History of Mail Delivery #amwriting #histfic #supernatural #historical #fiction #research #Alabama200 #history

Sending and receiving letters and packages… A concept that has sometimes mystified me as I write historical fiction. I mean, it’s not like in 1782 you could walk into a post office and weigh the package on a kiosk scale, slide your credit card into the slot to pay for the postage labels to affix to the letter or box, and drop it in the bin.

The U.S. Postal Service has changed a lot over the centuries it’s been in service. As I’m sure all mail services have! Over the years that I’ve been researching and writing historical romance/fiction, this question has pestered me because the nuances are hard to pin down. Several methods existed in the 18th and then again the 19th centuries for sending and receiving a letter—personal contact traveling, currier, postal service between taverns along mail routes, boat carriers. There may be others, but you get the idea. Just how did one receive a letter?

When I started writing The Haunting of Fury Falls Inn I wanted to include letters sent and received between the folks at the inn and the absentee innkeeper. But how exactly would they have exchanged letters in 1821 in northern Alabama?

I know from my research that federal mail routes were in place by that time period. I also know that some mail was transported by boat down river, by horseback or wagon up river. Hand-carried letters by acquaintances also continued throughout the 19th century. (Note: The Pony Express was not an option in Alabama as it didn’t exist until 1860-61 from Missouri to California. I know, it would have been cool if it would have worked!) But the U.S. Postal Service started before the Revolution so how did it function in 1821 in the new state of Alabama?

I know postmarks went through evolutions in the 19th century. I even know the dates for when each post office in Alabama was started. Huntsville, for example, had a post office as early as 1811 according to Postal History. But it wasn’t until I went to the Alabama Constitution Hall Historic Park that I found out the details I needed to know about sending and receiving mail.

According to our tour guide Claire, the post office in 1819 was located in a first-floor front room of Judge Clement Comer Clay’s home and office. She talked about how the small room would have been crammed with bags and bags of mail for the post master to sort and list by recipient’s name. That list would have been posted on the outside of the post office so passerby could check to see if they had any mail. If so, they’d step inside and pay the postage in order to take possession of the letter or package.

The CC Clay house with a surveyor ready to demonstrate his job.

Since the sender could send without cost, whoever the letter was picked up by would pay for the privilege of having the mail carried from one place to another. We all know people try to avoid paying for anything they don’t have to, right? Well, Claire shared that people back then would sometimes devise a scheme so that nobody paid for the postage!

Seems when a family member or friend was about to take a trip or a long journey, they’d come up with a fake name—say Cleopatra or Antony—and then when they arrived at their far off destination would send a letter from the false name back to the anxiously waiting family member or friend. When the person waiting to hear of the other’s safe arrival saw they had a letter from Antony, they knew all was well and ignored the letter in the post office. Clever but it makes me wonder whatever happened to those bogus letters? Did the post master open them? Throw them out after a time? Send them back?

I took pictures of the cubby holes with individual names on them, and then turned around to take a picture of Claire. Note how small this post office actually is! The door to the hallway is off to the left of the cubbies by a few feet.

Claire also confirmed that people would have to go to the post office to pick up their mail. No delivery service by the post office during those years. So I have Flint Hamilton in The Haunting of Fury Falls Inn make periodic trips to town for the mail, and even have a passing tradesman bring him some urgent letters as a favor. There’s probably much more to learn about how the system functioned, but for my purposes I believe I know enough to lend an authentic feel to the story without it become a history lesson.

Writing this new series is also helping me gain a renewed appreciation for the evolution of the postal service in America. During my lifetime I’ve seen some pretty cool advances in the services offered. Like not having to lick stamps anymore! (The taste of the glue used to be awful.) More reliable, even though not perfect. Delivery at home for most everyone, even rural residents. Forever stamps so you don’t have to buy penny and five cent stamps to make up the difference in price of each stamp.

What about you? What do you think is the most interesting or important change the postal system has undergone?

Betty

P.S. If you haven’t already, please consider signing up for my newsletter, which I send out most every month, including news like new covers, new releases, and upcoming appearances where I love to meet my readers, along with recipes and writing progress. Thanks and happy reading!

Visit www.bettybolte.com for more on my books and upcoming events.

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…

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Insights on Sheriff Neal from The Black Book #amwriting #histfic #supernatural #historical #fiction #research #Alabama200 #history

Last week, I talked here about discovering more about Sheriff Stephen Neal when my husband and I went to the Alabama Constitution Hall Historic Park recently. I promised to share what I learned about him from information in The Black Book, so now I’m making good on that promise. He turns out to be a fascinating man, too!

The contents of the Book are a compilation of various bits and pieces of historical information from a variety of sources, including census records, histories of the county and city, newspaper articles, church and cemetery records, land deeds, court records, and more. The document doesn’t indicate who pulled this information together.

The highlights from my point of view are the following tidbits I gleaned from reading through this closely.

Neal was born in 1773, but the location is not given. He apparently migrated from Virginia, or possibly East Tennessee, in the early 1800s. One source says he arrived with his wife, Frances Gran, and four slaves, from Richmond, Virginia. However, the Madison County Marriage Book citation says Neal married Frances Gran on December 10, 1818, so that can’t be true.

Another source says he came with John Hunt from East Tennessee with two other men. (However, this article disputes that claim.) Together these men squatted on the land that became the town center of Huntsville. This source claims Neal as a son-in-law of Hunt. Another source cites Sarah as the name of Neal’s wife in the body of a deed but Frances in the heading. This made me wonder if John Hunt had a daughter named Sarah and came with him. But the genealogy profile I found doesn’t include a daughter by that name. So who was Sarah? Or was that an error in the deed?

Neal is known to have had two children. A son, George Washington Neal, who was born March 10, 1815 in Huntsville, and a daughter, Caroline Elizabeth Neal, who appears to have been born in 1818 or 1819. Given that Stephen and Frances married in December 1818, I’d imagine it was more likely in 1819. However, Neal’s son was born 3 years before they married, so perhaps by a different wife? Or was George Frances’ son from a different marriage who Stephen adopted when he married? The record is unclear. What is clear is that Stephen Neal raised George as his own son. A generous and loving thing to do.

When Neal was appointed as sheriff on December 19, 1808, he was also appointed as Justice of the Peace. I wonder how many marriages his performed if any? He was considered to be “an active intelligent officer” which reassures me that my portrayal of him in my story is accurate. It’s also noteworthy that he’s the “only sheriff to serve Madison County while it was part of the Mississippi Territory and the Alabama Territory” before statehood. It’s interesting to me that Neal was also appointed as Major of the First Battalion of the 7th Regiment of Volunteer Militia in 1809, and then Quartermaster for the Regiment in 1813. He seems to have been a trustworthy and reliable man.

Stephen Neal died at his home in Huntsville on May 18, 1839, at 66 years of age. Interestingly, the person who compiled this Book notes there was no record found of any mention in the local newspaper of his passing. However, don’t take that to mean the local community disrespected him.

Another of my sources, Early History of Huntsville Alabama 1804 to 1870 by Edward Chambers Betts (1909; revised 1916; p69), reveals that the local papers for the period of 1837-1844 are missing. He implied that it may be related to a debate about canal building versus railroad building in the state. But it’s all conjecture. He goes on to say, “It is a perplexing inquiry, just why these contemporaneous sources of information should be missing; for it is said the same hiatus exists in a measure throughout Alabama.” A mystery without an answer I’m aware of.

One other tidbit of interest. The original Neal home stood where the reconstructed one stands today. But the original house was moved a half block west in 1926 to allow for construction of a filling station before it was demolished. But thanks to the wonders of photographs, the reconstructed house and outbuilding are “as true to the originals as possible.” So if you go visit, you can step back in time to 1819 and experience life as our friend Stephen Neal had known it.

Such great information and insights into this man’s life and times. I’m sure some of what I’ve learned will weave its way into my Fury Falls Inn series. Not every little detail, of course! I hope you’ve enjoyed getting to know the sheriff as much as I have.

Betty

P.S. If you haven’t already, please consider signing up for my newsletter, which I send out most every month, including news like new covers, new releases, and upcoming appearances where I love to meet my readers, along with recipes and writing progress. Thanks and happy reading!

Visit www.bettybolte.com for more on my books and upcoming events.

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…

Breaking news: Meet The Real Sheriff Neal #amwriting #histfic #supernatural #historical #fiction #research #Alabama200 #history

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!

Portrait of Sheriff Stephen Neal in the Neal House at Alabama Constitution Hall Park

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.

Happy reading!

Betty

P.S. If you haven’t already, please consider signing up for my newsletter, which I send out most every month, including news like new covers, new releases, and upcoming appearances where I love to meet my readers, along with recipes and writing progress. Thanks and happy reading!

Visit www.bettybolte.com for more on my books and upcoming events.

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…

Dog required if you live in a Dogtrot House? #amwriting #histfic #supernatural #historical #fiction #research #architecture #Alabama200

Do you know what a dogtrot house is? If you live in the South, you very well might! Since I am originally from Maryland (which is still technically south of the Mason-Dixon Line…) this wasn’t a style I was familiar with. Yet I had actually been in a “dogtrot” house—my aunt and uncle’s home outside of Baltimore.

The concept today is known as a breezeway, where two separate sections of the dwelling are connected by a floor and roof, and possibly doors/windows at either end. But in the 1800s, the space was left open at either end to encourage airflow for homes in the South. Keep in mind there wasn’t any air conditioning yet in that time so building a space where the family—and the dog—could dine on hot evenings, or simply sit and work on whatever project needed doing was a huge benefit.

When my hubby and I visited Burritt on the Mountain a few months ago, I came across the name of this style of residence and decided to incorporate it into my new series.

In my Fury Falls Inn series, I have chosen this basic style made into a two-story structure. It’s also far more refined since it’s constructed of brick and stone instead of logs and chinking. The owners, Reginald and Mercy Fairhope, want to make a statement about the desirability of the inn’s lodgings and menu. Reggie strives to make the furnishings and the appearance of the place welcoming and inviting to travelers and locals alike. So he takes off to oversee the crafting of the furniture he envisions, leaving Flint Hamilton to take care of the inn and Reggie’s wife, Mercy, and daughter, Cassandra. A tall order for the young man!

I really think this style is fascinating and would evoke a sense of the past in a modern home. As well, it would allow for a cool place to hang out with family and friends without being subjected to the hot sun. My aunt and uncle’s home had a finished breezeway connecting the main house to the two-car garage. The breezeway was enclosed with doors to the backyard, the garage, and the kitchen, and windows across both front and back. My cousin and I spent one very hot summer sleeping on that breezeway. Fond memories from my teen years, let me tell you!

So, have you ever seen or lived in a dogtrot house? Would you want to?

Betty

P.S. If you haven’t already, please consider signing up for my newsletter, which I send out most every month, including news like new covers, new releases, and upcoming appearances where I love to meet my readers, along with recipes and writing progress. Thanks and happy reading!

Visit www.bettybolte.com for more on my books and upcoming events.

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…

White Traders in the Mississippi Territory #amwriting #histfic #research #Alabama200 #history

I’m musing today about how people seek out better opportunities for themselves and their families. The History of Alabama and Incidentally of Georgia and Mississippi From the Earliest Period (1851) by Albert James Pickett is a fascinating historical document. I learned so much about the development of the state of Alabama and many of the people involved.

One of the questions I originally wanted to answer when I read the book is, when did white people move in to Alabama? I knew it must have been after the American Revolution. After the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, most likely as well. I also wanted to know how contentious—I didn’t know specifics, though I am well aware of the general nature of the conflicts involved—was the actual displacement of the Creek, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Cherokee? I was surprised to find out that white folks had moved in about when I’d thought.

I talked a few weeks ago here about one massacre at Ft. Mims resulting from the taking of lands and property, combined with foreign nations’ prodding. But were there any peaceful transactions between the natives and the Americans pushing into the area?

The answer, it turns out, is there were some friendly exchanges.

For example, Pickett states that in 1792 (9 years after the end of the American Revolution) there were only a few white inhabitants around Montgomery County, Alabama. But that “All over the territory of Alabama and Mississippi, wherever an Indian town of importance was found, white traders lived.”

These traders would purchase from the Indians “bees-wax, hickory-nut oil, snake-root, together with various medicinal barks” as well as a mean rum called taffai in small kegs and “poultry of all kinds in cages made of reeds” and send them to “Augusta and Pensacola on pack horses, and to Mobile and New Orleans in large canoes.” Pause and consider that last sentence for a moment.

Imagine walking/riding from anywhere in Alabama to Pensacola, Florida, or Augusta, Georgia. For kicks and grins, I checked mileage from my home in Huntsville to Pensacola: 348 miles. To Augusta is 332 miles. Also consider the roads were not paved like they are today, but were mostly dirt/mud depending on weather conditions and rocks. Across mountains and rivers, probably a few swamps, through forests and all kinds of terrain in between. On average, when I take a walk around my neighborhood I walk at a pace of 3 miles per hour. If I were able to keep up that pace, which is highly unlikely over the previously referenced terrain, it would take 116 hours. If I walked 8 hours per day, another unlikely length of time, it would take me 14.5 days to walk to Pensacola. More likely, I’d imagine such a trip would take closer to 3 weeks than 2 weeks. My poor feet… Whew! I’m tired thinking about such a trek.

Also take into account the fact of more hostile encounters between whites and the Creeks, for instance, which would make such a long trip fraught with danger for everyone concerned. In fact, Pickett states that in 1792 “Creeks committed many depredations, pushed their hostilities to the very doors of Nashville” from the Montgomery area.

By December 1801, however, with the influx of people into the Mississippi Territory (later the state of Alabama), one party from North Carolina made the perilous trip through Knoxville, Tennessee, where they made flat-boats and “floated down the [Tennessee] river to the head of the Muscle Shoals [in northwest Alabama], where they disembarked, at the house of Double-Head, a Cherokee Chief.” They continued on foot with all of their “effects upon the horses” south to St. Stephens, a distance on today’s highways of 292 miles. But in 1801 there was “not a solitary direct path” for them to follow. “After a fatiguing march, they reached the residence of Levi Colbert, a celebrated Chickasaw Chief, who gave them the necessary directions.” I share this as one piece of evidence that some of the interaction between the various groups were peaceful and helpful in nature. I’m also blown away by the determination and persistence the emigrants demonstrated in their move from North Carolina to southern Alabama.

It’s fairly common knowledge how events transpired for the Creeks, Cherokees, Chickasaws, and Choctaws. If I could change history, go back and prevent such tragedy and hate and destruction I surely would.

I do take some tiny comfort that not everybody fought each other but traded together, worked together, helped each other. If we, today, can strive to do the same, without judgment or intolerance, the world may benefit. I hope, anyway.

Would you make such a journey as the folks from North Carolina did for a chance at a better/different life? I find myself comparing their trek to that of the refugees from South America into Central and North America. The similarities and the differences. History repeating itself in some ways? What do you think?

Betty

P.S. If you haven’t already, please consider signing up for my newsletter, which I send out most every month, including news like new covers, new releases, and upcoming appearances where I love to meet my readers along with recipes and writing progress. Thanks and happy reading!

Visit my Website for more on my books and upcoming events.

Will the 1821 Sheriff of Madison County, AL, please stand up? #amwriting #dilemma #histfic #research #Alabama200 #history

I have a dilemma related to one of the characters in my new series, the Fury Falls Inn. While reading about Alabama’s early history, one of the notes I took was that of the very first sheriff of Madison County, Alabama. One of the reasons it intrigued me is that his years of service coincides with the time period of my series set in 1821. Could I use him in my story?

I considered using this man’s name in my story to give it historical accuracy. Not as a main character but a tertiary one. But before I portrayed him in any way, it seemed prudent to investigate as to what kind of a man he was and how effective he was at his job. After all, I don’t want to paint him with the wrong brush, so to speak. You know, if he was a really great sheriff, then I wouldn’t want to make him seem inept, and vice versa. So I started looking…

I came across this article by Ruby W. Lawler, Chairwoman of the Program Committee of the Gurley (AL) Historical Society, that included the following comment about the sheriff:

“The first sheriff of Madison County was Stephen Neal who held office from 1809 to 1822. Crime in those days was usually confined to stealing a horse or a display of public drunkenness. In many cases, the locals would extract [sic] their own swift punishment without the need of the local sheriff.”

Sounds to me like he might not have been very busy, but I don’t know that. I haven’t researched crime reports from that era, and wouldn’t know where to find them. It’s also not relevant to my dilemma. The statement above includes nothing about him as a person, just one passing comment about the kinds of crime he might have dealt with. What this quote confirmed for me was that stealing horses was an historical issue, one that I had included in The Haunting of Fury Falls Inn (Book 1), so that’s cool to know.

Still, the question of whether to use Neal’s name and thus his persona, or make up someone else, niggled in my brain. I’d prefer to be historically correct—rather than creating a fictional sheriff—but I don’t want to misrepresent a real person. I kept looking and found this article by Donna R. Causey for Alabama Pioneers that had this to say:

“Stephen Neal, one of the earliest settlers and sheriff of the county from 1809 to 1822, purchased the lot embracing the east end of Commercial Row [in Huntsville] and sold it to different parties, who built store-houses there.”

I interpret this statement to imply he was rather wealthy, both because he bought a large lot and he would have made money when he sold smaller lots to others. The accompanying photo of the house Neal purchased is quite impressive, too.

Then I found this brief history from the Madison County Sheriff’s Department, which sheds a bit of light on Neal:

“Sheriff Neal served in his appointed capacity until Alabama became a state in 1819 and held it’s [sic] first ‘Constitutional Convention’ at what is now known as Constitution Hall Park in downtown Huntsville.

“Following the adoption of the Alabama Constitution, Sheriff Neal became Madison County’s first elected Sheriff by defeating eighteen opponents, the most candidates to ever run for the office of Sheriff in a local election.” [emphasis added]

When I first read this, I thought, Aha! If Neal was respected enough to defeat 18 other candidates, he must have been doing a pretty good job, right? So it should be safe for me to use his name and portray him as being a competent sheriff.

But then I remembered that it was a common practice in that day and age for candidates to throw rallies where they not only stood up on a tree stump and extolled on what they’d do if elected, but they also doled out whiskey to the men who attended, essentially partying with them to show what a great candidate they were. Buying their loyalty and their vote, in a manner of speaking. So did he get elected because more people knew his name and/or liked his partying style? (Hm, is that where the term “party” came to be associated with political entities? Another research question…)

It’s fairly common for people to vote for candidates they’ve heard of. Since Neal had been sheriff for ten years, he’d been a known entity. Good or bad. I don’t want to jump to any conclusions about who he was and how he behaved. I’m not trying to imply that I think one way or the other. I’m just “thinking out loud” here as I ponder whether to use the name of the real sheriff or not.

I wish I could find out more about his personality, his job performance, but when I think about it, I don’t need to delve too deeply into his character for the purposes of my stories since he’s a minor/tertiary character. As I’m beginning final revisions to the first story, I think the best path forward is to fictionalize the sheriff. I focus more on a fictional deputy anyway, so ultimately what name I give the sheriff isn’t going to change much with regard to plot and action. But I believe it’s better to not portray a real historical figure incorrectly.

Do you agree with me, that it’s important to know the historical figure as much as possible before employing their personage in fiction? Even for “walk on” characters? Or am I overthinking this?

I’d love to hear your opinion… Thanks!

Betty

P.S. If you haven’t already, please consider signing up for my newsletter, which I send out most every month, including news like new covers, new releases, and upcoming appearances where I love to meet my readers along with recipes and writing progress. Thanks and happy reading!

Visit my Website for more on my books and upcoming events.

Remembering the Fort Mims Massacre #amwriting #histfic #research #Alabama200 #history

One of the more horrific historical events I encountered in my research of Alabama history is that of the Massacre at Fort Mims. This event shapes how one of my characters reacts in my story, which I’ll explain in a minute. Keep in mind that when I began to read about the early history of the state, it was with fresh eyes as I was not raised in Alabama but Maryland, so never learned anything about this state’s history. I located the History of Alabama and Incidentally Georgia and Mississippi from the Earliest Period by Albert James Pickett (Volume II, Charleston: Walker and James, 1851) where I read with interest the somewhat florid descriptions of the early history of the state.

This image appears in History of Alabama and Incidentally of Georgia and Mississippi from the Earliest Period

When I came to the account of the battle and killing at Fort Mims, I really was horrified to think that people could hate so much as to murder by terrible means, scalp, and burn out men, women, and children. According to the History of Alabama, at the time of the attack, “The whole population of Fort Mims, consisting of whites, Indians, soldiers, officers, and negroes now amounted to five hundred and fifty-three souls” inside the fort, and of those about 533 died. However, the Encyclopedia of Alabama site states that “some 400 American settlers, U.S.-allied Creeks, and enslaved African Americans had taken refuge inside” and they don’t cite how many people died. But why is there such a huge discrepancy in the number of people in the fort?

I did a bit more digging and found an article entitled “Original letter describing the tragic events at Fort Mims with [films & pics]” by Donna R. Causey. Her picture of the historical marker for Fort Mims reveals a number closer to Pickett’s, thus corroborating his reporting: “Indians took fort with heavy loss, then killed all but about 36 of some 550 in the fort. Creeks had been armed by British at Pensacola in this phase of War of 1812.”

There’s a footnote on page 267 in the History of Alabama that supports that last sentence. He noted that “The Spaniards and the British agents charged McQueen’s party to ‘fight the Americans’ and if “the Americans should prove too hard for both of us, there are vessels enough to take us all off together.’”

From what I’ve read, it seems the underlying reason for the tensions between Americans and the Creeks apparently stemmed from the influx of white settlers into the area, claiming the hunting lands the natives had used for generations and converting it into cotton plantations. They did this with the approval of the U.S. government to some extent, but it’s also true that individuals, like Andrew Jackson, overstepped the letter of the law for their own benefit. The creation of the Federal Road into the region had increased the arrival of so many people seeking to find their wealth on the fertile soil.

I can only try to imagine how outraged the people who had lived and hunted on that land must have felt about those lands being taken away by force. Then to have the British incite the natives further, by arming them and encouraging violence against the Americans, lit the powder keg.

I know that people have fought and died defending their beliefs, property, and loved ones for centuries. But reading the detailed account in the History of Alabama proved eye-opening and shocking by turns. Lines such as these:

“The eastern part of the picketing was soon full of Indians, headed by five prophets, whom the Americans immediately shot down, while engaged in dancing and incantations. This greatly abated the ardor of the enemy, many of whom retreated through the gate, for the moment. They had been assured that American bullets would split upon the sacred persons of the prophets, and pass off harmless.”

“The assailants, from the old line of picketing, in the additional part of the fort, and from the outside stockading, commenced a general fire upon the Americans. Soldiers, negroes, women and children, fell.”

“His repeated discharges made lanes through the savage ranks. Fresh numbers renewed their efforts against him, and often an Indian and an American would plant their guns across the same port-hole, to shoot at each other.”

“The superior force of the assailants enabled them to constantly to bring fresh warriors into the action. They now set fire to the main building, and many of the out-houses. The shrieks of the women and children went up to high heaven.”

“The weak, wounded and feeble, were pressed to death and trodden underfoot. The spot presented the appearance of one immense mass of human beings, herded together too close to defend themselves, and, like beeves [cattle] in the slaughter-pen of the butcher, a prey to those who fired upon them.”

I won’t go into any more detail as to the various ways the women and children were killed. Suffice it to say, it’s appalling.

This event colors the reaction that Flint Hamilton, a character in The Haunting of Fury Falls (coming October 2019), has when he encounters two “Indians” sneaking around the stable one evening. He knows he’s not the best with a gun and he remembers hearing about the savage massacre in the southern part of the state. He surely doesn’t want to have a repeat occurrence at the Fury Falls Inn on his watch! So he proceeds with a fair amount of caution…

Sometimes history is difficult to digest and even more so when I try to put myself in the scene, trying to relive the experience. I had a similar experience when I wrote about how the plantation house in Undying Love (Secrets of Roseville Book 1) became haunted—imagining being the woman as she died, especially where she died makes me slightly queasy to this day.

Had you heard of the massacre at Fort Mims? Have you been to the historic site? Are you like me, interested in visiting places of historic importance?

Betty

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