Five Surprising things about the Colonial Backcountry
By Liz Everly
This book is very special to me—I wrote it a few summers ago, asking questions of my historian husband and my agent Sharon Bowers along the way. I learned lot during that summer about history, writing, and the business. Our passion for reading and history is one of the many things that has brought my husband and I together.
One of the intriguing things about history is how perceptions of it often don’t stack up to the reality of it—which is why when I read about something that kicks my school-learning-belief system in the head, my writer’s ears prick. Being married to a historian has given me a keen sense of how history written in books skims the surface. My husband has taught me to look deeper and think harder about history.
TEMPTING WILL McGLASHEN takes place in the Virginia backcounty—a very different place that, say, colonial Boston. Wilder, to be sure, but it was also a time of culture clashes and growth, along with exploration and hardship. The backwater was a brew of different ethnicities, religions, and customs. Thinking about romance in that situation provided much fodder for my writer’s mind.
Here’s a few things I thought I’d pass on that might give you something to think about.
- African-Americans were not all slaves at the time, which is not to say that even though they were free, life was good and easy for most of them. I’ve worked a couple of “walk-on” characters into this novel that are based on odd but true stories. One of the stories is about Ned, the African-American man who was married to a white woman. This was mentioned in the Moravian Diaries and there is a recently-published book about it—The Road to Black Ned’s Forge: A Story of Race, Sex, and Trade on the American Colonial Frontier by Turk McClesky. I actually went to hear Turk speak about his book and was able to ask a few questions.
- Speaking of marriage. Often in the backcounty, there were no preachers or magistrates. Agreements may have been made by families. But many “marriages” were not what we would deem legal. Sometmes couples would live together for years, have a huge family, before a traveling magistrate or preacher would come through and make it legal.
- Almost everybody was a “farmer.” My manuscript has been through so many edits by now—and at one point one of my readers asked me if my characters were innkeeper or farmers. Hmmm. Then, if you didn’t farm, you didn’t eat or feed your family. Subsistence farming was the way you lived on the frontier of Virginia. You didn’t necessarily call yourself a “farmer.”
- Women did not sit idly by needlepointing. In the backcountry, women had to be strong to survive, of course, and there could be no slackers in a family. Everybody worked—and worked hard. One of my walk-on characters is a real historical person named Mary Ingles, whose story of capture, escape, and survival is nothing short of miraculous. “Follow the River” by James Alexander Thom is a novel that brings to life this inspiring true story. Her escape consisted of a 43 day and 1000 mile journey through incredibly rough country. She and another woman made it back home to Draper’s Meadows. Mary’s hair had turned completely white although she was only about 24 years old.
5. The puritanical view many Americans tag on the the colonist was not prevalent. Sure, among the “puritans,” it was. But the made up a small portion of the population. Colonists came from everywhere and brought their views with them. Many of them had healthy, sort of earthy, views about sex—especially sex after marriage. Sex before marriage is trickier business—but according to the medical records of the time, a huge percent of women were already pregnant when they were married—this is across all colonies.
A clashing of cultures. A shifting of paradigms. Great changes that brought about the United State of America. Set a romance against all of this—featuring a recent immigrant from Scotland who wields a blacksmith’s hammer and the daughter of an innkeeper—and be still my beating heart.
If you get a chance, stop by the Heart of Fiction blog today and win a copy of TEMPTING WILL McGLASHEN.