I have some rather exciting news! I’ve learned more about the real Sheriff Stephen Neal. A couple of months ago I shared a post about my debate over whether to use the real name of the sheriff in 1821 or not since I didn’t know much about him as a person or even as a sheriff. My main debate was how to portray him: as a competent sheriff or not.
I stumbled upon a few hints at the actual answer to my question when my hubby and I went to the Alabama Constitution Hall Historic Park recently. I say “stumbled upon” because I did not realize when I decided I needed to go for research purposes that Stephen Neal’s house is part of the reconstructed buildings in the park. Woot! I felt like I’d struck gold.
The park had just reopened after extensive renovations to convert the once walled off village into an open green space. Now people can stroll through, relax on a bench or in the shade of the gazebo, or let the kids play on the grass. In celebration of the reopening, all tours were free that day so we decided to go check it out.
One of the volunteers offered to show us around since it was our first time. She led us into a white clapboard type of structure she called the “Neal House Kitchen.” This one-story structure is set at a right angle to the main house, a two-story home. After I told our friendly guide I was there to do research for my series, Fury Falls Inn, she escorted us to the Gift Shop to find out when the next official tour would start as the tour guide would have more information than she could provide. So with half an hour to spare, hubby and I grabbed a chicken salad sandwich and drinks from Betty Jo’s food truck and then sat in the lovely shade of the gazebo to eat. (I’ve wanted to try her food forever, and finally had the opportunity! Well worth the wait, too.)
I’ll share about the other buildings we went through over the next few weeks, but the last building and the one I was most anticipating exploring was the Neal House. Finding a portrait of the man hanging on the parlor wall made my day! I had no idea what he looked like, so had hesitated to describe him in any detail. Unfortunately, by the time we reached his house on this nearly 2-hour tour my sore feet didn’t let me climb the stairs to the second floor. But there will be a next time!
Our tour guide, Claire, said he and his wife and two children lived in the house in 1819, the frozen time period of the entire park. She mentioned that the son seemed to be from a different relationship as his age predated the date of the couple’s marriage. Intrigued, I’m going to try to learn more about the family if I can. After all, the boy might be from a previous marriage of Stephen’s, or of his wife. Or he could be a nephew or friend’s child he adopted out of kindness and generosity. In any case, they were a family of four. I don’t even know their names, so I’d like to rectify that lack of knowledge.
Claire also told me that while they don’t know very much about him, she’s never come across any hint of scandal and he seemed to be a much-liked man. She believes his election to the office of sheriff stemmed from the high regard of the community. Most of the votes he received were apparently from Huntsville citizens as opposed to the larger county population. Makes sense since he lived in Huntsville right off the square.
I also met the executive director of the park who is as excited about my series as I am and offered to send me what he has on Neal’s career. The Black Book that talks about his actions at court, and I don’t know what else. I can’t wait to read through it and see what hints I can glean from the context and the phrasing. I’m also thinking another trip to the Heritage Room at the main public library is in order to see what more I might be able to unearth. My curiosity about the man is very high for some inexplicable reason. Probably because so little is known about him and yet his name is known far and wide.
The net result of this chance discovery is that I have more fodder for my stories, more details about who this man was so I can depict him more accurately throughout the rest of the books. Because there’s going to be trouble at the Fury Falls Inn and the sheriff will have to get involved…
I love that I found out more about him! What more will I find? Stay tuned and I’ll share what I discover in The Black Book.
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Innkeeper’s daughter Cassie Fairhope longs for only one thing: to escape her mother’s tyranny. But in northern Alabama in 1821 marriage is her only escape. Even so, she has a plan: Seduce the young man acting as innkeeper while her father is away and marry him. He’s handsome and available. Even though he has no feelings for her, it is still a better option than enduring her mother.
But Flint Hamilton has his own plans and they don’t include marriage, even to the pretty temptress. Securing his reputation in the hostelry business and earning his father’s respect are far more important. He did not count on having to deal with horse thieves and rogues in addition to his guests.
When tragedy strikes, Cassie and Flint must do whatever it takes to rid the inn of its newly arrived specter—who has no intention of leaving…