Thursday, December 19, 2013


Conducted by Michael Brookes

Guest Authors Revisited - Harold Titus

I first interviewed Harold Titus back in May. I recently caught up with him to see what he's been up to since. You can find out more below:
What has changed in your life since we last spoke?
Nothing really has changed much in my life since we spoke last May. Most of my reading has been directed toward expanding my knowledge of the English settlements at Roanoke (North Carolina) during the 1580s. I did, however, begin a blog site ( Once a month I write two blog entries: one about actual people who appear in my Revolutionary War novel "Crossing the River" and the other about information I've discovered that places the Roanoke settlements story in a broader historical context. I also include book reviews I have written and excerpts from "Crossing the River."

Have you learnt any new wisdom?
What has transpired since May has only reinforced my realization that the best reward a writer receives for his efforts is self-satisfaction, derived from knowing that he has stretched himself in producing the final product and that discriminating readers have appreciated it.

What are you working on at the moment?
I haven't begun writing my novel about Roanoke, so I don't know if I have become a better writer. I do know that the book I hope to begin writing soon will be quite a challenge. I want to focus particularly on the Native American inhabitants and juxtapose their culture with that of the English. I want to make observations about man's nature that is true of all beings at any specific time. One of my main characters will be a young Algonquian woman experiencing the need to break out of her confining, stagnant culture to learn certain things that are not known by her people and to find ways not yet discovered by them to be creative. Because so little is known about individual Algonquians along North Carolina's Outer Banks that English leaders mention in their reports, I must fictionalize their individual histories, family backgrounds, and character traits to make them living human beings with whom readers may identify yet remain historically responsible.

Tell us about your latest release and how we can find out more.
I'm guessing that this project will take at least two years to complete. Maybe more. I don't know how much longer I will be able to continue the current subject matter of my blog site. At some point in time I will probably write about difficulties I have encountered with the current project. I might include excerpts of the writing.

Crossing the River is available from Amazon

Wednesday, December 4, 2013


"Don't You Go Get Yourself Killed,"

Pages 260-262

     Upon hearing the crash of musketry, Elisha Jones had hastily left his cellar, where he and his family had told Bible stories and played improvised games. Through his second story bedroom window he had a clear sight of the redcoat retreat. The wounded were beginning to pass before him. Determined to bring down one or two, he eased his musket’s long barrel out the window.
     His first mark approached. A ball had torn into the soldier’s left thigh. The redcoat was hopping, using his musket as a crutch. He stopped. Grimacing, he doubled over, surrounded his wound with his hands.
     Holding his breath, Jones touched his musket’s trigger.
     A heavy blow jarred the weapon from his grasp. It clattered on the floorboards.
     “Don't you go get yourself killed, y'old fool!” his wife hissed.
     She stood indomitably before him.
     Her conduct astonished him. He stared at her a full ten seconds. Blood thumped at the base of his throat.
     He thought to retrieve the musket; he stooped to grasp it; stepping over it, she jarred his head with her right leg. Anger radiated. After he had straightened, had thoroughly looked at her, his anger subsided. “All right,” he said gruffly.
     He walked toward the bedroom door.
     “Where are you going?” she questioned.
     “T'the shed! I want t'watch 'em!” he said resentfully.
     “You'll do nothing more?”
     Standing by the side of the shed, he watched two soldiers, close together, hobble past. They hadn’t gotten nearly enough! How he wanted his musket!
     Another stopped in front of the house. Leaning on his musket barrel, the regular raised his bloody shoe.
     “Get along with you, lobsterback!” Jones shouted.
     The soldier located him. He steadied himself.
     Jones returned the soldier's hateful stare. “They should'a shot you dead!”
     Raising his musket waist high, the soldier fired. Jones saw the brilliant flash, heard simultaneously a heavy thump. A coarse substance showered his hair and coat.
     The soldier turned. Using the musket to support his weight, he left.
     Staring at the hole in his shed, three feet to the right of and three inches above his head, Jones scowled.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013


"Follow the River"
by James Alexander Thom

I chose to read "Follow the River" by James Alexander Thom not so much to be entertained and inspired by the story of Mary Ingles’s escape in 1755 from Indian captivity and her torturous return from the Ohio River to her family’s frontier settlement west of the Blue Ridge Mountains. I had read about her ordeal, it being a true story, years ago. I wanted to see how Thom dealt with what I anticipated would be two major difficulties: description of her surroundings and portrayal of her thoughts and emotions. Being that Mary was isolated so much and that she was forced to trek through wild, diverse terrain, I recognized that surmounting these difficulties would be a substantial achievement.

Thom explains at the end of the book that he traveled Mary Ingles’s route home as part of his research. Not surprisingly, his description of her surroundings is genuine, readily believable. Included in much of his description is sharp sensory imagery, derived, I am certain, from close personal observation.

"Thunder grumbled, lightning flickered on the horizon, and as the clouds climbed, a blast of damp air shivered the surface of the river and turned the leaves of the forest white side up. Soon the thunderheads dominated the whole sky above the river; they came gliding across, their undersides lowering and dragging gray veils of rain under them. Birds and insects fell silent."

Equally impressive is Thom’s ability to describe Mary’s physical suffering, so necessary to evoke reader identification and empathy. In this passage near the end of the novel Mary is scaling a steep incline between two immense, vertical pillars of rock.

"She hung there for a moment, saw a leafless dogwood sapling two feet above her head. She got her numb left hand up to it and around it, forced the fingers to close, and pulled herself, panting and squinting, a little further up, her naked abdomen and thighs scraping over snow and rock and frozen soil, her cold-petrified toes trying awkwardly to gain traction."

Thom’s ability to narrate Mary’s thoughts and emotions is equally vital to the success of the novel. One aspect of her thought processes is her wavering allegiance to God. How could a benevolent, omnipresent Lord countenance the horrors she had witnessed and the miseries she daily endured? I appreciated especially these thoughts, which follow her successful ascent of the steep incline partially described above.

"She lay with her face against the frozen dirt and had her say with God.
Lord, I’ll thank’ee never to give me another day like this if I grow to be eighty.
No one deserves a day like this.
This is the most terrible day I’ve had in a hell of terrible days and I’m no’ grateful for it.
Now give me the strength to make my way across and down this devil’s scarp. Do that and then maybe I can make peace with’ee."

The detail of Mary’s ordeal makes the novel fascinating. Adding considerably to the tension of Mary’s situation is the presence of her companion, an unstable, middle-aged Dutch woman who becomes homicidal. Each chapter presents a specific conflict that is a component of Mary’s overall battle to survive and reach her destination. The story never loses momentum.

At appropriate places Thom’s narration touches the reader’s emotions. I was especially moved by Mary’s leaving-taking of her infant child, born during Mary’s early captivity.

"Her hot tears were dropping on the baby’s forehead and would awaken it; little frowns were disturbing its face and its little beak of an upper lip sucked in the soft red lower lip. Mary couldn’t stop herself. She kissed the little mouth and then, with anguish that would surely kill her, she rose to her feet and stumbled, tearblinded, to the edge of the camp, her lungs quaking for release, her throat clamped to hold down the awful wail of despair that was trying to erupt."

"Follow the River" deserves high praise.  

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Unknown Patriot Prevails

What amazes me almost as much as the incredible events of Eliphalet Downer’s life after the Battles of Lexington and Concord is that few Americans know anything about him. How much more could a man give of himself to the cause of freedom and independence during the American Revolution than this surgeon and sailor?

At the end of my last blog, Downer, surgeon on the privateer “Alliance,” operating one of the ship’s cannons during a fierce engagement, is wounded by grape shot. The battle between the “Alliance” and the 28-gun British frigate lasts seven and a half hours. The “Alliance” loses both of its masts. The ship surrenders after it has fired its last round.

We can imagine Downer’s agony while being transported to Portsea Prison, adjacent to Portsmouth, not far from Forten Prison, where he had been previously incarcerated. Kept in “the black hole,” Downer recuperates enough to help dig with a jack knife a forty foot tunnel under one of the prison walls. During the prisoners’ subsequent escape attempt, Downer, rather stout, becomes wedged in a section of the tunnel. More dirt is removed, he is freed, and the men flee across the outer grounds. Some of the fugitives are discovered and returned to “the black hole.” But not Downer. Helped by Reverend Thomas Wren and a Mr. William Downer (I have found no information that indicates that he and Eliphalet were related), our hero is transported again to France.

A respected Hollywood actor needs to play Reverend Wren in my imagery film. Wren deserves much face-time and praise.

Fifty-four years old, Reverend Wren had been the Presbyterian minister in Portsmouth for twenty-two years. He was an uninspiring preacher but was esteemed by the community for living “an exemplary life of charming simplicity and piety.” The personal responsibility he took for distributing charitable money and encouraging the poor mattered greatly.

Through press reports, the business of the Portsmouth dockyard, and his personal contacts Wren was cognizant of pro-American sentiment both locally and in Parliament. News of the destruction of East India tea in Boston Harbor in 1773, the clash of arms at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts, in 1775, and America’s Declaration of Independence in 1776 reached Portsmouth citizens almost as quickly as it did the citizens of London.

American prisoners usually passed through Portsmouth on their way to Forten and Portsea Prisons. The residents of Portsmouth knew quite a lot about the prisons. In his sermons Reverend Wren spoke frequently about the prisoners’ plight. He attended their confinement hearings. He solicited contributions from local friends and organizations. He received donations from pro-American sympathizers throughout the country. He made frequent visits across the harbor to Forten where he visited the sailors, providing them support and assistance: money, even provisions delivered to inmates confined in the special punishment compound.

By 1777, Americans working from France were providing assistance. In October 1777, Benjamin Franklin wrote to a friend and member of Parliament to ask that he distribute money to needy American captives. Franklin was told of the work of “a very worthy man,” the Reverend Thomas Wren.

Information of Reverend Wren’s charitable work reached the citizens of Boston with this notice printed October 5, 1778, in the Boston newspaper, The Independent Ledger and the American Advertizer.

“America ought to know the kindness that has been shown to her Sons in captivity in England, by the Rev'd Mr. Thomas Wren, a dissenting minister at Portsmouth. He had no small influence in procuring a subscription for their relief
at a time when they were treated with great severity. This subscription amounted to upwards of 4000 £ Sterling; and he was appointed one of the distributors of this bounty, in cloaths and other necessaries to the sufferers. Such humanity and generosity as they have experienced from this good man, and others of the same spirit, cannot be mentioned here with indifferance. They deserve particular honor and applause.

He has sent over a List of the New-England prisoners at Forton, near Portsmouth; your publishing it in your paper may further his humans views by giving relief to the minds of some of their anxious friends. Since the alliance with France, and the prospect of establishing our Independence, all our prisoners in England have been treated with lenity.”

Attempted escapes from Forten became common. Records show that 536 attempts were made during the course of the war. Prison fugitives were hampered by lack of local knowledge of safe routes, suitable clothing, food, and money. Other hazards included hostile residents eager to receive the £5 bounty paid for each prisoner returned. Notwithstanding, pro-American citizens helped. This became obvious to the authorities, who ordered investigations, which failed to identify specific culprits. It appears that the investigations were not diligent. Otherwise, the assistance rendered by Reverend Wren and his associates should have been uncovered. Wren’s High Street Chapel appears to have been one of the sanctuaries for fugitives who had made it across Portsmouth Harbor prior to their being transported to London and then to the continent.

Eliphalet Downer’s sole letter to his wife Mary was probably written in France after his second escape. He complains of the cruel and inhuman treatment of the American prisoners confined in the Forten Prison, and adds: "It is a little better since they have heard of the surrender of Burgoyne." He informs her that he had received a severe wound while directing the operations of a gun pointed out of a cabin window. "A grape-shot broke my arm so badly that the bone projected beyond the flesh but it is better now," he writes.

Downer’s 1777 deposition and others were the cause of correspondence between Benjamin Franklin and Silas Dean and Lord Viscount Stormont in Paris. In a message dated April 3, 1778, the American representatives warned the King’s court that America was aware of the barbarous treatment of her captured sailors and that if corrective actions were not taken, the Court should expect severe reprisals. “For the sake of humanity it is to be wished that men would endeavor to alleviate as much as possible the unavoidable miseries attending a state of war. … Compelling men by chains, stripes and famine to fight against their friends and relations is a new mode of barbarity, which your nation alone has the honor of inventing; and the sending American prisoners of war to Africa and Asia, remote from all probability of exchange, and where they can scarce hope to hear from their families, even if the unwholesomeness of the climate does not put a speedy end to their lives, is a manner of treating captives that you can justify by no other precedent or custom except that of the black savages of Guinea."

This message elicited the following response: “The King's ambassador receives no letters from rebels, except when they come to ask for mercy."

Every movie must end. Eliphalet Downer joins John Paul Jones on the "Bon Homme Richard." After experiencing several adventures he returns to Massachusetts. He applies for a pension, which is denied on the grounds "that as a surgeon he had no right to be in command of a gun. His services were welcome, but only within the limits of prescribed regulations. Outside of them all, militant risks were exclusively his own."

On July 9, 1779, Dr. Downer is commissioned Surgeon-General of the "Penobscot expedition," which ascends the Kennebec River but is overcome by superior British and Indian forces. His service lasts three months. He loses his surgical instruments, which the Massachusetts Legislature pays for -- fifteen dollars.

Afterward, he retires to private life, with a soldier's portion of the Marietta Reserve in Ohio and a peck-basket full of Continental money.

Fade out.

Father, Do Me No More Favors!


To appreciate better England’s attempt to establish a colony in North America in 1585, a student of history should know certain facts about the difficulties that Queen Elizabeth faced when in 1558 she became Queen, difficulties that she would continue to have during her lengthy reign.

Most of Elizabeth’s initial difficulties were caused by her father, Henry VIII. This blog entry explains how.

Throughout Henry VIII’s reign France was England’s enemy. Henry invaded France three times wanting to regain territory that had once belonged to England. He also wanted to be France’s King. Not surprisingly, France was hostile to Elizabeth when she became Queen.

Until the late 1520s Spain was more Henry’s ally than his enemy. Near the beginning of his reign (1509) Henry married Spain’s Catherine of Aragon, the daughter of King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella I. He stayed on good terms with their successor, King Charles (also the Holy Roman Emperor) for ten years, siding with him several times during Charles’s ongoing conflict with France. The relationship soured when Henry sought permission from the Pope to have his marriage annulled. Catherine, who was Charles’s aunt, had not borne Henry a male heir. Thwarted mostly by Charles, in 1533 Henry removed himself from Papal authority by declaring himself the head of the Church of England. A special English court declared the marriage null and void. Prior to the court's decision, Henry married the independent-minded Anne Boleyn, the sister of one of Henry’s mistresses, Mary Boleyn, one of Catherine’s ladies-in-waiting. Crowned queen-consort June 1, 1533, Anne gave birth to Elizabeth September 7. Henry ordered Anne Boleyn beheaded three years later. He married thereafter Jane Seymour, who gave birth to Edward, who became King in 1547. By separating his kingdom from the Catholic Church and having his marriage to Catherine voided, Henry gave Elizabeth’s nemesis King Philip II (Charles’s successor) every motivation to convert her or replace her with a Catholic monarch.

Henry also created problems for Elizabeth in Scotland. They would plague Elizabeth her entire reign. Henry’s father (Henry VII) had established peace with that Catholic nation by marrying his daughter Margaret to King James IV in 1503. James V, a devout Catholic, crowned King in 1513, maintained a close relationship with France. He married the French king’s daughter Madeleine (January 1537) and, after Madeleine’s death, Mary of Guise of the powerful House of Guise (June 1538). His and Mary’s only surviving child was Mary, born in 1542. She would become Mary, Queen of Scots, and claimant of the English throne.

The death of James’s mother (Margaret Tudor – Henry VIII’s sister) removed any remaining incentive for England and Scotland to remain at peace. When Henry had broken with the Roman Catholic Church, he had asked James to do the same. James had refused. Henry wanted to unite the two kingdoms. Warfare ensued. A small Scottish army met and defeated a similar-sized English army in August 1542 near the Scottish border. In November a larger Scottish army was beaten decisively on the English side of the Anglo-Scottish border. James died December 15 of a fever, six days after his daughter’s birth.

Henry proposed a marriage between his young son Edward and the infant Mary. The regent of Scotland reluctantly agreed. The Treaty of Greenwich was signed July 1, 1543. It stipulated that at the age of ten Mary would marry Edward. Mary would move to England where Henry would oversee her upbringing. The two countries would remain legally separated. If Edward and Mary had no children, the union between the two countries would dissolve. The Treaty was rejected by the Parliament of Scotland in December. Seeking to force the marriage, Henry invaded Scotland. In May 1544 the Earl of Hertford raided and burned Edinburgh. Warfare ended in 1546 without a definite resolution. Henry died January 28, 1547.

In 1548 an agreement was reached between Scotland’s regent and France’s King Henry II regarding Mary. She would marry the Dauphin Francis sometime in the future. Mary was subsequently taken to France by her mother, Mary of Guise, to spend the next 13 years at the French court. Years later, Mary, Queen of Scots, would become the focal point of plots to remove or assassinate Elizabeth.