Release Day: Northern Fire!

Happy Release Day to  Northern Fire!  This is Book 2 of the Torn Asunder Series.  The new release’s journey will take us all the way through the Civil War for the historical portion and through the next few months of our protagonists’ lives in the modern portion.  Order Northern Fire now exclusively from Amazon.com!

Click the link below to order, or scroll on down for the synopsis!

Blurb Image

New History Behind the Story Series Announced!

To celebrate the release of Northern Fire (Book 2 of the  Torn Asunder Series) I am launching a new series on the history behind the story for Northern Fire.  For Southern Rain, I ran a similar series that was really fun.  Readers got to learn all about the history upon which I built my storylines.  The topics I chose this time will give you the first glimpse into some of the events and subjects covered in Northern Fire!  If, after reading the book, you have any questions for me about the events in the book or the historical choices I made, let me know, and I am always happy to add an article!

Here are the planned articles:

  1. The Charleston Fire of 1861
  2. The Roper Hospital in Charleston
  3. Naval Quarantines
  4. Violence Against Women in the Civil War
  5. The Fall of Charleston

Q & A: Northern Fire

Hello again, friends! My sister, Hannah, and I sat down for a Q&A about Northern Fire, and I have also included some questions from some wonderful readers. Some are about the book, some are about writing in general, and some are about me! (Just a word of caution, if you haven’t yet read Southern Rain, there might be a few spoilers for that one! However, there shouldn’t be any spoilers for Northern Fire, and I encourage you to read the Q&A before you read it.) Here we go!

Hannah: What was the inspiration for Northern Fire? Was it hard to narrow down your ideas?

Tara: It’s all very hazy now, but I think the inspiration for the Torn Asunder Series came to me while I was taking a walk during my two-month intense isolation/study time for the Bar Exam. I had this idea for this historical heroine who leaves her husband, an absolutely shocking thing for the Civil War Era, and I really wanted to know how that would play out. Hmm, could I pair it with this modern storyline about a preservationist that had been floating in my head? Yes, I could! It’s not usually hard to narrow down your ideas because something always comes to you passionately and has to get out.

Hannah: What kind of audience do you expect to read Northern Fire?

Tara: The tendency is to say women who love Historical Fiction/Romance, but several men have read and liked Southern Rain, too. I think, between the history, the modern romance, and the Women’s Fiction dimension, there is something for everybody. I will refer you to the Q&A for Southern Rain for information about young readers/parents’ discretion, which can be found in its own special tab on my blog at http://www.teaandrebellion.com. As always, you can contact me if you have any questions.

Hannah: What should the reader know going into Northern Fire?

Tara: I think I always underestimated the series, in that, whether modern or historical, I thought it was going to be lighter than it was. There are some heavy topics, which may be difficult for some people. There are a couple of sad scenes and some overarching struggles that may be relatable for a lot of people, in both good and tough ways. I think the advantage of having a book that tends towards heaviness is that, wherever there is pain, there is also a lot of depth.

Hannah: How do you deal with difficult subjects? How do you strike the balance of far enough/too far?

Tara: It’s sometimes hard to know how much is too far. I have learned that a good rule of thumb for me is that if something makes me uncomfortable, I should probably take it a step further even from there and push the boundaries a little bit to experience the truth of the story. When a book does tend towards heaviness, the great balancer is always hope. Human life is so difficult, but there is such beauty in it, too. It’s important not to overlook either.

So many readers: Why don’t you just give Shannon and John Thomas a baby already?!

Tara: So sorry! This is probably the number one question I have gotten. It’s touching that everyone is so worried about their happiness. When I first started reading clean historical romance about twelve years ago, I found some truly talented authors, and many of those books have beloved spots on my shelves. But I noticed a recurring structure: boy meets girl, usual struggles ensue, they get together, happy ending equals healthy baby. That didn’t quite ring true to me. Historically speaking, a lot of couples struggled in conceiving (George and Martha Washington, James and Dolley Madison, Andrew and Rachel Jackson) or in carrying to term (Louisa Catherine Adams, Mary Church Terrell). Sometimes the mother died from something as simple as severe morning sickness during the pregnancy (Charlotte Brontë). If you could have a baby, the birth was an extreme ordeal for which you could thank God if both mother and child survived (Stonewall Jackson’s first wife died from a hemorrhage just after giving birth, and their child was stillborn). Lots of men had two families because the first wife died in “childbed” (Theodore Roosevelt). Many women made it through the birth only to linger and die from puerperal fever or physical complications (Thomas Jefferson’s wife) days, weeks, or months later. Of course, for those who did not have as many difficulties, families were often large due to lack of effective birth control methods, and I think that is perhaps where the idea that “everyone in history had eight kids” comes from. But even for those large families, it is difficult to think of a historical figure who did not lose a child to a childhood illness. All of that is a long way of saying that I’m not sure the notion, historically speaking, of a happy ending culminating in a modern-type birth where there are no worries quite passes muster. I kind of wanted to represent the full range of historical experiences in this story. Shannon struggles, while Marie has a whiplash-inducing honeymoon baby. And, while I won’t tell you here whether Shannon and John Thomas have a baby, or even whether they reunite (this is all just a matter of plot), I will tell you that their ultimate peace, if they find it, will be in acceptance of whatever situation in which God places them, of themselves just as they are, and of God just as He is, which is what I think we all must find before we can get down to the more trivial business of daily happiness.

Hannah: What do you think it takes to make a strong male character likeable, but also real? Do you think John Thomas and/or Adrian apply?

Tara: My sister and I (ahem) talk about this a lot. For me, a main male character (“MMC”) has to be loyal, and his love cannot waver. He also has to be gentle with the female character, physically speaking—there can be no love where there is any sort of fear. I don’t mind a good argument, but I don’t like a lot of yelling or any verbal abuse. I also like the MMC to be capable and to have a good grasp on his situation. I like to write male characters that you know are good ones, deep down. I don’t think that’s an unrealistic expectation at all (and if it is, we’re better off alone, girls!). Other than that, I think the sky is the limit! I love writing all different sorts of male characters. It’s totally okay for them to have their own struggles. They don’t have to be superheroes. Do John Thomas and Adrian apply to my criteria? Funnily enough, I’ve had several people tell me they don’t trust Adrian yet. So I hope this isn’t a spoiler when I say that: yes, they meet all of my main criteria. I will say that they both surprised me with the depth of their emotion by the end of the series, which I loved.

Hannah: Do you relate to Shannon or Adeline personally?

Tara: I always say that there is a little bit of me in all of my characters. I relate to Adeline’s love for history, desire to keep the peace, and awkwardness. I don’t relate to her laid-back personality, or her ability to not overthink things, unfortunately. I think every human being can relate to Shannon, since she kind of represents the human condition, that knot of tension that grows in all of us from childhood on, through numerous and varying causes. She also represents the choice we have of letting those dark forces overtake us or of overcoming them through the only way I know how—clinging to God.

Hannah: You put a lot of work into side characters. Do you ever wish the main plot had followed them instead of your MMC and MFC?

Tara: I know you’re asking this because you love Frederick and Marie. Sometimes, I wish I had made Frederick’s story on equal par with Shannon’s. However, sometimes, there is something enticing about a side-character only when the person is a side character, so I think it worked out fine.

Tammi: What other interests do you have, in addition to history and crafting stories?

Tara: That’s a great question! My day job is a lawyer, and I’m fortunate enough to work with my brother. I do a lot of property law, but my favorite thing to do is estate planning. I read a lot of historical fiction. I watch pretty much any historical drama that comes on Netflix, Amazon Prime, or Hulu. I really enjoy Audible for books that I would love to read but don’t really have time to dig into, like historical biographies and religious/theological books. I have been studying Contemplative Prayer and have found a lot of meaning in learning to listen for God’s voice in new (to me) ways. I love antiquing, particularly buying old furniture. Of course, I absolutely love touring historic homes. I just bought an old house, so there is always something to keep me busy. The History Chicks Podcast and Ben Franklin’s World Podcast have become something I love to have on in the background while I’m cleaning or working in the house.   I like to listen to music and have several playlists on Spotify. I played piano in another life and would like to get back to that soon. I like Royal Watching and follow the “From Berkshire to Buckingham” Instagram page and blog for fun analysis. I love going to plays and am fortunate to have three excellent amateur theaters nearby. I’ve recently gotten back into shopping/fashion in an effort to step up my wardrobe. And I have been dieting for about four years now and in the course of that have picked up a lot of healthy eating habits, so I’m always looking for great vegetarian or organic options.

Josette: What is your favorite historical book?

Tara: I always have trouble narrowing this down because I love so many. For historical fiction, I’ll have to give you four, loosely in order of my preference: A Bride Most Begrudging, by Deeanne Gist, Bath Tangle by Georgette Heyer, The Silent Governess, by Julie Klassen, and America’s First Daughter, by Laura Kamoie and Stephanie Dray. For books that were written in historical times, I would have to say: Persuasion, by Jane Austen, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, by Anne Brontë, and The Blue Castle, by L.M. Montgomery.

But if I had to pick an absolute favorite, that would probably be A Bride Most Begrudging. I’ve read it so many times, expecting it to disappoint as I get older, but it never does.

Tammi: Do you listen to music while you write?

Tara: I make a playlist on Spotify for every book or series. Sometimes I listen, and sometimes I prefer silence. I always play a song which I’ve chosen as a kind of theme for the book when I write the last scene and just push replay over and over until the scene is finished. I really like music with choir or strings and piano. I love The Piano Guys, Scala & Kolacny Brothers, Paul Cardall, Helen Jane Long, and 2Cellos. I had never heard of a lot of them until I started listening to the Scala & Kolacny Brothers Pandora Station (after hearing their music for the Downton Abbey trailers), and now they’re some of my favorites!

Tammi: How much time do you spend writing each day?

Tara: I used to spend about an hour or two writing every day, even while I was in law school. Now, sometimes I’m not able to do that because of eye strain from said law school. So I usually end up writing on the weekends. I like to write in bulk and might write for eight hours one day and none for the next four days. If I’m really feeling inspired and am able, I usually write for about two hours per day.

Tammi: Where do you write?

Tara: In my living room. I like a room with lots of windows and light. I have a desk that I wrote three novels on in college and still sit there sometimes, but I often write on my couch now.

Tammi: How did you become interested in writing historical fiction?

Tara: My mom would bring me home Christian Historical Fiction books that she had bought on the sale shelf at our local Hastings bookstore. I absolutely devoured them (Deeanne Gist, Julie Klassen, Lynn Austin…) One day, I said, “I just love these!” And my mom said, “Why don’t you write one?”

Tammi: When did you start writing?

Tara: When I was seventeen, pretty much right after that conversation with my mom. 🙂 That’s been about eleven years now. My first manuscript was written in a composition notebook and was set in Nineteenth Century England. It was terrible. 🙂

Tammi: When did you develop your love for history?

Tara: My mom was a 5th and 6th grade Social Studies teacher during my childhood, and my dad likes history, too, so my siblings and I grew up in a very history-friendly household. My mom would tell us fascinating historical tidbits. My parents knew how to make history fun, taking us to Washington, D.C. and Charleston when we were little, with the emphasis always on history. I remember one Sunday, they took us (after wrangling us all to church and back, no less!) with the grandparents to Belle Meade Plantation in Nashville. I remember when we walked through the door and the docent directed our attention to the ruby glass above the door. “Pretty,” she said, “but there to serve no other purpose than displaying the Harding family’s wealth.” Me: Oooh. My brother and I found that fascinating. Then came the time for the trip down to the mausoleum. (I should note that in Middle Tennessee, mourning customs were heavily followed and are always a huge part of most any tour.) I was petrified. I was not going down there. Luckily, my grandpa felt the same. Skirting the cooling pad (yes, where they laid out the bodies—it was just lying in the hall, for crying out loud!), he found a bench and said, “Sissy, I think I’m going to sit right here.” My response: “Me, too, Pa!” That trip is one of my fondest childhood memories.

Matthew M.: How did you get interested in the American Civil War?

Tara: I actually started out with an aversion to the Civil War. I always liked history, but I remember looking at pictures of the battles in my 5th grade textbook and feeling horrified. I kind of stayed away from the Civil War until I needed to fulfill my history credits at Tennessee Tech, and one of Tech’s history professors was teaching his nearly-famous course on the Civil War and Reconstruction. He really brought the Civil War alive for us. It was an intensive course, with multiple books, articles, papers, etc., and we were required to learn battle movements and plans for all of the major battles and recite them in narratives on our tests. We covered all aspects—the home front, the lives of the enslaved, theories that developed in the post-war era… After that, I wrote a series which follows several siblings in Civil War Era Virginia. I think setting a family drama in that era and researching minute details for so long is what finally tipped me over the edge for the Civil War. The opportunities for drama are boundless, the range of human emotions breath-taking. We see the best and worst of humanity, and, as an author, that’s exciting to explore. I realized that if I could get a little braver in dealing with a very tough time period, there was a wellspring of experiences to be discovered and retold!

Matthew M.: Do you use any primary source material for your novels?

Tara: Yes, I absolutely love getting my hands on a letter which gives special insight to the time period. You can find some great letters in online archives, and I have a book called War Letters: Extraordinary Correspondence from American Wars by Andrew Carroll, which has been great. I also find that docents are excellent to read you parts of letters when you tour historic homes. And touring historic homes is something I love to do to get a feel for the time period, and, if it’s close enough to my setting, the place. Seeing an antique from the time period can really ground you in the era, too. I also read diaries and recipes from the era, and I look at a lot of photos or portraits for the fashion.

Reaching out beyond that, I also look at scholarly works or biographies. For the Torn Asunder Series, some of the books I read in preparation were:

At the Precipice, by Shearer Davis Bowman
The Civil War at Sea, by Craig L. Symonds
An Antebellum Plantation Household, by Anne Sinkler Whaley LeClercq
Grant, by Ron Chernow

Hannah: Not all authors enjoy the subjects of their own books. Would you devour this one?

Tara: I would read it, yes, and I think I would enjoy it. I have written other books that are more to my taste. I think this one is geared more towards my sister’s taste (wink). But there is, I hope, always an element that I strive to put in my books that makes you want to keep reading or read the next one. Can I tell you a secret? There’s another cliffhanger in Northern Fire! Gotta run now before readers attack me!

Stop by the Southern Rain FAQ Page for some more questions answered about the series and my writing in general. As always, if you have any questions, feel free to contact me!

Cover Reveal: Northern Fire

I’m so excited to share the cover for Northern Fire!  This is Book 2 of the Torn Asunder Series and follows Southern Rain.  The Kindle edition is available for pre-order now and will release to your device on May 25th.  The paperback will be available to order exclusively from Amazon.com on May 25th.

Here is the cover!  What do you think?

NorthernFire

{Charleston, Modern Day:

Adeline Miller’s life has taken a significant detour. Nothing has been quite as she imagined since coming to Charleston, and the worst of it is the uncertainty that leaves her wanting both to take a leap of faith and to protect her heart. Still, she is determined to restore the Ravenel-Thompson House and discover what secrets and mysteries lie beneath its hallowed walls.

Charleston, 1861:

Shannon Haley’s choice is made. Plunging into a war-torn land, she will risk everything to reach her family. Reconciliation is only a vague and distant hope, but what awaits her when she arrives in the South, she can only guess. Crushed by loss and despair, can she find a new life among the ruins of her home, her marriage, and her peace?}

This book has been a long time in the making, and I cannot wait to share it with you!

-Tara

Cover Design By: TeaBerryCreative.com

Northern Fire Synopsis

Hi friends!

I am so excited to share the synopsis of my new book, Northern Fire, which will release on May 25th.  The book covers the next few months in the lives of our modern characters and the rest of the Civil War for our historical characters.  There are some real ups and downs, but I think you will enjoy the ride!  Stay tuned in the next few weeks for more details, including the cover reveal on Monday and an Author’s Q & A later on.  Also, for the greatest insights on my books, you can follow me on Instagram @teaandrebellion_

And so, without further ado, the synopsis for Northern Fire, Book 2 Torn Asunder Series:

Blurb Image

Review: Mary Magdalene Never Wore Blue Eye Shadow

I was sitting in a law school classroom when it first hit me. It was my third year, and I was taking a class titled Law and Literature. We would read a piece of literature and then come to class and discuss the great questions of life and humanity that the readings provoked, much like a college English class (which was bliss to me!). I was surprised when I saw multiple Old Testament readings on the list.

We were a class made up of believers and skeptics, atheists and agnostics, the dormant and the devout. And when I opened my Bible to read the passages, that fact was all I could think about. For the first time in my life, I was having a Bible study with people who hadn’t been taught to think the “right” way. They were from all over the country, from deeply varying backgrounds, and a lot of them were reading those passages for the first time. And suddenly, that was how I was reading the scripture, too. I was stripping away everything, all of my own preconceived notions, every sermon I had heard preached on the passage, and every point I had ever felt compelled to prove, and I was just…reading. Because I knew when I got to class the next day, absolutely no one in that room would carry the same lenses to the table. And that was when it finally struck me: this was what I should have been doing all along.

What does this have to do with Amanda Hope Haley’s latest book, Mary Magdalene Never Wore Blue Eye Shadow: How to Trust the Bible When Truth and Tradition Collide? Everything. God’s revelation to me that I was reading scripture with “lenses” set me on a course of laying aside everything and simply searching for His character in scripture. What I didn’t know was that my cousin (yes, cousin!) was writing a book on that very topic!

Amanda delves deep into the very structure of the Bible, exploring how the holy manuscripts were written, compiled, and translated and teaching us to cherish each passage for its unique literary structure and voice. That contribution alone would have been enough, because she lays out that complicated history in such an easy-to-understand format that the reader leaves enlightened rather than overwhelmed.

But she goes deeper, teaching us how to view science’s relationship with the Bible in a healthy manner (the passages on creation literally made me tear up!), how to look at scripture in context rather than “cherry-picking,” how to read slowly and carefully, and ultimately, how to strip everything away, everything you have ever heard, everything you are “supposed” to read into scripture, and just listen.

Particularly helpful, I thought, was the chapter entitled “Too Many Cookbooks in the Christian Kitchen,” which talks about the problem, not new to our generation, of preferring to follow a doctrine, or a denomination, or legalism, or a man, which is so easy for us to do, isn’t it? I think a lot of times these problems start as we try to boil our beliefs down into a teachable message to take out into the world. But we forget to fluff the stew back up again to learn God in the fullness of His glory. Amanda does a wonderful job reminding us of just how important it is to do that.

Her tone is conversational and easy-to-read. I found that the scripture she used as examples throughout was particularly well-chosen. You feel like you’re in a really fun classroom and she’s the teacher at the front with a blackboard breaking it all down into understandable language. And finally, I will add that what Amanda does is more than just teach hermeneutics (a word we learn in the last chapter!). She presents the beautiful, awe-inspiring picture of God’s plan. It seeps in when you least expect it, moving you to emotion and prodding you to reflect on what an awesome God we serve.

Highly recommended! Mary Magdalene Never Wore Blue Eye Shadow: How to Trust the Bible When Truth and Tradition Collide is now available! See below for a link to your favorite retailer.

Amazon link:

Barnes & Noble link:
https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/mary-magdalene-never-wore-blue-eye-shadow-amanda-hope-haley/1130410625#/

Books-A-Million link:
https://www.booksamillion.com/p/Mary-Magdalene-Never-Wore-Blue/Amanda-Hope-Haley/9780736975124?id=7747825568139

Target link:
https://www.target.com/p/mary-magdalene-never-wore-blue-eye-shadow-by-amanda-hope-haley-paperback/-/A-78288182

Wal-Mart link:
https://www.walmart.com/ip/Mary-Magdalene-Never-Wore-Blue-Eye-Shadow/229907139

Quirky Charleston Customs

History Behind the Story #4: Quirky Charleston Customs and Tidbits

We’ve talked about Charleston history in some of our earlier posts, but what we haven’t discussed is Charleston’s social customs during the Antebellum Era.  The Holy City was founded way back in 1670 by English settlers and went on to become the largest city south of Philadelphia before the Civil War.  Richmond might beg to differ, but there is a strong argument that Charleston was the premier Southern city. Charleston had the wealth, culture, sophistication, population, and social life that few places in a largely agrarian region could rival, and that’s what makes it such a fun setting.

When I first began writing Southern historical fiction, I quickly realized that Southern, or even American, social seasons and rules of society were largely based on locality and weren’t quite as compulsory as European rules. For instance, New Orleans social life would have been very different from Savannah’s, whereas if I were writing a story set in England in the Nineteenth Century, I could find book after book with strict lists of rules because it was a much smaller territorial base, much more structured social hierarchy, and there was seemingly more willingness to conform among the British. For Southern social practices, the best you can do is glean what you can from tours of house museums and period letters.  And since that kind of research inevitably makes what you find a little random, I thought bullet points of random quirky customs were in order for this post. Here we go!

  • Sources tend to indicate that in many Southern cities, the social season took place starting right after Christmas and ran through the beginning of the planting season, when the men would need to leave and return to the plantation. This makes sense when we juxtapose that hypothesis with the fact that the London Season always began roughly in April with the opening of Parliament and ended roughly at the beginning of June when society fled London for their country estates to escape summer diseases. I compare the two because I notice a pattern: a social season taking place around the work schedule of the men as well as the danger, or lack thereof, of disease.
  • Speaking of diseases, the Lowcountry experienced what was called a “sickly season” every year. One quirk of Charleston is that, while the rest of the world was fleeing out of cities during the summer months, many people actually fled into Charleston, which was considered to be more salubrious and less at risk for fun things like Malaria and Yellow Fever. And this makes sense when you consider that Charleston is right there on the ocean.  If you had a plantation in the Sea Islands, like where my fictional Santarella was located, you would probably find it a safer bet in the summer even than Charleston and retreat there. But people from the outlying Lowcountry with plantations situated in the swamps would have to evacuate them for the sickly season, often going to Charleston. One thing I found interesting was that many of those with plantations in the swamps didn’t have Charleston homes, and so from the end of May until the first frost (which could be late September or early October), they led a nomadic existence, staying with friends and relatives or travelling. If you visit Charleston, you’ll find that if a plantation wasn’t on one of the Islands, the hot spot was the Ashley River Road, which is now actually within the city boundaries of Charleston but then was just a few miles outside of it.  The sickly season seems to have hit these plantations pretty hard, too. And so you had this almost comical situation where people owned vast plantations just a few miles away from where they owned mansions in Charleston.  Of course, this enabled those people to take part in Charleston’s social life, too, which was considered a benefit for sophisticated elites.  So Charleston was always fuller in the dead of winter and heat of summer, with various people either fleeing Charleston or coming into it for safety. You can see this is all very complicated!
  • Charleston was a bit of a pilgrimage spot for the state of South Carolina, with people crowding in during the social season from all over the state. One would be presented with a huge menu of events to fill one’s calendar– theater, opera, ballet, public concerts, not to mention parties, balls, horse racing, and morning social calls. Think of an isolated rural life in the Nineteenth Century, and compare it with such a modern social calendar– the two must have seemed like different worlds.
  • We know that when Southern Rain opens, Shannon’s brother has been on a year-long grand tour of Europe. This is one custom that is strongly documented. Young, wealthy Southern men would be sent upon reaching adulthood or graduation from university to the Continent in the hopes of giving them cultural exposure.  An alternative to this was that sometimes couples would be sent on a similar tour as a honeymoon or “wedding trip.” These trips could last for up to three years.  I remember touring a plantation near Charleston which had a beautiful portrait of a couple painted while they were on their honeymoon in Europe.  Also featured with them is their two-year-old son, who was born while they were abroad touring.  It’s a bit of a different concept of “honeymoon” from what we have now!
  • Speaking of babies… I’ve found at least one instance of a woman from a rural plantation going to Charleston to give birth.  The thought process was that there would be better access to medical care in case of an emergency.  My instinct tells me that this was fairly common: if you were wealthy enough to own a plantation, you were sophisticated enough to want the finest medical care of the day. Couple that with the fact that South Carolinian plantations were steeped in isolation due to geography, which is enough to scare you, especially if there wasn’t a decent doctor nearby, and it would just be easy logic if you owned your own house to go there to give birth.  But… In the documents I was reading, the couple didn’t own a house in Charleston and instead would stay with friends!  That seems like a lot to ask of your hosts, especially when you think of the horror that was childbirth in the Nineteenth Century, but it seemed like hosts and guests seemed to think nothing of it and were instead delighted by the couple’s social visit!
  • Okay, on to dining!  One thing that will be broadcast loud and clear if you tour plantations in the Lowcountry is that: DINNER TIME WAS AT THREE O’CLOCK. As in dinner.  As in the afternoon.  There were reasons for this (various and conflicting).  But one thing that struck me when we visited Charleston was that when we would try to beat the tourist crowd and grab dinner at three or four o’clock, we would find the restaurants so congested that we couldn’t move. We would look at each other thinking, Imagine what six o’clock is going to be like! But no!  At supper time, the bubble popped, and the restaurants were utterly deserted. And, so while I have seen no empirical evidence of modern-day Charlestonian eating customs, I’m pretty sure they still follow this rule!
  • If you lived on the Sea Islands, a lot of what you could do entertaining-wise was determined by the tides. If you couldn’t get your guests out quickly enough, they might have to spend the night (one possible reason for three o’clock dinners).  If the tides turned against you, you could be trapped with your guests for days or even weeks!
  • The connection between New England (John Thomas) and Charleston (Shannon) may seem tenuous except for the friendship between John Thomas and Shannon’s brother, but there were actually strong ties between the two regions given the fact that Northern mill owners bought their cotton from Southern planters. In fact, a society called the New England Society of Charleston was founded in 1819.
  • Elite children were generally sent to private academies from a young age, with girls like Shannon being sent to “female academies” where they would learn the basics plus special polishes such as music, dancing, and art, along with the usual running-a-household type courses.
  • The social season in Charleston continued even once the Civil War started. There were officers stationed at the three nearby forts, and they were welcomed at balls, weddings, and dinners.  The wealthy in Charleston weren’t deeply affected by the war (unless you lost a loved one) until the Union started chipping away at the surrounding Sea Islands, which caused panic in Charleston and rocked their world.

Okay, that’s a wrap for this one!  Let me know if you hear of any fun Charleston facts during your visits or research!

Photo Credit: http://cityofcharleston.blogs.wm.edu

Civil War Fashion

History Behind the Story #3: Civil War Era Fashion

The female lead in Southern Rain, Shannon Ravenel, is a very fashionable young woman. She was launched into society in Charleston, which was the largest city south of Philadelphia, and it was filled with extremely wealthy and cultured residents, where the marriage market was a bitterly-fought contest. So a girl’s gotta look the part! Shannon’s mother pushes her to make bold fashion choices which set her apart from the other girls hoping to snag a wealthy planter, and the Ravenels spare no expense on her wardrobe. Often, families such as Shannon’s would go as far as sending to Paris for cloths or even full gowns, and they would have been very sure that they were on the cusp of American fashion.

So what were the fashions? Hoop skirts, certainly– we all know about and are terrified by those. But there was a lot more to it, so let’s dive in!

First, I should note that the majority of women in the Victorian Era had only two or three dresses at any given time. However, wealthy women like Shannon would have changed dresses two or three times in one day alone. Women like Shannon and her mother would have had wardrobes full of gowns – day gowns, walking gowns, ballgowns, not to mention riding habits and mourning gowns.

So let’s start with underpants! These would have been called drawers and would have usually been white cotton or linen. Then we have the chemise, which is like a long nightgown that covers everything. After that, there would be garters on the thigh which hold up stockings (nothing but silk, dear), and then over the chemise there be the corset with whalebone boning, tightened with laces up the back or sometimes in the front. Then the hoops would have been attached by tying the top around the waist. What we typically think of is the wire-looking contraption that was made of whalebone or steel and collapses up or down and is covered with fabric petticoat. However, there were other options, including layering of voluminous petticoats (which is why ladies often say my skirts plural), as well as a crinoline, which might mean a cage crinoline like the traditional steel hoop skirt or might simply mean a really stiff fabric to give the dress structure. Then you would don the corset cover and voila! You’re ready to start getting dressed. (Unless you need to put on sleeve plumpers. Or a lace fichu. Or– this is exhausting.)

You would first don a morning dress, which was plain and was generally prim – buttoned up to the throat and perhaps featuring a print or just being plain. You would go up and shimmy that off if you had to step out to do some shopping or take a walk through an obliging field and put on instead a plainer, more sensible walking gown which had a matching fitted coat which ended halfway down the skirt and looks rather like a cute doctor’s coat. And for heaven’s sake, don’t forget your parasol and hat. But wait! Your beau has called and would like to go riding with you (properly chaperoned, of course) and so you must run upstairs, strip down, and wrestle on your riding habit (these actually stay quite similar through the years with a fitted coat and long skirt to cover any accidental indecency caused by hoisting oneself over a side-saddle). Remember your hat, gloves, and riding whip. And if you are not too exhausted to make it to dinner or the ball, your evening dress will be of a more expensive material such as silk or satin and would generally be off the shoulders or almost so and have decorations such as lace, beads, flounces, artificial flowers, or even jewels. And don’t forget your shawl. And gloves. And jewelry. And hair décor. And reticule. And fan. And handkerchief. Do you have everything? With evening or ball gowns, you would wear slippers made of satin, velvet, or even crochet. And of course, if a near relative had died, all of this would be black for the appropriate time period.

Whew. On to color. Ladies were encouraged by popular magazines to engender harmony and nature and lalalala! So we see some wild colors like bright green and weird pinks, as well as bold patterns like stripes or plaids. But of course, we also see more traditional colors like creams and blues and reds. Shannon’s favorite color is a sort of emerald green because she knows perfectly well it is becoming with her rusty red hair.

Let’s take a break and talk fashion influences. First of all, ladies would have read fashion periodicals like Godey’s Lady’s Book, so American women were very much influenced by European fashion. There would be fashion plates which showed you the possibilities, and you can still find a lot of these in antique stores today! The perfect silhouette was the hourglass, with a tiny nipped in waist. The skirt reached its full breadth and bell shape right before the Civil War, and after that narrowed just slightly with an almost unnoticeable flattening in the front, which grew more pronounced as we get on toward the 1870’s. You would have been told that the wide pagoda sleeves were the most fashionable for morning and walking gowns and that a collar of a lighter fabric was also becoming. Also, there was also always this undercurrent influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites which encouraged medieval style like juliette sleeves. And there was Queen Victoria, who influenced fashion her whole life. There’s a lot going into the pot of stew here, isn’t there?

As soon as the Civil War kicked into gear, everything went military, which is a fashion I actually love. We see lovely double-rows of buttons marching down ladies’ bodices, structured shoulders, and military-style hats. We also see velvet patches on the shoulders or sleeves reminiscent of officers’ uniforms, as well as cuffs on the sleeves. Also, your winter coat would have had extremely wide sleeves and been reminiscent of an officer’s greatcoat. Gray seems to have been a very popular color for all of this.

Another way the war had its influence was in jewelry. The Victorians are known to be very sentimental, and their jewelry was no exception: you might carry the hair of a husband, beau, son, or brother in a ring or necklace if you were separated by the war or death. And of course, those items made the perfect accompaniment to your mourning wardrobe which, unfortunately, most women had to acquire over the course of the war.

Women were starting to flex their muscles as nurses, and if you were working in a hospital, more than likely you would have left off the impractical hoops and just would have worn a couple of petticoats, along with a white apron and white sleeve covers. And if you were a Southern woman cut off from Northern textile mills due to the blockade, your skirts, if you had new ones made, would have likely been a lot narrower because they simply didn’t have the fabric to spare. But for the most part, there was constant re-wearing.

Ladies’ fashion from the era is so intricate and fascinating that it would be easy to say blah, blah the men wore suits, but I’ll try to give a brief sketch. Basically, there were suits. But I have to say, they were really good suits. This is my favorite era for men’s fashion, actually. As long as you were tall and thin, you were destined to look elegant. Trousers were full length, often with a stripe down the side. Neckcloths were really wide and often tied into a floppy bow. Waistcoats were high to the chest but ended at the top of the hipbones.

Men had lots of wardrobe changes during the day, as well. Basically, there was the mid-length sack coat worn for business occasions, the morning coat for more formal day occasions, and the dark tail-coat and white cravat for evening wear. We all know about the top hat, but there were other hats, too, such as the bowler.

Okay, so that’s it for today, but there still a whole lot of information out there if you’re interested! Check out the sources below to learn more!

Sources:

Civil War Women’s Clothing, https://www.visit-gettysburg.com/civil-war-womens-clothing.html.

Monet, Delores, Women’s Clothing of the South in the American Civil War, https://bellatory.com/fashion-industry/WomensClothingoftheSouthintheAmericanCivilWar.
Image Credit: The Smithsonian Institution, http://www.civilwar.si.edu/life_fashionplate.html.

The Enslaved People of the Lowcountry

History Behind the Story #2: Enslaved People of the Lowcountry

If you’ve read Southern Rain, you met various characters who are enslaved, such as Shannon’s maid, Phoebe, who travels with her into the North and gains her freedom. Phoebe is one of my favorite characters from the series because of her strength, and I think, in a lot of ways, she is what Shannon wishes she could be.

A lot of times we tend to think of the enslaved in terms of the work they were forced to do since their living conditions were so bad. And yet, they were living, breathing people who got up in the morning, dealt with the frustrations that arise during the day, loved, lost, mourned, experienced great hardship, practiced religion, and built communities. There is a lot of rich and truly unique history to be explored with the enslaved of the Lowcountry.  So let’s delve in!

First, let’s talk ancestry.  In the early days of the colonial period, most who were captured and brought to the Lowcountry were from Kongo and Angola, which are two countries in central Africa on the western side bordering the Atlantic. Later, many were from just north of there on the Windward Coast in Senegambia and Sierra Leone. [1]

The climate was actually very similar to the Lowcountry’s in that part of Africa, which meant one key thing: rice. Long before it was grown in the Lowcountry, rice was king in West Africa, and those who grew it in Africa were experts in the tricky business of cultivating and keeping alive rice plants. This also meant that people from this region were targeted for capture since they would command a huge price in the Charleston Harbor.

So you know what happens. People were ripped from their families, tribes, and communities and stowed aboard ships where many died before they ever saw America. Conditions were hideous on the ships, and those captured were also susceptible to new diseases. If you made it to America, you were then quarantined on Sullivan’s Island (one of the Sea Islands) for a period before being brought into Charleston. During the peak period of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade (1783-1808), about 100,000 people from West African countries would be brought to Gadsden’s Wharf. Once there, they were kept in holding places, sometimes for months, which led to mass death. If you made it long enough to be sold, you might become a a domestic servant for Charleston homes, but the large majority would be sent to the rice fields.

There is quite a bit of evidence that the newly enslaved introduced many of the farming techniques key to the survival of rice culture in the Lowcountry.  Raising rice in the tidal regions required a great deal of engineering – things like levees, floodgates, drains, and cypress logs or “trunks” used to regulate the water’s flow.  The early red rice grown in the colonial Lowcountry is thought to be an African variety as well.[2]

While rice was dominant, indigo (another crop historically grown in Africa) was also introduced. And of course, ultimately there was cotton, still famously known as “Sea Island Cotton.”  So the type of work you would be doing on a daily basis was just luck of the draw depending on where you were born or bought. And rice seemed to be pretty much the worst plant to be forced to grow.  You would stand immersed in water up to the waist all day long, extremely hot on top and wet on the bottom, which led to various health problems. The work was extremely grueling, and life carried with it all of the instabilities that go along with slavery – the possibility of your children being sold, vulnerability to your owner, the possibility of harsh physical discipline, among others.

One day in my Civil War class, one of the students asked the professor which he would rather be – a house servant, or a field worker.  I kind of thought that was a no-brainer – no question the life of a house servant had to be more sheltered than that image we have of slaves in a hot field with an overseer watching closely.  But his answer surprised me: he drew a contrast in slave life for those in places like Tennessee and Virginia in the Upper South, where many slaves were domestic servants or at least in close contact with the owners on a daily basis, and those in places like Mississippi, Louisiana, and the Lowcountry, where you were much likely to be working in the fields with dozens, if not hundreds, of others.  He said that the latter actually found more mental freedom because they developed communities with other slaves, outside of and separate from their owners.  There was a bit more of a chance you could slip under the radar, outside of the notice of your owner.  And that was especially true of the Lowcountry, where often the Sea Island plantations weren’t traditional plantations, like you would think of in popular literature.  The master and mistress might stay there only a few weeks out of the year, if at all.  The plantations were the cash cow, but the owners tended to pass most of their time in fashionable cities like Savannah and Charleston, leaving the care of their lands and slaves to overseers.  Hence, Gullah Geechee culture arose.

Living so isolated from European/Western culture led to a very unique situation. You had people from various countries in Africa who all brought different languages and cultures with them, as well as some limited influences of the English language and American customs. Eventually, this led to a very unique language called Gullah (or Geechee in Georgia), which is still a living language today. Find that hard to believe? U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas spoke Gullah as his first language, and my sister is fortunate enough to have a professor who speaks Gullah. According to her, it’s a very flowing, lilting language which is not close enough to English that you can just follow along if you don’t know Gullah.

The Gullah-Geechee people formed kin networks, culture, and religious practices. It’s important to remember just how many enslaved people populated the region.  Charleston was the most popular port of disembarkation in all of North America during the North-Atlantic slave trade, which produced an African majority early on that persisted up until the time we see Shannon’s family with a lot to lose, worried, as war begins to look more likely in Southern Rain.  They were simply outnumbered, sometimes by as much as nine enslaved to every free person, which led to extreme hysteria about what could happen if the enslaved were freed.

It’s hard to talk about it in these terms, but to owners like Shannon’s family, the majority of your wealth could be caught up in your slaves, which gave strong pecuniary motives to hotly contest any argument, whether it be financial, political, or moral, for abolition. Perhaps owners in the Lowcountry were more worried than others, too, because the enslaved of that region had never really accepted the terms of chattel slavery but had instead grown up in a culture separate from their owners, which had to have undercut the owners’ power to some extent. You’ll notice in Southern Rain that Shannon is acquainted with the house slaves, on close but still unequal terms with a few of them, and entirely unacquainted with her father’s field slaves. She would probably be hard-pressed to recognize any of them, and this was not uncommon for the region.  Many of the field workers wouldn’t have spoken English, and the Ravenels only spent the late autumn until December on their plantation before going back to Charleston to participate in the social season and then to escape the summer illnesses which often festered in the swampy regions just outside of Charleston.[3]  And in any event, the life of a young twenty-year-old daughter of a master was as different from that of a twenty-year-old enslaved woman as could possibly be imagined.  Except that they were both twenty-year-old women with human emotions, some of which had to have been similar, which is rather interesting to explore with Shannon and Phoebe, two women of roughly the same age who go north together into a different world.

One last thought, which I hope isn’t too much of a spoiler for the second book: what becomes of the Sea Island slaves during and after the Civil War? Something really unique, actually.  Although Charleston was impenetrable to the Union until the very last days of the war, the Sea Islands were abandoned fairly early on by the owners, who feared invasion by U.S. Naval forces, who were squeezing tighter every day with the blockade of the South.  Union forces began overrunning the Sea Islands as early as 1861, which is years earlier than most slaves experienced freedom.  Many Gullah went on to serve in the Union army, but some stayed on the plantations in an experiment in which former slaves continued to farm the land and earn their own money.  As many as 195 plantations were involved in the experiment.  Abolitionists, many from the North, began to pour in to establish schools.  President Andrew Johnson did return most of the land to the original owners after the war, but many Gullah continued to live in relative isolation in the area. When my family and I visited McLeod Plantation in the Sea Islands, we learned that there were ancestors of Gullah slaves living on the plantation until the 1990’s. Similarly, at Magnolia Plantation on the Ashley River, we learned that there are ancestors still living and working there to this day.

I could write for days about the rich culture of the Gullah Geechee – their food, craftsmanship, dwellings, and family life.  If you would like to learn more, check out some of the sources below, especially the National Park Service’s page on African American Heritage and Ethnography. Let me know if you have any questions on the life of the enslaved as you read Southern Rain!

[1] There were many Indian tribes populating the Lowcountry upon contact, which were ultimately mostly extinguished due to disease and war, but many were also taken as slaves. There was intermarrying between those of African and Native American ancestry, so there was a very nuanced heritage at play, which contributed to the unique blending of cultures in the region.

[2] Ultimately, the go-to rice plant was the famous “Carolina Gold” variety.

[3] The Sea Islands were less likely to experience the harsh effects of the “sickly season” than the swampy regions around the Ashley and Santee Rivers due to a slightly more salubrious climate.

Sources:

Slavery in the Lowcountry, https://iaamuseum.org/history/slavery-in-charleston-and-the-lowcountry/.

African Passages, Lowcountry Adaptations, https://ldhi.library.cofc.edu/.

Africans in the Lowcountry, https://www.nps.gov/ethnography/aah/aaheritage/lowCountryA.htm.

Gullah History, http://www.beaufortsc.org/guides/gullah-history/.

Image Credit: Slavery in the Lowcountry, https://benjaminschwarz.org/1998/03/22/slavery-in-the-low-country/.

French Huguenots in South Carolina

History Behind the Story #1: French Huguenots in South Carolina

In celebration of the recent release of Southern Rain, I announced that I would be doing a series on the History Behind the Story.  Today, I bring you the first in the series: a look at French Huguenots in South Carolina!

It was very subtle in Southern Rain, but there were a few indications of the heritage I chose for the lead family, the Ravenels. I was surprised during my research of the Charleston aristocracy of the 19th Century to find that a huge proportion of them were descended from French Huguenots.  That was a bit of a head-scratcher: how did a people go from being oppressed, persecuted, and run out of their country to being at the very top of the food chain and oppressing others in just a few generations?  But first, what is a Huguenot?

Think 16th and 17th Century France.  A little event called the Protestant Reformation was happening after the bombshell dropped by Martin Luther. The ideas that were being espoused were things like personal faith rather than church intervention and that scripture alone was authoritative.  Obviously, the desire to reform the Catholic Church stirred up a lot of tension and threatened the power structure of Europe.

It’s important to remember that, while they were religious minorities, most Huguenots in France still had a great deal of wealth and power. The very term “Huguenot” is ethnoreligious and cannot be translated purely into the word “Protestant.” The Protestants in France, while largely ethnically similar to the Catholics, became almost a separate ethnic group, but one in which many of the members had aristocratic ancestries similar to the noble Catholic families.

In certain areas, tensions ran high, forcing the Huguenots to give up their faith or flee France as refugees.  A war was begun with the Massacre at Vassy, in which royal troops ambushed and murdered or injured hundreds of Huguenots in their place of worship.  Political intrigue and death ensued. Mass slaughters of Huguenots were enacted throughout France.

Happily, this conflict ended in the Edict of Nantes, which granted a great deal of concessions to the Protestants. For a time, there was peace (sort of). The peace was ruptured utterly by the Edict’s revocation by Louis XIV (The Sun King), which resulted in cultural or literal genocide of Huguenots, either by forced conversions, executions, or what many saw as no choice but to flee.

Do I see Charleston in the future of many of the Huguenots?  Yes!  Now, Huguenots were fleeing all over the world by hundreds of thousands, so the Lowcountry was just one refuge.  But it was a refuge that ultimately stuck for those who did immigrate to the area. A Huguenot Church was quickly established there and is in operation to this day!

The Huguenots settled throughout the Lowcountry near Charleston along the Ashley and Santee Rivers and near the Sea Islands. Anne LeClercq says of those who settled there, “The French Huguenot had come to Upper Saint John’s after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 and found in the somber beauty of the Santee Swamp, with its forest walls of oak and cypress, an area inhabited only by wild animals and widely separated villages of Santee Indians.”[1]  They were no longer oppressed.  In fact, they thrived.

Those who settled the area were either of elite heritage or were highly skilled artisans and tradesmen. They quickly assimilated, often intermarrying with other settlers, and were very prosperous because of a mixture of hard work and industry, a background of knowledge of what it took to amass power and wealth, and a dogged determination to make something of the second chance they had been given.  In short, while the elite in Charleston were made up of families from all over Europe, the Huguenots quickly became one of the largest groups that made up the elites.  LeClercq names a few of the family names: “Porchers, Gaillards, Mazycks, Palmers, Ravenels, Cordeses, Marions, Dwights, and Gourdins.”[2]  I chose the surname Ravenel from a list of French Huguenot names since I wanted the central family to be of that heritage. The way I have heard it pronounced in Charleston in present day is Ravv-uh-nell, with a slight emphasis on the first syllable.

The Huguenot assimilated in another way, too: they affiliated with larger Protestant denominations and, in a generation or two, largely lost their Huguenot ties. You’ll notice when you read Southern Rain that the historical Ravenels are Presbyterian. You might be wondering about that, since that denomination is largely associated with Scotland, but that was one of the churches into which the Huguenots poured over in America. For one, they had the same roots (Presbyterianism also grew out of the Reformation), and they also maintained similar beliefs.

And what about the fact that the Huguenot and their descendants became some of the largest slaveholders in the South?  One would almost guess, based on the Huguenots’ oppression and commitment to faith, that they might have been friends of abolition, and perhaps some were. But in large part, they were not. The amassing of wealth and aristocracy in South Carolina happened quickly, but its full fruition did occur over the course of several generations. For instance, from the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 to 1859 when we see the height of the Ravenels’ wealth, five or six generations have passed, and the descendants were probably very similar in their beliefs to the majority of South Carolinians of European descent.  And yet, that isn’t to say that slaves weren’t owned by those of Huguenot heritage generations before the Civil War, or even by that first generation.  While one can’t say with certainty what initiated the slaveholding status of Huguenots, Nancy Maurer sees it as another evidence of the assimilation necessary to achieve wealth and status.[3]  And that may be largely true, since it quickly became obvious that the most successful occupation in the Lowcountry was that of planter.  By the third generation, nearly all South Carolinians of French heritage (and South Carolinians in general) were slaveowners.[4]  We’ll talk about the enslaved people of the Lowcountry in the next article, including their heritage and daily lives.

Many sources seem to indicate that the Huguenots assimilated so effectively that they lost all cultural identity as French and all cohesiveness as an immigrant group.  I don’t find that to be true. You have only to visit Charleston to find French influences in everything from architecture to naming, and especially in its unique and wonderful cuisine.

I’ll leave you with a bit of a cliffhanger! You’ll notice that in Southern Rain, Frederick Ravenel, who is the ancestor of the modern Ravenels, says with all of the political incorrectness of his era, “I wouldn’t want Catholic children,” and seems to hold to that determination throughout.  Yet, we know that the modern Ravenels are, in fact, Catholic. Hmm…how did that happen? Guess you’ll have to read the second book in the Torn Asunder Series to find out! 😊

[1] LeClercq, Anne Sinkler Whaley, An Antebellum Plantation Household (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2006), pp. x.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Maurer, Nancy, The Evolution of French Identity: A Study of the Huguenots in South Carolina, 1680-1740 (2006), pp. 12.

[4] Ibid, 66.

Sources:

Reformation (2019), https://www.britannica.com/event/Reformation.

Huguenot History, https://www.huguenotsociety.org/heritage/history/.

LeClercq, Anne Sinkler Whaley, An Antebellum Plantation Household (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2006).

Maurer, Nancy, The Evolution of French Identity: A Study of the Huguenots in South Carolina, 1680-1740 (2006).

Protestant Immigration to Louisiana, https://www.britannica.com/event/Reformation.

Image Credit:

Carolina, The French Huguenots, https://www.carolana.com/Carolina/Settlement/french_huguenot_settlers.html.

*P.S. I tried to include both scholarly and more readable sources. I have many more.  If you would like them, just ask, and I’ll get the links to you!