Tuesday, March 27, 2012

March 27. The Muse has been working on a timeline of the War of 1812. There are many of them on the internet, and all are helpful, perhaps differing just a tad from one another, but no significantly. We are doing this because on the 30th we are speaking to whoever cares to hear about what the war must have looked like from the view of the Cape Codder of the time. And the time-line -- well, it is a list of battles, skirmishes and occasional massacres in places no one on Cape Cod could have heard of or would have known the location of. A "Battle" might have consisted of 20 or 30 people, with one or two casualties; a skirmish generally counted one or two injuries. Massacres had the highest body count, and certainly the militias of various territories were terrified of the Indians, with good reason.

The Muse grew up in Ohio, right at the site of the early part of the war where poor General Hull, an older gentleman who didn't want command, was ordered to pick up militia companies who were moving to various places to meet him, along with some regular army types. They assembled in Dayton and eventually made it to the rapids of the Maumee River (from which the Muse lived only two blocks away). Not having been notified that the war had started, Hull sent the wounded, his supplies, and a whole lot of paperwork ahead by schooner (since now there was enough water to sail.)

The British general, Isaac Brock, did know that the war had started, and captured the schooner, read the paperwork and, of course, then  knew all about Hull's plans to take the British Fort at Amherstburg, across the Detroit River from the Fort of the same name. Brock was an ideal soldier, steadfast and imaginative, daring and in many respects admirable. He never asked his soldiers to do something he wouldn't do with them (which resulted in his getting killed in battle), and he was able to work well with his Indian allies. Both soldiers and Indians followed his instructions, putting on coats of one color and marching around, then putting on soats of other colors, so the Americans though there were more of them than there were in actual fact, and the Indians did the same thing, appearing here, then there, then somewhere else in the woods, so that it seemed the woods was filled with them.

Hull, who had his daughter and grandson with him, was terrified that they would be captured and tortured by the Indians, and he didn't want that fate for any of his soldiers, either, so he surrendered Fort Detroit before he could lose the battle, thus putting himself, his family, and his men under the protection of the British. Of course, he got court-martialed, even sentenced to hang, though pardoned before that happened. Still, he was ruined -- an old man who was trying to protect those who depended on him.

The British have never been too astute when it comes to leadership (probably because the sons of the aristocracy were in command, whether they earned it or not) but in Hull's case, and others, too, the Americans showed in a particularly bad light, orders given to attack when no ammunition had been moved up, orders to move when no supplies had arrived, and a lot of fingerpointing when the troops, poorly trained and without discipline (they were militia, after all, and weren't impressed with the regular army) ran away or refused to obey, with defeat as a result.

So whether the Muse actually uses the timeline or not, it was instructive to put one together and get the sense of how disorganized and inadequate our leadership was. It led to the eventual establishment of a standing army (which the early American did NOT want, but which could be seen to be necessary when debacle after debacle revealed the need for one.) Meanwhile, we all must be thankful that the English weren't much better off, and that Brock was taken out. Otherwise, we might be singing "God save the Queen" when time for the national anthem comes around, part of the great British Commonwealth.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Secession seems to raise its interesting head more and more often as we read about the War of 1812 and the attitude of New England. Today we ran into the first challenge presented by the government doing something harmful to a section of the country. In this case it had to do with the Louisiana Purchase, and actually it's a little amusing. It seems that the Federalists, mostly rich men from New England -- important men, who married important women and raised important children -- it seems that these guys were upset because there were strangers in living in the Purchase. Mexican strangers, and French Acadians, and Spanish people who didn't know English and the traditions of English people.

Everyone then knew that those traditions were important, and that the people who followed them were the best of the best. God had scattered the seed of the strongest and the most favored of His children in the New England hills and along the New England coast. There were a few other English people, too, they acknowledged -- the Welsh in Pennsylvania, the Scottish in the appalachians (yes, sometimes the Muse doesn't know how to spell) and don't forget the Pilgrims, etc. As different as these groups were, they still had a basic understanding of what was fittin' and what wasn't. But those Spanish people -- or Mexicans, or French. They would weaken America, and since Jefferson had just gone ahead with the Purchase (no consultation with Congress, so no chance to be heard on the issue -- well, then, perhaps it was time to separate. It would have come as no surprise. It seems that no one really thought the entire landmass of north America would rest content under one set of rules.

And there is nothing in the Constitution that forbids separation.

That's an interesting thought in and of itself, but before the Muse goes off in that direction, there is another issue that comes to mind, at this juncture, and that is about the Ariyan. Since we definitely can't spell that, we'll break off until it can be looked up, and maybe the spelling of the eastern mountain chain, too.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012


Right now the Muse is very much into the Civil War, where secession was the major issue. The secession issue relative to the South was no different than it was for New England during the Embargo. If the Yankees formed their own union, they would be free to trade with Britain and the rest of Europe. They were willing to put up with the boardings of the British and the confiscations of the French, because commerce was their life-blood. Jefferson and his party (by now we were a two-party system, one favoring Britain and one favoring France) were concerned with the lack of respect shown our flag, thus our country, treating it as though it were not worth worrying about. In the larger scheme of things, this was important since the country wasn't very old yet and wasn't well established.

But the local folks, anywhere, are generally not worried about the larger scheme of things. They are interested in their own well being, and this often means the well-being of their families and communities. Said well-being is sometimes in conflict with the common good; the Federalists and ship owners and mariners protested that the consitution guaranted their liberties and pursuit of happiness, which certainly must include making a living. And they were certainly deprived of these.

But, finally, the day before he was due to leave office, Jefferson repealed the Embargo. Impressment resumed (the French, by then, were buying flour so presumably they weren't the problem they had once been) and American trade picked up where it left off. For the next three years the European routes were open and, as far as the Muse knows, much money was made, though American mariners were forbidden to  trade with England or France.

In the fictional town of Waterford, and most likely everywhere else, Elijah Merrick and his cohort wanted to conserve what money they had and add to it, certain that war with England was inevitable; he forbade Molly from spending on entertainments and social activities so she was still stuck with the dirty work, though was able to hire a local girl to help her, which took the curse off the return to penury.

The simple life was now Molly's life. She was ripe to take on something new and exciting, because the daily round of work was neither new nor exciting, and she had been badly spoiled by Elijah. As a female person, the Muse is dumbfounded at the work of women in those days. It seems impossible that such drudgery was the inevitable result of marriage -- but it was. And marriage was inevitable, too; who was going to take care of the daughters of the house when their father passed away? The ramifications are very contemporary, relative to women's rights, but since the Muse is historic, we will not take that up.

As far as secession goes, we think New England could have made it just fine on her own. Money and manufacturing was centered here, and though we couldn't feed ourselves, we'd have been able to buy food, because of that money and manufacturing. In fact, the west would probably have liked to seceed, too, having little in common with the east. The Mississippi River was their outlet to the world, and as long as they could control it, they didn't really need the federal government. Unfortunately for them, by 1807, the government was well established in New Orleans and could have easily blocked their only outlet to the world. Not so New England, with a whole lot of coastline....

50 years later, it was another story. A really awful one, which the Muse will not dwell on, just now.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Now the Muse will take a look at the Embargo from the male point of view, in this case the mariner. Our real life hero, Elijah Cobb, had busily opened a route to Hamburg that had proved very lucrative until the British blockaded the Elbe. He got around it by using a canal starting in Lubec that ran to Hamburg, but he doesn't record using it more than once. Instead, he was sent to Malaga, Spain, but upon arriving there, found that the British Orders in Council forbade him from taking on a return cargo. (All these blockades were the result of the Napoleonic Wars, in case the reader is wondering).

Well, he bribed his way out of that one. He attempted to run through the Straits of Gibralter at night, when, with luck, he wouldn't be seen. But the wind dropped, and so he ended up being boarded by the commander of an English Frigate who seems to have been totally asleep at the switch. The clerks at the clearance office were easily bribed, and Cobb sailed away under protection of a convoy, arriving home in time to take out a ship then at anchor in Alexandria, Virginia. It was full of stone ballast (since ships couldn't leave Europe with a cargo) which Cobb unloaded, loaded back up with flour, and made arrangements to leave on the next tide, despite having learned that the Embargo had passed and would be in effect at 10:00 the next day. The tide would allow for an 8:00 departure. He was able to get away by the skin of his teeth and took one of the last shipments of flour to Cadiz, in Spain, along with news about the Embargo.

No more is heard from Captain Cobb until some adventures relative to the War of 1812, but not so Captain Merrick, hero of This is the House. We learn that he went home to help organize the militia, in case New England seceeded and would need to be defended. We learn that he was part of a group of mariners who built a clipper-rigged ship in Plymouth, and sailed it out past the watchful eyes of the government, staying out until the whole thing was called off the following spring. We learn that salt-making took on new life, during the Embargo, by way of a cash crop, and that the men returned to the land in order to feed themselves and their families. When the Embargo was lifted in March of 1809, everyone took off for Europe in a hurry, trying to earn as much as they could before England and America went to war. Everyone knew it would happen. They just didn't know when.

The home folks weren't able to pick up their pleasant life-styles, because the South Shore folks who had been willing to help weren't willing any more, and because money had to be saved, so that even if the South Siders had been available, no one was going to rehire them.

That part is all fiction, the Muse hastens to announce. But a clipper rigged ship did sail -- salt-making was taken up and remained robust for many years, and New England was, indeed, interested in secession. The Muse will muse about that in the next post.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Now the Historic Muse is taking a look at Jefferson's Embargo and how it affected plain ordinary people. The people I know best are those living on the North Shore of Cape Cod, whose livlihood depended on foreign trade. They, of course, weren't the only ones penalized by this law; the whole seaboard was paralyzed by it for better than a year.

By way of review: Jefferson's Embargo was his attempt to force France and England to respect the neutrality of the United States and stop their harrassments. The Chesapeake had been fired on, people were hot for war, and he knew the country wasn't strong enough to take on either antagonist. He hoped, then, that by their having no neutral carriers, France and England would treat us with respect (they were so busy fighting each other that they couldn't carry their own trade, Jefferson thought. So they'd have to change their ways.)

The Embargo was very unpopular with the seaboard folks. (Inland was least affected. 90-95% of the population lived on farms, and were pretty self-reliant. But if you depended on commerce, you were in trouble. So some folks smuggled and a lot of people were paid off to ignore a certain ship that might have been coming or going. But this was very much under the radar. We don't see an awful lot of disobedience. The law was the law, even though the country didn't as yet, have many opportunities to test it. In my novel, This is the House, I create a society that was laid low by the Embargo, its ability to hire servants brought to an abrupt halt. That meant a return to the ways things were done before the Revolution, when everyone was poor.

My heroine, Molly, whose rise and well-being depend on leading a wealthy society, is devastated. She still leads, because she is has acquired a group that will follow her, but now there is no time to continue its activities. Now it's back to the drawing board, up to her elbows in bread dough, laundry, child-care -- the whole nine yards. For people elsewhere, the change probably wouldn't be as drastic. These chores always had to be performed, with help or without it. But for Molly, who has depended on help so that she has time to attend to her social standing, as well as depending on her husband, Elijah, to provide the wherewithal to finance it, the loss is enormous.

Every once in a while the Muse asks: did the wealthy of 1807 really live in a style that was so aristocratic? The Muse has examined the lives of the rich, and yes, it does seem that the Americans who'd become rich by then were reinacting the style of the British upper class, just as did the South. The British influence lasted a long, long time. Look at Newport, Rhode Island, if there is any doubt in the mind of the reader.

And what of Elijah? The original, Elijah Cobb, doesn't tell us what happens at home or abroad once the Embargo is in effect. But, of course, the novelist knows. Wait for the next blog about breaking the Embargo!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Muse is toying with the idea of "lecturing" on the War of 1812 from the point of view of the characters in This is the House. We all can go to Wikipedia and learn the facts (which are not easy to assimilate, as there were many currents and cross currents to navigate at the beginning of the Republic's history). But the Muse has always been interested on how those currents and cross currents affected the Common Man, and two birds might be decimated with one stone, if the lectures were to proceed in this manner.

First bird: facts. Second bird: effects, which affect everyday people. We would start with Elijah Merrick, a young mariner just starting his career as a captain in America's merchant fleet. An early voyage to Spain results in his ship and cargo being intercepted and confiscated by the French, who are having a revolution and the population is going hungry. Elijah's cargo of flour disappears in an instant.

At this very point in American history, George Washington proclaimed our neutrality, so that we'd be able to continue to trade with England. Now, we must remember that France was our ally during our own Revolution. Naturally, she was not happy when America declared neutrality and continued to trade with Britain. The United States, to show its gratitude, should be on  the side of France and the Revolutionaries, instead of bowing to the almighty dollar. But we weren't in a position to join anybody's war, and the Federalists did their level best to keep us out of one. (Jefferson and his supporters favored France). Apparently a bunch of French enthusiasts had built a privateer and were all ready to go out on the high seas to help France, which occasioned Washington's proclamation.

But back to our hero: after endless delays, Elijah Merrick was indemnified and then some, returned to Boston, his home port, with his reputation made and his "owners" delighted in the enormous profit he was able to negotiate. Being boarded, his cargo confiscated, was just one of the hazzards that the mariner had to deal with. But there were other boardings, too, on the part of the British. Looking for deserters from His Majesty's navy, American ships were stopped and sailors of British birth removed -- some of whom were American citizens. Pretty disrespectful, we think.
Thus the stage is set. Elijah Merrick's experience with the French ended up profitably due to his persistance. The French would have been glad to cheat him out of his due. His counterpart, (who wrote the memoir upon which This is the House is based) continued trading in Europe and chasing around the French countryside, smuggling rum into Ireland, etc. until the American government, in an attempt to get France and England to stop picking on our mariners, laid on a complete embargo, hoping that our commercial value was so great that they'd stop boarding and confiscating.

That, of course, is a story for another day.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Ruminations over the War of 1812

The Muse has been head over heels learning how to publish and print books. The second edition of the novel that takes place during the prelude, the War of 1812 and its aftermath is finally done. Now we can enjoy a little respite before the next book.

Not that the respite mean rest! No, it means now the Muse can go to market, showing This is the House to booksellers, advertisers and reviewers, etc. It also means, since the Muse does know a thing or two about the War of 1812, that several lectures have been lined up, this being the be-centennial year of the start of said war. The Muse will tell all upon these occasions.

But the Muse notes that there is a shortage of enthusiasm for the bi-centennial. This may have to do with the fact that the United States didn't win the contest. The Canadians, from what we can see, are relishing the re-enactments at various forts in the Northwest Territory (Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, etc) because they won all but the most important battles and have more to brag about than we do. There's almost nothing going on in New England (at least at this point). We don't know if this is because of embarrassment about the north-east's flirtation with secession, or if it's the equivalent of pouting because, as mentioned above, American didn't win.

However, neither did she lose. The sectionalism that had become rather strident in these years melted away when the British finally did land on our soil, which was possible once war with Napoleon was over and there were troops and ships available to knock our socks off. Over they came, entered the Chesapeake Bay in August, beat up the Bladensberg militia, marched to Washington DC and chased the President out of the White House (which wasn't called that, at the time), set fires here and there and decided to buzz up to Baltimore and take the fort there. (The geography may be a little inaccurate there, but the intent of the British was clear). The states' militias, at last, coordinated their efforts and promised to give as good as they got. Up on Lake Champlain the British had been actually defeated and forced to retreat, and so the English, war-weary before they even arrived, decided against further incursions. It was time to call it a day, and that's exactly what happened. By November the treaty was drawn up and signed.

The Muse wishes to point out that this is not defeat! This is us, refusing to be pushed around dispite the size off the enemy, and if a little too rambuncious for our own good, vis-a-vis Canada, we did stand up for ourselves, impressment came to a stop, and it began to look like we were here to stay.That's not all bad, folks.

But if anyone out there know how to spell "rambuncious"  we'd like to know about it!