Thursday, January 1, 2015

This year I will be posting fewer articles – no more than two or three a month instead of the usual five or six.  I need to resume writing my second novel, tentatively entitled “Alsoomse and Wanchese.”  It will be about the lives of certain Algonquian natives mostly of Roanoke Island prior to and immediately after their first encounter with English explorers sent to North America in 1584 by Walter Raleigh to locate a desirable site to found a colony and base for privateering operations.
I will post occasional updates about the writing of my novel, review American historical novels that I have recently read, and pass along other information of a historical nature that I wish to share.
This month I will begin a series of posts about the life of Thomas Nelson, third governor of Virginia and signer of the Declaration of Independence.  He was the subject of a graduate history term paper that I wrote many years ago while attending UCLA.  My professor, historian Charles Page Smith, asked me about whom I would want to research.  I told him, “Thomas Nelson, a direct ancestor on my mother.”
“Oh,” he said, surprised.  “So, apparently we are related.”  I discovered later that Professor Smith was a descendent of John Page, a prominent Virginian in the late 18th Century and Thomas Nelson’s cousin. 
Professor Smith granted me access to the famous Huntington Library, which contains a substantial collection of rare books and manuscripts concentrated in the fields of British and American history, literature, art, and the history of science.  Wikipedia states that “use of the collection for research is restricted to qualified scholars, generally requiring a doctoral degree or at least candidacy for the Ph.D. and two letters of recommendation from known scholars.”  That definitely was not me.  At the time I wasn’t fully aware of the privilege he had bestowed.  I was able to locate collections of correspondence between Nelson and very important contemporaries including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.  Here also were rare 19th Century biographies, microfiche newspaper articles, and other valuable sources of information.  The months I spent researching and writing my term paper were among the best of my life.  I discovered that I enjoyed research and that I had sufficient discipline to persevere in the struggle to organize my findings and express them cogently.  The experience served me well when I began teaching, and my teaching eventually led to my becoming a writer of historical fiction.
Years later when I delved into my mother’s ancestral past, I discovered that I was not related to Thomas Nelson, as my mother’s mother had thought.  I was related to Peter Nelson, the pastor of the church that Thomas Nelson attended during his final years of life. 
Thomas Nelson’s name will not be found in high school American history textbooks.  In books about the American Revolution his name might be found in several indexes with maybe two or three page numbers following it.  He is a member of the second tier of American leaders whom the general public would not recognize and without whom our nation in its struggle to win independence would not have prevailed.