War of 1812 in St. Michaels

cover-St Michaels bookSt. Michaels, Md. calls itself “The Town That Fooled The British.” During the War of 1812, there were as many as six shipbuilders in and near St. Michaels. One ship they produced was a fast schooner (later known as the Baltimore clipper). These vessels were well suited for outrunning pirates or foreign naval vessels at sea. A military battery was stationed at St. Michaels to protect the town and the shipyards. On August 10, 1813, the British attacked. However, the residents had turned off any lights in their homes and hung lanterns high in the trees. As a result, most of the cannon balls sailed over and beyond the village. One house  was hit by a cannonball. It went through the roof, and bounced down the stairs next to a child sitting there. (She told all about it in later years.) There are other stories of that time in the book—about the women sewing an American flag, about the battle against the military battery, about getting information from a British deserter, and about a farmer on a nearby island who tried to fool St. Michaels.

Several years ago, when my husband and I were sailing on Chesapeak Bay Maritime museum2Chesapeake Bay, we often stopped at St. Michaels and tied up in a slip next to the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum (shown here). Of course, I shopped for souvenirs. I purchased the booklet shown above. The story is engrossing. I vowed to write about the War of 1812 someday. That day arrived in 2013, and my mystery is now finished. It is in the process of cover design and manuscript formatting, to be published this summer. So, I haven’t hit exactly 200 years from 1813, when the St. Michaels incident occurred, but the war officially ended in 2015. Shortly, Forgotten Body, the second in the Jo Durbin Mysteries, will be published. It isn’t exactly about the war, but it does involve a reenactment of the Forgotten War of 1812.

 

One Hundred Fifty Years Ago

Lincoln funeral-trainOne hundred fifty years ago the country was in mourning. The president, Abraham Lincoln, had been assassinated. His body was taken by train from Washington, D.C. to his home state. There were stops along the way at various large cities to accommodate the mourners. The train merely passed through smaller cities.

One such city was Lancaster, Pennsylvania. On April 22, 1865, at 2:19 p.m. the train arrived in Lancaster. In a testament to the universal grief, with only a total city population of 17,000 people, 20,000 people crowded beside the tracks for a final farewell. On April 21, 2015, my local newspaper’s front page was covered with the story, A NATION MOURNS. A second article told the story of the 15-year old boy who was at the theater with his father the night Lincoln was killed.

Route of Lincoln Funeral Train

Route of Lincoln Funeral Train

Besides that eye-witness report, I learned what local dignitaries were watching, the description of the train, and that Lincoln’s son, Captain Robert Lincoln, was in one of the cars. The casket of Willie, the son who died in 1862, had been disinterred and was in the final car with Lincoln’s casket. He would be buried beside his father.

There were no tweets, no instant messaging, no ringing cell phones, but the nation heard the news.

Five Stars For THE RAINALDI QUARTET

Rainaldi Quartet coverWish I could give this book six stars! That would be five stars for the story and the sixth star for the physical book. Sure, I love to read e-books as well, but I do love to hold a well-designed, superbly crafted trade paperback, turn the soft pages that lie flat, feel the texture of a lovely cover, and read the unique sans serif type font to follow an entrancing story.

On to the story. The Rainaldi Quartet refers to the four men who meet weekly to play in their hometown of Cremona, Italy. Two are luthers (those who make violins) as well as violin players. Rainaldi is one, the other is the narrator of the story, Gianni. A priest plays the viola and the younger, chief of police plays the cello. But it is Rainaldi, in good spirits, who chooses what they will play when the story opens. And it is Rainaldi who is murdered late that night.

The plot follows Gianni and the chief of police as they try to determine why their friend was killed, what secret he knew, what papers he had been working on, what amazing event he looked forward to. Their search takes them to the English countryside, to Venice, and to the ruins of a house burned a century ago looking for documents, then looking for a rare violin that may or may not exist.

Besides pouring over the mystery of the book, the reader will absorb bits of history, bits of the making and restoring of rare violins, and especially, the day to day life of an Italian gentleman of a certain age (as they say). Gianni’s musing on his grandchildren visiting, the changing light on the canals of Venice, and his emotions over sudden death are, surprisingly, every bit as engrossing as the search for the perhaps mythical violin and the reason behind murder.

Although this is placed in current times, history underlies the plot. And, as an American reader, I marvel at families who “remember” ancestors of a hundred or more years ago, and live in the same home, looking at the same portraits on the wall, and may not be all that impressed by the fame of the violinist in their family tree.

 

War of 1812 in Havre de Grace

Havre de Grace in 1813

Havre de Grace in 1813

This coming summer my new mystery, Forgotten Body, will be released. Since it centers around a reenactment of the War of 1812, I am sharing some of my research. What did the area look like? This diorama made to represent Havre de Grace at the time shows a sparsely settled area.

Havre de Grace sits on the shore of the Susquehanna River in Maryland. On May 2, 1813, the British under Admiral Cockburn attacked and burned most of the houses in the town. Several reports from that time tell the story. The Admiral planned to bypass Havre de Grace until he saw an American flag flying and someone shot cannon fire. That was probably John O’Neill. He stood his ground, firing until the cannon backfired on him, forcing him to leave. However, he did join others with their muskets.

O'Neill At The Cannon

O’Neill At The Cannon

The 40 local militia, mostly older men, wisely retreated in the face of an overwhelming force after one was killed. John O’Neill was captured. He was to be executed the next day, however his 15-year-old daughter rowed out the admiral’s vessel to plead for her father’s life. Since she had the papers that proved he was a military officer and not a civilian, he was released. The surviving articles hint that her comely ways and bravery affected the admiral. In any event, he gave her his gold-mounted tortoiseshell snuff box. (Exactly what any teenager would love to have.)

Other stories may not have been authenticated. One I heard was that the admiral declined to burn the home of a widow since she had no husband fighting against Mother England. (I must admit, that is the story I used in my upcoming mystery.)

Question: When the entire story is a fabrication, must the history be absolutely authentic?

My answer: Sometimes. If the history is presented as authentic—you bet your life. I’ll make it as authentic as I can. If the history is admittedly augmented—hey the writer/history doesn’t tell everything. And, if the history is presented as a fabrication—go for it! (I understand that was the thinking behind Unicorn Westerns.)

What is your answer?

America At War-1812

My Thursday series on the War of 1812 continues.

President Madison

President Madison

They called it President Madison’s War. It was a war to free the impossible conditions on the Atlantic Ocean—Britain seizing ships and conscripting sailors, while both Britain and France declared our shipments illegal. The country was deep in depression with the President forbidding trade across the ocean. Although also illegal, commerce continued to the north, across the Great Lakes with Canada.

But the lack of commerce and the resulting American financial depression wasn’t the only reason many in the United States favored war. Some wanted to overcome the advantage the British had with the Indians who often joined English forces against the United States. Others were looking to grab land, to add farmable acres, specifically Canada and Florida. Thomas Jefferson is said to have remarked that capturing Canada was, “a mere matter of marching.”  There were areas of Canada largely populated by Americans. Meanwhile, England believed that Canada was adequately protected. The United States did battle with Canadian and British forces, with victories going each way.

One notable American victory was at Put-In-Bay when American Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry turned possible defeat into victory and captured an entire British fleet. His report became famous. “We have met the enemy and they are ours. Two ships, two brigs, one schooner and one sloop.”

Eventually, however, the American attack was defeated. The Americans in Canada didn’t rally around their former countrymen. They only wanted to be left alone. They probably numbered among those who were united by the Canadian victories into the country that, in 2012 celebrated their two hundredth anniversary of victory against their southern neighbors.

During much of 1812, most British ships were too involved fighting France to worry about our east coast. The only fortifications on both sides were along our Northern boarder with Canada. Life went on as usual on most of the Atlantic coast. Various civilian militia formed along the waterfront and in towns and villages. However, no United States military forces were placed on Chesapeake Bay.

The Forgotten War

This year, 2015, marks the 200th anniversary of the last battle of the War of 1812. Note that I didn’t say this is two hundred years since the end of the War of 1812, because that officially came on December 24, 1814, when The Treaty of Ghent was signed. But that was in Europe, and without twenty-first century communication, such as cell phones, radio, or even cable messages, the news had to wait until a ship crossed the Atlantic Ocean.

Why am I interested in that bit of history? My next book revolves around a reenactment of the War of 1812, so I did a bit of research for incidental comments as my characters speak. I wanted to know what was true, although some of my characters may not know the real facts. But why did I choose that time to reenact instead of the more common Revolutionary War or the Civil War?

That’s another story.

My husband and I spent a lot of time sailing on Chesapeake Bay. We stopped at various ports and I shopped the local gift shops. They always had a book about the local history, which included the War of 1812 and battles on Chesapeake Bay. I read up on those battles. The burning of Havre de Grace. How the people of St. Michaels fooled the British. The defeat of Washington, D.C. and the burning of the White House. The successful battle at Baltimore. So I knew when I wrote the next book my character, Jo Durbin would be involved in a reenactment of the Forgotten War. Of course, there’s a Forgotten Body.

And, while the subject is fresh in my mind, I’ll spend the next few Thursdays telling bits of American history that changed the lives of our ancestors (and, eventually, our lives as well).

Why did we go to war with Britain? What happened back in 1803-07? The United Kingdom (England) and Napolianic France went to war against each other. Neither side wanted American supplies to reach the other. They both declared it illegal for American ships to deliver goods to the other. Which, they figured, made it perfectly okay to seize ships defying their laws. France seized 206 United States flag ships, but England seized 528 American ships. Not only that, but England seized around 6,000 men from our ships and put them to work on their ships, often claiming they were really AWOL from British ships. They also barricaded American ports.

In 1811, President Thomas Jefferson decided the only way to solve that Henry Clayproblem was to forbid the American companies from shipping anything anywhere. Congress agreed. That put the whole country into a financial depression. Not hard to imagine what came next. Fully half the old congress was voted out. The old guard was replaced by the young War Hawks. Henry Clay became the new Speaker of the House, a position, until then merely as a presiding officer. Under Henry Clay the office became one of party leadership, as it is now. (That would be the Democratic- Republicans, before the party split. The other party was the Federalists.)

So America went to war against Great Britain. America was completely unprepared for war.

 

Free e-book—A KNUCKLEHEAD IN 1920s ALASKA

A Knucklehead in 1920s AlaskaEvery Thursday I post something I find interesting, hoping you will too. So, today’s interesting bit is about tomorrow—which is when one of my e-books goes free for five days.

File it under both history and mystery. The history part is easy. The book is one I wrote with my father from audio tapes he gave me quite a few years ago about going to Alaska to earn college money.  He was nineteen, a hot-headed kid who didn’t want to take any guff. Of course, guff is often what one gets from an employer, so he had a lot of different jobs. He failed to blow himself up carrying dynamite. He failed to drown when he and a horse ended up under the ice in a near-freezing river. He even managed to survive dancing with what they referred to as “a woman on the line” when her boyfriend showed up. In fact, after I heard my father’s adventures, I realized that it’s a marvel I was ever born. That’s the history part.

The mystery part is at the tail end of this book, sort of a Thank You for reading—a reprint of my first short mystery, “Yesterday’s News” published in Future’s Mysterious Mystery Magazine several years ago.

A Knucklehead in 1920s Alaska e-book is available for Kindle. The free dates are February 27 through March 3, 2015. Do read and enjoy!

Monday, I’ll be back here, but I’ll be visiting Killer Crafts and Crafty Killers too.

Five Stars for MAIDS OF MISFORTUNE

My five-star pick this week combines two of my loves—mystery and historic fiction. Maids of Misfortune takes place in 1879 San Francisco. A young widow supports herself as boarding house owner Annie Fuller, and, in disguise, as psychic Sibyl who gives personal and financial advice to clients. As a woman, she knows that no one would ever accept such advice from her, but they will accept it as coming from the stars. When one of her clients dies, supposedly by suicide, she knows his finances weren’t in the shambles the police claim. When the police realize it was murder, they look to his family. Annie poses as a serving girl for the family to find the truth.

The author, M. Louisa Locke, seamlessly puts the reader squarely in that time and place. While we are engrossed in the plot we notice the work involved to keep up a house, the attitudes of everyone toward a Chinese cook, Annie’s belated realization of what her laundry girl does, and the problems of travel and communication in an earlier age.

Maids of Misfortune is the first of a series (the ebook is now free). There are several short stories as well. The fourth full-length mystery in the series will be out this month.

Of interest to the writers among my readers, M. Louisa Locke’s blog shares her ongoing marketing plans for an independent writer. (Next week I’ll revisit the upcoming Agatha awards with another good read.)

What is it about Grandmas?

I remember, when I was a little girl, my grandmother was a police matron. This was in the 1930s, way before women were in the regular police force. She was there for questioning female prisoners. Once she even arrested a man she recognized from a local wanted poster. She walked up to him, told him she had a gun in her purse, and requested that he walk with her to the police station. He did.

Somehow, I don’t think that would work today. But grandmas have a surprising amount of authority. Think about it. They’ve raised children, and raised them well enough so those children are now parents. I think it’s that voice and look of The Mother. The child knows exactly what it means.

So, I was not surprised at all to hear about a grandmother who is a bouncer at a local high-end restaurant. When asked, What do you do when people get unruly? she replied: I can sit there and not say a word, and I don’t know how many times people say to me, “You scare me.”

To see the rest of the story, and view a pleasant-looking woman, go here.

I would not be surprised if, among any group, and especially among writers, there are quite a few grandmas with amazing stories. Am I right? Is/was your grandmother one of those amazing women?