Image from: http://clipart-library.com/clipart/349647.htm; Clipart Library, Gettysburg Cliparts #118463 (License: Personal Use)
After people suggested that I write a follow up to SAINT MAGGIE, I wondered what on earth I could write about next. I really shouldn’t have worried, since the question answered itself. The first novel begins in 1860 and ends in the spring of 1861. Additionally, Maggie writes about changes in the opening lines of the first novel.
From Maggie’s Journal, 16 April 1861
The changes that have occurred over the past year for my country and my family have been great. In the spring of 1860, I would not have been able, nor would have dared, to imagine that which has transpired.
Maggie might be referring to the upheaval in her boarding house and in the town of Blaineton. But, given that it is 1861 and the Civil War has just begun, she might be referring to broader changes.
The threat of a war between the states permeates the novel. Witness a conversation among the principal characters that occurs in the first chapter, (Note: Eli’s comment about “visitors” refers to self-emancipators traveling to freedom on the Underground Railroad who sojourn in a hidden room at Maggie’s boarding house.)
[Eli] glanced toward the hallway, and then lowered his voice. “Have our visitors left?”
“Mm, hm,” Emily replied as her husband Nate, arms loaded with wood for the stove, came in the back door. “We sent them off to the next stop this morning,”
“Two brothers,” Maggie added. “Do you know that one of them had his wife and children sold off? He doesn’t even know where they are. It breaks my heart no matter how many times I hear stories like that. What’s the world coming to?”
Eli sighed. “War, I’m afraid.”
“There’s got to be another way to resolve this.”
“I don’t think there is. The situation is too far gone. It’s been too far gone for years. It’s just a matter of time now. If Mr. Lincoln gets elected, it’s clear that the South will secede. And if the South secedes, there’s going to be a war.”
Nate dusted his hands. “Well, if there’s a war, I’m joining up. If they’ll let me.”
“Think that’s a good idea?” Eli asked. “What if you end up getting taken prisoner? You could lose your freedom.”
“I’d risk it.” His black eyes were fierce. “Those folk down South are my brothers and sisters. My heart won’t let me stay out of this fight.”
When I began thinking about a second Saint Maggie novel, it was 2012 and I was aware that 2013 would mark the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. So, it seemed logical to me to jump right into the American Civil War.
Since I live in New Jersey, taking a couple of trips to Gettysburg was not a major undertaking. Dan and I went there a couple of times to get a sense of the town’s ambience and history. I also began doing deeper research on the battle.
The first question before me was, “How do I get Maggie and family to Gettysburg?”
Part of the answer was obvious. Eli hails from Pennsylvania. His family are Quakers (Society of Friends). He grew up in Gettysburg, where his father owned a dry goods store. After his father died, his family kept the old house and used it as a station on the Underground Railroad.
But how could I get Maggie and family out there?
Once again, the first book gave me clues. The people of Blaineton look down their noses at Maggie for taking in men who barely can pay their rent, for having defended a clergyman who had committed a heinous crime, and for treating two people of color (Emily and Nate) as friends and as co-workers. I also knew that while New Jersey sided with the Union, there was a strong anti-war presence in the form of the Copperheads. When rumors about Maggie’s participation in the Underground Railroad circulate, it leads a certain group of young men to take things into their own hands and burn down both the boarding house and Eli’s print shop.
And that provided the reason to move the boarding house family to Gettysburg, where about four and half months later they will experience the battle.
At this point in the story, the family is not intact. Only Maggie and six-year-old adopted son Bob, her daughters Lydia and Frankie, Emily, Nate, Grandpa O’Reilly, and Matilda Strong and her daughter Chloe remain in Blaineton. Patrick McCoy (Frankie’s beau) and Edgar Lape (Lydia’s husband) are away, having enlisted in the New Jersey Fifteenth Volunteers regiment. And Maggie’s husband Eli and his friend Chester Carson are following the New Jersey Fifteenth as war correspondents.
The war and the dislocation challenge Maggie and Eli’s marriage. Eli’s desire to cover the war causes tension and leads to Maggie feeling abandoned.
One last note! When I got to the part about the Battle of Gettysburg, I quickly realized that every minute of the battle has been documented. I needed to make sure people were where they were supposed to be according to their location. I had to track what was happening to the NJ Fifteenth, the family at the old Smith house on West Street, the other part of the family staying with Eli’s sister near Middletown (now called Biglerville), and Frankie who is off to the east near Spangler’s Spring. This indeed was one of the most challenging aspects of writing the novel!
So, there you are. That is how I started writing the series and how I began to incorporate historical themes into each novel.
Next blog: I’ll look at the thematic elements in A TIME TO HEAL.
Peace and love, everyone!
Janet R. Stafford
Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder