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
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?
My Thursday series on the War of 1812 continues.
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.
I’m substituting a bit of news for my usual five-star review today. I’m running a Goodreads giveaway with Yesterday’s Body, my first published mystery. The event runs from March 17, through April 9, and I’m giving away ten copies. Goodreads giveaway link here.
For a brief description: Jo Durbin isn’t under 40 or anorexic slim. Her face wouldn’t launch a thousand ships or even a rowboat. She wonders, how did she get the job with those beautiful people? And, will the police find her fingerprints on the murder weapon? Did one of those beautiful people she works with kill Francine? Or, will they point to Jo?
Hard to explain that she’s only trying to revitalize a career gone south. Her plan—write a best-seller as a bag lady living on the street. Invent an imaginary cat to further her image. Collect keys that let her into unused storage and vacant homes. Get accepted by the street people. Befriend the guy who wants to “save” them all. It seems possible. Ignore the carping sister who “knows better”? That one’s tricky. Elude the killer long enough to solve the crime? You know that’s the killer question.
“I very much like your voice. You project just the tone and attitude I love to read.” Chris Roerden, Author of Agatha Award-winning DON’T MURDER YOUR MYSTERY.
The first edition e-book was a 2011 EPIC finalist for mystery/suspense.
The sequel, Forgotten Body, will be published later this year.