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

Life in the Finger Lakes review

We are pleased and honored that The Truth About Daniel was recently featured in Life in the Finger Lakes Magazine. The review praised the novel’s good pace, handling of critical historical events, and “careful attention…to mores and manners of the time.” See the complete review here, titled “Endurance, Determination, and Resolve.”

https://susanbanthonyfamily.com/books/

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Endurance, Determination and Resolve

“Impressively Crafted” Novel Now on Kindle

It’s so rewarding when a professional book reviewer “gets” the book that you’ve worked on for several years. That happened recently when Midwest Book Review praised The Truth About Daniel. And to celebrate, we made the book available on Kindle! Click here to get a copy on your own device. And PLEASE review it. Reviews convince Amazon that it’s worth publicizing.

Here’s what Midwest had to say:

Synopsis:

Jeanne Gehret became acquainted with Susan B. Anthony’s family in 1992 when she docented at the reformer’s house museum. After writing Susan B. Anthony And Justice For All in 1994, she curated an exhibit at the Rochester, NY museum and began portraying Susan in costume. She blogs at http://SusanBAnthonyFamily.com

In “The Truth About Daniel” she turns her talents to writing the first volume of what promises to be an impressively entertaining new series of historical novels called ‘The Dauntless”.

Annie Osborn was fascinated by everything about Daniel Read Anthony including his service as a Civil War colonel who battled slavery; his courage and endurance settling the wild West; and his family ties to Susan B. Anthony, Annie’s own heroine. Nevertheless, she has doubts about his suitability as a husband. Did he risk his life for unselfish reasons or because he enjoyed danger?

From the fiery conflict of Kansas to the prim parlors of Martha’s Vineyard, “The Truth About Daniel” portrays lovers who forge new bonds through their willingness to take chances as author Jeanne Gehret deftly weaves historical strands about D.R. Anthony to delve into his improbable choice of a bride, a socialite half his age from the whaling capital of Martha’s Vineyard.

Critique:

As a novelist, Jeanne Gehret has a genuine flair for deftly creating memorable characters and embedding them into an original and consistently entertaining story. The descriptive writing brings a bygone era in American History to vivid life. An impressively crafted and consistently entertaining read from beginning to end, “The Truth About Daniel” is unreservedly recommended, especially for community library Historical Romance collections and the personal reading list of the dedicated Antebellum romance fan.

Historical fiction: when the research trail goes cold

Last time we discussed two kinds of historical fiction:

  • historical-era fiction that uses a few props from a previous timeframe as a general backdrop for fictional characters, and
  • fact-based historical fiction that contains authentic details from books, newspapers, and artifacts that reference real people who lived and breathed. This type of writing also brings in popular social movements, architecture, music, literature, technology, and fashion. Moving beyond the available printed materials, I also love to walk the actual streets where my characters spent their days.

Balancing truth and imagination in historical fiction

Once I’ve done the research and mapped out the known events, it’s time to weave in some imaginary details. Here are two examples of when I fictionalize:

  • The trail goes dry and I am left with gaps. I know that a character arrived at a certain place and time–for example, D.R. Anthony married Anna Osborn on Martha’s Vineyard in 1864– but have no idea how or why. So I fashion a courtship that is plausible, based on what I know of his character, preferences, current interests, and financial situation.
  • The factual record gives too many examples of certain activities in a character’s life and none of other, important aspects. For example, although D.R. Anthony was involved in several major fires and numerous shootouts, I do not report every one of those episodes. If I did, there would be no room to develop his life as a family man or strong supporter of his sister Susan’s activities. (She frequently used his home as a base to campaign for woman suffrage.) To round out the picture of the man’s everyday, private life, it behooves me to fill in the cracks of reported events with snippets of pure fiction. However, even in these most creative moments, I try to match documented thought and speech patterns.

For another take on this fascinating genre of literature, click here.

Where did D.R. Anthony’s Wife Come From?

silhouette w updoAnna Eliza Osborn, born in 1844, was the fifth child of Abraham and Eliza (Norton) Osborn of Edgartown in Martha’s Vineyard. Abraham’s first wife died before he married Anna’s mother, and they had one son. Anna’s mother died when the girl was ten years old, and her father then married Ann Eliza Mayhew and had three more children, bringing the number of Abraham’s total offspring to eleven. All three of her father’s wives came from old Vineyard families. How did these roots shape the woman who married Daniel Read Anthony?

Anna’s island home comprised a close-knit community organized around the whaling industry: her father, who had commanded many whaling vessels, built a stately Federal-style home facing the harbor in Edgartown; her brother Abraham was also a captain; her father and uncle owned a wharf together; and for part of his career her father ran the customs house. The family worshipped at the Congregational church that was only a block away.

Other races and cultures added spice to the mix of people in Martha’s Vineyard: black sailors from Cape Verde and free black people, as well as the Wampanoag Indians who predated the Europeans on that island. A Wampanoag woman married to a black man participated in an historic tale that figures prominently in island history.

In addition to English, Anna almost certainly communicated with Martha’s Vineyard Sign Language, a language of gestures that was unique to her island. Because hereditary deafness was common on Martha’s Vineyard (at one point, 1 in 25 islanders were deaf), the signs were completely integrated into island culture.

So far no images of young Anna have come to light. If you have access to any with positive identification, please send them along!

 

 

New Book Coming Soon!

vip logo lg photoshop

My new book on Susan B. Anthony’s brother Daniel will soon hit the shelves. I’m anticipating publication this summer or fall. If you love history and enjoy a good romance, watch for news of it on this blog. Continue reading

Where Anna Walked

trail on MV from thr websiteAnna Osborn Anthony, the heroine of the novel I’m writing, was both challenged and supported by her physical environment on Martha’s Vineyard. Read about trails like those she must have strolled on that magical outcropping of sand and rock off the Massachusetts coast. This photo shows a trail overlooking Vineyard Sound, which lies between the island and the mainland. Continue reading

Dressing for the Weather

North Water Street winter 800As Martha’s Vineyard, along with the rest of the northeast, braces itself for another mass of cold and ice this week, I can’t help but think how much easier we have it now than in the 1860s when Anna Osborn lived on that island. We who dash to our cars and crank up the heater can hardly imagine traveling in an uninsulated carriage warmed only by lap robes.

Many of Martha’s Vineyard’s narrow side streets were more suited to foot traffic than carriage, anyway. Living only a couple blocks away from Edgartown’s shopping district, Anna must have frequently bundled herself up to walk a couple blocks to meet a friend for tea, post a letter, or buy piano music for the latest tune. The current photo above pictures North Water Street, just a few blocks away from where Anna lived, during a storm similar to the one we’re experiencing now.*

Bundling up in the 1860s was a much different affair for women than it is today. Tucking my pant legs into my boots this afternoon, I have a fighting chance of traveling sure-footed. Not so for a 19th-century woman encumbered by sweeping skirts and petticoats. Everywhere she went, the long-skirted woman had to keep a hand free to manage yards of cloth swirling around her ankles. The early 1860s fashions also featured the mixed blessing of hooped skirts. Although they swayed gracefully when a woman walked, they also totally obscured her feet from her own view.

I frequently get calls to portray Susan B. Anthony in costume during her birth month (February) and women’s history month (March). These excursions give me ample opportunity to appreciate how much needed were the dress reforms of the 1850s, when Miss Anthony and her friend Mrs. Stanton experimented with shorter skirts over trousers. This bloomer costume, as it was called, kept one’s skirts out of the kind of slush that’s predicted during this winter storm. Being able to actually see her own feet gave a woman much less chance of falling on the ice that covered the rutted, unpaved streets of yesteryear.

Unless Anna Osborn had Susan Anthony’s thick skin in the face of ridicule, she would not have worn the bloomer costume on the streets of Edgartown. The bloomer’s practicality and safety were no match for the jeers that accompanied women who dared to sport that revolutionary fashion. But as Anna gazed at snowy scenes similar to the one above, she may have secretly longed for some of the freedoms and comforts that we take for granted today.

*Photo used with permission by Point B Realty, Martha’s Vineyard.

African American Solidarity, 19th Century Style

Frederick Douglas1In the second half of the nineteenth century, Frederick Douglass was as well-known as Martin Luther King. For many years he lived in Rochester near the Anthony family and frequently dined with them and their Quaker friends.

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Parlor Music: A Favoite Nineteenth Century Pasttime

Rose Hill Mansion Music Room. Photo by Jeanne Gehret

Rose Hill Mansion Music Room. Photo by Jeanne Gehret

Recently I enjoyed a concert by Jacqueline Schwab, a celebrated pianist who has made several PBS documentaries with Ken Burns, among them Civil War and Not For Ourselves Alone: The Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.

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