Gaps in My Historical Record
by Susanna Fraser
Both my new book Freedom to Love and my 2012 release An Infamous Marriage feature heroes who fought in the War of 1812—on the British side. Writing them proved to be an education for me because going in I could’ve told you precisely four facts about the war in question:
1) It started because the British navy kept press-ganging American sailors into their fleet.
2) Francis Scott Key wrote the Star-Spangled Banner in response to witnessing the bombardment of Fort McHenry.
3) The British burned Washington DC, including the White House. As she was fleeing in advance of the assault, First Lady Dolley Madison rescued a portrait of George Washington that still hangs in the White House to this day.
4) The Battle of New Orleans was fought after the warring nations had agreed to peace terms, though neither army could’ve possibly known that due to transatlantic travel times and the lack of any kind of instant communication technology. A decisive American victory, it cemented Andrew Jackson’s reputation as a commander and gave him the fame that would eventually win him the presidency.
That was, after all, more than enough to get me through the fill-in-the-blank history tests I took in high school. But it’s hardly enough to write a book upon, even when the war in question is the hero’s backstory rather than a critical part of the action. So I studied the Canadian campaigns for An Infamous Marriage—and along the way learned that while impressment of sailors was certainly a cause of the war, it was by no means the only one. As a neutral country in the Napoleonic Wars, America detested Britain’s interference in their trade with France—and Napoleon was hardly above egging on any conflict that might distract his persistent British enemies from fighting him. And my American countrymen were hardly saints themselves, thinking that a war with Britain while they were mostly occupied fighting France was the perfect opportunity for a little Canadian land grab.
For Freedom to Love, my research focused on the New Orleans campaign, especially the British soldiers’ experience—they were cold, wet, and miserable throughout—and also on the shelter and freedom the British offered to any American slaves who escaped to their lines. By that point in history the majority of Britons were abolitionists. While almost two decades more would pass before they abolished slavery in their Caribbean colonies, they tended to consider Americans giant hypocrites for going on and on about their love of freedom while simultaneously keeping so much of their population enslaved.
Above all, my research for these two books reminded me how little of the history I do know was learned in school. I consider myself well-informed, even a history geek, but any era or place I’m an expert on is one that caught my interest as an adult. For the rest, I know a surface smattering of fill-in-the-blank or multiple choice facts like the four I listed above.
Therefore my knowledge is deep but spotty. I’m practically a walking encyclopedia on the Napoleonic Wars, especially Britain’s involvement, but don’t ask me what Britain was up to during the 1860’s (beyond having an empire upon which the sun never set). That’s when I’m all about American history in the form of the Civil War. I’d like to learn more—in my experience just about any historical topic becomes fascinating once you discover the right hook of human experience to draw you in—but I know I’ll never be able to learn it all.
What about you? Are there any gaps in your historical knowledge you’d like to address someday?
Freedom to Love is on a blog tour!
Thérèse Bondurant trusted her parents to provide for her and her young half-sister, though they never wed due to laws against mixed-race marriage. But when both die of a fever, Thérèse learns her only inheritance is debt—and her father’s promise that somewhere on his plantation lies a buried treasure. To save her own life—as well as that of her sister—she’ll need to find it before her white cousins take possession of the land.
British officer Henry Farlow, dazed from a wound received in battle outside New Orleans, stumbles onto Thérèse’s property out of necessity. But he stays because he’s become captivated by her intelligence and beauty. It’s thanks to Thérèse’s tender care that he regains his strength just in time to fend off her cousin, inadvertently killing the would-be rapist in the process.
Though he risks being labeled a deserter, it’s much more than a sense of duty that compels Henry to see the sisters to safety—far away from the scene of the crime. And Thérèse realizes she has come to rely on Henry for so much more than protection. On their journey to freedom in England, they must navigate a territory that’s just as foreign to them both—love.
About the Author:
Along the way she read her hometown library’s entire collection of Regency romance, fell in love with the works of Jane Austen, and discovered in Patrick O’Brian’s and Bernard Cornwell’s novels another side of the opening decades of the 19th century. When she started to write again as an adult, she knew exactly where she wanted to set her books. Her writing has come a long way from her youthful efforts, but she still gives her heroines great hair.
Susanna grew up in rural Alabama. After high school she left home for the University of Pennsylvania and has been a city girl ever since. She worked in England for a year after college, using her days off to explore history from ancient stone circles to Jane Austen’s Bath.
Susanna lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and daughter. When not writing or reading, she goes to baseball games, sings alto in a local choir and watches cooking competition shows.
For more information please visit Susanna’s website and blog. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.
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