Monday, March 31, 2014

Scenes about Paul Revere

To commemorate Patriots Day April 19, I will be posting every second day a total of ten scenes featuring Paul Revere from my novel Crossing the River.

"In the Midst of Redcoats"
     “Mr. Revere, beggin’ yer pardon. With yer say so, I be havin’ a word with you, private-like?”
     The silversmith looked across the length of his shop. Nobody else was present.
     He detected horse odor. “You may speak.”
     “M'name's John Ballard. I be a hostler at a stable near the Province House.”
     “In the midst of redcoats,” Revere said, affably. “Go on.”
     “Yes sir, I be in the middle a them. That’s a fact.” He glanced at the counter separating them, at Revere’s hands, at the silversmith’s chest, but not at, Revere noticed, his face. “Figurin’ if I cozy up t’them redcoats, y’see, an’ … pretendin’ I be fer the Crown, …” He shrugged his shoulders. “I be makin' a livin', y’know. But I be findin' out certain things that gets let slipped.” His face broke into a happy grin. “As true as the gospel I be a son o’ liberty in me heart; I'd not t’be comin' here if that twasn't the gospel truth!”
     “Tell me what you came to tell me.” Revere smiled.
     “Well, thank you, Mr. Revere. I’ll be doin’ that, right off. Somethin’ important, too.”
     “Well, it’s what me friend told me which I’ll be tellin’ you.”
     “Fine. Tell me.”
     “Well, he says t’me this afternoon -- he be a groom at the Province House, y’know -- he says … he overheard this morning some officers talkin' and braggin'.” Ballard rapped four fingers on the counter. “They be seein' how their horses be saddled, y’know, and enjoyin' their talk, y’see, and one of them said that tomorrow … there’s goin’ t’be hell t’pay!'”
     Mouth taut, eyelids retracted, Ballard waited.
     “Yes? What else?” I’m supposed to be alarmed by this? Revere reacted. “Go on.”
     The hostler blinked. His gaze dropped to the counter. He touched it. “Well, that’s … that’s all. I figure it be me duty to pass it along, what he heard!”
     “You were right to have done so.”
     Ballard nodded, guardedly smiled.
     “What puzzles me, however, is … I must ask you this. Why did you come to me?!”
     The hostler’s smile vanished. He gaped. “Heavens to Holland, Mister Revere! Everyone knows y’be a High Son o’ Liberty! D-d’y’be thinkin’ I be a spy?!”
     Revere laughed, heartily. Twice he thumped the counter. “No, no. Not for a second!” he exclaimed, his eyes tearing. “I … apologize. I do apologize. Forgive my … Please understand, … it was your expression! I’m entirely at fault.”
     The horse tender’s stupefied look persisted.
     “Be assured,” Revere said, trying not to laugh. “You’re definitely not a spy! You are … quite the opposite! You’re the third person today that has brought me the same information. Which, mind you, is important, because it confirms what the others have said! Be certain I will pass this information along!”
     Ballard’s face blushed. “I thank you, sir.”
     “No. All thanks belong to you, a true patriot! But, ….” Wanting, despite his apologies, a final amusement, Revere continued. “I must absolutely caution you!”
     “Sir?” Lines creased the man’s broad forehead.
     Revere whispered. “Do not say anything about this to another soul. We do not want the redcoats knowing what we know that they believe we don’t know, do we?” Revere’s smile became a grin.
     “No, sir, we don't,” Ballard, blinking rapidly, answered.
     “John Ballard is your name?”
     “I’tis, Mister Revere.”
     “I will make certain to mention it to my friends.”

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Guest Author Stan Jensen

Synopsis of Ethan’s Peach Tree

Set during Sherman's Atlanta campaign, Ethan's Peach Tree is a 'what if' of history that covers a twenty-four hour period during this critical time of the war.  In an offensive intended to break the will of the war-weary North and Lincoln's political power, General Joseph E. Johnston has eluded Sherman and is marching his forces north to join with Lee's Army of Northern Virginia.  General Nathan Chambers and his brigade must hold Orchard Creek Crossroads.  Superb characterization brings to life General Nathan Chambers, the men he commands, the family he loves, and a host of others who all connect in a page-turning story of love and conflict that leads to an ending poignant and unforgettable.  For those whose passion is the Civil War, Ethan's Peach Tree is a must read.

Author Information

Stan D. Jensen received his bachelor's degree in history and his master's degree in education and business from the University of Northern Iowa.  He's managed a finance office, spent a decade in thoroughbred racing as a jockey's agent and as an owner of race horses, and took an early retirement from Chicago Transit Authority to devote all his time to writing.  His short stories have been published in the magazine The Backstretch.  A life-long student of the Civil War, Ethan's Peach Tree is his first novel.  Mr. Jensen lives in Clinton, Iowa, and continues to write. 

Visit for more of Mr. Jensen's writing.  "A Soldier's Story," a post made on 10/27/13, will be of particular interest for those who enjoy reading about the Civil War. 

Questions and Answers

What writers do you especially admire?  Why?

John Steinbeck for his imagery.
William Faulkner for his ability to create time and place.
Gabriel Marquez for his insights into the human heart.
Carson McCullers for her characterization.
Truman Capote for writing with a rhythm so fine his prose reads like poetry.
Harper Lee for writing with her conscience.
William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens for their epic themes
Virginia Woolf for her beautiful sentences.  I should add here that I don't particularly like
         any of Woolf's stories; none ever struck a chord in me.  But back to why I mention her:
         she wrote such beautiful sentences.

What caused you to want to write Ethan’s Peach Tree?

I wanted to write a book that depicted the horror of war and slavery, that depicted what kind of men put on uniforms to do battle for what they believed in.  I wanted readers to be able to smell the gunsmoke, see ranks of infantry firing musket volleys, hear the thunder of the big guns, to feel fear, pain, suffering, and to feel that which war always brings, the feeling of loss.  And with that said, one of my youtube videos will further help explain my need to write about the Civil War:

What for you is the most difficult aspect of writing historical fiction?

The research.  That I've been a student of the Civil War since I was a teenager helped, but the librarians and Park Rangers at Gettysburg and Wilson's Creek were a great assistance in filling in details.

How did you come to write such excellent sensory detail?

Give the reader detail to focus on, imagery that engages all the senses, and the reader's imagination will ignite and illuminate the writer's entire scene.  "Such excellent sensory detail" doesn't take genius, it isn't even a matter of talent, but it is a matter of dedication, the willingness on the part of the writer to spend the time needed to be creative and write a story not just readable, but a story brought to life and into sharp focus by detailed imagery.  Time, then, is vital to the creative process that allows me to write this imagery, to write the "sensory detail" that fires the reader's imagination.

So, now we know I'm a dedicated writer, willing to put time into a story, but, just like any other writer, my writing also reflects the way I think, my patterns of thought.  I've always thought in detail, always noticed little things, and that has had a profound effect on the style in which I write.  I don't intend to sound arrogant, but beautiful sentences can be found in Ethan's Peach Tree not just because I've taken the necessary time, but also because when I look at the world, I look for detail.  There are two sentences early in the book, when Nathan is in his tent before dawn, and I love these sentences because I took a quiet moment and made it memorable simply because I took the time to find the right words to express the details of the scene I'd so vividly imagined:

"The flame of the candle suddenly leaped to make the shadows in the tent jump.  Nathan smelled hot wax, and on the shoulder straps of his frock coat the silver stars of a general gleamed."

A writer must give the reader something to touch, to see, to smell, to taste, to hear.  The writer's reward for doing so will be a reader who'll follow his trail of words to the far reaches of his imagination.

How long did it take you to write Ethan's Peach Tree?

To write the one hundred forty pages took nearly four years.

What advice would you give an aspiring historical novelist?

The same advice I'd give any aspiring writer: if all you have at the end of hours of writing is that which summons the unwanted image of poison ivy, just keep writing.  It takes practice to make a rose out of words.


In the stillness before dawn, Nathan was shocked awake by pain.  He’d moved his right arm enough to aggravate his two-month old wound.  At the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain, part of the shoulder muscle had been scooped away by a solid shot from a Confederate cannon.  He lay clenching his jaw so hard his teeth throbbed, the smell from the bloody bandage reeking in his nostrils.  Then he lost patience.  In one quick move he sat, swung his legs out of bed, and stood up.  When he wasn’t jolted by even more pain, he felt victorious.

A gray light edged the slit of the closed tent flaps.  Nathan fumbled briefly with a match, then lit the candle on his campaign desk. The first thing he saw by the flickering flame was the bottle of laudanum.  The opiate spoke to him in a chanting voice, promising dreams.

“No!” Nathan said.

This wasn’t easy, for under the opiate’s spell he always dreamed of the farm in Clinton County, Iowa, of his parents and brother, of a girl named Tess Lewis.  These dreams were a relief to his soul, his heart, and reminded him that life was more than bugle calls, long marches, bloody battlefields.  But in the hospital these last few weeks, he had weaned himself off the laudanum, kept this single bottle to prove that he was in control, and had learned that if he concentrated on the Breguet pocket watch that had kept time for three generations of his family, he could summon memories of home that distracted him from the present, enabled him to manage the pain of his wound without drugs.

The flame of the candle suddenly leaped to make shadows in the tent jump.  Nathan smelled hot wax, and on the shoulder straps of his frock coat the silver stars of a general gleamed.

Standing in front of a pan of water and a small mirror that hung from the tent’s center pole, Nathan took razor in hand to shave himself, grateful for the fact that he was left-handed.  Nathan was well-built, strong from farm work he’d done as a boy.  He kept his black hair cut short and his mustache trimmed and waxed to dagger points.  His handsome face had a strong, calm look and was squared by a jaw that came to a blunt, dimpled chin.  His eyes were a sharp, brilliant blue and were always measuring a man, judging his worth.  Many found the steady gaze of Nathan’s eyes unsettling, difficult to meet.  And yet, on the battlefield, when blazing with what seemed an inner blue light, Nathan’s eyes could put strength into men, help them find their courage, move them to fight for flag and country.

Fife and drum sounded reveille, and Nathan could hear the camp stir outside his tent.  Stiff and sore, managing his shoulder, he dressed slowly: clean shirt, collar, vest, dark blue trousers with suspenders, and a black tie he kept knotted so he could slip it on.  It was a contest with only one good arm, but as he pulled on polished boots that fit him well above the knee, he had the feeling of being revitalized.  He loosened up, began to move quicker and easier.  Once into his high-collared officer’s coat, he tied his gold-tasseled sash around his waist, then over it belted on his sword and .44 caliber Colt Dragoon revolver.  The brass and silver mounted sword was a gift from the Iowa Bar after he resigned as district court judge to accept his commission in the army.  The blade was etched with the inscription: Draw me not without reason – Sheath me not without honor.

As the gray wave came to within three hundred fifty yards of the Union line, McHenry ordered the use of spherical case and long range canister.  Not long after, every man in the Union line brought his Springfield to his shoulder and a sheet of flame three regiments wide lit up the smoke-covered battlefield with a flash of light.  From then on, the order was "Fire at will!" and the line sounded with the heavy rattle of continuous musketry.

The Confederates swept onward, line after line of determined, skilled veterans, keeping good order as they came through the blizzard of shell and minie balls.  Rebel flags that fell were snatched from the ground, from the clutches of dead and wounded color bearers, to flutter high again.  Officers gestured wildly, pointing the way to the Union line with swords, shouting with trumpet voices, "For your wives and sweethearts!  For home!  Forward!"

Canister tore wide holes in the Rebel ranks.  Men were sent spinning, tumbling, cartwheeling across the ground.  Men were on their hands and knees coughing blood.  Men were ripped apart, their heads, arms, torsos, legs, flying through the air.  Horses ran riderless, stirrups and reins flopping.  Wounded and dying men screamed and pleaded for help.  With flags tilting forward above the smoke, the heavy battle lines came on, not faltering, the Rebels raising their yell, their voices shrill, strong, defiant as they quick-stepped toward the blazing muzzles of the Union line.  Less than one hundred yards away, the Rebel officers shouted the command "Halt!  Front! 


Confederate muskets flamed.  The volley hit the Union line.  There was the sound of minie balls thudding hard into flesh, the crack of minie balls hitting bone, the ping and clatter of minie balls striking metal and wood.  There were cries and grunts from men dropping to the ground wounded.  Only silence from men dropping dead.  The smoke was heavier now, and the Union soldiers kept tearing cartridges, loading, firing, trying to stop the gray infantry they couldn't see but knew followed the red battle flags floating above the smoke.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Book Review
"Set Fair for Roanoke"
by David Beers Quinn
"Set Fair for Roanoke" by David Beers Quinn is not a book that would appeal to the general reading public. There are other secondary source books about the attempted English settlements at Roanoke (inside the Outer Banks of North Carolina) that are faster-moving and more entertaining reads. What the reader gets from Quinn’s book that elevates it is detailed, insightful speculation.

Primary sources do not explain sufficiently what happened at Roanoke. Historians have available to them five reports sent to Walter Raleigh that narrate the 1584 expedition and the settlements of 1585-1586 and 1587. The reports inadvertently and intentionally omit needed information. They are also biased. Our knowledge of the local Algonquians is limited to what those who wrote the reports chose to declare. Given these limitations, what can a credible historian do? Narrate what was reported, question its objectivity, seize upon bits and pieces of information made available, and speculate. Of the four Roanoke historians that I have read, David Quinn does this best.

Here is much of what Quinn addresses.

Just how much influence did the Roanoke chief Wingina have over native villages along the banks of Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds? Not very much? A lot? Historians don’t know. Identifying the native warriors that wounded him in early 1584 is important, given Governor Lane’s assertion that Wingina was plotting to have warriors from distant villages assist him in destroying the 1585-1586 colony.

The two Englishmen who provided the best information about the native population were the scientist Thomas Harriot and the artist John White. They may have been members of the first voyage to Roanoke in 1584, but historians are not certain. Both were indispensable members of the 1585-1586 settlement. One of their important achievements was their survey of the waterways and villages of Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds. Yet we don’t know all of the villages they visited. Near the end of 1585 Governor Lane sent a party of about 20 men to the Chesapeake Bay to scout suitable land for a possible future settlement. We have no report of their experiences. All we know is what Lane scarcely mentions. It is assumed that Harriot, who had some knowledge of the Algonquian language, participated. Nobody knows whether White accompanied him. He may very well have returned to England several months earlier. Reasonable arguments can be made to support or refute each conclusion. How much White knew about the Chesapeake land and the local natives residing there is germane to what in 1587 he must have advised his settlers to do if, feeling threatened, they decided to relocate.

Most historians agree that Governor Lane’s account of the events of 1586 that culminated with Wingina’s murder is suspect. Lane was convinced that Wingina had plotted to annihilate his settlers using friendly warriors from villages fifty miles or farther away. It had been Wingina, Lane reported, that in the early spring had caused distant villages to deny his men food during their exploration of the Chowan and Roanoke Rivers. We have Lane’s point of view only. Was he paranoid?

Why did Simon Fernandes, the pilot of John White’s 1587 voyage to Roanoke, force White’s settlers to disembark on the Island? Why didn’t he take them to the Chesapeake Bay as White and Sir Walter Raleigh had planned? Was it to provide himself enough time to privateer? Was he following the orders of Walter Raleigh’s enemies in England that White’s venture must fail, a theory proposed by one imaginative historian? White believed that Fernandes did intend to privateer. The pilot’s actions during the Atlantic crossing and passage through the Caribbean suggest another motive.

Finally, what happened to White’s settlers after they forced White to return to England to try to persuade investors to send ships to Roanoke to take them to the Chesapeake? When White returned to Roanoke in 1590, he found not one Algonquian or settler to question. Historians give us theories of where they believe the settlers might have settled and what afterward might have happened to them – speculation based on sketchy information provided by descendants of Croatoan natives, John Smith of Jamestown, and an exploratory party sent south from Jamestown.

I appreciated the extent to which David Beers Quinn analyzed source information and the alternative theories he imparted to expand our understanding of England’s failed attempt in the 1580s to establish a North American colony.             

Friday, March 14, 2014

"Mean Circumstances"
Pages 293-294; 295
     East of Tanner’s Brook, one mile west of where a secondary road intersected the Lexington/Concord highway, the Bedford militia waited. Close to a dozen men were positioned behind a red barn. Three times as many sat and stood behind a stretch of trees off both sides of the road.
     Captain Jonathan Willson had admonished his men to hold their fire until the road was entirely occupied. He had bestowed upon himself the honor of firing the first ball. His knees in straw, partially dried mud, indefinable filth at one corner of the barn, he celebrated the column’s approach. What he had independently devised and about which he had publicly boasted was, praise be to God, about to transpire!
     Fatigued soldiers, showing a gamut of emotion, passed.
     Marveling at what he saw, he identified his own extraordinary emotions: razor-edged acuity, manifest expectancy, brash exhilaration!
    Prematurely, Willson pulled his musket’s trigger. A watch tick after, a thunderclap of detonated gunpowder resounded.
     Five soldiers fell.
     Willson shouted.
     With frenzied hands he reloaded.
     More soldiers screamed, grasped, clutched, dropped. The unscathed, rigid as barn yard posts, returned fire. “Waste your shot against tree bark, against this barn!” Willson exalted.
     Replenishing his supply of cartridges from the company ammunition wagon behind the barn, ebullient, animated, he flattered himself. Outweighing by far the disadvantage of not having campaigned a decade ago against the French were his considerable talents: his comprehensive knowledge of fire arms, his unerring instinct, his swift decisiveness, his charismatic leadership! Hours ago at Fitch Tavern he had roused his men to the apex of militancy, boasting, “We’ll have every dog of them before night!” Because he was their leader, because he was not a doddering fool crowing about Louisbourg, Ticonderoga, or Quebec, his company would just about lay every redcoat mongrel low! Recognizing intuitively the common sense advantage of these separated woods, where the road made its abrupt right turn, he hadn’t dithered! Certain that this day’s battle meant war, he believed wholeheartedly that the Committee of Safety, learning of his triumph, would bestow on him, within a month, prestigious rank.
     Noisy footfalls startled him. A hard, heavy object struck his back.
     Prostrate, clutching space, Willson gasped for air.
     A red-coated figure loamed over him.
     Willson screamed.
             When they had deemed it safe, when the last militiaman had disappeared in the sheltering trees, the woman, her eldest daughters trailing, stepped hesitantly across the yard. It seemed to Catherine Smith, the Lincoln militia captain's wife, that enough vengeance had been exacted.
     Heeding the moaning soldier, seeing his blood emptying onto the roadway, she saw not a righteous defender nor hated invader but a young man, almost a boy, too long in future years to die.
     She supposed that he personally had not chosen to walk this road, deprive them their commerce, deny them their right to determine their future. Mean circumstance, nothing else, had brought him here. Cruel coincidence had felled him.
     “He’s been abandoned t’die,” she said to her daughters. “Help me carry him inside.”
     In starting and stopping stages they brought him back to their front door, the two daughters, the mother, and two small sons, whereupon, inside, they laid him upon a bed. For three days they dressed his wounds and gave him the taste of water and bread.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

"Oliver Wiswell"
by Kenneth Roberts
"Oliver Wiswell" by Kenneth Roberts is an excellent book. It is a unique Revolutionary War novel in that it presents very convincingly the injustices endured by Americans broadly described as loyalists. These people were both educated, successful professional people and simple country people content to continue to live their lives without being interfered with by others.

Two of the book's themes particularly impressed me. I was astounded at how savagely rebel Americans treated the loyalist population. No family holding beliefs that differed from their rebel neighbors was exempt from punishment. Houses and barns were burned, livestock klled, property seized, and individuals physically harmed or killed. Hatred was pervasive. At the war's end, no loyalist could remain in America. Loyalists emigrated to Kentucky, Nova Scotia, Bermunda and the Bahamas, and Gibraltar.

Equally impressive was the author's portrayal of British arrogance. Virtually every British officer from general to lieutenant and every British governmental official considered every American to be an inferior. Valuable advice given to them by knowledgeable loyalists was always rejected. Opportunities to vanquish the rebel army and end the war early were thrown away by British generals who would not heed such advice and act promptly and decisively. British protection of the loyalist population ranged from indifference to criminal negligence. Loyalists came to understand that the British were not their allies and that they had to fend for themselves.

I enjoyed the author's accounting of the major events of the war from the loyalist perspective. I was reminded of how incompetent Generals Howe and Clinton were and how obstinate the king and his ministers behaved in their waging of the war. The novel's main character and his faithful companion, Tom Buell, were witnesses or participants in just about every event. My interest in the author's accounting of each event allowed me to excuse this departure from reality. Helping also was the author's excellent characterization of all who appeared and his knowledgeable detail of how people at that period of time lived.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Pickering Could Never Be Happy in Heaven
The son of a Massachusetts Tory, having served George Washington during the Revolutionary War, Timothy Pickering was President Washington’s postmaster general from 1791 to 1795, his secretary of war in 1795, and after December 1795 his secretary of state. He was a major leader of what John Hancock derisively dubbed the Essex Junto, a Massachusetts association of personages united by their patrician view of mankind. Social changes fostered by the American Revolution disturbed them greatly. Favoring a patriarchal society ruled by an elected aristocracy of elites, they supported strongly Washington’s Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, and his financial program. They vehemently opposed Hamilton’s rival, Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson.

For two decades war between England and France on the continent and on the seas threatened America’s independent existence. Impressment of American sailors and curtailment of American commerce with foreign countries forced Washington and his immediate successors to strive mightily to maintain America’s neutrality. Strongly supportive of England, Pickering advised otherwise.

Weary of his conflict with cabinet members -- Hamilton especially -- Thomas Jefferson resigned as secretary of state December 31, 1793. Fellow Virginian Edmund Randolph replaced him Jan. 2. The new secretary continued Jefferson’s efforts to maintain close relations with France and counteract Alexander Hamilton’s influence on the President. When Washington chose to accept the Jay Treaty, which secured commercial ties with Great Britain, Randolph strongly objected. Trade with neutral countries, and especially U.S. shipping to France, would be severely disrupted. Political intrigue against Randolph spiraled. Pickering produced a slanted translation of French documents intercepted by the British Navy that implied that Randolph had disclosed confidential information to the French and that he had solicited a bribe. Having lost Washington’s trust, Randolph resigned Aug. 20, 1795. Pickering filled his position.

Pickering continued on as secretary of state under John Adams. Fearful of "French influence" in American politics, Pickering believed that Jeffersonian Republicans were subversives. He used the Sedition Law to punish them. The Senate’s ratification of the Jay Treaty worsened U.S.-French relations. France’s hostile reaction -- the decision not to receive a U.S. Minister and the seizure of American merchant ships trading with Great Britain – cemented Pickering’s pro-British position. Working closely with Alexander Hamilton, he broke with the president when Adams initiated for a second time peace negotiations with the French. Pickering now supported waging war against France. He advocated establishing a large permanent army with Alexander Hamilton its commanding general. Pickering’s continued public attacks against Adams forced Adams to request Pickering’s resignation. Pickering refused. He was fired May 10, 1800.

As a United States senator from Massachusetts, 1803-1811, Pickering opposed vigorously Jeffersonian ideals and policy. Not surprisingly, he opposed the purchase of the Louisiana Territory. During the spring of 1804 Vice President Aaron Burr, having failed to win the presidency four years earlier, due largely to the opposition of his own Federalist Party leader, Alexander Hamilton, ran as a third party candidate for governor of New York. Burr had the backing of Tammany Hall and the secret support of many Federalists -- Pickering included -- who viewed the nation as “too big for union, too sordid for patriotism, too democratic for liberty.” Pickering specifically schemed to have Burr, once elected, appointed the leader of a seceded confederacy encompassing the New England states, New York, and New Jersey. Hamilton’s candidate defeated Burr in the New York election. Blaming Hamilton for his two political defeats, Burr killed the former Secretary of the Treasury in a clandestine duel.

Jeffersonian Republicans swept the northeastern states in the 1810 Congressional elections. Pickering found himself but one senator of a tiny Federalist Party minority. When he returned to Washington in December, he wanted desperately to discredit the President and Republican members of the Senate. Six weeks earlier, American settlers had seized West Florida, declared the region independent of Spain, and requested U.S. annexation. Claiming it to be a part of the Louisiana Purchase, President James Madison had obliged. Here was an issue Pickering believed he could exploit. Debating Madison’s action on the Senate floor, Pickering introduced a letter written by French Foreign Minister Charles Maurice de Talleyrand that President Thomas Jefferson had submitted to the Senate five years earlier. Talleyrand had pointed out that the United States had no legitimate claim to the West Florida region under the Louisiana Purchase. After Pickering had read Talleyrand’s letter, Senator Samuel Smith, a Maryland Jeffersonian, asked whether the letter had ever been made public. It hadn’t. Pickering had broken a Senate rule that forbad the public reading of a secret executive department document.

Pickering was charged with jeopardizing the system of presidential communication with the Senate and the Senate's constitutional power to advise and consent. He disagreed. He insisted that his action had not been indiscreet. Because he had over the years insulted Federalist colleagues, he had few allies. The Senate censured him, by a 20 to 7 vote. He was the first of nine senators in our nation’s history to be censured.

Defeated for reelection in 1811, he returned to Washington to serve in the House of Representatives, from 1813 to 1817. Retired thereafter from national public office, Pickering wrote about the Revolutionary War and the early years of the Republic. He planned to write a biography of Alexander Hamilton. In 1824 he wrote a polemical pamphlet that criticized John Adams. To demonstrate his longstanding contempt for his former boss, he endorsed Andrew Jackson instead of John Quincy Adams during the 1828 presidential campaign.

Pickering died in Salem, Massachusetts, January 29, 1829.

“A Pickering could never be happy in heaven, because he must there find and acknowledge a superior.” – John Adams 

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Elizabeth and Drake -- Piracy on the High Seas
Francis Drake returned to England September 26, 1580, dropping anchor at Southampton after nearly a three year absence circling the globe. Disembarking, he asked if Queen Elizabeth were still alive.  He needed her protection.  Informed that she was alive and well, he might then have recalled their meeting prior to his departure December 14, 1577.  She had said: “‘So it is that I would be revenged on the King of Spain for divers injuries that I have received.’  Drake answered that the most effective way to do this would be to prey on Philip’s ships and settlements in the Indies, with which Elizabeth wholeheartedly agreed” (Weir 309). 
Preying on Spanish shipping and settlements he had, seizing 800,000 pounds worth of treasure.  Spain demanded that the entirety of it be returned, along with Drake’s head.  Instead, Elizabeth honored him.  Relating his adventures, he entertained her for six hours.  He gave her a crown set with five huge emeralds, which she would wear on New Years Day 1581.  She took 160,000 pounds of his booty.  Moored on the Thames River, the Golden Hind was exhibited to the public as a memorial of his service.  She would knight him aboard his ship April 5, 1581.  In Madrid King Philip was planning his military and naval conquest of England. 
What had transpired on the high seas previous to Drake’s triumphant return that had incited England and Spain to expect war?  
We must begin with the Treaty of Tordesillas, signed by Spain and Portugal in 1494 and, thereafter, sanctioned by the Pope.  Its purpose was to settle disputes between the two countries as to which area in the recently discovered New World each was entitled to claim ownership.  A horizontal line was agreed upon that divided the globe in half.  Spain received ownership of most of North and South America.  Portugal received Africa and what today is Brazil.  France, England, the Netherlands and lesser nations were forbidden to establish settlements there or engage in commerce. 
Two decades later the Spanish Caribbean and Portuguese Brazil were in need of substantial numbers of slaves.  Cash crops -- sugar and tobacco -- which had become highly valued in Europe, had to be cultivated. Having access to West Africa, the Portuguese began supplying the necessary labor: seizing Africans, transporting them across the Atlantic, selling them in Spain’s West Indies.  Covetous of the profit that they might acquire, enterprising foreign merchants became illegal slave traders. Rather quickly, Spain and Portugal made their activities too risky to be gainful.  Meanwhile, Spain had been extracting immense mineral wealth from the lands it had taken from the Mayan, Aztec, and Inca people. Its galleons were transporting back to Spain colossal fortunes in gold and silver.  Accordingly, French, Dutch, and English sea adventurers engaged in piracy, selecting poorly protected treasure ships to seize and weakly defended Caribbean depot settlements to plunder. 
England’s conflict with Spain and Portugal was exacerbated by the exploits of John Hawkins, born into a seafaring family and related to other daring seafarers out of Devonshire.  In 1562 and again in 1564, he sailed to the Guinea coast, robbed Portuguese slavers of their chattel, and sold his stolen cargo to agents of plantation owners in the West Indies.  Not until September 1569 was Hawkins made to suffer. 
He had left Plymouth Harbor in 1568 with a squadron of five ships both to plunder and to trade.  Nearly a year later (September 15, 1569) he anchored his ships in the Mexican port of San Juan de Ulúa to make repairs and resupply before sailing home.  While his men were reprovisioning his ships – Hawkins had made a truce with the port’s commander -- a Spanish escort fleet commanded by Don Francisco Luján arrived in the port.  Luján launched a swift attack that caused Hawkins to lose 4 ships, 500 men, and nearly all of the year’s ill-begotten loot.  Only two small ships (a sixth ship, a Portuguese caravel had been seized near the coast of Ghana and put to use) -- the Judith, commanded by a young Francis Drake, and the Minion, carrying Hawkins -- escaped.  These ships were dangerously overcrowded and vastly short of food supplies.  Hawkins abandoned 110 crewmen on what is now the coastline of Texas.  Most of the abandoned surrendered to Spanish authorities, “were burned at the stake or made galley slaves for life” (Miller 145).   Drake reached Plymouth January 20, 1569.  Hawkins’s Minion limped into a Cornwall harbor days afterward. 
“Along the quay, onlookers gasp at the sight of the grisly crew.  Pale, skeletal faces, bony hands clawing at proffered food.  Here they are: fifteen men, all that remain of John Hawkins’s squadron” (Miller 145).  From this time forward, English soldiers and sea-farers craved war.  Queen Elizabeth did not.  Fearing that Spain might declare war and her country was too weak to defend itself, Elizabeth ceased giving even marginal consent to slave smuggling and acts of piracy. 
The Netherlands had exploded in rebellion in 1568.  Seven states had declared themselves free.  There were riots.  “In Antwerp, a mob descended upon the Cathedral of the Virgin and desecrated more than seventy alters: smashing the organ with axes, trampling holy waters underfoot, toppling a giant crucifix by pulling it down with ropes and chopping it into bits” (Miller 146).  King Philip sent his top military commander, the Duke of Alva, to restore order.  Martial law was declared in Brussels.  Businesses were shut down. “Ports and exits from the country are sealed and the Inquisition swings into action.  February 16, 1568.  The entire population of the Netherlands is condemned to death.    Incapable of carrying out the full sentence, Alva creates a Council for Disturbances to determine who shall die” (Miller 146-147). 
In December Philip borrowed huge sums of money – 400,000 pounds -- from Genoese bankers to finance his suppression of the Dutch rebellion.  Vessels carrying the money, entering the English Channel, chased by French Huguenots, were forced to seek refuge in English ports.  News of the decimation of Hawkins’s fleet and loss of crew members had filtered into London.  Elizabeth deposited the borrowed sums in the mint at the Tower of London.  Retaliating, Alva seized English goods and imprisoned Englishmen throughout the Netherlands.  Elizabeth, in turn, impounded Spanish ships.  Spain, thereupon, imposed an embargo, forbidding oil, alum, sugar, spices or such other commodities to enter her country.  English merchants were arrested and given to the Inquisition.  Hatred between England and Spain was never more intense.  Philip, however, decided not to declare war.  “His priority was to bring his Dutch subjects to heel before entering into any overt hostility with England” (Weir 202). 
Privately financed English expeditionary fleets preyed on Spanish possessions throughout the Caribbean and Atlantic well into the 1570s.  While the Queen was engaged at keeping Philip at bay by contemplating marriage with the Duke of Alencon (France’s King Charles IX’s younger brother), Francis Drake embarked on an ambitious raid upon Spain’s silver deposits at Nombre de Dios on the Isthmus of Darien, Panama, in 1572.  “With the assistance of a local people known as the Cimarrones, the ‘wild ones,’ mostly slaves escaped from Spanish mines, Drake attacks.  Victory is complete; the loot incredible.  The ships, groaning with treasure, can carry home only a small portion.  In desperation, the men discard the silver, cramming the vessels only with gold” (Miller 151).  Drake arrived in Plymouth Harbor August 9, 1573.  Great celebration ensued.  “But beyond Plymouth, Drake received no accolades, for England and Spain are on the verge of a détente” (Miller 151). 
On April 12, 1576, Humphrey Gilbert, who had made his name in Ireland imposing English rule, published “A Discourse of a Discovery for a New Passage to Cataia.”  His publication was supported by influential London intellectuals: Walter Raleigh (Humphrey’s half-brother), the Richard Hakluyts, the historian William Camden, and Dr. John Dee (Elizabeth’s astrologer and England’s most versatile scientist).  Members of the scientific circle in and about London declared in writing their support of Gilbert’s idea that encompassed both colonization and the discovery of a passageway to China north of Spain’s sphere of control.  Martin Frobisher’s three voyages to Baffin Island 1576, 1577, and 1578 (See blog entries June 1, July 1, and August 1, 2013) resulted.
Encouraged by Dr. Dee, on November 6, 1577, Gilbert submitted to Elizabeth his “A Discourse How Her Majesty May Meet with and Annoy the King of Spain.”  The idea was to strike directly at Spain’s sea forces by direct attack or by the pretense of letters patent to North American lands.  He proposed a Bermudan base from which English ships could attack Spanish sea routes.  Bermuda was deemed too visible.  A hidden base on the North American coast was considered more sensible. 
On December 13, 1577, with Elizabeth’s blessing, Francis Drake with five ships and 164 men left Plymouth Harbor for the coast of Africa, the first leg of what would be his circumnavigation of the world. 
In 1578 Gilbert received from Elizabeth a six-year letters patent to sail to the New World to establish a colony.  He was instructed not to attack Spanish forces or ships.  Due mostly to sickness, poor provisioning, disobedience of crews, and bad weather, most of his ships failed to leave England.  One ship, commanded by Walter Raleigh, did leave and spent six months sailing off the coast of Africa pirating. 
In February 1580 Spain invaded Portugal.  That nation’s King Henry had died.  Its people had selected Henry’s nephew Don Antonio to succeed him.  The Duke of Alva conquered all of Portugal in 70 days.  Don Antonio fled to England to solicit Elizabeth’s support.  Drake returned in triumph September 26.  On April 4, 1581, Elizabeth dined with him on board the Golden Hind.  Publicly defying the King of Spain, she knighted her favorite sea adventurer.   She had brought with her the French commissioners yet negotiating her marriage to the Duke of Anjou (formerly the Duke of Alencon).  “When Drake escorted her around the ship, telling him that King Philip had demanded he be put to death, she produced a sword, joking that she would use it ‘to strike off his head,’ whilst teasingly wielding it in the air.  Because Elizabeth wished to emphasize to King Philip her defensive alliance with France, she turned to one of Anjou’s envoys, … and, handing over the sword, asked him to perform the dubbing ceremony.  Thus it was that the short, stocky adventurer [Drake] found himself kneeling on the deck before a Frenchman, while the Queen looked on, beaming approval” (Weir 336-337). 
Sources Cited: 
Miller, Lee. Roanoke: Solving the Mystery of the Lost Colony.  New York: Arcade Publishing, 2001.  Print. 
Weir, Alison.  Elizabeth the Queen.  London: Vintage Books, 1998.  Print.