The Mystery of the Westford Knight

I just plain love speculative history. That’s the stuff that some folks believe in absolutely and others claim is hogwash. I always figure there’s a grain of truth in there somewhere.

Now don’t get me wrong. When I’m writing historical novels, I’m as true to “the facts” as I can manage. But I am writing fiction. And when I’m writing contemporary fiction, as in the mysteries I pen as Kaitlyn Dunnett, it’s a whole ‘nother ball game.

One particular bit of speculative history that has fascinated me for decades is the story that a Scot sailing for Norway discovered America about a hundred years before Columbus made his famous trip in 1492. This Scot, Henry Sinclair by name, is said to have spent some time in Nova Scotia and then sailed south along the New England coast before returning to Scotland. In particular, he’s supposed to have visited Westford, Massachusetts, lost one of his knights there, and left behind a memorial “punched” into a ledge. There’s a lot of disagreement about this. If you want all the details, you can read a recent book by David Goudsward titled The Westford Knight and Henry SInclair. He does a great job of summarizing all the theories, some of them pretty wild, and presenting a cogent case for an actual voyage in 1387. An earlier book by Frederick Pohl (not the science fiction writer) suggested a slightly later date. His map is below.

What does all this have to do with crime writing? Well, for one thing, I’ve now used bits and pieces of the story in all three of my mystery series. For my historical mysteries, written as Kathy Lynn Emerson, I extrapolated a colony sent by Sinclair in the years after his voyage and used it in both Face Down Across the Western Sea and Lethal Legend (in my Diana Spaulding series). It’s a “forgotten” colony. That’s why you’ve never heard of it. Well, hey, I’ll bet most of you never heard of Henry Sinclair before, either! This forgotten fictional colony is located on a fictional island in the real Penobscot Bay. Makes sense to me.

Anyway, given that Henry Sinclair was a Scot, how could I not use parts of the story in my Liss MacCrimmon Scottish-American Heritage series? So, in the entry that will be available tomorrow, Bagpipes, Brides, and Homicides, I have a medieval Scottish conclave taking place as part of the annual highland games. Part of the entertainment is supposed to be a reenactment of a battle between Sinclair’s men and native Americans. Did it ever happen? Who knows? But one of Sinclair’s men did end up dying, so they say, in Westford, Massachusetts. And since anything to do with the question of who discovered American gets folks riled up, this meant that I could have demonstrators planning to picket the event.

chalk outline of the Westford Knight, 1954

And then, of course, there’s a murder . . . with a hand and a half broadsword just like the one that’s supposedly punched into that rock in Westford.

Mysteries from the distant past may never be solved, but you will find out who dunnit in this mystery novel. Liss would like to stay out of the investigation. She’s planning her wedding, and that’s enough to worry about, but when it looks as if her father may be arrested for the crime, she has no choice but to get involved.

As promised last time I posted and in our group post, I’m offering one lucky reader a free autographed hardcover copy of Bagpipes, Brides, and Homicides. Just comment on this post or on the Liss MacCrimmon series in general, and you’ll be entered in a drawing that will take place at 5PM Maine time on Wednesday, August 1st. You’ll hear from me that evening if you win.

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26 Responses to The Mystery of the Westford Knight

  1. Carol-Lynn Rössel says:

    You’re just as imaginative as ever, Kathy.
    There are TWO authors named Frederick Pohl?
    I met the SF one years ago because of … oh, you know why.
    Congratulations on your new book!

  2. Sounds like another winner, Kathy. Can’t wait to read it. love those what ifs and maybes myself.

  3. Joan Emerson says:

    Imaginative take on a legend . . . looking forward to reading the latest Liss MacCrimmon story.

  4. Deanna says:

    Interesting theory or maybe theories. I live not far from Westford and may check out the knight etched in stone. Thanks for another great article. Dee

  5. John Clark says:

    I often wonder how many times someone from Europe accidentally sailed to the new world and was met with total skepticism upon their return. Great fun weaving things like this particular bit of speculative history into your series.

  6. Larry Chavis says:

    I, too, enjoy the speculative history ‘genre,’ and have read a number of books about Henry Sinclair’s voyage to America, his possible connection to the Knights Templar, and the building of Rosslyn Chapel by his descendant, William. Interesting stuff, and your book sounds like it will be, too.

  7. Ruth McCarty says:

    I can’t wait to read it! Thanks for telling bus about Sinclair.

  8. Diane Shaw says:

    I cannot wait to read your work, it sounds great! I enjoyed reading the blog and look forward to more!

  9. Mary Chamberlain says:

    Thanks for introducing me to the Westford Knight and the story of Henry Sinclair! I was raised hearing about the Kensington Runestone, so the idea of Norsemen wandering around the continent before Columbus “discovered” America is nothing new. But this is the first story I’ve heard that says the Scots were here too. Interesting!

  10. Judy Donofrio says:

    A knight in America. I’ll have to look into this. In the meantime, I’d be pleased to be in the draw for a copy of Bagpipes, Brides and Homicides. Thanks.

  11. I enjoyed FACE DOWN UPON THE WESTERN SEA and have been reading a lot about Henry Sinclair lately in conjunction with a fledgling plot. (Very unfledged at this point!) Anyway, your new book sounds like a wonderfully fun read! Hope you are doing really well and good luck with the new release–

  12. Penny Tuttle says:

    I’m a big mystery fan and love mysteries that involve events from the past. Sounds like you have another winner. Can’t wait to read it.

  13. lil Gluckstern says:

    The thing that I love about stories like this, is that history becomes so fluid. There is a sense of wonder as we learn more that it isn’t as simple as “Columbus discovered America.” I look forward to your new book 🙂

  14. Love the story! Speculative history is always fascinating. Congrats on the new book.

  15. What great responses! Thank you all, and also to those of you reading this and about to comment. One of these days I’ll have to blog about one of my other favorites in the legend department–the lost city of Norumbega, once thought to be located where Bangor, Maine is now.

  16. carol segina says:

    Love the title of your new book and am looking forward to reading it. I enjoy the
    “Face Down” series too.Carol Segina

  17. carol segina says:

    July 30, 2012 at 3:42 pm

    Love the title of your new book and am looking forward to reading it. I enjoy the
    “Face Down” series too.Carol Segina

  18. Allene says:

    I have not read your series but am intrigued by the fact a Scotsman, Henry Sinclair, was in America before Columbus. I will certainly research this bit of hidden history and in the meantime would love to be included in your drawing for Bagpipes, Brides and Homicide. Fascinating title!

  19. Carol M says:

    I’d love to read this. It sounds really good! It’s always interesting to read about other possibilities. I’ve never heard of Henry SInclair but that doesn’t mean his story isn’t true. There could have been others before Columbus that we will never know about.

  20. Jane says:

    Kathy, I have enjoyed — and continue to enjoy! — all of your series, especially the tidbits of history, speculative or otherwise, that you include. Looking forward to the new book!

  21. Prentiss Garner says:

    I love your series. Can/t wait to read the new lis McCrimmon.

    Prentiss Garner
    3047 WinstonvDr #170
    Burlington, NC 27215

  22. Helen says:

    I know all of your fans are anxiously awaiting “Bagpipes, Brides and Homicide” and Liss’s wedding. Having grown up in Maine in Kittery Point it is very easy to visualize Liss’s town, her neighbors, the various seasons and the beauty of that area of my state. My grandmother’s mother was Scottish – her family, the McPheters, settled in Maine in the early 1700s when it was part of Massachusetts Bay Colony so I’ve enjoyed the Scottish history the is intertwined with each book in Liss’s series. I have so enjoyed your books – thank you for many hours of enjoyment. I did not know of Henry Sinclair and I’m curious to learn more.

  23. Coco Ihle says:

    Kaitlyn, how clever of you to incorporate history/theory in several books. I hadn’t heard of Henry Sinclair, so I’m eager to read about him in your latest Liss MacCrimmon book. I love that series! Good luck with it and all your projects!

  24. nancy feraco says:

    I came upon the Maine Mystery Writers’ blog completely by accident. I have shared your interest in the Westford Knight and pre-columbian exploration and colonization for many years. I cannot wait to begin reading your series.

    I have often wondered about House Island in Casco Bay. It seems that it contained old ruins of a stone house way back in the mid 1600s. So just when was that stone house built? I have come across lots of other little Maine historical along that line, too many to go into here. The whole concept is not really that far fetched.

    Anyway, in addition to the David Goudsward book already mentioned, you and your readers might enjoy “The Westford Knight” by David Brody. Although it is historical fiction, he does include photos of real artifacts that aren’t as well known as the Kensington Runestone.

    And readers may also like reading about The Popham Colony-just as real and just as old as Jamestown but it didn’t manage to last in the brutal Maine weather.

    Nancy Feraco

  25. The drawing has been held. We put slips of paper with the names on them in a deep bowl, shook it up good, and my husband pulled one out. Congrats to Nancy Feraco, who will be receiving an autographed hardcover of Bagpipes, Brides, and Homicides as soon as she sends me her snail mail addy. Nancy, I’ve sent you an email for you to reply to. Thanks to everyone who posted a comment. I’ve enjoyed reading them all.

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