Posting to a timeline for historical fiction

photograph of timeline

Posting to a timeline is one of my most useful tools in writing historical fiction. Have a peek at my five-foot-long timeline of the Anthony-Osborn family, beginning in the 1700s and ending in 1930. On it, I have recorded not only events that were significant to the Anthonys but to the United States in general. So we have a mix of births, deaths, and marriages alongside events of the Civil War, the publication of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, dates of military service, arrests, and acts of civil or military disobedience.

My chronology of the Anthony family shows me where their lives intersected with each other or with important historic events. For example, a newspaper snippet mentioned that Daniel and Annie attended the nation’s centennial in July 1876. Posting it to my timeline reminded me that Susan was there for that nation’s birthday, too. She and her friends deemed the women’s pavilion at the Centennial Exhibition too apolitical for their taste and created their own headquarters.

While they were all in Philadelphia for the celebration, Daniel set Susan up to take control of the formal celebration of the Declaration of Independence proceedings and read the Women’s Declaration of Rights. He must’ve been grinning from ear to ear. Do you suppose that Annie chewed her cheek raw with anxiety until the whole demonstration was over? Or did she, too, cheer Susan on?

photo of baby dressed in white christening gown
Daniel and Annie named a daughter after
Susan B. Anthony

Here’s another thing I’m pondering. In September 1872, Daniel and Annie named a newborn daughter Susan B. Anthony II. Two months later, in November 1872, the elder Susan registered to vote and was subsequently arrested and convicted. This coincidence made me wonder: After Susan’s conviction, how did Annie and Daniel feel about naming their baby after Susan? We’ll likely never know the answer to this question, but they could certainly lead to an interesting fictional chapter.

Finally, I came across this surprising fact as I studied my timeline. n 1875, Daniel sustained a near-fatal gunshot wound that required him to stay immobile in bed with compression on his neck for three months. During that period, he lost a lot of weight. Yet my timeline reveals that he and Annie traveled to Rochester, a trip of 1,000 miles, almost as soon as he was allowed to get up. If this isn’t a testament to his heartiness, I don’t know what is!

The Anthonys were real people who responded to current events and sometimes fretted over each other’s choices. I hope you enjoy getting to know them as much as I do.

Using historical newspapers to write fiction

I discovered the value of historical newspapers on my second visit to Kansas to research Daniel Read Anthony and his family.

An eloquent packet

While at the Spencer Library, University of Kansas, I found a packet of news clippings neatly folded and tied with a black grosgrain ribbon. My breath caught in my throat as I gently untied it. There I found a couple of newspaper articles recalling how, in February 1889, Susie Anthony (named after Susan B.), had died by drowning in a pond while skating with friends. This little packet spoke as nothing else could of Daniel and Annie’s grief at losing their daughter..

Wax and wane of Daniel’s strength

Here’s another important detail I learned from historical newspapers. This one is dated several years before Susie’s death. It appeared in the Democrat & Chronicle in Rochester, NY, which was Daniel’s home in his 20s.

I sat up and took notice. Here’s why:

  • This clipping describes D.R. as “incompetent to defend himself” owing to the impairment of his right arm. In his younger years, people feared and admired him for his daring and physical strength. But apparently that changed ten years before this news clipping, when a bullet to the right side of his neck nearly killed him. At the time I read about his wound, I wondered whether he sustained a permanent injury from that episode. This article strongly suggests that he did.
  • Also, although he couldn’t use his arm to protect himself, he still didn’t pull any punches with words. The same belligerent attitude that got him shot in the first place prevailed even when he could no longer defend himself physically.

This concludes my three-part series on ways to learn about historical people. Biographies, census records, and family trees can help us glimpse the skeleton of a person. But to discover their thoughts and feelings, their temperament, and how they responded to their place and time requires considerable more digging.

Plotting events on a timeline, reading newspaper articles about them, and visiting places that historical people frequented, give further details that put flesh and blood on the skeleton and present a much more satisfying account.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this glimpse into the toolkit of a historical researcher. BTW, here’s a link to Newspapers.com, where you can subscribe to hundreds of old newspapers. Enjoy!

Historical research: Walk where they walked

When I first researched Susan and her family, I walked where they walked. Wearing a long skirt, wool cape, and boots, I trudged snow-clogged streets of old Rochester. A bit later, I was dismayed to learn that the Rochester home of Frederick Douglass no longer exists. Undeterred, I branched out to visit Seneca Falls, where she met her good friend Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Because of Susan’s many travels, the list of places to visit never seemed to end!

The Kansas connection

When I finally had the opportunity to visit the home of her brother D.R. in Leavenworth, KS, I set about walking where he walked. There was so much to see: the port of Leavenworth, the site of his home (now greatly remodeled), and the commercial district. I roamed the backcountry of Kansas and the town of Lawrence that he helped to settle with the Emigrant Aid Company.

Walking where Annie walked

Through Daniel, I met his wife Annie and from there took a leap back east to her home in Martha’s Vineyard. Questions began to form as I gazed out to sea from her home in Edgartown and as I visited the cliffs at what was then called Gayhead (now Aquinnah). My romantic imagination kicked in when I walked the winding paths of the Gingerbread Cottages.

Leavenworth, Kansas

Walking Leavenworth’s business district gave me a sense of the busy, moneyed man who was Daniel Read Anthony.

Annie’s birthplace

…in Edgartown, Martha’s Vineyard gave me a sense of her wealth and gentility.

Gingerbread Cottage

…in Oak Bluffs, Martha’s Vineyard, gave me a perfect setting for Daniel’s first mention of marriage to Annie

One More River to Cross at Underground Railroad Heritage Area

 

When fleeing slaves from the southern U.S. reached Niagara Falls, they knew they had one more river to cross. But what a river it was with its roiling cataract. The new Underground Railroad Heritage Area in Niagara Falls, NY. chronicles some of the notable African-Americans who escaped across the river and helped others to make their way to freedom.

Recently I had the privilege of touring the new museum. For those unfamiliar with the term, “Underground Railroad” refers to a series of places where escaping slaves could receive shelter and assistance after leaving the South. Following the North Star, they headed for the northern U.S., where slavery was outlawed.

However, after the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, bounty hunters could recapture slaves in the north and return them to bondage. For this reason, it was far better for these fugitives to go all the way to Canada. When they reached Niagara Falls, they had one more river to cross.

Anthony Involvement in the Underground Railraoad

The Anthony family approved of this civil disobedience of helping slaves escape. They hosted many antislavery dinners at their farm home in Rochester, and three of their children (Susan, D.R., and Merritt) campaigned against slavery with speeches, petition campaigns, and physical warfare. Among the family’s closest friends were Undergound Railroad “conductors” (owners of safe houses) Amy and Isaac Post and Frederick Douglass.

Active or Passive Escapees?

Sometimes conductors used the code word “parcel” for a fugitive needing assistance. This term erroneously suggests that freedom seekers were passive goods carried away from slavery by other (usually white) people’s initiatives. The term gives little credit to the courage and intelligence exhibited by fleeing slaves themselves. (I strove for the correct balance in The Truth About Daniel, when I wrote about the escape of Randall Burton on Martha’s Vineyard.)

The Underground Railroad Heritage Area tips the racial balance by showing black abolitionists at work, united in the effort to help freedom seekers cross their last barrier  to freedom, the Niagara River.. A daring feat, to say the least. More next time.

 

 

Daniel Anthony’s Abolitionist Activities

“Well mercy me!” as they might have exclaimed in the 19th century. It seems I never published the post explaining why Daniel Anthony’s abolitionist activities were controversial. So let’s play catch-up. The photo above, from a mural in Pleasant Hill, Missouri, should give you a clue.

When Susan B. Anthony was four, her brother Daniel Read Anthony was born on August 22, 1824. The family called him “D.R.” to distinguish him from Susan’s father, whose name was also Daniel. Brother and sister grew up to be ardent abolitionists.

Jayhawkers and Bushwhackers

Before the Civil War, while Susan was hosting speaking tours for the New York State Antislavery Society, D.R. joined Jennison’s Jayhawkers on the Kansas-Missouri border, sparking fear in slaveholders’ hearts by laying waste to farms and liberating their slaves. Some blamed the Jayhawkers’ raids for inciting rage in Quantrill and his band, who attacked Lawrence.

After the jayhawkers raided Missouri slaveholders, they would free people in bondage and also “liberate” livestock. That is why midwesterners either hated or revered the jayhawkers, depending on politics of the onlooker. (Click here for a previous post about the livestock issue.)

The Border War between Kansas and Missouri involved Southern sympathizers (“bushwhackers,” usually from Missouri) tampering with Kansas elections. Bushwhackers were typically young plantation residents who made guerilla raids and retreated to the safety of their homes. The only way the abolitionists could rout them out was to attack the homes where the bushwhackers received provisions and protection.

The Kansas Seventh

Later, when the Civil War began, D.R. helped Charles Jennison organize a Union cavalry unit called the Kansas Seventh. They were so thorough in burning out bushwhackers that only the chimneys survived, nicknamed “Jennison’s tombstones.”

As hated as he was by some for the border raids, D.R. was also called “The Moses of Kansas” for the number of African-Americans he liberated. Sometimes as many as a hundred slaves followed the Seventh across the Kansas border into freedom.

New Underground Railroad Exhibit at Niagara Falls

A whole new source of information on the Underground Railroad is opening next weekend in Niagara Falls, starting May 4. I’m excited because it will offer more in-depth background for my historical novels in The Dauntless Series, featuring abolitionists Daniel Read Anthony and his sister Susan.

Here’s the scoop on the new museum:

Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center

825 Depot Avenue W.
Niagara Falls, NY 14305

Why is this new museum important?

States bordering Canada, particularly in the East, were the last frontier for enslaved people seeking freedom before the Civil War. Niagara Falls, NY, just across the river from Canada, admitted many freedom seekers traveling through New York State. I am familiar with many such stories that took place near my home in Rochester, and always wondered what happened to those travelers after they left here.

Gala Opening

The opening weekend includes a gala on Friday, a dinner on Saturday, and community day (for the general public) on Sunday. Thereafter it will assume a regular schedule.Read all about it here.

Their website offers some intriguing and detailed stories about an organized group of African-American waiters who risked their lives and businesses to help enslaved people to cross the border. Click on the tab “Underground Railroad Sites” to read about these individuals and some of the places where those escapes occurred.

For those of us who love the grandeur of the falls at Niagara, it’s just one more reason to visit this well-known northern city. Hope to see you there!

The Anthony Connection

Daniel and Susan B. Anthony lived in Rochester, about 60 miles from the famous falls at Niagara. Each of them, but especially Daniel, lent a hand to escaping fugitives. It would not have been unusual for either of them to visit Niagara Falls, since it was already a well-known tourist attraction during their time. Already my mind is conjuring up images of them speaking to a waiter and setting foot on one of the paths that led to river crossings.

Historic Rochesterian Burns Up the West

Historic Rochesterian Daniel Read Anthony, brother of Susan B., wielded both fire and bullets to bring about the end of slavery in the Wild West. Pictured behind me is the city of Leavenworth, Kansas around 1860, where Daniel emigrated after selling insurance in Rochester, New York for several years.

Throughout his life, Daniel also supported his sister’s more peaceful but equally radical attempts to bring about equal rights for women.

How did his convictions mesh with Susan’s? And what methods did he use? Learn all about it at this upcoming talk:

Powerpoint presentation by Jeanne Gehret

The Truth About Daniel: Susan B. Anthony’s Forgotten Brother

Saturday, April 21, 1-2:30

Rochester Public Library, Central (Rundel) branch

South Avenue

Sponsored by Rochester’s Rich History Series

 

 

Library Talk on Susan B. Anthony’s Contentious Brother

This desk at the Leavenworth County Historical Society belonged to Daniel Read Anthony, publisher of the Leavenworth Times.

Susan B. Anthony and her brother Daniel Read Anthony remained close all their lives. Daniel  lived in Rochester for several years before starting a contentious newspaper in Leavenworth, Kansas. This roll top desk where I am sitting belonged to him. I like to think that he penned some of his flaming editorials right here.

My visit to his adopted home will be one of the topics I’ll discuss this month at my Powerpoint talk at the Central (Rundel) Library’s “Rochester’s Rich History” talk. Here’s the scoop:

“The Truth About Daniel: Susan B. Anthony’s Forgotten Brother”

Powerpoint presentation by Jeanne Gehret

Saturday, April 21, 1-2:30

Rochester Public Library, Central (Rundel) branch

115 South Avenue

Sponsored by Rochester’s Rich History Series

D.R., as he was called, sold insurance in Rochester for several years while saving money to move to Kansas. His own life was anything but risk-free as he rushed into burning buildings, spirited slaves away from owners, and traded both insults and gunshots on the streets of Leavenworth. Meanwhile he encouraged and supported Susan B. Anthony’s campaign for women’s rights.

Susan B. Anthony’s Forgotten Brother

The “The Truth About Daniel: Susan B. Anthony’s Forgotten Brother”

Powerpoint presentation by Jeanne Gehret

Saturday, April 21, 1-2:30

Rochester Public Library, Central (Rundel) branch

115 South Avenue

Sonsored by Rochester’s Rich History Series

Preparing this presentation has been fun, since it offers another opportunity for me to gather facts in one place on this many-faceted man. This blog has offered many sound bytes about him. However, the Powerpoint talk will present a concise overview of his long and controversial life.

It’s always a pleasure to talk about Rochester’s rich history. Hope to see you there!

P.S. The talk is based on my 2017 historical novel The Truth About Daniel.  You can get a signed copy at the presentation. Or order it on Amazon or Kindle.