Some years back, I had pondered aloud on here about having learned I have many more women readers than men. I had thought maybe my women characters might be one reason. That notion was questioned by a male commenter, who observed that women readers may actually be drawn to my male characters.
However accurate that may be, it also makes some sense. It struck me as more or less akin to women like and admire “Elizabeth Bennet,” of course. However, some of them at least may actually read Pride and Prejudice for “Mr. Darcy.”
So as promised at the end of the previous post: several of the historical men… and their fictional influences:
First, John Laurens (1754-1782) of South Carolina has become a focus in particular in recent years since his portrayal in the musical Hamilton almost entirely due to his clear anti-slavery and equality sentiments. Those make him unique among promiment southern white men of the era. I am aware of no one else who was so uncompromisingly in favor of ending slavery on no terms other than Black liberty, pure and simple; he even sought to raise a regiment of slave volunteers who would receive their freedom for signing up (but the idea went nowhere).
Laurens had spent 1771-76 in London and especially in Geneva, Switzerland. He married an English woman, but only two months later in December 1776 left her (pregnant) behind with her family when he sailed for America to volunteer to fight for independence. (She had their daughter in 1777.) Arriving in the US, he was welcomed onto General Washington’s staff, where he became close friends with the similarly young French Marquis de Lafayette and Alexander Hamilton. He was captured by the British in 1780 and subsequently exchanged. In early 1781 he traveled to France with Thomas Paine and returned in August with money for the cause and assurances of French naval assistance. In October, as a lieutenant colonel, he fought at the October 1781 Battle of Yorktown.
Unfortunately Laurens was killed in a skirmish in August 1782 (the war was by then all but officially over) outside of Charleston at only age 27. That early death kept him from a “post-independence” military/political career. With no post-war accomplishments, he faded into the “second tier” of American history, overtaken by Hamilton, Lafayette, and older men such as Washington, Adams, and Jefferson. Had Laurens lived on into middle to older age, who knows what he might have accomplished.
“John Abbott” is slightly borrowed from him…. but mostly in his well-to-do, South Carolina, unbringing. I did not want to portray a white South Carolinian of the era as solidly anti-slavery when nearly all were not; I thought that would have been historically problematic and sought a more “representative” man of his time and place.
“John” there is only twenty-one. One of the repeated themes we see in young Americans then was that Europe “changed” them. After a time there they became very different than they were when they had first left home – possibly years before. (The five years – 1771-76 – he spent there, almost certainly “changed” the real South Carolinian John Laurens.)
Second, I wanted a level of English involvement. Introducing lower gentry seemed reasonable: wealthy enough to travel, but not so elevated as to be implausible interacting with lessers, particularly an American merchant family. I settled on a fictional baronet – a retired military man who had been to America and liked it, and opposed the war with the US, and who “dabbled” in trade.
Such men were not that uncommon in England at the time. His fictional son would therefore be well-educated and would someday inherit his father’s title. And that son could be important in the story:
A bit of William Pitt the Younger (who first became “prime minister” – first minister, technically, as the term “prime minister” did not yet then exist – at just age 24 in 1783), mixed with varied recollections from what I had read over the years of other young gentry, and with several British actors in the back of my mind for good measure (Pitt was portrayed – brilliantly, naturally – by Benedict Cumberbatch in the 2006 film Amazing Grace) helped me create “Carolina’s” older brother, “Henry Beckington”:
Lastly, unless you grew up on Long Island, New York (as I did) you may not have heard of William Floyd. He was from Long Island, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and a militia commander. His Mastic estate was confiscated by the occupying British in late 1776. (Today, restored, the house is open to the public.)
After the war ended, his daughter, “Kitty,” then only age 15, first met through him at Philadelphia a then 32 year old little-known Virginia politician named James Madison – a future president of the United States. The then extremely shy and frankly immature Madison was besotted by her, and with her father always present he “courted” her as dictated by the norms of the era. After she and her father returned to Long Island, leaving Madison behind, however, “Kitty” – by now 16 – months later fell in love with a man only three years older than herself, whom she eventually married.
“Edward Floyd” is a fictional nephew of that real William Floyd. I tried to write “Edward” as a rather “typical” immediately post-independence young American of his strata. He dreams to see Europe and hopes to leave a mark on the world:
En route to Europe, he also crosses paths with someone who utterly floors him.
The “main” character, “Robert?” Well, I am not sharing those details. I do not want to give away too much. 😉
Hope you are having a good weekend, wherever you are. 🙂