One of the joys of writing historical fiction is the gob-smacking stories I find while researching. In the second book of the Loyalist trilogy I wrote about a true story found as I researched the burning of Niagara (present-day Niagara-on-the-Lake) when the American troops ended their occupation of Fort George and headed back across the border to the United States. The snippet was about an old woman, too sick to leave her bed that cold December night of heated tempers and hot flames. For me this was a nugget for my own story of Lucy and John’s experiences.
Here is how I integrated the story into The Loyalist’s Luck:
Soldiers ran from one house to the next, their flaming torches setting each and every building alight. The wind blew the flames as they ate up the insides, the roofs, the chimneys, and finally the walls themselves of the little town. Perhaps the cruellest cut of all came with the knowledge of just who was setting the fires. Along with the American militiamen a group of American sympathizers called the Canadian Volunteers tossed torches into their own neighbors’ homes.
People howled in the streets. When the torchers reached the house next door they learned that the old woman who lived there was sick and could not leave her bed. The soldier gave the order to carry her, bed and all, outside into the snow where she lay shivering under her blankets as her house burned to the ground. Lucy ran to the bed and heaped her spare blankets on the woman but they gave no comfort to the woman or to Lucy.
Just now my days are filled with searching for information about the early to mid 1800’s in Upper Canada (Ontario). Part of that is trying to get a feel for just what was happening at the time with respect to settlers, crown lands, politics both local and across the ocean, escaping slaves, treaties with First Nations people, and especially day-to-day living in this part of the world. Yes, it’s a huge task.
Knowing that I’m studying my own history helps enormously. These are the times my people lived in.
I Came As A Stranger: The Underground Railroad has turned out to be so interesting that I am reading the whole book even though much of it is about times after my field of research. Here are a few of the tidbits I’ve found:
Even at the time of the 1837 Rebellions in Upper Canada and Lower Canada the widespread fear that the United States might invade again caused “coloured people” to come to Niagara by the wagonload and volunteer to fight in order to keep the Americans out of their new country.” (p.42) For us, today, that distinction between Americans and Canadians is just not present. How fearful the times must have been not only for blacks but also for those multitudes of whites on both sides of the border who abhorred slavery and did all they could to fight against it.
John Brown was one such white man who gave his life in his fight against slavery. (p.83)
Many slave owners resorted to illegal moves to entice their former slaves back across the border. I read of a turnabout. One owner was seized by his former slaves and whipped with the same number of lashes as the former slave brothers had seen their mother’s naked back receive under the owner’s hand. Following that he was sent back across the Detroit River presumably to return home. (p.95)
In Niagara a former slave owner trumped up horse theft charges against his former slave so that the slave could be extradited and punished in the United States. A huge crowd of blacks from the Niagara area freed their friend, taking the law into their own hands. Two of the rescuers were killed in the melee. (p. 97)
Wednesday I am lucky enough to be going to hear the author of I Came As a Stranger, Bryan Prince, speak at a library about a half hour away. Coincidentally this library is in the area where my next book takes place so I am doubly excited. I’ll be going early to check out the original documents which pertain to the area and to my own family history. Yes, the next book will have a large fictional component but how exciting for me to be recreating a world where my great great great grandparents first settled north of London, Ontario.
Once I finish Bryan’s book, I’ll be on to another and another and another as I spend the rest of February searching sources and spinning stories in my head for book three, The Loyalist Legacy. Let me know of any pertinent sources I should research and you could find your ideas in the next book!
For All Lovers of Historical Fiction!
Book Two in The Loyalist Trilogy!
John and Lucy escape the Revolutionary War to the unsettled British territory across the Niagara River with almost nothing. In the untamed wilderness they must fight to survive, he, off on a secret mission for Colonel Butler and she, left behind with their young son and pregnant once again. In the camp full of distrust, hunger, and poverty, word has seeped out that John has gone over to the American side and only two people will associate with Lucy–her friend, Nellie, who delights in telling her all the current gossip, and Sergeant Crawford, who refuses to set the record straight and clear John’s name. To make matters worse, the sergeant has made improper advances toward Lucy. With John’s reputation besmirched, she must walk a thin line depending as she does on the British army, and Sergeant Crawford, for her family’s very survival.
The Loyalist’s Wife, Book One in The Loyalist Trilogy!
by Elaine Cougler, winner of the WCDR 2014 Pay It Forward Scholarship
Short-listed for Inspire! Toronto International Book Fair’s Canada Self-Published Book Awards
When American colonists resort to war against Britain and her colonial attitudes, a young couple caught in the crossfire must find a way to survive. Pioneers in the wilds of New York State, John and Lucy face a bitter separation and the fear of losing everything, even their lives, when he joins Butler’s Rangers to fight for the King and leaves her to care for their isolated farm. As the war in the Americas ramps up, ruffians roam the colonies looking to snap up Loyalist land. Alone, pregnant, and fearing John is dead, Lucy must fight with every weapon she has.
With vivid scenes of desperation, heroism, and personal angst, Elaine Cougler takes us back to the beginnings of one great country and the planting of Loyalist seeds for another. The Loyalist’s Wife transcends the fighting between nations to show us the individual cost of such battles.