Last week I talked about the Heyward-Washington House which I toured on my first visit to Charleston. Today I’d like to talk about the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon which I specifically returned to Charleston to tour because I had questions I couldn’t answer with online resources. It was a very good thing I insisted on going back, too!
In Emily’s Vow, the first novel in the A More Perfect Union historical romance series, I drafted a scene where she is taken prisoner by a loyalist major and kept in the Provost Dungeon. I’d looked at the virtual tour provided by the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon site, but I couldn’t determine how the prisoners were held in the dungeon. How did you get into the dungeon? What did the inside of the dungeon look like in the late 18th century? Were the prisoners shackled? Chained to the wall? Were there cells? How many prisoners would have been kept there? So many questions without answers!
Hubby and I made a quick overnight stop in Charleston on our way to Myrtle Beach so I could hopefully find answers to several questions related to Emily’s story. Our tour was led by a former history teacher and he really knew a lot about the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon. Thankfully, he knew about how the building had evolved over the couple of centuries of its existence, which answered all my questions, too.
You may be wondering what those questions may have been, so I’ll share three of them with you to give you an idea of what I learned and how it changed the story—from setting to action.
In the original draft (pre-publication), I had written, “Biting her tongue to keep from saying something she would regret, Emily endured the pushing and pulling into the Old Exchange, through the outer office, and down the dark stairs to the basement jail.” However, what I learned is that there wasn’t an outer office. You entered the dungeon through doors facing the street which were several steps down from the street. That’s not the case today because of the buildup of the road surface. So when you visit today, you actually go up the steps to the Exchange and then down some stairs at the back of the building that have been added for that purpose.
When you get downstairs into the dungeon, it’s pretty dark and cool. I had written in my scene that “She stumbled on the uneven wooden floor and the ropes around her wrists bit deeper. At least she had not fallen onto the hard surface.” First, the floor is actually brick and even, not uneven wood. The tour guide told me that only three women prisoners were ever held in the dungeon and then only for a couple of hours to “terrorize” them into revealing where there patriot husband/father/etc. was so they could imprison them instead. So I had to only keep Emily in the dungeon for a short period and then have her moved to a different place and detained in order to stick to the historical facts.
Finally, I had imagined there were cells, so had written, “Silently the man left, glancing over his shoulder before the heavy door closed behind him.” But the basement wasn’t divided at all. Instead it was one large room with posted guards. The prisoners were given straw to lay on and of course since it’s located near the harbor there were rats and mice and who knows what else sharing the dungeon with them.
Because of this learning experience, I try to visit the historical sites and tour them whenever possible. Especially when the site is a setting in one of my stories. Online resources can be limited in providing the evolution of the property so that I can depict it accurately and authentically to the best of my ability. See what you think in this short excerpt from Emily’s Vow:
Biting her tongue to refrain from speaking her mind, Emily endured the pushing and pulling down the steps into the Provost. Once used as the Harbor Master’s office and for storing the goods being shipped in and out of town, now only pirates and those who defied the king resided within the odoriferous walls. At one time the building had enjoyed the respect of the town. Now it reeked of the pungent odors of urine, spoilage, and decay. She gagged at the overpowering smells assailing her senses.
“Welcome to your home away from home.” John paused in the large communal prison.
Dim light leaked through the small windows situated near the ceiling. Several other prisoners stared at them from where they sat on the cold red brick floor or lay on beds made from piles of straw, but kept their distance. The scrabble of claws in the deeper regions of the space skittered chills down her back. John peered at her for a moment, a slow smile creasing his face. His leer frightened her and she shivered.
She stumbled when the soldier pushed her forward, the ropes biting deeper. He tugged at the knot and the rope slipped off her wrists. She rubbed the red skin on each wrist to ease the pain.
“You are dismissed,” John said to the soldier, keeping his gaze on Emily. Green eyes cold as a dead fish appraised her while he waited for the other man to heed his order.
Silently the man left, glancing over his shoulder before walking away.
Emily swallowed but maintained eye contact with John. He had a heart once, a deep compassion for animals and people. But, he had hurt her in the market, likely because of the sudden embarrassment when Tommy pulled his wig askew. She raised her chin, portraying a confidence she barely felt.
“First, I must search you for any contraband you might be hiding.” His eyes glittered in the dim light. He pushed his sleeves up as he walked toward her. “This won’t hurt. You may even enjoy it. Like old times.”
And in fact, in the new edition of Emily’s Vow that will publish next month, I’ve added a couple of new scenes at the second “prison” where she’s held against her will. I’ll talk more about Emily’s Vow next week. In the meantime, if you haven’t read Elizabeth’s Hope, now is your chance to begin the series. More about Elizabeth’s Hope is below.
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Introducing the lives, loves, and dangerous times of the men and women in the A More Perfect Union historical romance series! This prequel novella takes place when Charles Town, South Carolina, is about to face the British enemy during the American Revolution.
CAUGHT BETWEEN DUTY AND LOVE
Joining the revolutionary army was the honorable thing to do—but Jedediah Thomson hadn’t realized how long he’d be away from the lovely, spirited Miss Elizabeth Sullivan. They’d only begun their courtship when the occupation of Charles Town, South Carolina, trapped her in the city, making it dangerous to get to her.
Elizabeth Sullivan feared for her brothers, fighting for American freedom; for her father, pretending to be a loyalist; for family and friends, caught between beliefs; and most of all for Jedediah, the man she loves, who was doing his duty. She cherished every moment they had together, knowing how swiftly it could be taken away.
And that made her willing to risk everything to claim a piece of him forever….