with the ‘why’: Marriage back at the start of the 1800s was pretty different than it is today. For many years marriage only required words of consent uttered by the parties involved (at least age fourteen for men and twelve for women) in front of two witnesses.

While that approach made things fairly simple, it proved a record-keeping nightmare as there was no real way to prove a marriage did or did not exist. To rectify this dilemma, the Hardwicke Act of 1753 stipulated:

* A couple needed a license or the reading of the banns to marry
* Parental consent if either was under the age of twenty one
* The ceremony must take place within a public chapel or church, by authorized clergy
* The marriage must be performed between eight a.m. and noon before witnesses
* The marriage had to be recorded in the marriage register with the signatures of both parties, the witnesses, and the minister.

Usually parental consent was the fly in the ointment, but sometimes, the reading of the banns might raise an objection. Perhaps one of the parties was promised to marry another, or worse, had already married another. Either could put a crimp on a young couple’s plans.

An obvious solution might be to go somewhere else to get married, like perhaps Scotland. Scottish law merely required two witnesses and a minimum age of sixteen for both parties. (Of course for now, we’ll ignore the fact that whether or not Scottish marriages were legally valid in England was a matter of some debate.)

Gretna Green was just nine miles from the last English staging post at Carlisle and just one mile over the border with Scotland. The town took advantage of the situation and made something of a business in quick marriages, not unlike Los Vegas today. Hence, it was known for elopements, and it became a favorite plot device.

The Trouble with Gretna Green
If it was so simple and convenient, why not go to Gretna Green to marry? Barring the fact that elopements were a good way to get ostracized from good society, there were practical considerations that made it unsuitable for many.

Off to Gretna GreenGretna Green is three hundred twenty miles from London, the largest British population center of the early 1800s. My local highways boast an 80 or 85 mile-per-hour speed limit, so I can travel that distance in half a day, no bother. In the early 1800s those speeds were unheard of. Most people walked. Everywhere. Only the very wealthy had horses and carriages of their own.

If one were moderately well off, they might purchase tickets on a public conveyance to go long distances. While better than walking, one could still only expect to travel five to seven miles per hour. Traveling twelve hours a day, with only moderate stops to change horses and deal with personal necessities, the trip would take about four days.

Four days packed in a carriage with as many other people as the proprietors could squeeze into the space and more sitting on top of the coach.

A lovely, romantic picture, yeah?

Luckily, Gretna Green was not the only option. Other locations were available to facilitate a clandestine marriage. Towns along the eastern borders of Scotland, like Lamberton, Paxton, Mordington, and Coldstream also catered to eloping couples. In some cases, the toll-keepers along the road provided the marriages at the tollhouses.

From the south, those willing to sail might go to Southampton, Hampshire and purchase passage to the Channel Islands. The Isle of Guernsey in particular provided another alternative for a quick marriage.

Far simpler and closer to home
A far less romantic but simpler, cheaper and closer to home alternative existed. All a couple really had to do was have their banns read for three consecutive weeks in a church, then have the ceremony performed.

In a large urban center, like London, parishes could be huge and the clergy hard-pressed to verify each couple’s age and residency. If a couple could manage to get to a large town, or better London itself, they could lose themselves in the crowd and get married the conventional way, and their families were unlikely to get word of it in time to prevent anything.

After such a wedding occurred, the only recourse an aggrieved parent had was to go to the church where the banns had been called and challenge that the banns had been mistaken or even fraudulent. The process was public, inconvenient and embarrassing and thus not very common.

Despite a Gretna Green (or other Scottish) elopement being a romantic idyll, marrying in a big city parish was by far the most likely way young people married against their parents’ wishes.

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The Trouble to Check Her book cover imageA big thanks to Maria Grace. She’ll give away an ebook copy of The Trouble to Check Her to two 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.

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The Winner of Hidden

Sandra has won a copy of Hidden by P.A. De Voe. Congrats to Sandra!

Thanks to P.A. De Voe for a look at justice and law in ancient China. Thanks, also, to everyone who visited and commented on Relevant History this week. Watch for another Relevant History post, coming soon.

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Justice and Law in Ancient China

P.A. De Voe author photoRelevant History welcomes P.A. De Voe, an anthropologist, Asian specialist, and incorrigible magpie for collecting seemingly irrelevant information. Her first published mystery, A Tangled Yarn, is a contemporary cozy. In her current writing, however, she has jumped back in time and place, immersing her stories in the Ming Dynasty. She’s published several historical short stories, From Judge Lu’s Ming Dynasty Case Files, in anthologies and online. Her newly published adventure/mystery YA trilogy (Hidden, Warned, and Trapped) takes place in 1380 A.D. China. To learn more about P.A. De Voe and her books and to get a free short story, visit her web site.

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It was ancient China’s inherently different approach to law—based on morality and collective responsibility—compared to our contemporary approach—based on written law and individual rights—that has interested me for a long time. This interest led to my writing crime novels and short stories set in 14th- and 15th-century China. In my Ming Dynasty trilogy and Judge Lu short stories, I often highlight different parts of how the traditional Chinese judicial system worked as well as its implications for the entire family and community.

Justice and law
Traditionally, people believed a criminal’s behavior threw the world into a moral imbalance. And this imbalance had to be righted by not only bringing the criminal to task for his crime—and thereby bringing justice to the victim—but also by that criminal taking moral responsibility for his crime.

We can think of this view of crime as each individual being a brick upon which the health and well-being of the community and even the nation was built. As a result, it was not the individual but the community, the society, which was important.

The role of the magistrate
The magistrate was the centerpiece of the Ming Dynasty’s legal system. A magistrate was chosen among the best and brightest in the country. He had passed the all-important national examinations at the highest level. Once assigned to the office of magistrate, he remained in any one location for only three years at a time. This limited time frame was designed to keep him from becoming too close to the local power structure and thereby subverting his ability to do his law-enforcing job fairly.

And his job was formidable and multifaceted: he was the investigator, prosecutor, and judge all rolled into one. Because of his position’s tremendous power, the government required full documentation of the cases that came before the court. During the investigation, every detail had to be recorded. Examinations of witnesses were open and transparent, taking place in public and written up by the court secretary. The law mandated a timetable for bringing each case to a successful resolution—that is, to getting an admission of guilt by the alleged criminal.

Admission of guilt
It was critical for the criminal to admit his guilt. Simply finding rock hard evidence against him was not enough. An accused could not be legally found guilty and given a sentence if he did not admit to having committed the crime. This was because by admitting guilt he took responsibility for the crime and thereby restored moral order in the community and the universe.

Collective responsibility
Once found guilty, the criminal was not the only person who could and would be punished. Because of the notion of collective responsibility, members of his family could also be punished—or at least held accountable at some level. If a man, for example, committed a crime, his family was considered partly responsible for his behavior and, therefore, the crime. If his father was alive, the father could receive an even more severe punishment than his son because the father was ultimately responsible for his son’s behavior.

The legal use of torture
This, of course, raised the problem of how to get a criminal to admit guilt, which in the case of serious crimes, could lead to the death penalty, exile, or military service—which was at the borders of the country and often meant a life of severe hardship. Because, as I said, even unquestionable evidence against the criminal was not enough, the answer to how to get a man to admit guilt was the use of moderated torture. The court applied various levels of torture. The law strictly defined the type and degree of torture not only allowed, but often expected. While the use of torture could be used in bringing about a confession, a magistrate’s use and potential abuse of torture was closely monitored by the government. How was this done?

Monitoring judicial practices
Whenever a serious crime was committed—with the penalty, therefore, being equally serious—all of the court documents had to be sent up through the various levels of the judicial process until it reached the emperor’s office. If any impropriety was found—in the investigation, in the treatment of the alleged criminal, or in the punishment assigned—the magistrate was held culpable. This resulted in an investigation of the magistrate and his handling the case. If found guilty of maleficence, the magistrate could receive the punishment he had given the alleged criminal—including the death penalty! Plus, he and his family could lose all of their property. Again, under the concept of collective responsibility, his family was punished along with him—at a lesser level but still punished.

Such a system may seem overly harsh; however, its objectives were to 1) bring justice to victims of crimes; 2) make the criminal (and his relevant family members) take responsibility for his crime; and 3) return moral order to the community and, thus, the universe. How this all played out in the lives of people is what fascinates me and what I hope intrigues my readers.

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Hidden book cover imageA big thanks to P.A. DeVoe. She will give away a paperback copy of Hidden 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 Winner of Don’t Dare a Dame

Warren Bull has won a copy of Don’t Dare a Dame by M. Ruth Myers. Congrats to Warren Bull!

Thanks to M. Ruth Myers for a look at the personal sacrifices made by women who worked on the home front during WWII. Thanks, also, to everyone who visited and commented on Relevant History this week. Watch for another Relevant History post, coming soon.

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Ordinary and Overlooked

M Ruth Myers author photoRelevant History welcomes M. Ruth Myers, who received a Shamus Award from the Private Eye Writers of America for Don’t Dare a Dame, the third book in her Maggie Sullivan mystery series. The series follows a woman private investigator in Dayton, Ohio, from the end of the Great Depression through the end of WW2. Other novels by the author, in various genres, have been translated, optioned for film, and condensed for magazine publication. She earned a Bachelor of Journalism degree from the University of Missouri J-School and worked on daily papers in Wyoming, Michigan and Ohio. To learn more about Ruth and her books, visit her
web site and blog, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Pinterest.

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Time constraints cause most survey history classes to focus on generals and royalty; statesmen; luminaries in the arts and sciences. Small wonder ordinary folks like most of us feel no connection to such distant people and see no link between their world and ours today.

That’s why I’m currently writing the fifth book in a mystery series about a woman private eye in 1930s and 1940s Dayton, Ohio. Yes, she carries a .38 and keeps a bottle of gin in her office desk like her male counterparts. But she lives in an all-woman rooming house, as was typical for America’s first-wave career women. She’s slighted because of her gender. When her bank account runs low, she eats sardines and crackers to stretch her money. In other words, she’s an ordinary person with worries much like our own, but living in times much different than ours. We can identify with her, yet the world she inhabits is just a bit exotic.

Her name is Maggie Sullivan, and I created her for two reasons.

First, I wanted to bring to life the American women of what’s widely known as the Greatest Generation, the generation that on the battlefield and at home was the lifeblood of World War II. Most movies and novels depict them as sweethearts left behind or as Rosie the Riveter, or dancing with GI’s at USO dances. In recent years, belatedly, and usually pegged to an occasion like Veterans Day, an article here and there recognizes the women who flew military planes from one base to another or performed similar auxiliary functions.

The women overlooked
Overlooked are the countless women who stepped into jobs on newspapers, in shops and offices, as cartoonists or university instructors to keep the country moving. During World War II, the number of American women working outside the home increased from 25% to 36%.

Unmentioned is the shortage of housing women faced as they flocked to cities to enable American factories to produce vital supplies. In San Diego, with its booming aircraft industry, many single women were forced to sleep in shifts in a single room. In Washington, D.C., both genders searched the obituaries in order to pounce on apartments that became available.

In Dayton, Ohio, young women who had trained as teletype operators arrived to work at what is now Wright-Patterson A.F.B. Shortage of barracks meant many had to live miles away in the city’s YWCA or in boarding houses where they shared a laundry tub and a kitchen in the basement, riding to their around-the-clock shifts in an unheated bus with hand straps and a few bench seats.

World War II women posterHousing was just one of the hardships faced by women whose husbands flooded into the military. If they wanted to live with their husband while he was in training, they’d find themselves sharing an apartment with another couple, or living in a lean-to, possibly with no bathtub. Nor were they always welcomed by locals. Two teachers from Missouri recall being called “low-down soldiers’ wives” and “damn Yankees” when they went to see their husbands at Ft. Knox, KY. The “rooms” they managed to find consisted of cots in the hall of rooming houses. When their husbands shipped out, women knew they wouldn’t see them again until the war ended—or they came home too badly wounded for further service. Because the military censored letters from men in uniform, the women at home didn’t even know the country where they were stationed.

Relatable history
My second goal in writing the Maggie Sullivan mysteries was to make history relevant by helping some of my readers recognize that people are still alive in their own families who, if not part of the Greatest Generation itself, have childhood memories of the 1940s or remember a parent or grandparent talking about that era. Readers can compare history with things in their own experience: rotary phones to cell phones; snail mail to real-time Skype conversation with loved ones in distant places; World War II rationing of food, clothes and other essentials to current day flag bumper stickers. If you have a female relative who did something interesting on the World War II home front, I invite you to contribute photos and share her story.

Through Maggie Sullivan and her friends on the home front, I attempt to show ordinary Americans, a typical Midwestern community, and American society itself, as they move from a sort of innocence in the waning years of the Great Depression into and through the reality of World War II. If I’ve done my job right, readers will be able to hear the click of heels on the wooden floor at McCrory’s five and dime and see people from all walks of life pulling together to support their fighting men. If I’ve done my job right, they’ll be able to touch history.

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Don't Dare a Dame book coverA big thanks to M. Ruth Myers. No Game for a Dame (Maggie Sullivan #1) is available free for Kindle, Nook, Apple, and Kobo. (Note: No Game for a Dame is an excellent read. I posted a five-star review for it on Amazon.) In addition, Ruth will give away a paperback copy of Don’t Dare a Dame (Maggie Sullivan #3) 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 Winner of Hanging Mary

Joye has won a copy of Hanging Mary by Susan Higginbotham. Congrats to Joye!

Thanks to Susan Higginbotham for a glimpse of Sarah Slater aka “The Veiled Lady,” courier for the Confederacy. Thanks, also, to everyone who visited and commented on Relevant History this week. Watch for another Relevant History post, coming soon.

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The Veiled Lady: Sarah Slater, Courier for the Confederacy

Susan Higginbotham author photoRelevant History welcomes Susan Higginbotham, a prize-winning author who has published historical fiction and biography. Her latest historical novel, Hanging Mary, her first to be set in the United States, is narrated by Mary Surratt and her young boarder, Nora Fitzpatrick. To learn more about Susan and her books, visit her web site and blog, and follow her on Facebook.

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One of the shadier characters—literally—to frequent Mary Surratt’s Washington, D.C., boardinghouse in the spring of 1865 was a mysterious young woman named Sarah Slater, who kept her comely face hidden under a veil.

Confederate Courier
Born in 1843 in Middletown, Connecticut, to parents of French extraction, Sarah Antoinette Gilbert, known also as “Nettie,” grew up in that state. In the late 1850’s, however, most of the family moved to eastern North Carolina, where in June 1861, Sarah married Rowan Slater, who had been working in New Bern as a dancing master. Rowan enlisted in the Confederate army, as did three of Sarah’s brothers. One brother died in Goldsboro, apparently of illness, and the other two grew disillusioned with army life and eventually deserted.

Meanwhile, Sarah, childless and deprived of her husband’s company, decided in January 1865 to return to New York, where her mother was living. Confederate officers granted her a pass to cross through the Confederate lines. Someone, however, realized that Sarah, with her fluent French acquired from her parents, would be an excellent choice to convey messages between Richmond and Montreal, where the Confederacy had an outpost. If caught, she could always claim that she was a native of Canada. Why she agreed to this proposal we cannot know. Perhaps Sarah wanted to do her part for the cause in which her husband was serving; perhaps she was simply adventurous and bored.

Sarah’s first assignment was to carry papers to Montreal, a task she accomplished in February 1865. Mary Surratt’s son John, another courier, met Sarah in New York and traveled with her to Washington, D.C., where yet another Confederate operative, Augustus Howell, met Sarah in front of Mary Surratt’s boardinghouse and took her to Virginia.

Mary Surratt's boardinghouseIn March, Sarah once again made the hazardous trip North, this time staying overnight at the Surratt boardinghouse, much to the interest of Mary’s boarder Louis Weichmann, who gave up his bedroom for the veiled lady. General Edwin Gray Lee, a Confederate agent based in Montreal, wrote on 22 March that he had “helped . . . to get the messenger off. I pray she may go safely.” On 25 March, Sarah arrived once again at the Surratt boardinghouse. This time, Mary and John Surratt traveled with her to Maryland, where they were met by the distressing news that Howell, who had been assigned to take Sarah across the Potomac and then to Richmond, had been arrested. John Surratt took it upon himself to take Sarah to Richmond, where they remained until 1 April. Two days later, they arrived in Washington, to be greeted with the news that Richmond had fallen to the Union. The next morning, 4 April, they went North again. It was Sarah’s last mission for the Confederacy.

New York Matron
John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Lincoln on 14 April 1865, a crime that sent Mary Surratt and three others to the gallows in July 1865. In the investigation and trials that followed the assassination (John Surratt was tried in 1867 but went free), the name of the lady known only as “Mrs. Slater” or by her aliases of “Kate Thompson” or “Kate Brown,” came up frequently, but no one seemed to know her whereabouts. One defendant, George Atzerodt, who had been assigned to kill Vice President Johnson but lost his nerve, claimed in one of his confessions that Sarah “knew all about the affair.” He described her as “about 20 yrs of age, good looking & well dressed. Black hair & eyes, round face.” In another confession, he added, “Mrs. Slater went with Booth a great deal.”

Nonetheless, the government failed to locate Mrs. Slater. This was left to the Hartford Evening Press and the Hartford Courant, which with help from their readers identified her as the former Sarah Gilbert of Middletown and Hartford; in the latter city, the Courant sniffed, she had “enjoyed a doubtful reputation.” But no one followed up on this information, and it was not until 1984 that James O. Hall, noted for his research into the Lincoln assassination, traced Sarah’s history from childhood through April 1865. Even then, it was left for later researchers to find her history past that date.

In fact, Sarah had made little effort to hide. She and her husband, Rowan Slater, reunited in New York City after the war, but their marriage would not last. In August 1866, Sarah took what was then the extraordinary step of seeking a divorce, alleging that Rowan had been unfaithful to her. The divorce was granted in November 1866, apparently because Rowan did not contest the allegations. He returned to North Carolina, but Sarah stayed in New York. On 5 December 1867, she married for a second time. Her husband, twenty years her senior and with a number of children, was Jacob M. Long, the superintendent of the Harlem Gas Light Company and also an alderman associated with the Tammany Hall political machine. The marriage produced no surviving children.

Jacob Long died in 1889. By 1902, Sarah was living in Poughkeepsie, New York, and working as a nurse. Then, in 1912, Sarah’s sister Laura Louise Spencer died in Brooklyn, leaving a widower, William White Spencer, a police department clerk. A year later, on 22 July 1913, Sarah, the former Confederate courier, married her brother-in-law William, who had served in the Union army. The couple moved to Manhattan.

The marriage was short-lived. William died in October 1914. Sarah eventually returned to Poughkeepsie, where she died of chronic parenchymatous nephritis on 20 June 1920, leaving behind land in several states, numerous articles of jewelry, and a collection of souvenir spoons. Like many ladies of her time, she felt no need to be candid about her age; as a result, her tombstone shaves a dozen years off her date of birth. Perhaps it also helped to conceal an exciting past about which, as far as we know, the old lady who died in Poughkeepsie had been completely silent.

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Hanging Mary book coverA big thanks to Susan Higginbotham. She’ll give away a paperback copy of Hanging Mary 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 Winner of Thunder Beneath My Feet

Jody has won a copy of Thunder Beneath My Feet by Carolyn Mulford. Congrats to Jody!

Thanks to Carolyn Mulford for describing the devastation of an earthquake before modern seismology. Thanks, also, to everyone who visited and commented on Relevant History this week. Watch for another Relevant History post, coming soon.

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World’s End in New Madrid

Carolyn Mulford author photoRelevant History welcomes former magazine editor and freelance writer Carolyn Mulford, who worked on five continents before making the transition to fiction. Thunder Beneath My Feet is her second middle grade/young adult historical novel. The Missouri Center for the Book selected the first, The Feedsack Dress, as the state’s Great Read at the 2009 National Book Festival. Show Me the Ashes, the fourth in her award-winning contemporary mystery series for adults, will be released in hardback and ebook on 16 March. To learn more about her and her books, visit her web site, and follow her on Facebook and Goodreads.

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The New Madrid earthquakes of 1811 and 1812 must have been part of my Missouri history class in grade school, but I’d forgotten about them by the time I wrote a reading comprehension exercise about the quakes for a textbook. Soon after I wrote a travel article featuring Tennessee’s 15,000-acre Reelfoot Lake, an overnight creation of the quakes.

Memories of those assignments resurfaced thirty years later when I was searching for a topic for my second middle grade/young adult historical novel. I’d loved reading historical novels since discovering Lucy Fitch Perkins in the third grade, and I wondered why I’d never seen a novel about three of the country’s most powerful earthquakes.

By the time I figured out the answer, I was committed to the project.

Just the facts
I began by reading everything I could find about the quakes. Opinions differed on whether three or five quakes occurred and whether they rated closer to 7.6 or 8.6 on the Richter scale. The latest and most official source, the U.S. Geological Survey, recognizes three big ones: 16 December 1811, 23 January 1812, and 7 February 1812.

Sources agree that Jared Brooks, a Louisville engineer, made the best contemporaneous measurements of the severity of the shocks (quakes) and shakes (aftershocks). He recorded 1,874 shocks, eight violent and ten very severe, over three months. His records of the shocks (and the weather) gave me a basic timeline. I filled it with fragmented accounts from residents and travelers. The title, Thunder Beneath My Feet, comes from one of those accounts.

No one can cite an exact number of deaths. Older books said about 100 people died. A recent source estimated 1,500. The disparity derives from neglecting to count Native Americans (the major inhabitants of the hardest hit area), slaves, and many who vanished in the Mississippi.

The river became deadly. It ran backwards, carrying flatboats upstream or capsizing them. Oceanic waves swamped canoes. Falls formed. Giant trees from the banks and dead ones dislodged from the river floor clogged the water. The water rose like a tide at night, forcing boaters to cut their moorings to avoid being dragged under.

In New Madrid, brick homes and chimneys crumbled. Log homes fared better, but many caught fire. Giant trees split up the middle. Sand boils erupted. Ravines appeared. Lakes formed and drained. Furrows resembling giant waves appeared in the fields. A stench rose from the eruption of rotted vegetation and gases. The shocks and shakes went on and on, sometimes around the clock, sometimes concentrated in one part of the day or night, always unpredictable.

I had the facts. They yielded no natural narrative line, no obvious heroes or villains, no dramatic climax, no happy ending. That’s why novelists had avoided the story. I spent weeks conceiving a satisfying plot.

Plus the people
Events become memorable when we see how they affect individuals. Obviously the quakes brought months of intermittent terror and constant misery to New Madrid. They also frightened people in most states, including Michigan, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Louisiana.

I focused my research on the 1,200 or so people in New Madrid, Upper Louisiana Territory—soon to become Missouri Territory. Positioned on a huge river bend roughly 200 miles south of St. Louis and 50 miles south of where the Ohio entered the Mississippi, the ambitious river port drew traders, suppliers, and the usual restless frontier folk. Some envisioned New Madrid competing with St. Louis.

The quakes took place eight years after the United States bought Louisiana from France, which had just acquired it from Spain. In the village’s broad streets and parks, people spoke English, Spanish, French, and Native American languages. Apparently the groups both objected to and adapted to each other’s ways.

One person’s trauma
Choosing a protagonist was easy. I preferred to relive the disaster with a teenage farm girl. Left in charge of her younger brother and the family farm outside New Madrid, she has no idea what’s happening when the first quake throws her out of bed. A French-Canadian identifies the disruptions as earthquakes but can’t explain what causes them or, more important, say when they will end. The sensible, courageous girl concentrates on food and shelter, on surviving the chaos. My childhood experiences on a pre-electricity farm and many visits to historic sites helped me figure out what she would do.

The odds are that no one there had ever experienced an earthquake. Some probably had heard that quakes toppled steeples in Boston in 1755. Certainly no one anywhere anticipated the diverse damage this series would cause and how long it would last.

By the third day, hundreds of people near the epicenter believed the world was ending. They fled from the flatlands to the nearest big hill, about a two-day walk, to escape anticipated floods and to pray for deliverance. A dark, dense, odiferous fog and occasional flashes of light coming from the ground make the teenager wonder if they could be right.

Circumstances compel her to remain on the farm, but she realizes she and her younger brother can’t stay alone. Their parents may have died in the quakes, and the nearest relatives live in eastern Kentucky. She takes in four newly homeless people—a French-Shawnee teenager, a young French-Spanish couple, and a mute slave woman. The story centers on how these six people respond to disasters and to each other.

As I worked on the manuscript, I realized that the frontier society’s problems foreshadowed the divisions that turned Missouri into hell during the Civil War and haunt it today.

Seismologists say that the earthquakes come in 200- and 500-year cycles. Human behavior appears to be a continuum. I can’t do anything about either, but I added earthquake damage to my home insurance policy.

*****

Thunder Beneath My Feet book cover imageA big thanks to Carolyn Mulford. She’ll give away a paperback copy of Thunder Beneath My Feet 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 Winner of Hand of Fire

Ashley McConnell has won a copy of Hand of Fire by Judith Starkson. Congrats to Ashley McConnell!

Thanks to Judith Starkson for the scoop on Pharaoh Ramesses II’s sneaky propaganda machine. Thanks, also, to everyone who visited and commented on Relevant History this week. Watch for another Relevant History post, coming soon.

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