Archives for September 2014

Why write history?

Many of you know that I am not originally a “writer of history.” I am a published romance writer. As a kid I didn’t much like reading. I think I made it through high school without finishing more than two or three books. And then I read my first romance novel. And I was hooked.

I will admit that, in the beginning, I mostly read historical romances. They seemed to make history come alive. Real people. Real stories. When I started writing, though, I wrote contemporary romance. I guess I love the idea that love does win out in the end.

But now I’m writing history. So the question is why?

Sam Adams said, "It does not take a majority to prevail… but rather an irate, tireless minority, keen on setting brushfires of freedom in the minds of men."

I believe that we must keep the stories of the founding of America alive, keep setting brushfires in the hearts and minds of our people. Or we’ll lose it all. All that these people gave everything for. Their stories are real and, though love doesn’t always win out in the end, their sacrifices did make a difference. And still do.

So why do other people write history? A few days ago, I was reading through some posts on a Revolutionary War board. An author was touting his book about the lead-up to the Revolution and mentioned that Amazon was offering it at a discount. I hopped over to Amazon to discover that the discounted price was $27. How many readers do you think he’ll get at that price?

Now, granted, he may not have set the price. He may be with a publisher of scholarly books who set their prices according to some view that their books are worth a lot more than others. Really? Why is that, I ask. Is that because the author did hours and hours and months and months of research? And the writer of historical fiction didn’t? Well, that’s just silly. Even the premier work on April 19th, 1775, Paul Revere’s Ride by David Hackett Fischer, sells for under $20. And he sure-as-shootin’ did his research. Almost half the book is footnotes.

So why the high price of history? You got me? But I do know the unintended consequence. Fewer readers. Fewer brushfires.

Bonnie Prince Charlie and “Free Scotland”

     As I write this blog post, the people of Scotland are voting – on Independence. As an American, even the mention of voting on “Independence” makes my heart sing. That’s likely a purely American reaction. Or is it?
     What has kept the hope of being an Independent, Free Scotland alive for more than two hundred years?
     After the rising of 1745, when the Highlanders followed Prince Charlie onto the field at Drumossie Moor, and were slaughtered in just over an hour, the Highlanders that remained were hunted down, tried for treason and hanged. Or they fled to America.
     Remember the scene in Braveheart after William Wallace’s father was killed? The funeral scene? Young William wanders outside to see pipers lit only by the bonfire they stand around, and asks his uncle what they’re doing.
     “Playing outlawed tunes on outlawed pipes,” his uncle replies. 

      That was the truth of it, too. Everything that made the Scots a distinct people was forbidden and the Scots could no longer be the Scots.
     But was it that very forbidding that kept the dream of a Free Scotland alive?  The Scots are a rather stubborn, "thistley" people, are they no?
     I am re-reading the Outlander books and there’s a passage in Dragonfly in Amber that takes place in 1968. Claire and Roger are discussing Bonnie Prince Charlie. Claire believes that Charles Stuart was a “fool, and a drunkard, and a weak, sill man.” The Highland Chiefs, she believed were enthralled with the Bonnie Prince’s silly dreams that had no chance of success.
     Her conversation with Roger continues and he comments that you can’t go anywhere in the Highlands without seeing Bonnie Prince Charlie paraphernalia in every tourist shop. The discussion continues as they glance at a wall that’s been graffiti’d with “FREE SCOTLAND.” (Even then.) Roger asks Claire if the historians and artists and vendors are wrong.
     “You still don’t understand, do you?” she said.
     And she continues.
     “You don’t know why,” she said. “You don’t know, and I don’t know, and we never will know. Can’t you see? You don’t know, because you can’t say what the end is—there isn’t any end. You can’t say, ‘This particular event’ was ‘destined’ to happen, and therefore all these other things happened. What Charles did to the people of Scotland – was that the ‘thing’ that had to happen? Or was it ‘meant’ to happen as it did, and Charles’s real purpose was to be what he is not – a figurehead, an icon? Without him, would Scotland have endured two hundred years of union with England, and still – still – have kept its own identity?”
     Diana Gabaldon might be onto something.
     Would drive for Independence have died in 1745 had the English not forbidden them to be Scots? Of course, like Claire, we’ll never know.
     But by this time tomorrow we will know how they’ve voted. And either way, there are costs to be paid. Freedom – or lack thereof – is never free.


In Customary New England Fashion – They Did All Three

As dawn came in Concord, on April 19th, 1775, the militia begin to assemble in town from all the surrounding communities. They had been warned by Dr. Sam Prescott that the Redcoats were headed their way to confiscate or destroy any arms and ammunition found there.  They’d had enough notice in the weeks preceding that most everything had been spirited away or well hidden.

But as they gather, they’re debating what to do. They just have their orders: don’t fire unless fired upon. But they don’t really have a strategy. They have no tactics, no real orders.

Some of the younger men, the minutemen, the men who are ready to pick up and go in thirty minutes notice. Young guys – they’re ready to take the fight to the Redcoats. 

"Why are we standing around here in Concord? The troopers are that way. Let’s go get ’em."

The family men, the regular militia, they’re looking at it and they’re saying, "Well, this is our town. Someone needs to stay here and protect our town."

The older men, the over-50 crowd, the alarm-listers they call them, were experienced men.  Many of them were old Indian fighters, many of them had fought in the French and Indian war. 

"Town is no place to fight a battle, boys, especially when we’re outnumbered. We need to go back up to our training hill.  We can see the town from there. Let’s let our numbers grow a little bit, so we can at least even the odds."

And in typical New England fashion, where every man has a say, they did all three things.

The young men marched off down the road towards Lexington looking for a fight. The regular militia stayed in town to guard their town. And the old men retreated to Punkatasset Hill, just above town, to keep an eye on things and wait until their numbers are better.

Well, the young men found Smith’s column quickly enough and suddenly they understood what eight hundred was. They decided that they weren’t ready for a fight just yet. But they weren’t going to run either. They simply turned around, staying in formation and they marched right in front – just out of musket range. The people who lived in Concord said it was almost comical as they came through town. They saw their minutemen leading Smith’s column to the fife and drum and marching in time.

Except that, when they got to Concord, they realized that the militia had seen the wisdom in the old men and they had left town as well. So the Minutemen just kept right on marching to Punkatasset Hill.

It seems like the old guys had it right all along.  It wasn’t long before they saw action.  But by then, they had their wish – a fair fight.

A libel on their character. . .

    No Taxation without Representation I may have blogged about this before. One sometimes loses track. But I continue to read through the History of the Town of Lexington by Charles Hudson, published in 1868. It is so beautifully written and gives such an inspiring view looking back on these people and these times.
     If we were to do a “man on the street” interview with folks, and asked them why the Colonists fought for Independence, if they had any idea at all, the likely answer would be a rote “no taxation without representation.”
     I can’t refute that statement any better than Hudson does, so I’ll just leave you with this passage:

It is a libel upon the character of our fathers, to say that they involved the country in all the horrors of war, rather than pay a petty tax upon stamped paper and tea. They had motives higher, purer, and holier, than that of avoiding the payment of an insignificant tax. They planted themselves upon the great principles of human rights — of fealty to their country, and fidelity to their God. They felt that they had personal rights which they were bound to defend — a duty they owed to posterity, which they were under a sacred obligation to discharge — a devotion to the Most High, which it were treason to disregard. Such were the motives and the convictions of our patriot sires. They fought not to conquer, but to defend; not to humble a foe, but to build up a commonwealth on the great principles of equal rights. To these duties they were prompted by the dictates of patriotism, and the teachings of the Word of Life.

YES to Independence!

     In just a few days, the people of Scotland will be voting on Independence. My Scot heart swells with pride at the thought.
      Scotland has not been their own country for over four hundred years. And yet, the brushfires of freedom in the hearts of the Scots have never been fully quenched.
      I wonder what Will Munroe would say. His Great-Grandfather William was born just after the Union of the Crowns and was brought to America in 1657 as an indentured servant. He worked hard, bought his freedom and started a dynasty of sorts in Lexington, Massachusetts.
      Would the Munroe family have left America if their homeland had been free? Obviously we can only speculate. This Clan, though, lost more men on April 19th than any other family in New England. Over 25% of the Colonists killed that day had ties to Clan Munroe.
      Clan Munroe was invested in Liberty.
      That is not to say that all the Scots in America were on the side of Independence. I’m sad to say – many fought with the British Army for King George.
      So, the question that will be asked and answered on September 18th is the same question that was asked here on our shores. It was answered so poignantly by Captain Levi Pearson –

In 1843, 91-year-old Capt. Levi Preston was asked by a young historian why he had fought in the American Revolution. “What we meant in going for those Redcoats was this: we always had been free, and we meant to be always free. They didn’t mean we should.”

     Will Scotland be free?
      I’d be voting YES.