October 17 …… 1777 Lea Wait

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.           

The Young Continental (Currier & Ives)

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.

 Then I reached the park entrance. High on a bluff overlooking the Hudson were two Revolutionary War guns — cannons — silhouetted against the gray sky. The entrance to the park – an inappropriate name for a battleground – was below them.

I drove in.

Lea & Revolutionary War Gun

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.

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8 Responses to October 17 …… 1777 Lea Wait

  1. Jean Verno says:

    I love this post. I have been to Saratoga and walked the battle field. It comes alive for me too.
    I am looking forward to your book. Good Luck.

  2. That’s my neck of the woods! It was walking the Saratoga Battlefield and other area historical sites that made me such a history buff as a girl. (And later. My undergraduate degree and my graduate minor were in history, and I contend to this day that law school is really just another kind of historical education.)

    There’s so much history in that part of New York, and it’s so accessible. It’s like walking the Freedom Trail in Boston. Every American should do it at least once. I’m delighted you were inspired by the area, Lea. And let me know when the book gets picked up – I know a historical-fiction-loving girl who’ll be first in line to read it!

  3. MCWriTers says:

    Lea…I’ll never have your ability to bring history alive, but I can relate to standing on a battlefield and imagining.

    After reading Michael Shaara’s Gettysburg, I went to see the battlefield, especially where Joshua Chamberlain and the Maine regiment fought at Little Roundtop. Standing up there, looking down at The Devil’s Den, I could almost hear cannon and smell gunfire. What a terrible waste that battle was…and yet, after reading that book and standing on that hill, I came home and started reading about Joshua Chamberlain…and what an incredible man he was. Some years later, I was in the Maine State Museum, and the registrar asked if I wanted to see something special. She had me put on white gloves and opened a drawer. In the drawer was a pistol that a confederate soldier had fired at Chamberlain during that battle. When the gun jammed, he had surrendered it. And now I was holding it in my gloved hand.

    What you do, through your imagining, is allow children to be there and to experience some of that magic. And someone had better buy that dang book!

    Fingers crossed.

    Kate

    • Lea Wait says:

      Thanks, Kate! And what an experience that must have been … to see, and touch, that pistol. Chamberlain was a remarkable man, if only because he was an ordinary man who, put into circumstances none of us can imagine, became extraordinary. I’ve often thought of him, and his life — before the war, and after, and of his wife’s life. Many stories waiting to be told other than the obvious ones! Thank you for this one.

  4. MCWriTers says:

    Lea…we had dinner last night with some young cousins who love history…and your books are so perfect for them.

    It reminds me that we should keep a stock of books from those we admire, signed and ready, to gift to our friends.

    k.

  5. Jim Coyne says:

    I find it very interesting that there was not one mention of General Benedict Arnold in your article. Without Arnold’s leadership and participation it is likely the Americans would have lost this battle. Gates was a terrible leader

    • MCWriTers says:

      Hi! You are absolutely right! And he’s in my book. (As is Simon Frazer …) In a short blog you can’t cover everything … and Arnold deserves several blogs on his own! An amazing person, and we could discuss why at length. The empty boot monument along is worth at least one blog! I think one reason Saratoga was not talked about as much as other Revolution battles (although we won under a hand full, and it is one of the most important) is because of Arnold. People were nervous. At least his story is pretty much “out of the closet” now. Lea

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