Between the Lines: America’s First Museum #research #history #amwriting

My character Nathaniel Williams earns some extra money in Evelyn’s Promise by helping to move items into the collection of America’s first museum, founded in 1773, at the Daniel Cannon house on what is now Queen Street, Charleston, SC. (I used the present day name in my book only to avoid confusing present-day readers. In fact, in the 18th century the street was known as Dock Street because of a dock at the east end, the part of the street which is now known as Vendue Street.) But how did I know where the museum collections were kept during this time period?

I asked the Charleston Museum folks, of course. Carl Borick is the Director of the museum, and he was very helpful in answering my questions about where the museum was housed in 1783 and after. In fact, he provided a wealth of information, which I used some of in Evelyn’s Promise.

According to Mr. Borick, there was no dedicated building for the museum until the 1820s. In the time period of my series, the collection was maintained by the Library Society, but the society burned down in 1778:

Among the items lost from the Museum were “a pair of elegant globes, mathematical and other instruments, and many specimens of natural history.” After the fire, the remaining collections of both the Museum and Library Society would have been moved to the Daniel Cannon house on Queen Street in Charleston. This house was probably a Charleston double house (two-story) constructed primarily of brick. Not much was done with either organization during the Revolutionary War.

250px-Charleston_County_Courthouse_2013In 1785, the museum moved to the State House, a masonry building still standing in the city and known as the Charleston County Courthouse.

The collection included some really amazing artifacts from what Mr. Borick shared. Including a case of insects from Surinam, an Indian helmet from the Sandwich Islands, part of a human thigh bone with oysters growing out of it, the head of a turtle from Calcutta that weighed 700+ pounds (whole turtle, not just the head), an Indian hatchet, and a rock crystal from Greenville, SC. Early collectors contributed things from all over the world that “reflected the cosmopolitan nature of the major port city that was Charleston.”

Knowing this, I tried to capture the essence of the city and its people in each of my four stories in the series. Besides, I really enjoyed my visits to the city to do my own research as to the feel of the place, the taste of the food, and the smells of the ocean and gardens the city is known for.

Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts and opinions!

Betty

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Between the Lines: She wrote what? #American #women #history #research

Ann Frobel CW DiaryThe inspiration for the A More Perfect Union series of historical romances came from reading early American literature. An essay by Judith Sargent Murray, specifically, in which she argued for equal education for girls, and argued against the mistaken notion that females would become sick with too much education. Looking back on how our understanding of human capabilities has morphed over time, it’s difficult to imagine anyone would believe the brain couldn’t learn without making the person—female, that is—ill.

One symptom of this idea is the denial of women to write for publication without being criticized for “manly” behavior. But by the end of the American Revolution women had started to write for publication. Even young slave Phillis Wheatley wrote poems and had them published.

One thing I’ve noticed in my research is the expansion of available written materials for women’s lives over the last 240 years of our country’s existence. What’s interesting to me is that the earliest written record is usually in the form of letters between women and their friends and family. Few colonial women had the time, the materials, or perhaps even the interest in documenting their day-to-day existence in a diary. I can think of one that is famous for the very fact that it was written by a lady in South Carolina during the Revolution. Add to the dearth of materials available the fact that these women often had a sense of privacy they held dear. Which often led women to burn their letters before they died, like Martha Washington is known to have done. (Sadly…)

Mary Chesnut CW DiaryBy the time of the Civil War, however, it’s easier to find the histories of women. For example, both Mary Chesnut, wife of a Confederate general, and Anne Frobel, a Virginia lady, kept diaries specifically to document their lives during the conflict, recognizing that others may actually want to know what they had to endure after the fact. Which they were indeed correct to presume!

I found myself pondering the expansion of women writers of all kinds over the centuries. From writing letters, to keeping diaries, to writing essays and novels and nonfiction books, to the vast array of writing we enjoy today. Even this blog is an example of a woman voicing her thoughts to others. I think all this stems from women having more education, less manual labor around the house, more “leisure” time as a result. (Note that although I’m calling it leisure time, we all know that most people fill every waking hour with something to do!) And of course, the materials are always at hand, whether it’s paper and pen or some form of keyboard. But also because women are people who have a voice and thoughts worth sharing.

So I thank those courageous women like Judith Sargent Murray who stood up to be counted and helped to open the door to the world of writing I enjoy today.

Thanks for stopping by!

Betty

P.S. If you haven’t already, please consider signing up for my newsletter, which I only send out when there is news to share. News like new covers, new releases, and upcoming appearances where I love to meet my readers. Thanks and happy reading!

My American Revolution series of romances begins with Emily’s Vow, which was a finalist in the 2015 International Book Awards contest. The stories each feature a strong woman who declares her own independence for a variety of reasons, but ultimately they each find and fall in love with their soul mate. You can purchase the 4-book series for Kindle, or for Nook. They are also available in paperback if you prefer. Happy reading!

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Between the Lines: What a Family Tragedy #women #history #research

Winnie Mae MurphreeWhen I was researching for Hometown Heroines: True Stories of Bravery, Daring, and Adventure back in the 1990s, I ventured out into many different cemeteries. It’s always a somber moment to locate the grave of a person, whether you knew them or not. The older tombstones often included a message, a poem, or a few heartfelt words revealing how much the person was loved or would be missed.

Winnie Mae Murphree is remembered for her heroic act, along with her sister Celia, in capturing Union soldiers in Alabama and turning them over to the Rebel army camped nearby. I Murphree Historical Markerwanted to find where she is buried, but when I did I also found that her husband, Asa Bynum had faced a terrible personal tragedy the year Winnie passed.

Winnie died from unknown causes on November 29, 1899. But two of their children also died around the same time. Maud had died a week before Winnie, on November 13 (or 18), 1899, at 16. Albert died December 3, 1899, at 20 years old. My heart still aches for poor Asa having lost three family members within a month.

Murphree TombstoneI wonder what caused them all to die in such a short span. I can’t locate anything about an epidemic in Texas during that time. I found some mention of pneumonia and smallpox but not during the end of 1899. Could it have been an accident? Was Albert still living at home at the time? I don’t know. If anyone does know, please tell me. I’d love to find out what happened.

If you’d like to see more pictures related to Hometown Heroines, you can find them on my Pinterest board. Thanks for stopping by. I love to hear from my readers, so please feel free to comment below.

Betty

P.S. If you haven’t already, please consider signing up for my newsletter, which I only send out when there is news to share. News like new covers, new releases, and upcoming appearances where I love to meet my readers. Thanks and happy reading!

Literary Classics International Book Awards - Youth Award Winning Book
Literary Classics International Book Awards – Youth Award Winning Book

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Between the Lines: Skeletal Remains Reburied #research #fiction #romance

 

Firor Graves
Some of my Firor ancestors’ graves.

I love to do research, especially into American history. But for my contemporary ghost story, Traces, I had Meredith find the skeleton of one of her ancestors. Then I had a question: what would she be required to do after finding it? In other words, what authorities needed to be informed? Could she bury the bones in the family cemetery on the fictional plantation property? Or did she need to do something extra to get permission to do so?

 

I dug around (pun intended!) online, reading the information on various Tennessee government sites related to regulations for graveyards and such. But I couldn’t figure out the answers to my specific questions.

Then I stumbled upon a government site that listed a contact person I thought might be able to either answer my questions or point to me someone who could. Pay dirt!

I was referred to the TN State Archeologist who was able to clearly and concisely answer my questions. Here’s what I asked:

Would the person discovering the remains call the sheriff if the site of the find is in the county? Would the sheriff then call the ME to come collect the bones, etc.? How long from the time of the call to the local police would it be before the police or ME showed up to collect the remains? Hours? Days? What happens to the remains once collected: carbon dated? DNA? Other tests? Finally, once the remains are returned to the family, is there any special permit or anything needed in order for said family to bury the remains in the family cemetery on their property?

Mike Moore then gave me the specifics to my questions. In the county, the sheriff would be notified, and he’d call the ME; sometimes the notification is reversed. Since human remains are involved, they show up the same day. No permit is needed to rebury skeletal remains. As for the kinds of tests, he said:

Medical examiner will try to determine age and sex of individual, and note any obvious trauma or pathology.  Radiocarbon dating is not conducted in a modern forensic case (this particular analysis is conducted on carbonized wood, nutshell, corn, and at times shell recovered from prehistoric Native American sites).  DNA testing could be done, but probably not unless there was a specific need due to expense and time involved. Not sure what other analysis/tests they may do, perhaps contact a medical examiner’s office to ask that question.

So, armed with this knowledge, I could portray in the story how Meredith and Max dealt with the skeletal remains of the Lady in Blue and know that it was as accurate as I could make it. After all, I didn’t want someone to think they could do something that might have been illegal if I had not done my research.

Digging to find the facts to provide the proper context for any story I write is one of my main focuses. In this case, I chose to have Max know the proper response since he’s a preservation lawyer, rather than have Meredith bungle around trying to sort it out. I wanted to keep up the pace of the story and the focus of the situation on their relationship and not the legalities involved.

Thanks for stopping by!

Betty

P.S. If you haven’t already, please consider signing up for my newsletter, which I only send out when there is news to share. News like new covers, new releases, and upcoming appearances where I love to meet my readers. Thanks and happy reading!

LSB Cover Art Template for PhotoShopIf you’d like to find out more about the Lady in Blue, you can get your copy of Traces at any of these places. Note that it’s available in paperback also at Amazon and B&N. Happy reading!

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