Three years ago I wrote a book set during the American Revolution. It hasn’t been picked up by a publisher yet, but authors never give up on our children, so I hope it will be. I wrote it because schools I visited asked me to write a new, exciting, book set during the Revolution that both boys and girls could identify with, that was racially inclusive (but historically correct,) that pulled readers into Revolutionary times and conflicts, but didn’t preach politics.
I took that as a challenge. So, after months of research and writing and a final burst of energy, I finished my rough draft of CONTRARY WINDS. My story was based on a real Maine family that had four children. I focused on two, and alternated their stories.
Sarah Campbell stayed in Maine, where in the late summer and early fall of 1777 the British attacked Boothbay Harbor and Wiscasset. Her brother Rory ran away to join the militia that formed in York, Maine, and marched south and then west to join the Continental Army camped along the Hudson River, where their older brother was serving with the 11th Massachusetts. To write accurately, I needed to walk those New York corn fields and forests.
I’d been immersed in 1777 for months. I knew what the weather was like; what my protagonists were thinking; how far they’d come; how far they had yet to go. The day I was to visit Saratoga National Historical Park I drove north on route 4, along the Hudson, tracing the route Rory Campbell and the York militia had marched. I drove slowly. The leaves were turning colors, and I saw how wide the Hudson must have looked to a young man used to District of Maine rivers.
Every historical marker on the way helped my journey into the past. I paused at Stillwater, where General Horatio Gates made the decision to move his Continentals three miles north, to Bemis Heights: a better location to confront Gentleman Johnny Burgoyne and his troops. The place Rory and his regiment joined Gates’ forces.
As I drove toward the National Park I passed several small houses and farms whose yards held signs saying, “SUPPORT OUR TROOPS.”
“The spirit of Saratoga,” I thought. One farmhouse was even graced by the wrought iron silhouette of a young patriot soldier on one knee, holding his musket in readiness. It all seemed right. After all, we’d won battles here because our army had been joined by volunteers from all over New England and the Middle States. Supporting their troops.
I drove in.
And perhaps a quarter mile further (yes, that far) I realized the “Support Our Troops” signs had been to honor our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Later that day I learned those cannons placed so dramatically on the bluff were British cannons.
But it didn’t really matter. What mattered was in my head. And in my head were the hopes and struggles and suffering of men who fought at a place called Bemis Heights in September and October of 1777, and who changed the course of American – and perhaps of world – history.
On October 17, 1777 British General John Burgoyne surrendered his army to American General Horatio Gates. Burgoyne’s defeat helped convince the French to join the war on the American side. It’s often referred to as the turning point of the American Revolution. In my head, that day, I was there.
And I was ready to finish writing.