Lea Wait, here. Stories of the past speak to me. Historical novels have always been among my favorites, and I write books set in nineteenth century Maine for ages eight and up in addition to my two mystery series, many of which have slices of history included, either as backstory or as clues to the solutions of murders today.
What you may not know is that several of my books have direct connections to the history of the house I live in.
My home was built on an island in Maine in 1774 as a home for a Captain Decker and his wife and daughter. After the captain’s death his son-in-law, Captain Stephen Clough, bought the home, and lived there with his wife, his five children, and his mother-in-law. (In those days women couldn’t inherit property. But that’s another story!) Because of Jefferson’s Embargo, many captains, including Clough, lost their jobs. The house was left empty for a number of years as the family moved north in search of other ways to make a living. In the 1830s the house was briefly owned by a man who moved it (legends say twenty-yoke of oxen pulled it across the frozen river and up a steep hill) to the mainland. Shortly after that it was bought, in turn, by three different captains (all brothers), one of whom was a widower who married one of Stephen Clough’s granddaughters, bringing the house back into the original family. My family bought it in 1955.
So — what has that history to do with my books?
Sally Clough, the young sixteen-year-old bride in my Stopping to Home (1806), was the oldest child of my house’s second owner.
Reverend Adams, in Wintering Well (1819-1820), was the husband of one of Sally’s nieces.
In Shadows on the Coast of Maine I tell the story of a house moved from an island to the mainland, and the original fireplace closed to make way for a modern stove. In the book my characters open that old fireplace and find … well, you’d have to read the book. But my mother and grandmother and I opened the wall in our kitchen and found … a lot of dirt, and the original crane in the fireplace.
In Living and Writing on the Coast of Maine I write more about the people who lived in this house; how they kept warm in the winter, and how the rooms in their house and ell and barn were used in the past.
And in my most recent book, Thread and Gone, one of my main characters is a descendant of Captain Stephen Clough … and the mystery involves Clough’s involvement in trying to save Marie Antoinette, or other royalists, during the French Revolution. My historical notes explain what happened. My plot adds a few twists to the history.
Are there more stories to be told connected to my home? Quite possibly. In (almost) two hundred and fifty years, a house hold many secrets and tells many tales. And a writer often writes about what she knows. Or imagines.
Lea Wait writes the Shadows Antique Mystery series and the Mainely Needlepoint series, and historical novels for ages eight and up set in nineteenth century Maine. For more information about her books, see her website.
Nice post, Lea! I do a great deal of title work in my day job, and agree that digging into old records can spark the imagination. How cool that you know so much about the past owners of your home. We in New England are so fortunate to have such a rich, well-documented past.
Thanks for the insight, Lea! I love it when history and mystery come together.
I have always loved old homes, Lea, and yours sounds like a treasure trove of fascinating tales waiting to be revealed. It is no coincidence that the perfect person to tell them lives there now. Thanks for sharing.