Wednesday, October 19, 2022

New England's Dark Day

Dark Day mural, painted by Works Progress Administration artist
Delos Palmer in Stamford, Conn., Old Town Hall.

In Forge of Freedom Carleton relates an account he heard of a strange, unsettling early darkness that had descended over the New England states a few weeks earlier. This is, in fact, a real historical event that occurred on May 19, 1780. 

The weather had been cool in the north for most of the preceding month. Although the sky remained clear, a dirty yellow tinge colored it, and for several hours after sunrise and before sunset the sun held a reddish cast. But what happened that Friday morning was completely unexpected.

The morning began mostly cloudy, and shortly after 9 o’clock “came on an appearance over the whole visible heavens a light grassy hue nearly the color of pale cyder,” according to one contemporary diary entry. Around noon a darkness descended that was so deep the birds sang their evening songs, then fell silent and retreated to their nests. Frogs began to peep. Chickens returned to their roosts and cows to their stalls. In some areas an almost impenetrable darkness made travel difficult, if not impossible.

Image from Our First Century, 1776-1876, Richard Miller Devens (1880)

“It was so terrible dark that we could not see our hand before us,” one diary entry reads. A letter sent from Exeter, NH, records that “the inky black was probably as gross as ever has been observed since the almighty first gave birth to light….A sheet of white paper held within a few inches of the eyes was equally invisible with the blackest velvet.” A professor at Cambridge, MA, observed that “In some places the darkness was so great, that persons could not see to read common print in the open air….The extent of this darkness was very remarkable.”

A minister at Westborough, MA, wrote, “By 12, I could not read anywhere in the house—we were forced to dine by candle light. It was awful and surprising.” A professor in New Haven, Connecticut, reported, “the greatest darkness at least equal to what was commonly called candle-lighting in the evening. The appearance was indeed uncommon, and the cause unknown.” He also noted that low clouds took on “a strange yellowish and sometimes reddish appearance…an unusual yellowness in the atmosphere made clean silver nearly resemble the colour of brass.” Others remarked the effect on the colors of grass and foliage: “An uncommonly lovely verdure, a deepest green, verging on blue” and “so enchanting a verdure as could not escape notice, even amidst the unusual gloom that surrounded the spectator.”

The eerie darkness extended north to Portland, Maine, and west into the Hudson Valley. It was noticeable as far south as New York City and northern New Jersey, where General George Washington noted it in his diary while camped at Morristown. It didn’t extend to Philadelphia but seemed to center around northeastern Massachusetts, southern New Hampshire, southwestern Maine, and coastal areas bordering the region. 

The unprecedented, unexplained darkness caused considerable consternation and even terror, as you can imagine. Many people feared God’s anger or demons to be the cause. It was variously reported that “persons in the streets became melancholy and fear seized all”, and the darkness “caused great terror in the minds of abundance of people”. Members of the Connecticut Legislature believed the Day of Judgment was at hand and adjourned for the day. Weeping crowds thronged into churches to pray.

View of Boston Harbor
At the time there were no certain means to determine what caused this strange event, which lasted only for one day. There were clues, however. Rain fell that day across several areas, and at Ipswich, MA, rainwater collected in tubs was covered by black scum like ashes and had a strong sooty smell. The air in Boston smelled like a “malt-house or coal-kiln”. Noting that the water was thick, dark, and sooty, appearing like the black ash of burned leaves, but “without any sulphureous or other mixtures,” Professor Samuel Williams of Cambridge, MA, theorized that the darkness was due to the atmosphere being highly charged with vapors. 

Williams was essentially correct, though he had no way to definitively prove it. The mystery reigned for many years before finally being solved in 2007. That year a team led by Richard Guyette, a forestry professor at the University of Missouri, used a dating technique called dendrochronology to determine that in the spring of 1780 a huge fire swept across a large area north of Ontario, today Algonquin Provincial Park. It’s now known how smoke from large fires interacts with the atmosphere and wind patterns, and Guyette concluded that this was the likely cause of New England’s strange dark day. 

Thursday, August 11, 2022



One of the fun things about doing this series, in addition to the covers, has been the maps that are included. I’ve loved maps since my class began to study them in elementary school social studies, so it’s been a delight to work on these.

Obviously a professionally published historical series needs maps, and I’ve included at least one in every volume. My illustrator, Jim Brown of Jim Brown Illustrations, is wonderful to work with and does a smashing job creating the maps I need. Here’s the latest one: the Siege of York, which began on September 29, 1781 and ended on October 19, finally forcing the British to begin negotiations to end the war. By the way, the town was named York until some years after the war’s end, and that’s its name in Forge of Freedom.

The map shows the final positions and fortifications of the combined American-French Army and the British at York and across the York River on Gloucester Point, where Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton commanded a small fort and entrenchments. Several of the British ships that were blocked in the river while guarding the communication lines between York and Gloucester Point are also shown. French bombardment sent the HMS Charon up in flames along with several other ships in her immediate vicinity. On the inset, HMS Guadeloupe had to be scuttled by the British to prevent her capture. To the right of York, Redoubts 9 and 10 were the object of the American and French final assault on October 14 that allowed the allied army to extend their lines so close to the British lines that they had no choice but to surrender. Forge of Freedom includes that assault in the depiction of the battle. 

 So what do you think? It’s it pretty? I'm a happy girl!

Friday, July 1, 2022

Update on Forge of Freedom

Yesterday I finished the full edit of Forge of Freedom! And now that I have the final page count—523 pages! Yikes!—my designer can finalize the cover’s spine width. As Marisa said, “That’s a big book.” Yes, it is. And I don’t expect to ever do that again! 

Even the back cover is going to be gorgeous, as you can see in the preliminary at the left. The text isn’t correct at this point and will be changed, so ignore that. The image of Muchalls castle in Scotland appeared in previous posts and is in the sidebar at right. It’s the perfect stand-in for the manor house at Jonathan Carleton’s Virginia estate, Thornlea, and Marisa did a fantastic job of enhancing the image so it’s exactly as I envision it!

Forge is long, indeed, but the page count does include the frontmatter and the historical notes, appendix, and glossary at the end. The story itself is just slightly over 500 pages. I knew from the beginning this was going to be a hefty tome since there was a lot of ground to cover, and I really did not want to end up adding an eighth volume. I’m sure readers will be grateful for that!

Because my purpose is to accurately portray God’s working in history through exciting stories, I wanted to at least touch on the main historical events, delving more deeply into the most critical ones. And, of course, there are Jonathan’s and Elizabeth’s personal stories, their life together, and their families that needed to be covered, as well as those of the major secondary characters. Not to mention loose ends to tie up from the previous books. I think I hit the most important ones.

I pray that this final volume will carry readers along, offer insights into the characters that speak to their own lives, and entertain, inspire, and deeply touch the heart. I found encouragement and blessing in the writing of it, and so I commend this story, this series, to you, dear readers. I am beyond grateful for everyone who has written reviews and for those who have encouraged and cheered me on when the work seemed too heavy to carry.

And now proofreading is next. My mapmaker is working on the Battle of York (called Yorktown today). At right is the map mine is based on. I also have several endorsements already, with several more coming. As soon as I have these last bits in hand, I’ll finalize the text for upload to my printer and online sites for the print edition. Christianbook has Forge up for preorder and should be able to send orders out slightly before the official release on October 1. And, of course, it will be available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble too.

The ebook edition still needs to be created and uploaded as well. It will most likely release about the same day as the print edition. And then there's promo, of course. Lots of promo—my least favorite task. Ugh. I sure do appreciate the power of word of mouth, and I would appreciate it immensely if you would let your contacts who love historical/romance fiction know about the series. And please do post reviews on Amazon and elsewhere! They help so much.

It’s going to be hard to say farewell to the characters I’ve come to know so well through the years I’ve spent researching and writing this series—from 1984 to the present. How I have come to love them! They’ve become so real to me and dear friends, and I hope to you too. I’m already mourning their loss, but it is time for me to move on to new projects, and I’m beginning to think about what comes next.

Here’s the back cover blurb for Forge.

In the final volume of The American Patriot Series, the Americans’ war for independence concludes in triumph—and the renewed fight of the Shawnee for survival in their ancestral lands. From John Paul Jones’s epic battle with HMS Serapis, to the conflagration on the western frontier; a traitor’s bitter betrayal; and the decisive confrontation at Cowpens, events out of Jonathan and Elizabeth Carleton’s control spiral toward a fateful climax at Yorktown. Yet amid war’s harsh trials they discover that, even more than the grand ideal of liberty and the deep intimacy of earthly love, the cry of their hearts is for the true peace and lasting freedom that are found in God alone.