One thing I love about Historical Fiction is its ability to transport you to an event and a place – and characters – who often leave a mark which endures. A good historical novel brings this to light and amazes and entertains us. In a way it is like a wonderful travelogue combining a visit to the site with an imaginative story - “bliss” for a reader of historical fiction like me.
Image: The Hermitage, the home of controversial President Andrew Jackson
Therefore during my recent visit to family in the US inevitably, I could not keep away from historical sites and the people and events associated with them.
From Nashville to Fort Snelling
Images: Fort Snelling
In Nashville, Tennessee – while visiting my daughter – I had the opportunity to visit the Hermitage, the home of Andrew Jackson, one of the most controversial of American Presidents. He styled himself as “the common man” and was arguably the first President to be elected on a populist platform. In Minnesota I visited Fort Snelling, one of the Federal Forts constructed in Indian lands to maintain the interests of Washington - and protect settlers - in the new territories.
The Fort was also the place where Dred and Harriet Scott, two African Americans were enslaved, despite the State being “free.” The Dred Scott case wound through the courts and, ultimately, the Supreme Court decided that their enslavement was legal – a decision which, together with other issues, led to the Civil War.
Reliving Cornwell’s Writing in Castine
It was Castine in Penobscot Bay, Maine which most engaged my attention though. I stopped there as we drove from a few days in Bar Harbor to see my Father in Law in New Hampshire. I had read The Fort by Bernard Cornwell which is set in Castine and wanted to see it for myself. The Fort is a lightly fictionalised account of a battle in the War of American Independence which has been described as the “greatest defeat of the US navy other than Pearl Harbor.” A wonderful work of historical fiction, The Fort maintains tension until the last page.
My wife, Susanne and I were enjoying Clam Chowder in the General Store in Castine when we met David and Marion, New Yorkers, who described themselves as “washashores” – Maine slang for outsiders (though they had spent every summer for sixty years at their home in Castine).
Image: We met the 'washashores' at the General Store on the right
They took us on a tour of the sights and battlefields of Castine. The intriguing aspect of the battle is that the American forces outnumbered the British seven or eight to one. The difference in numbers was balanced by the British being “regulars” while most of the Americans were “Militia” – a hodgepodge of forces from Boston led by General Wadsworth, Paul Revere (him of the Ride) and Captain Saltonstall – of a well-known Yankee family. The American forces were unskilled, timidly led, unable to agree on anything, and unwilling to accept losses – especially of ships. The result was chaos and the failure of the American siege. It turned out too, that the local inhabitants largely supported the British.
Today Castine is the home of the Maine Maritime Academy as well as having many splendid historic houses and a lovely situation – perfect for sailing according to David.
Image: All sorts of marine activities are at the heart of the town.
Where to Next?
The visit reminded me of the Fort in St Kitts and the battle between the British and the French, described in my latest novel Nelson’s Lost Son. I am planning a visit there too and expect to once again enjoy reliving the adventure in my minds eye.
So any travel recommendations anyone? Have you ever visited a location from a historical fiction novel you’ve enjoyed? Please tell us about it in the comments below!
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