I’ve been watching a series on cable TV about Winston Churchill that dates back to 2003. I probably watched it then, but you forget a lot in 10 years. The earth has revolved around the sun a few more times and stuff has happened. Plus, as you get older you (hopefully) gain wisdom, which changes your perspective on a lot of things.
So far I’ve seen 2 episodes, up through 1943, with at least 1, maybe 2, more coming up. Churchill certainly had an interesting life, and he was without a doubt brilliant. He probably accomplished more in each year of his adult life than most of us do in our entire lifetimes.
In a lot of ways he reminds me of Benjamin Franklin. Both men were geniuses, and both were ambitious—sometimes unscrupulous, unbending in error, even ruthless. In many ways they were not only deeply flawed, but also seemingly oblivious to their faults. They had all the qualities of heroes: high moral virtues and deep personal failings. It’s strange how we humans always want to make gods of our heroes, ignoring the cracks that appear beneath the surface. We elevate them to a pedestal, then curse them when they turn out to have feet of clay.
I’d always admired George Washington as coming as close to the ideal of virtue as any man is able, and I wasn’t alone. Washington holds a high reputation among our Founders. Flaws, yes, but comparatively minor ones. But a few years ago I started reading Henry Wiencek’s An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves, and the Creation of America. I’d always known Washington owned slaves, of course, but when I read the details of his mistreatment of them, I slammed the book shut and almost threw it against the wall. I deeply abhor even the notion of slavery, and I vowed to never esteem such a man again.
And yet, over the years my perspective has shifted somewhat on that as on many things. There’s no question that Washington’s treatment of his slaves was unconscionable and unjustifiable. I have to admit, however, that he was merely a man of his time. And over his lifetime he did change, gradually allowing even escaped slaves to serve in his army and learning to esteem their abilities, finally directing in his will that his slaves be set free at his death.
It’s tempting when writing a series like this one to view the genuine heroes of our history as gods. I admit that I tend to do that. Thankfully that’s where research provides a reality check. The naked truth is that we’re all flawed, and when we look into the most intimate depths of our heroes’ lives, we’re humbled to learn that even they are as human as we are. Reminds me of a cartoon from long ago in which a small character called Pogo said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Indeed.
That reminds me of something else, of Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Only God is perfect and holy and righteous and to be trusted in all things. Let’s remember that whenever we’re tempted to make gods of our social, political, and military heroes, either past or present.
I posted this on my Northkill blog a while back, and thought the readers of this blog might find it helpful too.
I’m sure you all know that anyone who aspires to write accurate historical fiction lives and dies by research. While digging into a period, I regularly run across fascinating sources that have provided those little details and insights that make my stories not only factually accurate, but also lend social and cultural authenticity. I’m especially thrilled when I find firsthand accounts from the period or histories written not long afterward that contain tidbits of information I haven’t found elsewhere.
Below are a few of the many sources I’ve lucked upon. They run the gamut of topics, and a few of them pretty obscure. But all are very helpful and a few even had me jumping up and down when I found them. Thank goodness nobody was around to witness that loss of writerly dignity!
If you have the iBook app on your iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch, you can now read all the volumes of the American Patriot Series on your device! Click on the link below to go to a listing of all my books, including my latest release, One Holy Night, a contemporary retelling of the Christmas story!
This month I’m the featured author on Amber Perry’s
Historical Christian Romance Review blog, and I hope you’ll join us and check
out my interview. I’m also offering a free copy of one of the books of the
series to a lucky winner, and all you have to do to be entered in the drawing
is to leave a comment, so please come on by!
One of the biggest headaches in writing a long, sprawling series that includes a lot of historical action is figuring out logistics. For example, how long would it take to get from here to there using the modes of transportation of the time? Unfortunately, that isn’t always spelled out in the historical record, especially when your hero or heroine is going somewhere other than the sites of the various incidents described in your research materials.
I know how long it took Howe’s army to get from Head of Elk on the Chesapeake to the site of the famous battle along Brandywine Creek, described in Crucible of War. That information appears in one of my reference books. But how long would it take Elizabeth to get from Philadelphia to Bemis Heights, north of Albany New York? And first of all, what route would she take? And what about weather and terrain along her route that might slow her down?
See the problem? Inevitably you resort to making an educated guess.
Now that I’m about to embark on the naval aspect of the war, I’m confronted with the need to know how fast a sailing ship would travel from one port to another. Naturally it would depend on the overall design, size, and tonnage of the ship, plus weather and wind speeds. And you have to keep in mind things like the depth of the water. Can you get a vessel of a certain size through that channel or will it run aground? To calculate that you need a good chart of the sea roads, and the times of the incoming and outgoing tides on that particular day. All of which are readily available . . . not.
ARGH!! I’m beginning to sound like a pirate. Which, as a privateer, is basically what Carleton has become by the end of Crucible of War, so I guess I really need to start thinking like the captain of a privateer. In Valley of the Shadow, Carleton’s ships have to sail from Marblehead, above Boston, to the New Jersey coast to pick him up with his party, and then back up to New York harbor, where Elizabeth is being held. It’s imperative for me to know how long it would realistically take them to sail that distance in ships designed for speed and stealth.
Doing a web search didn’t turn up much to help me figure out travel speeds of 18th century warships, and most of what I did find was contradictory. I finally decided to go with the information I found on the AllExperts website, at least as a general guide. This was very useful in putting together my timeline.
Following the contemporary accounts listed in the first section below, the author then deduces travel speeds.
Account of a London to Boston voyage = 3,280 miles / 50 days transit time
Comments in Ben Franklin's biography regarding a bet on the speed of the packet Lutwidge = 14.95 miles / hour
Account of the sailing vessel Red Jacket’s voyage from New York to Liverpool = 3,473 miles / 13 days transit time
It's all pretty sketchy as there were obviously no decent measurement tools available at the time let alone interest in recording such details. Plus factors like speed differences between naval ships of the line, revenue cutters, privateers, passenger or cargo vessels, etc. and indications of stops or weather variations are not accounted for. So working through the data I did find the following speed values are indicated.
1st Case3,280 miles / 50 days = 66 miles per 24 hours 2.73 miles / hour
2nd Case14.95 miles / hour
3rd Case3,473 miles / 13 days = 247 miles per 24 hours 11.13 miles / hour
4th Case210 miles / 2 days = 105 miles per 24 hours 4.38 miles / hour
The average of these speeds is: 8.30 miles per hour. Obviously the larger ocean transiting vessels (other than the 1st Case) were able to pile on more sail and make better use of the open ocean for better speeds. So if we go with the average speed indicated by these values, the sailing times between the ports you mention are as follows.
Boston to Hyannis Port61 miles @ 8.30 mph = 7.35 hours 0.31 days
Boston to Charleston (S.C.)822 miles @ 8.30 mph = 99.04 hours 4.13 days
Boston to Nassau, Bahamas1,247 miles @ 8.3 mph = 150.24 hours 6.26 days
Following the author’s calculations allowed me to come up with a reasonable conjecture as to the time frame needed for Carleton’s ships to get to the rendezvous off the New Jersey coast, and then back up to New York. It’s at that point when the real fun begins!
In a later post, I’m going to cover travel on land and the time required for getting to and from different points, depending on the mode of travel.
I hope this gives you a little more insight about the process of writing historical fiction . . . and why it takes a couple of years for me to complete each volume!
As I work on each book of this series, I take careful note of all the important historical events—and some obscure ones—that took place during the period I’m covering, whether they make it into the story or not. During the end of Crucible of War and the beginning of Valley of the Shadow, Congress was in the process of devising an official government for our newly independent nation. It’s an interesting subject, and in this post I’m going to flesh it out more than I have space to in the book.
I suspect most people in this country think that the first and only confederation of states in our history was the confederation established by the Southern states during the Civil War. Actually, that would be wrong. In fact, the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union established the first official government of the United States of America and served as its first constitution.
Even before passing the Declaration of Independence, the Second Continental Congress realized that it was going to be hard, if not impossible, to effectively govern without a, well, government. Congress had taken upon itself unprecedented political, diplomatic, military, and economic authority, and those powers needed to be regarded as legitimate both at home and abroad. In that era few nations had written constitutions; however, most of the 13 states were already busily writing one for themselves. Most leaders keenly felt the need to adopt a written constitution to define the powers and obligations of the new United States as well. Consequently, on June 12, 1776, a day after it appointed a committee to prepare a draft of the Declaration, Congress also appointed a committee to draft a proposed constitution for a union of the states.
Everyone acknowledged the need, but believe me, the process of hammering out a form for the new government acceptable to all the states was a contentious process. Congress was divided between those who wanted a strong centralized government, and those who wanted to protect the power of the individual states. Sound familiar?
After a whole lot of debate, negotiation, and maneuvering between factions, Congress finally approved the Articles of Confederation on November 15, 1777, and sent them to the states for ratification a couple of days later. As a practical matter, even before they were finally ratified by the last of the 13 states on March 1, 1781, the Articles provided legitimacy to Congress at home and abroad to wage the war against Britain, to conduct diplomatic relations with foreign nations and conclude alliances, and to manage domestic territorial issues and Indian relations.
When the Articles were ratified, Congress officially became the Congress of the Confederation. The Articles set rules for current and future operations of the United States government, empowering it to wage war and make peace, negotiate diplomatic and commercial agreements with foreign countries, and decide disputes between the various states. The Articles retained to the states sovereignty over all governmental functions not specifically relinquished to the national government. In other words, the Articles established what was pretty much already in effect: a loose confederation of strong sovereign states held together by a central government that didn’t have a whole lot of real power, most of which continued to reside in the state governments.
And there was the rub. Because of their experience with Britain, the states were suspicious of a strong central government that might restrict their rights and the rights of individual citizens. Again, sound familiar? It’s been a continuing theme in American politics up to this day, and I think that’s generally a good thing. Although robust political discourse can create problems, it also has the potential to keep both federal and local governments in check. You’ll notice that I say “has the potential.” But that’s a subject for another day . . .
After the war ended, many people, especially those who had served in the Continental Army, began to complain that the federal government was too weak to be effective. The Articles didn’t provide for a president, executive agencies, federal courts, and a tax base. Without the power to levy taxes, the federal government had no way to pay off debts incurred during the war except by requesting money from the states. And you can guess how that that was likely to go.
The need for a stronger federal government eventually led to the Constitutional Convention in 1787. After another contentious process, the present United States Constitution replaced the Articles of Confederation on March 4, 1789, with its first president, George Washington, at its head.
One thing authors come to realize pretty quickly is that their books aren’t going to sell unless they spend a goodly amount of time promoting them. How does that work with actually writing new projects? Short answer: You can’t do everything, and something’s gotta to give.
I’ve been wrestling with this dilemma for a long time, especially since a whole lot of my time is dedicated to running Sheaf House, which includes acquiring, editing, and doing production on our projects, not to mention marketing and all the administrative stuff. What’s suffered in the past is the author side of my persona: promoting myself and my books and, consequently, generating sales. You have to have sales in order to keep a series going, so from now on I’m going to set aside dedicated time each week to turn that around. Realistically that’s going to cut into my actual writing time on new projects I have coming up, but unless I can expand my fan base there won’t be any reason to keep on writing or money to publish the books.
Part of my efforts is going to be to update this blog more often. So expect to see fewer and shorter gaps between posts in the future. I can’t guarantee that the daily grind won’t throw a monkey wrench in my schedule from time to time, but I’m going to try. Seriously.
When a horrific battle rips through Gettysburg, the farm of Union widow Liberty Holloway is disfigured into a Confederate field hospital, bringing her face to face with unspeakable suffering—and a Confederate scout who awakens her long dormant heart. When the scout doesn't die, as expected, she discovers that he isn't who he claims to be.
While Liberty's future crumbles as her home is destroyed, the past comes rushing back to Bella, a former slave and Liberty's hired help, when she finds herself surrounded by Southern soldiers, one of whom knows the secret that would place Liberty in danger if revealed.
For a limited time the ebook edition of Widow of Gettysburg is available for free. I had the privilege of reading this book in advance, and below is my endorsement.
In the note at the beginning of Widow of Gettysburg, author Jocelyn Green points out that “before ‘Gettysburg’ was a battle, it was a town full of ordinary people, people like you and me.” Green captures the reality of noncombatants caught up in war in a very affecting way. Beginning with the day to day activities of her cast of characters, some of whom are real people of the time, Green portrays how the horrors of battle changed their lives forever and made heroes of civilians. Most moving is the story of Liberty Holloway, a young widow who lost her husband in the war; Bella Jamison, Liberty’s black servant whose live is revealed to be secretly intertwined with Liberty’s; and Silas Ford, the Confederate scout Liberty is drawn to. Painstakingly researched and affectingly written, Widow of Gettysburg will wrench your heart at the same time it reminds you that God is faithful to His people even in the most painful trials.
John Nash journeys back to England before the first shots of the Revolution are fired. Rebecah Brent, a young woman who has known little more than the solitude of an isolated manor, has lost her father and is now under the control of a domineering patriarch.
As their romance unfolds, they become trapped in a slanderous scheme forged by Rebecah’s uncle, Sir Samuel Brent. The door is rapidly closing to return to the colonies, forcing Nash to leave England and return to a land immersed in one of the most infamous Indian wars in colonial history. When Nash’s father makes an unselfish request, Rebecah flees the entanglements brought about by her uncle in order to be reunited with the man she loves.
As the firebrands of the Revolution grow hot, they marry and work together to build their estate, Laurel Hill. Facing a strange new world, Rebecah endures prejudice because she is English, but finds friendship and acceptance in the wilds of the Maryland frontier, where Nash leads a band of rangers who protect the frontier families from Indian attack. Even his friendship with Chief Logan cannot prevent the Indian war from reaching their peaceful home along the lush hills of the Catoctin Mountains.
Can Nash protect his beloved from a renegade who has no allegiance to any nation, tribe, or creed, wanted for robbery and murder, who has vowed vengeance? In Thorns in Eden and The Everlasting Mountains, the vines of adversity cannot overcome the sustaining power of love and faith.
I was deeply saddened this morning to learn of the death of Kelsey Spann, one of my designers at Sheaf House, on Thursday, April 25, at the age of 26. Kelsey joined our team in the fall of 2010 as an intern and then as a part-time contract employee. She designed many exceptional promotional pieces for us in addition to the logo for Narrow Road Press and the covers of Jacob: Journaling the Journey by Michelle Lesley and Irregardless of Murder by E. E. Kennedy She had almost completed the cover for Death Dangles a Participle, to be released in September.
All those who knew Kelsey loved her for her positive attitude, sweet spirit, and outstanding talent. She was truly a joy to work with, and although her time on this earth was brief, she blessed all of us who had the privilege of knowing her. We’ll miss her deeply, but we rejoice that she’s now resting in the arms of her Lord.
I apologize for being so late in posting this drawing! Boy, was it ever a busy weekend—chock full of company and family events and very enjoyable—but now I’m behind and a bit crazy!
The drawing this week follows the usual format: Leave a comment on this post to be entered to win a copy of the new Heritage edition of Wind of the Spirit, Book 3 of the series. And, of course, if blogger gives you grief and you can’t leave a comment, you can message me on Facebook to be added to the drawing.
This week I’m offering another bonus. In addition to Wind of the Spirit, the winner will also receive both book 1, Daughter of Liberty, and book 2, Native Son! So you’ll have the first three books of the series for yourself or to give as a gift!
For those who want to earn extra entries in the drawing, we’re going to do a game—sort of a scavenger hunt. Four questions are below. You’ll find the answers on one of my websites, either www.theamericanpatriotseries.com or www.jmhochstetler.com. Each right answer will earn you 1 entry in the drawing in addition to the one you get for leaving a comment. Please email the answers you found to me at americanpatriotseries[at]gmail[dot]com or message me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/joan.hochstetler so no one else who enters can see them. Don’t want anybody to cheat. LOL!
Now get to digging!
Extra Entry Questions
1. Give the name of the artist who painted “Patrick Henry Before the Virginia House of Burgesses,” depicting Patrick Henry's "If this be treason, make the most of it!" speech against the Stamp Act of 1765
2. In Wind of the Spirit, which character accompanies Elizabeth on the journey into Ohio Territory to find Carleton? You only need to name the main one of the three men who accompanied her, though I’ll accept the others too.
Who said “We Recognize No Sovereign but God, and no King but Jesus!”
When and where did my ancestor Jacob Hochstetler arrive in this country with his wife and 2 small children?
Time for our drawing, and this week’s winner of a copy of Daughter of Liberty and Wind of the Spirit is . . .
Congratulations, Jennifer! You earned 3 entries, and it paid off. LOL! Please email your mailing address to me at jmhochstetler [at] msn [dot] com. As soon as I have it, the books will be on their way to you!
Next week, I’m offering another bonus in addition to Wind of the Spirit, plus a game for earning additional entries. I have company this weekend, so it’ll probably be Monday morning before I have a chance to post. Be sure to stop by here Monday to get the details!
Time for our second drawing for March! The procedure is the same: Leave a comment on this post to be entered in the drawing for a copy of Wind of the Spirit in the new Heritage Edition. I’ll draw the winner on Friday afternoon, March 15. And this time the winner will also get a copy of Book 1, Daughter of Liberty, that you can keep for yourself or share with someone you know who enjoys reading historical fiction!
However, this time I’m adding a twist. Leave a comment on this post, and you’ll get the usual one entry in the drawing. But also announce this drawing on your Facebook, other social media page, or on your blog or website—and don’t forget to include a link to this post—and once you’ve done that, leave your comment on this post, telling me the number of different places you announced the drawing. Include links to each site so I can verify that indeed you did. And I’ll give you that many entries in the contest, plus the 1 for your comment on this post!
In other words, say you announced this drawing on your Facebook page, on LinkedIn, and on your blog. That would entitle you to 4 total entries!
Candy, I’ll email you right away for your mailing addy, and as soon as I have it, a copy of Wind of the Spirit will be on its way to you. I hope you enjoy the story!
For those who didn’t win, stop back again Sunday. I’ll announce the new drawing, and this time I’m going to add a bonus, and I plan to add a new one each week. Be sure to check out the details for the next drawing, and then leave a comment on the blog post, or if necessary, on my Facebook page, to be entered!
The new Heritage Edition of Wind of the Spirit releases April 1, so I’m thinking it’s time to have a drawing! I happen to have a few copies in my hot little hands already, so why not give some away in advance? Even if you have the original version, if you win, you’ll have the new revised and updated edition with the gorgeous new cover—for free!
You know the drill. To enter, leave a comment on this post. If you prefer the e-book format, the new edition is available too, in fact it’s already up on Kindle, Nook, and CBD. Just let me know whether you’d like print or e-book format.
I’ll announce the winner next Friday, and we’ll have at least a couple more drawings during March. And maybe I’ll even give away a full set of the currently available titles . . .
I’ve never thought a song might link to one of my books in a spiritual way, but recently while I was reading my buddy Lori Benton’s forthcoming historical novel, Burning Sky, I rediscovered a song by Keith and Kristyn Getty titled “Jesus, Draw Me Nearer.” It touched my soul so deeply that I replayed it a number of times and prayed it for myself. And as I pondered the exquisite words and music, I began to think about the characters in Lori’s story and the trials they undergo. This song really seemed to fit the theme of Burning Sky particularly well, and I let Lori know that.
Then I began to wonder whether there was also a song that fit my series. I was immediately drawn to another of the Gettys’ songs, “By Faith,” which beautifully expresses the central theme behind The American Patriot Series—that of our sojourn on this earth as aliens and strangers, and our journey to find our true home in the City of God—“that holy city built by God’s own hand, a place where peace and justice reign (Keith and Kristyn Getty).”
I’d like to share the YouTube video of By Faith with you and get your reaction. Please listen—this version doesn’t have any pictures, which makes it all the more effective, in my opinion. I guarantee you’ll be blessed. And please let me know how these words speak to your soul.
I just got the proof of Wind of the Spirit in this afternoon, and I’m stunned at how rich the colors are. They're even more beautiful than I expected. These photos don’t do it justice, but at least they’ll give you an idea of how amazing this volume is going to look. I loved the original cover, but I’m truly thrilled to finally have all the existing books of the series in the new Heritage Edition.
We’re running ahead of schedule on this release, which is a great feeling. We’ll definitely be shipping ahead of schedule, and I’ll be having some drawings early in March. Be sure to check back for details!
My good friend, Rita Gerlach, also has a new release: Book 3 of her Daughters of the Potomac Series, Beyond the Valley. Be sure to check out this notable historical romance series!
When Sarah Carr's husband Jamie drowns, her young life is shattered and takes a turn that she never expected. Pregnant and widowed, she reaches out to Jamie's family for help, but they are unwilling. Instead they devise a plan to have her kidnapped through deception and taken to the Colonies to live a life of servitude.
In Virginia, Sarah is auctioned to a kindly gentleman to serve his eccentric wife. After she meets Dr. Alex Hutton, and is loaned to him to help with his orphaned nieces, hope comes alive he will find a way to free her. But when The Woodhouses go bankrupt and sell off all they own, Sarah is sent away. She faces hardships in the wilderness, and is soon surrounded by a family's whirlwind of secrets, praying the young doctor she loves will find her again and bring her freedom.
Praise for Beyond the Valley
"Beyond the Valley is a delightful escape of adventure and romance and a sweeping saga of tragedy and hope that you won’t want to miss!" --MaryLu Tyndall, author of the Surrender to Destiny Series (5 Stars)
"Creating characters with intense realism and compassion is one of Gerlach's gifts. Her books typically involve dramatic situations, giving her characters a chance to rise above their adversity. Beyond the Valley is a shining example of that, reminding us that we are never forsaken. This is the third in the Daughters of the Potomac series. Sarah's character was introduced in the first novel, Before the Scarlet Dawn, and now she has her own heart-wrenching story that takes us from England to Virginia and Maryland. The historic setting is vividly descriptive, bringing the story to life, almost becoming a character unto itself. You may shed some tears, but you'll come away with deep contentment and satisfaction of a story well told." --Romantic Times Book Reviews Magazine (4 stars)
Book 3 in the Daughters of the Potomac series, Beyond the Valley, is available in ebook and paperback in all fine bookstores. Amazon
Daughters of the Potomac Series
About the Author
Rita Gerlach is a multi-published, bestselling author of inspirational historical fiction, romance, and drama. She writes about the struggles endured by early colonists, with a sprinkling of both American and English settings. She lives with her husband and two sons in a historical town nestled along the Catoctin Mountains, amid Civil War battlefields and Revolutionary War outposts in central Maryland.
I just got the full cover for Wind of the Spirit this week, and isn’t it gorgeous? Marisa always does such a lovely job! There’s something about the painting we used and the coordinating colors she chose for the background that really appeal to me. I’m a natural kinda girl, and this range of earthy colors is just my style.
I also love the Don Troiani painting of a Shawnee Indian warrior that appears on the back. He stands in for the Shawnee sequences in the story, while the main painting on the front by Thomas Sully illustrates the final scenes, with Washington’s army preparing for the famous crossing of the Delaware.
I uploaded the cover to the printer’s site yesterday, the final step since the text file was already good to go. And I’ve ordered the proof, and as soon as I make any needed corrections, it’ll be ready to print. The official pub date is April 1, but we’re ahead on the production schedule, so we’ll probably begin shipping in mid March.
The new edition of Wind of the Spirit is available for preorder on these sites.
The debut novel of my dear friend and crit partner, Lori Benton, will release in August, and her cover has just gone live online. I’ve read and am endorsing Burning Sky, and I want to share the gorgeous, evocative cover with you in case you haven’t already seen it on her blog.
Burning Sky is set in 1784, following the Revolution, and it’s a must read for anyone who loves historical fiction and historical romance. Lori’s writing is lovely and lyrical, and her grasp of the historical period she’s writing about and her ability to create characters who rise off the page is extraordinary. Burning Sky is available for preorder now. I highly recommend it, and here’s my endorsement.
In Burning Sky, Lori Benton brings to turbulent life the bitter aftermath of the Revolution, when those who fought on opposing sides returned to ravaged homes, soul scarred by horrifying acts they both suffered and committed. Wilhelmina Obenchain, named Burning Sky by the Mohawks who captured her as a child, has lived and lost two lives at war with each other, and twice had her loved ones ripped away. Fleeing sorrow too great to bear, drawn back to the now abandoned home of her childhood, she determines to begin again, heart barricaded against another breaking. With lyrical imagery and finely drawn characters who rise from the page, Burning Sky vividly portrays how God restores the bruised reed and the dimly burning wick and brings new life from the ashes of the past.
“Freedom is a light for which many men have died in
—Memorial for unknown soldiers of the Revolution buried in Philadelphia
In Crucible of War, Elizabeth Howard and Dr. Pieter Vander Groot learn about the infamous British prison ships in New York harbor. In Valley of the Shadow, Elizabeth is going to get up close and personal with the conditions aboard these floating prisons, so I thought we’d take a look at the misery American prisoners endured.
For officers, rank had its privileges then as now. Captured officers were generally held under relatively pleasant conditions until they were paroled in exchange for a pledge not to resume participation in the war. The lot of common soldiers who fell into the hands of the British was quite different, however.
Because the British considered the rebels to be traitors, soldiers were not accorded prisoner-of-war status and could be hanged, though the British quickly saw the wisdom of not enforcing that penalty. But without the protection of regulations governing their treatment, American soldiers were imprisoned under conditions hard for us to imagine today. And they usually remained prisoners until the war ended or they died, whichever came first.
The British began using prison ships in 1776, mostly to hold prisoners before transferring them to one of the prisons on shore, but that soon began to change. As many as 32,000 soldiers were confined in New York alone, first in public buildings that had been converted to prisons, and then increasingly aboard one of the derelict hulks anchored in Wallabout Bay along the north shore of Long Island.
The British imprisoned captured soldiers, sailors of American and other nationalities, and private citizens, many of the latter because they refused to swear allegiance to the Crown of England. It’s been estimated that as many as 56 different nationalities were represented, and that more than 11,500 Continental soldiers died during the course of the war. The most notorious, dubbed “Hell” by those who suffered aboard it, was the HMS Jersey. Firsthand accounts describe horrific conditions.
More than a thousand prisoners were held on each ship, confined below decks in dank, dark holds. Although small groups of inmates were usually allowed on deck for brief periods each day, an individual soldier might wait several days for his turn for a glimpse of sunlight, a lungful of fresh air, and a chance to stretch limbs cramped from severely overcrowded conditions. Positions near one of the iron gratings that covered the few available ports, offering slight relief from the unimaginable stench of sweat, refuse, sickness, and rotting corpses, were fiercely guarded.
Starvation was a common cause of death, in addition to sickness. Rations were scarce and usually spoiled. Commissaries of prisoners such as Joshua Loring, Jr., and William Cunningham were brutal men who mistreated their charges and commonly sold off provisions meant for the prisoners in order to line their own pockets. When food did make it to the unfortunate victims, it was barely edible. One common practice was to break up moldy biscuits into a kettle of water so the weevils or maggots that infested them would float to the top where they could be skimmed off before the mixture was boiled. If the prisoners had no fire, which was often the case, they ate their rations raw, including any meat. Some survived by eating garbage. Others bought old shoes, which they cooked and ate.
Inevitably malnutrition led to infections such as typhus, dysentery, and scurvy, which caused bleeding gums, open sores, the loss of teeth, and debilitation. Smallpox, yellow fever and dysentery ran rampant. Cold weather was another ordeal. Lacking fire, warm clothing, and blankets, prisoners froze.
When Washington and Congress learned about the conditions American soldiers were subjected to, they implored the British to exchange prisoners or at least allow them to provide proper food, clothing, and medical care. Family members and friends of the prisoners also petitioned to provide care for their loved ones. But for the most part, their pleas fell on deaf ears, and prisoners continued to suffer and die. This, along with the harsh policies the British enforced where they were in control, increasingly hardened the opposition of American citizens to England.
Over time the death toll aboard the ships became staggering. Each morning the dead would be hauled up on deck. Later in the day the bodies were cast overboard or brought to shore where they were buried in shallow mass graves along Wallabout Bay in Brooklyn. So many remains washed up to litter the shore that residents of Brooklyn were forced to collect the bones for burial. Many of the dead were later interred in the Prison Ship Martyrs’ Monument at Fort Greene Park.
The American Patriot Series is the only truly comprehensive fictional series on the American Revolution. Painstakingly researched using a wide range of primary resources as well as the latest popular and scholarly histories of the American colonial and Revolutionary periods, it contains a highly engaging and accurate account of the founding of the United States.
While the series is written for adult readers, it is also appropriate for students from middle school through college age. The books of the American Patriot Series will engage students and bring history alive in a way that non-fiction texts cannot.
At the time of the Revolution the American colonies were already a melting pot of racial, ethnic, and religious groups. The American Patriot Series accurately depicts this diversity by portraying the involvement of women, African Americans, Native Americans, and other groups in the struggle for independence.
The American Revolution and the establishment of the United States are based solidly in the Christian faith of our founding generation, as innumerable primary resources document. It is therefore appropriate for the American Patriot Series to reflect those crucial aspects of our nation's founding by accurately depicting the beliefs and values of those who sacrificed their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to bring this nation to birth.