Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Did You Think the Pilgrims are Responsible for American Thanksgiving?

Americans generally think that the Pilgrims are responsible for Thanksgiving Day. Truth is , while Thanksgiving was (as written previously in this blog) a celebration shared by many countries, and for various reasons, two hundred years after the Pilgrims landed, Thanksgiving was generally forgotten, just another day of canning and preparing for the long, hard winter, especially in the northern most areas of Revolutionary America.
It took a woman, Sarah Hale, the poetess who gave us that famous child’s poem “Mary had a Little Lamb” to bring Thanksgiving back to the forefront of American tradition; Sarah and thirty eight years of lobbying with her mighty pen, starting in 1825.

Sarah was born in Newport, New Hampshire in 1788, only a few years after Britain surrendered its colonies to the fledging leaders, and grew up listening to her father’s tales of the Revolutionary War where he was wounded and disabled as a Captain. These tales were to make a deep impression on Sarah later, and was responsible for her commitment to National Unity.

Her parents were progressive thinkers, believing that education was important for both men and women, and to start that education at a young age. Sarah was home schooled, as most young people were then, along with her older brother who eventually went to Dartmouth. She became a schoolteacher, met her husband David Hale and married in 1813. They had five children in nine years, and when her husband died in 1822, Sarah wore black for the rest of her life, out of respect for him.

But this was only the beginning of the story that is Sarah Hale, widow and single mother of five.

Left with no husband and no income, Sarah began to write. She soon published a book of poems, and her book, “A New England Tale in London” was ground breaking, being the first American voice to speak out against slavery publicly. It was soon discovered by Reverend John Blake who, at the time, had started a new journal called “Ladies Magazine”. He immediately asked her to pack up her children and move to Boston to become his editor, another first for progressive thinkers of the time. Editing, and even writing such studious material, was thought of as a man’s profession, and certainly not one for a young mother of five children. Hale accepted, since it served to advocate her main goal, the education of women that was often ignored. Female education was just not looked upon as important. Even prosperous families refused to spend money to send their girls to school resulting in most women being semi- or fully illiterate. Sarah wanted to change that, saying “…woman’s first Right is to Education in its widest sense, to such Education as will give her the full Development of all her Personal, Mental, and Moral qualities.” It was in 1830 that Sarah published the poem that children around the world first learned as young children, originally titled “Mary’s Lamb”, based on an incident she had witnessed as a teacher years ago, and which, of course, later became known as “Mary Had a Little Lamb”.

When “Ladies Magazine” was bought out and the assets and personnel combined with “Godey’s Lady’s Book”, Sarah was absorbed with them. Again, she was kept as editor, and she stayed there for forty more years in that position, eventually becoming one of the most “influential people concerning women’s rights and tastes” in America.

In addition to women’s educational rights, in her capacity as editor, she was able to also lobby for employment for women, Unions, and various preservation projects including Mt. Vernon, the home of George Washington. She was also co-founder of Vassar College.

But all of this paled in comparison for her initial goal in life, and one that was the hardest won. From early on in her life, she strove to make Thanksgiving a National observance. Individual states had various dates that they observed this feast, if they observed it at all. Very few Americans, in fact, even remembered the event two hundred years previously that sparked it. Sarah Hale wanted it to become a holiday that unified a country.

Thus, the campaign of a National Day of observance was a lifelong endeavor for her. From day one of her career, she wrote letters and editorial articles, pushing for this goal. When that failed, she went right to the top; the Presidential offices.

Consistently, and with each new President, the answer was an emphatic “No!” From Taylor, to Fillmore, to Pierce, to Buchanan, all the same answers. They just didn’t feel it was important enough to consider passing any bill for a National Holiday of Thanksgiving. It was barely even remembered.

Until the Civil War broke out. Even the states that sporadically celebrated a minor version of it stopped celebrating. So far, Sarah had been working on the campaign for more than thirty-five years. Then Abraham Lincoln was elected, hostilities broke out, and Sarah saw this holiday as more important than ever, though it also looked more hopeless than ever, with brother fighting brother and a nation torn in two. How on earth can one forgotten event in a far distant past be the unifying element for a country?

Once again, Sarah, despite all the odds, wrote her usual letter to the new president elect, but this time the answer, unbelievingly, was an emphatic “Yes!” Apparently, it was her second to last line in the letter that influenced Lincoln; “A Holiday would not stop the War, but it could help bring the Country together.”

It still took time, but finally in 1863, Lincoln passed the Bill that made Thanksgiving a national holiday, and one consistent day that the whole country would observe in November. Not only that, but Sarah and Lincoln together brought back the Harvest Feast celebrated by the Pilgrims in 1621, the original event behind it. True, a lot of modern variations exist nowadays, being added as time went on, but the initial idea still holds strong, brought back to remembrance by a very rare woman, and a progressive thinking President in the midst of chaos and conflict.

You can thank Sarah Hale for this American National Holiday of Thanksgiving; a persistent widow woman and single mother who did not even have the right to vote, and prolific writer of more than 50 volumes of work by the time she retired at age eighty-nine years.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Canadian Cocked Hammer that Triggered the American Revolution

Many Americans, quite rightly, consider the cause of the Revolution in America to be “Taxation without Representation”, and the often repressive legal policies of the Crown in England. However, and perhaps forgotten, is the fact that Americans in the early 1770’s enjoyed the lowest taxes of any of the English colonies, even counting the English subjects in Britain itself. It was the example of the Highlander Rebellions in Scotland, who faced far more severe problems with England, that got the illustrious leaders of this fledging nation to think of freedom from the yoke of English control.

But it was the Quebec Act, that greatly expanded the limits of that province, including all of Labrador to the east all the way west to the junction of Ohio and the Mississippi, that inflamed the American colonial settlers, prosperous land owners and farmers in America. Oh yes, the Boston Tea Party is fondly remembered as the signal for the colonists to rebel and take the day’s philosophical, rebellious writings to heart. It is only natural that a new nation would view this event, even in its day considered by most of the Colonial rebels as an act of useless vandalism committed by jokers in Indian costumes, later as a heroic act for the history books that triggered the later actions that resulted in ultimate victory. Even us Canadians ignore the fact that our Confederation came about by brawling, drunken Scotsmen intent on stopping the Northern Civil War Generals from invading our southern territories destined for annexation into the United States. We were just lucky that a half soused John A. MacDonald and his co-horts appealed to Queen Victoria who was still under the heady influence of her radical, idealistic husband, Albert and a council still stinging under recently losing many of its colonies. As a result of all these unlikely elements, Canada became the first nation in the world to still enjoy the comfort of being under the Commonwealth and Britain's protection, but still have the right to self-government, a radically new and experimental idea. But of course, in writing Canadian history, these rather embarrassing facts are often ignored.

The Quebec Act was in direct contradiction to the recently rejected bill in America to expand westward. The British found it expedient, especially after the intense French Indian Wars twenty years earlier as well as the lucrative fur trade, that prompted the act. The fur trade was a boon for the Crown, and they wanted to keep it and expand, with the help of the Quebec, Metis and the Indian trappers who were threatening to join the Rebels in America. So the Americans were naturally angry, thinking “Why do the French Canadiens get more land to roam and settle, who are natural enemies of the English, and not us?” The reasoning, of course was that this whole great sweep of British imperial territory could be more securely dealt with from a renewed and expanded Quebec base. It would now include inland country where French/Indian ties still clearly mattered, brought about by the strong bond of the French-Indian wars. Also, the fur trade would not endanger Indian land rights, so important with the natives threatening to join the Americans in their fight for Independence. In fact, the Colonists were counting on the Indians joining in the fight, ignoring the fact that their desire to spread west into Indian territory completely defeated any desire the natives may have had to join them. It came as a complete shock to the rebel armies that the Indians, at the last moment, decided on joining the English, based on the promises of land restrictions to the settlers. The British had also realized that American colonial desires to settle on native lands might only let loose new frontier bloodshed, and were determined errant settlers would be routed out immediately if any broke the law, which many were already doing, and established homesteads where they weren’t supposed to be.

The Act of 1774 became the trigger, the last, very large straw in a series of "Intolerable Acts" that led to armed rebellion against Britain. The colonists saw the West they had fought for but then been kept from occupying, now brazenly transferred to the keeping of Quebec, a French and Catholic province sitting north of them and still under "despotic" rule.

It was, indeed, this very policy that triggers my hero in the romance novel to help in the struggle and the repelling of British forces at Lexington and Concord, the initial outbreak of the war. Initially he had been reluctant to join in the fight, fearing reprisal from the Crown. I wanted Colton Rolfe to have real, concrete reasons to risk everything he held dear, instead of philosophical, idealistic reasons that many associate with so-called heroes. Colton is anything but idealistic. It was the hunger to expand his plantation lands, resting on the eastern most borders of Crown land designated as Indian land that prompted his reluctant participation. He had the attitude widely shared by most of the Thirteen Colonies, self-interested they may have been, who looked upon the Americas as naturally destined to them through their hard work and sheer will power of the last hundred and fifty years of extensive settlement, which in their view Britain had no part in. Bitter emotions and events now surged to open war in 1775, as it did for Colton and his neighbours, between rebel patriots and the colonial supporters of Imperial English Authority. It took a year before the leading rebel leaders of America issued its resounding Declaration of Independence, but then it took that long to become organized..

Canadian and American history have continually been intertwined before and since, though seldom with more telling effect than the cocked hammer of the Quebec Act and the resulting American Revolution.

Stay tuned for more interesting background about our thoughtful romance novel, “No Gentlemen is He”, as well as fascinating, perhaps little known facts of the link between the American Revolution and the sometimes unwitting role Canada played in it.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Canada Was a Part of the American Revolution?

Now that my co-author and I are editing our novel, “No Gentleman is He”, based in Revolutionary America in the spring and summer of 1775, I thought I would give a few details about this exciting time in history.

You must be asking why this Canuck would deign to write about American history? In this case, perhaps we are more qualified than you may suspect. Also my co-author, Carley Bauer, is American and fascinated with this time in history.

Unbeknownst to a lot of Americans, Canada was a pivotal player in the proceedings. Both the British and the Patriot rebels were vying for Canadian support to their respective causes. The Patriots were also hoping that the disenchanted French Canadians would bring the Iroquois Indians with them to fight the occupying British forces with the backing of France. Earlier on in the 1600’s, Canada was primarily a French holding, and it was only later, in the early 1700’s, that the British invaded Canada and took over Crown management of this vast, rich land, disenfranchising many French occupants. France was a predominately Catholic nation, and had set about converting the native peoples and the European settlers to French political and religious control. Now that the Protestant English had taken over from the French government, many French inhabitants were bitter and afraid about their religious freedom. The American Patriots had every reason to hope that their rebel forces would increase with the promise of northern help and French funds.

With the impending release of our breakout romance novel, I will be adding little known and interesting details about the American Revolution over the next few weeks, many of which are probably not in your better known history books. This novel, while a romance, will also include historical accuracy for those discerning history buffs that enjoy their romance mixed with thoughtful, well researched facts. You should also know that this novel is the just the first in a series of American Revolutionary romances, all featuring fictional characters who have an active role in the Patriot cause for American independence.

I also want to introduce our main players. First of all is Cassandra Courtney Brooks, the beautiful and fair-haired daughter of an affluent English landowner, who ran away from England to America with the estate’s stable hand, Seth Brooks, to avoid a distasteful, arranged marriage to an elderly aristocrat. A year later, Cassandra found herself a widow, with the tatters of a dream and four beautiful horses, the start of a stable of exceptional Standardbred horses, destined to the breed of choice in America within a very short time. She was near desperate, and facing the loss of her late husband’s dream which she was determined to carry on.

Enter Colton Rolfe, descendant of the famous John Rolfe who was married to Pocahontas and started one of the first Virginia tobacco farms in America. Through a quirk of genetic nature, his distant ancestry showed up in swarthy skin, shiny black hair and flashing dark eyes, resulting in bigotry from neighboring plantation owners, with the exception of one childhood friend. Even his own father had rejected Colton, leaving a very lonely boy and later, a bitter man who had inherited the plantation and started his own breeding program for the beautiful Standardbred horses. When he meets Cassandra Brooks, he is immediately greedy for the four horses she possesses, and offers her a job as steward to his estate, against all social protocols of having a woman work in an exclusively male profession. He has full expectations that when Cassandra find the job too much for her, that will sell her horses to him and leave. But the desire to get his hands on her horses soon pales to the desire to possess their owner. Even the storm of war brewing, and Colton’s involvement in it cannot take Cassandra Brooks from his mind and his dreams, the power of his passion frightening both him and her with its intensity. It doesn’t help that Colton Rolfe already had a reputation of savagery, the destruction of one local woman’s reputation, and even murder. How could a refined, pampered and impoverished Cassandra from a loyalist family possibly overlook Colton’s past, even if this enigmatic man haunted her dreams, aroused unfamiliar sensuality and threatened her very existence?

I hope you stay tuned for more plot teasers, and interesting facts about the beginning of a new nation and how it tied into an equally colorful Canadian history.