Monday, October 26, 2015

Thomas Nelson -- Jefferson Escapes
Here are links to two maps to help you locate the rivers and cities referenced below.
Lafayette returned to Annapolis after American and French efforts to trap General Benedict Arnold in Portsmouth were abandoned.  Not long afterward, General William Philllips and 2,600 redcoat soldiers reinforced Arnold.  Virginia forces had dwindled to 1,200 men.  Only 700 were positioned south of the James River.  Lafayette was expected to return with about 1,200 soldiers.  A new group of militia was being desperately called up.  Neither source of reinforcements, however, would be useable before the end of April.  Consequently, General von Steuben withdrew his troops from Portsmouth and stationed them at Richmond.  Given free reign, on April 18, 1781, Arnold and 2,500 British troops left Portsmouth to move up the James River to plunder.
They launched an attack on the supply depot of Petersburg.  Generals Steuben and Muhlenburg, with 1,000 militiamen, defended stubbornly.  At the end of the day Steuben ordered a withdrawal.  Arnold advanced into Petersburg where he destroyed four thousand hogsheads of tobacco.  He destroyed at Osbornes, a small village on the James River 15 miles below Richmond, what passed for the Virginia navy.  General Phillips burned barracks and stores at Chesterfield Court House.  Both generals then moved toward Manchester, just across the James from Richmond.
Thomas Nelson, having recovered from his illness, gathered a handful of militiamen hoping somehow to defend the capitol city.  “Fortunately the British did not get to Manchester until the morning of April 30, and on the previous afternoon General Lafayette had marched his nine hundred weary troops into Richmond, after a forced march that had taken them only ten days in miserable weather to cover the 150 miles from Annapolis.  Thus, when the British arrived in Manchester, they were confronted across the river by Lafayette’s troops located in good position.  Though superior in numbers, the British decided not to attack, and after burning some tobacco they dropped down the river, and by May 6, were below Jamestown” (Evans 99).  To put Richmond beyond further attack, Lafayette moved Nelson and his militia to Williamsburg and his own forces between that city and the capitol. 
In May, General William Cornwallis came driving up into Virginia from North Carolina.  He had won a costly victory at Guilford Court House in March and had then moved to Wilmington, North Carolina, where he had made plans to march into Virginia to join Arnold and Phillips at Petersburg.  He did so May 20, Lafayette, being outnumbered, forced to withdraw to Richmond.  For a week and a half neither Lafayette nor the British made any further move.
On May 10, the state legislature had decided to convene two weeks later not in Richmond but in Charlottesville.  In Richmond, Lafayette reorganized his army, now totaling 900 Continentals and the 1,200 to 1,500 militia divided into two brigades commanded by Nelson and Muhlenburg.  After Cornwallis’s arrival May 20, British forces totaled about 7,200 men. 
During this time Nelson had had to deal with numerous disloyal acts.  “In early May, he was forced to take twelve disaffected persons into custody, including Williamsburg merchant John Greenhow, who had advised a ‘militia officer to lay aside his Sword because we were already conquered.’  Horses, which might strengthen an already superior British cavalry, had to be removed from Cornwallis’s path.  Owners who did not cooperate were to have their animals seized.  Nelson also had to oversee the impressment of horses for Lafayette’s cavalry.  A condition approaching martial law prevailed” (Evans 100). 
On May 24, Cornwallis marched out of Petersburg, crossed the James River, and headed toward Richmond to attack Lafayette.  Wanting to keep his army intact and determined to prevent Cornwallis from getting between him and General Anthony Wayne, who was marching from Pennsylvania with reinforcements, Lafayette retreated northward toward Fredericksburg.  On the last day of the month, Cornwallis ended his pursuit, deciding to direct his aggressive activities elsewhere.
Cornwallis wanted to destroy a main supply depot fifty miles above Richmond, capture the Virginia legislature in session in Charlottesville, and seize Governor Thomas Jefferson.   Lieutenant Colonel John Simcoe and 500 troops destroyed the depot.  Steuben and 400 militiamen ordered to defend it retreated.  “Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton and 250 cavalry, assigned the second objective, fell upon Charlottesville early on the morning of June 4.  Had it not been for the ride of Captain Jack Jouett from Cuckoo Tavern to warn the legislature and the governor, the plan would have been successful” (Evans 101).  Here is how The Meriwether Society, Inc., on the internet, narrates this event.
On May 28th, the first day a quorum was present for the reconvened Assembly, Governor Jefferson wrote George Washington pleading he bring the Continental Army to Virginia to bolster the weary patriots, “That your appearance among them I say would restore full confidence of salvation…” Soon afterwards, General Washington wrote Jefferson almost apologetically, “The progress which the enemy are making in Virginia is very alarming…,” only daring to hint at his plans for the British, which would only be secured by a Naval Superiority not yet in place.
 The Green Dragoons moved easily through the countryside between the North and South Anna Rivers on “a rainy dark day”. The heat of the weather obliged a rest around noon to refresh the men and horses. Then they pressed on into the night, and at a small crossroads in eastern Louisa County (the junction of today’s US 33 and US 522), tradition has it that their motions were then observed. About 10:00pm there at the Cuckoo Tavern, a young member of the Virginia militia, John Jouett (of Huguenot origins), watched the British cavalry sweep past along the main road. Whether they stopped is unknown; perhaps some officers entered the Tavern and Jouett overheard them talking, or maybe in watching from a window he just guessed what they were up to. A native of Charlottesville, Jouett’s father was the keeper of the Swan Tavern there, a stopping place and meeting room for many delegates to the Virginia Assembly. Figuring the British would take the main road, Jouett inconspicuously left the area, then mounted a horse said to be the finest in 7 counties, and (thoroughly familiar with the region) rode 40 miles over back roads in the middle of the night, which had nearly a full moon though it was probably overcast. He traveled through a maze of vines, brambles, and potholes, to Monticello where at 4:30am June 4 he awoke Jefferson and several prominent members of the legislature, effectively warning them. It is said he paused only briefly before continuing to Charlottesville. Jouett’s descendants say he wore the scars of brambles and branches from that ride the rest of his life.
Meanwhile, Tarleton’s troops arrived at the Louisa County Courthouse at 11:00pm. They remained on a “plentiful plantation” in Louisa until 2:00am June 4, 1781, then resumed their march. Before dawn, they burned a caravan of 12 supply wagons with stores of arms and clothing headed for South Carolina.
… Tarleton ordered Dr. Walker and his wife to prepare breakfast for the British Legion. It is said the Walkers knew or guessed of the plan to capture Jefferson, so while Mildred Walker “ordered the cooks to be slow in preparing breakfast, Dr. Walker was busy mixing mint juleps for… Tarleton and his troops.”  … He [Tarleton] was still at that point counting on the surprise he might gain from the approximately 70 mile distance covered that night and the previous day.
Just ahead of the British on the morning of June 4, 1781, militia rider John Jouett reached Charlottesville, an 18-year-old town described by a visitor at the time as “a courthouse, one tavern, and about a dozen houses.” He warned the Virginia Assembly members staying there about the approaching raid. They hastily convened, and arranged to reconvene in Staunton, safely across the Blue Ridge Mountains in 3 days time. Their main business of electing a new Governor, because Jefferson’s term had expired June 1, would have to wait. A then little-known Colonel Daniel Boone and some others started loading up wagons with some of the public records.
Not far behind, British Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton and his troops were on the way, refreshed after a quick breakfast at Castle Hill. 
… About that time the former Governor had just left Monticello after seeing his family safely off via carriage toward Enniscorthy, the Coles plantation about 14 miles distant in southern Albemarle County. Jefferson had ordered his favorite riding horse to be shod and brought to the road (about where state highway 53 is today) in the valley between his mountaintop home and the nearby Carter’s Mountain … According to a popular folktale of the time, as the British approached, Jefferson walked a ways up Carter’s Mountain to a good viewing point, and gazed from a telescope. He looked down at the streets of Charlottesville and saw nothing out of order. Jefferson started to walk away, but it is said he noticed his light walking sword had slipped from its sheath, so he returned to retrieve it, and then took another look through his telescope, this time to see the streets swarming with Dragoons, identifiable by the color of their uniforms--green for the British Legion, and red for the Fusiliers. Jefferson then mounted his horse and briskly made his escape. [The Jeffersons’ eventual destination was their family’s Poplar Forest plantation further south.]
… with the help of Jouett’s early warning and the Walker family’s strategic delay, Jefferson, his family, and guests (including the Speakers of the State Senate and House, and some others) all had narrowly escaped, missing the British by just 10 minutes. 
Down in Charlottesville, the British were raiding the town, burning goods and seizing firearms. The numbers vary according to different sources. The British said they destroyed 1,000 muskets, 400 barrels of powder, 7 hogsheads of tobacco, and a quantity of Continental soldier’s clothing and “accoutrements”, while the American estimates were much lower. Also, invaluable county legal records were destroyed, that are still missing from 1748-1781, burned on the Courthouse green.  About 20 prisoners, remnants from the neighborhood of The Barracks prisoner-of-war camp on the West side of town, were liberated.
… Elsewhere in Charlottesville, a British officer overtook Daniel Boone, dressed inconspicuously in frontier hunting shirts and leggings, with John Jouett walking away. The former was questioned and dismissed, then the latter. According to Boone family tradition, as their relative walked away, Jouett (probably exhausted and/or still full of adrenaline) absentmindedly called out Colonel Daniel Boone’s rank and name so that he could catch up with him. The British officer overheard and promptly arrested Boone.
After the drama and violence of the early June days and nights in 1781, life in Charlottesville gradually returned more to its routines. The most hunted General Assembly in Virginia’s history reconvened at the Old Trinity Church in Staunton with most of its members, somewhat riled by their recent harrowing experiences. Some placed blame on Jefferson for their lack of security. 
… The Assembly later voted to exonerate Jefferson of any blame. A year later, Jouett traveled Daniel Boone’s Wilderness Road to Kentucky, serving well as a progressive delegate in State Assemblies. 
… unsuccessful in the main goal of his mission, Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton and his Green Dragoons sometime between June 6-9 made it back to join General Cornwallis at Point of Fork, where the Rivanna River meets the James River (near present day Columbia). He reported “the attempt to secure Mr. Jefferson was ineffectual.” Their main prisoners from the raid were then paroled, including Daniel Boone.
Jefferson’s term of office had expired on June 2.  “The gentle Virginian was not a military man, his second term had been a frustrating one, and he was determined to step aside for someone better fitted for the position.  A little over a week later, the Assembly meeting in Staunton chose General Thomas Nelson as Jefferson’s successor” (Evans 101).
Washington’s decision to remain north proved to be fortunate.  General Henry Clinton, commander-in-chief of all British forces in the Colonies, situated in New York City, feeling uneasy about Washington’s near presence, ordered Cornwallis to take a defensive position at Williamsburg and York and send to him every man he could spare.  Then, seeming to regain his composure, Clinton ordered Cornwallis to send no reinforcements.  But Clinton did not countermand his order instructing Cornwallis to take a defensive position.  Consequently, on August 2 Cornwallis positioned at York his 4,500 men.
Works cited:
Long, Stephen Meriwether.  British Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton and the American Revolution: Drama on the Plantations of Charlottesville.”  The Meriwether Society, Inc.  Net.
Evans, Emory G.  Thomas Nelson of Yorktown: Revolutionary Virginian.  Charlottesville, Virginia, The University Press of Virginia, 1975.  Print.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Writing "Alsoomse and Wanchese" -- Two Major Events
Unlike my Revolutionary War novel Crossing the River, most of the events that occur in Alsoomse and Wanchese are fictitious because I have had very little historical information to utilize.  What historians know about events in the lives of North Carolina coastal Algonquians prior to 1584 (the year that my novel concludes) comes from a single source, Captain Arthur Barlowe, who with Captain Philip Amadas was sent to America in 1584 to find a suitable location to establish a colony.  In his report to his employer Walter Raleigh, Barlowe made sketchy references to two important events that occurred prior to his and Amadas’s arrival: the first having occurred several years earlier and the second a month or two earlier.  These are major events in my novel.
As you read this post, you will need to refer to a map.  Click this link and scroll downward.
The 1584 expedition to Roanoke took back to England two natives: Manteo and Wanchese.  They were taught English at Walter Raleigh’s residence in London and returned to Roanoke in 1585 to act as interpreters.  During their education in London they told their tutor, Thomas Harriot, about an attack committed apparently against the village of Secotan by the Pomouik Indians.  In his report Arthur Barlowe provided this information. 
“Adjoyning to this countrey aforesaid called Secotan begginneth a countrey called Pomovik, belonging to another king whom they call Piamacum, and this king is in league with the next king adjoyning towards the setting of the Sunne, and the countrey Newsiok, situate upon a goodly river called Neus: these kings have mortall warre with Wingina king of Wingandacoa: but about two yeeres past there was a peace madde betweene the King Piemacum, and the Lord of Secotan, as these men which we have brought with us to England, have given us to understand: but there remaineth a mortall malice in the Secotanes, for many injuries and slaughters done upon them by this Piemacum. They invited divers men, and thirtie women of the best of his countrey to their towne to a feast: and when they were altogether merry, & praying before their Idol, (which is nothing els but a meer illusion of the devil) the captaine or Lord of the town came suddenly upon them, and slewe them every one, reserving the women and children: and these two have often times since perswaded us to surprize Piemacum his towne, having promised and assured us, that there will be found in it great store of commodities. But whether their perswasion be to the ende they may be revenged of their enemies, or for the love of they beare to us, we leave that to the tryall hereafter” (Virtual 1).
Historians interpret differently Barlowe’s account of what either he or Harriot had been told.
Historian David Beers Quinn wrote: “Toward the southern limits of Pamlico Sound Indian groups were at war with each other, the “Pomouik” and the Secotan, on the Neuse and Pamlico Rivers, respectively; they also were alleged to be hostile to Wingina.  Wingina may have attempted to assert some degree of hegemony over the Secotan, though this is conjecture, but they [reference to the second major event?] had recently repelled him.  His influence seems to have extended at least as far south as Pomeioc on Wyesocking Bay and perhaps also comprised the Hatarask [Croatoan] Indians from which Manteo came (Quinn 44).
About the extent of Wingina’s control historian Lee Miller wrote: “The King’s name, he [Barlowe] said, was Wingina and the country called Wingandacoa.  … Later, he tells us that Secotan (Secota) was the westernmost town of Wingandacoa and that a country called Ponouike (Pomouik) adjoined it to the west, whose King maintained ‘mortal war with Wingina, King of Wingandacoa.’  … On John White’s map the entire area now known as the Albemarle Peninsula … is labeled ‘Secotan,’ implying that White and Hariot understood Wingina’s country to encompass the area including, at the very least, the towns of Secota, Aquascogoc, Pomeioc, Dasamonquepeuc, and Roanoke” (Miller 265-266).
About the attack, Miller has a different slant.  “”Barlowe tells a story that he heard from Manteo or Wanchese while in England.  The Secotan, he said, once revenged themselves upon the Pamlico by inviting thirty of their women and divers men to Secota for a feast, and slew them every one, reserving the women and children.  That was how wars were conducted; women and children survived” (Miller 234-235).
Historian Michael Leroy Oberg believes that the Pomouik Indians were actually the people of Pomeiooc.  “Indians from Secotan, some time before the English arrived, had traveled to Pomeiooc on [weroance] Piecacum’s invitation for a feast to celebrate a peace agreement between the two towns.  When the Secotans arrived, and ‘were altogether merrie, and praying before their Idoll,’ Piemacum and his warriors ‘came suddenly upon them, and slew them every one, reserving the women and children,’ who probably became either slaves or adoptees.  This story, recorded ambiguously in Barlowe’s account and repeated with no more clarity by John Smith nearly half a century later, raises difficult questions about the relationship between Secotan and Pomeiooc, and of both with Wingina and his people at Dasemunkepeuc and on Roanoke Island” (Oberg 12, 14).
Provided such disagreement among historians, I was forced to decide for myself what might have happened.
I date the year of the Pomouik attack to be 1579.  Wingina’s dominion of “Wingandacoa” – which the English later learned meant “Welcome, friend” – includes the villages Roanoke, Dasemunkapeuc, Croatoan, Pomeiooc, Aquascogoc, Cotan, and Secotan.  Wingina’s father in 1579 is the mamanatowick (chief ruler) of the territory.  He is killed during the Pomouik attack and Wingina succeeds him.  By 1583 the southern territory of Wingina’s rule is beginning to break away.  This gradual rejection of Wingina’s authority is lead by the weroance of Pomeiooc, an aggressive upstart named Piemacum.
Here are two excerpts from the first chapter of “Alsoomse and Wanchese” that illustrate how I am utilizing this first event.
Many summers ago his [Wanchese’s] father Matunaagd, a young brave, had traveled to Secotan with his weroance Wematin and seven high-born, lusty braves to attend the village’s first-harvest corn festival. The purpose of the visit was to impress the villagers of Wematin’s power. Secotan and Aquascogooc had recently accepted Wematin as their chief protector. Secotan lay across the great river from its fierce enemy, the Pomouik. It was important to Wematin that he emphasize his commitment and display his strength. Matunaagd had seen a lithe, graceful beauty dance about a ceremonial post.  He had spoken to her during the subsequent festival. She was demure, but her eyes were welcoming.  He had remained at Secotan for four moons, she had agreed to be his squaw, and he had moved into her parents’ long house.
Two moons later Wematin had sent his sons Wingina and Granganimeo to Secotan to retrieve him.  At Dasemunkepeuc Nadie had given birth first to Wanchese -- twenty summers ago -- then Alsoomse, then Kitchi, and then Kimi. The youngest, Kimi, had died of a fever nine summers ago after four turning-of- the-leaves. Matunaagd, and Wematin, and Nadie’s brothers-in-law Rowtag and Samoset had been slain by the Pomouik four summers ago eight sleeps after Secotan had celebrated its final corn harvest. Nadie, Wanchese, Alsoomse, and Kitchi and Nadie’s sister Sooleawa and her son and daughter had afterward moved to Roanoke.
And, later …
Wematin had taken Kiwasa’s statue with him to Panauuaioc, after his brother Ensenore and the priests had bestowed ceremonial offerings to Kiwasa and sprinkled sacred tobacco on the great river’s waters.  The priests had persuaded Wematin that the Pomouik weroance was sincere in his invitation to celebrate peace!  Wematin had had his doubts, Wanchese had long ago concluded. Wematin had left behind at Secotan his grown sons, Wingina and Granganimeo, and his son-in-law Eracano.  But he had taken Matunaagd and Rowtag and Askook’s father Samoset, all, Wanchese now surmised, having been similarly skeptical, all having chosen to leave behind their wives and children.
Hours later, the women and children that had attended the great feast had paddled back across the river. Their husbands and fathers had been slain. While they had been praying to their idol, Pomouik braves, hidden in the woods, had fallen upon them. The wicked god Kiwasa had chosen to favor Wematin’s enemy.
Four summers had passed. Wingina had not retaliated.
It was not enough to send emissaries such as he [Wanchese] and his elders to the Weapemeoc, the Chowanoc, and the Moratuc to maintain peaceful trade relations and to pretend that the villages across the waters from Croatoan were not slipping away from his grasp.  It was not the Real People’s way to attack their enemy, with large numbers. Victory was achieved in small measure by subterfuge, by ambush. Because of the foolishness of Wematin’s priests the Pomouiks’ victory had been large! With Wingina’s enemy expecting retaliation, such a victory could not be replicated. Revenge, however, was essential. Wanchese believed that Wingina should take ten braves (Wanchese included) across the river above Panauuaioc during a moonless night and wait in cattails for the sun’s first light. Pomouik hunters seeking deer taking water would appear. But Wingina had attempted nothing. Braves, including Wanchese, were questioning his leadership.
So also were the weroances of Aquascogooc and especially Pomeiooc and the people who had remained at Secotan. Every villager accorded privileges to his leader in exchange for his protection. Piemacum, the weroance of Pomeiooc, had become defiant. Wingina had received messages from allies in Secotan that Piemacum had come to their village vowing to protect them. During the past two moons, Pomeiooc braves had encroached on Dasemunkepeuc hunting grounds.  Tetepano, Cossine, and Andacan had been driven away by a volley of arrows.
The second event occurred one or two months prior to Captains Amadas and Barlowe’s arrival in 1584. 
Lee Miller, interpreting Barlowe, wrote: “Wingina had been wounded in a fight ‘with the King of the next country’ and was recovering ‘at the chief town of the country,’ which was ‘six day’s journey off.’ Or roughly sixty miles from Barlowe’s landing at Wococon [on the Outer Banks].  Later, he [Barlowe] tells us that Secotan (Secota) was the westernmost town of Wingandacoa and that a country called Pomouike (Pomouik) adjoined it to the west, whose King maintained ‘mortal war with Wingina, King of Wingandacoa.’  We might conclude, therefore, that Wingina was wounded by the Pomouik and was recovering at his own capital of Secota” (Miller 266). 
Michael Oberg addressed this event somewhat differently.  Wingina was in Dasemunkepeuc, not Secota, when Captains Amadas and Barlowe arrived.   “He had been wounded in battle, sometime before the English arrived, ‘shotte in two places through the bodeye, and once clean thorough the thigh’” (Oberg 31).
I have accepted Lee Miller’s interpretation, but I will have Wingina recovering in Dasemunkepeuc when the Englishmen appear.  I have not yet narrated this event.  Wanchese will be directly involved.
I will adhere to all events that occurred involving English contact with the Roanoke natives in 1584.  My story will end with Manteo and Wanchese’s leave-taking for England.  If I have sufficient time and energy, I will consider writing a follow-up novel.
Next month’s post will be about my characters (including who were real people and who were not) and, especially, what drives my two protagonists.    
Works Cited:
Miller, Lee.  Roanoke: Solving the Mystery of the Lost Colony.  New York, Arcade Publishing, 2000.  Print.
Oberg, Michael Leroy.  The Head in Edward Nugent’s Hand.  Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008.  Print.
Quinn, David Beers.  Set Fair for Roanoke: Voyages and Colonies, 1584-1606.  Chapel Hill, The University of North Carolina Press, 1985.  Print

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Angle of Repose
Wallace Stegner
What causes a long-standing marriage to unravel and what might be done to at least partially resurrect it after it has been seriously damaged?  These seem to be the questions that Lyman Ward, narrator of Angle of Repose, wants answered as he researches the lives of his grandparents, Oliver Ward and Susan Burling Ward, in Wallace Stegner’s 1972 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.
In every respect Angle of Repose is an outstanding work of fiction.  It is Stegner’s examination of the institution of marriage illustrated by two flawed marriages, however, that I wish to discuss.
Lyman Ward is a retired history professor and prolific author of books about the Western frontier.  He is divorced, disabled, and wheelchair-bound – his right leg has been amputated, his head is immobile, his joints are in constant pain due to a bone disease that has caused the hardening of his cervical spine.  He has taken residence in his deceased grandparents’ house in Grass Valley, California, has hired a family friend to bath, feed, and see to other essential needs, and has begun the task of writing a book about his grandparents, pioneers in special ways during the late Nineteenth Century West’s development.
He seeks to remain independent of his adult son Rodman, who wants to place him in a care facility.  “Though we are affectionate with each other,” Lyman writes, “[Rodman] is no more my true son than if he breathed through gills.”  Lyman feels more connected with Oliver and Susan Burling Ward.  “Fooling around in the papers my grandparents, especially my grandmother, left behind, I get glimpses of lives close to mine, related to mine in ways I recognize but don’t completely comprehend.”
Lyman makes brief statements about his father and his grandparents in his first chapter, bits of information that readers should not dismiss. 
Lyman’s father Oliver Ward – named after Oliver, the grandfather, but called Ollie throughout most of the book – “had a queer unhappy life … and finally got so addled that Ada and Ed Hawkes [friends of the Ward family and caretakers of the Green Valley property] had to look after him as they would have looked after a willful and irresponsible child.”
Lyman is critical of Rodman knowing nothing about Lyman’s grandfather’s “inventiveness or his genius for having big ideas twenty years ahead of their time or his struggle to do something grand and humanly productive and be one of the builders of the West.”
Lyman’s grandmother “was the best-known woman illustrator of her time, and the only woman who ever did anything significant about drawing the early West.”  Looking at her portrait behind his work desk, Lyman comments: “A Quaker lady of high principles, the wife of a not-very-successful engineer whom you supported through years of delayed hope, you lived in exile, wrote it, drew it – New Almaden, Santa Cruz, Leadville, Michoacan [Mexico], the Snake River Valley, the deep quartz mines right under this house – and you stayed a cultural snob through it all.  Even when you lived in a field camp in a canyon, your children had a governess, no less, unquestionably the only one in Idaho.  The dream you had for your children was a dream of Eastern cultivation.”
Being the wife of a field engineer, she knew the meaning of the term “angle of repose.”  Late in the book she explains its literal meaning.  Referring to an irrigation ditch being dug to carry water, she wrote that its twelve-foot banks “slope at the ‘angle of repose,’ which means the angle at which dirt and pebbles stop rolling.”  In the first chapter of his book, Lyman surmises that she tried to apply the term to her “wanderings and uneasy life.  It is the angle I am aiming for myself … I wonder if you ever reached it.”  Much of the rest of Stegner’s novel is about what Lyman discovers.
Lyman writes: “There was a time up there in Idaho when everything was wrong; your husband’s career, your marriage, your sense of yourself, your confidence, all came unglued together.  Did you come down out of that into some restful 30 degree angle and live happily ever after?  … Or did you cling forever to the sentiment you wrote to Augusta Hudson [her lifelong cultural mentor and soul mate] from the bottom of failure in Boise Canyon – that not even Henry James’s expatriates were so exiled as you?  We shared this house all the years of my childhood, and a good many summers afterward.  Was the quiet I always felt in you really repose?  I wish I thought so.  It is one of the questions I want the papers [her letters yet to be examined] to answer.”
As we begin to read chapter two, we know that there will be turmoil in Oliver Ward and Susan Burling’s marriage and that something terrible will occur that will cause Susan to seek angle of repose for the remainder of her life.  We later discover that there has been turmoil in Lyman’s marriage and that he must consider whether he wishes to initiate repair.
Susan meets Oliver at an 1868 New Year’s reception hosted by a rich New York hostess.  Susan is 21, the daughter of a middleclass Quaker family living in Milton, New York.  At the age of 18, while attending a painting class in New York City, she had met and become a close friend of the very cultured Augusta Drake [later Hudson], whose “people belonged to the old aristocracy of New York.”  Because of her association with Augusta, therefore accepted by aristocratic circles, Susan had been invited to the 1868 New Year’s reception.  Repelled by the pompous, arrogant declarations of opinion by an important guest, Reverend Henry Ward Beecher, Susan retreats to the solitude of the hostess’s library to pass the time sketching.  A young man whom she had observed earlier -- only because he had been quiet, not presumptuous, and demonstrably uncomfortable in the presence of the gathering’s elite -- enters the room.  He is polite, unobtrusive, yet attentive.  “He had an air of quiet such as she had known in men like her father, men who worked with animals.  He did not look like one who was easily upset, or talked too much, or thought he had to be entertaining.”  She tolerates his presence.  They converse.  He is Oliver Ward, a distant cousin of the Reverend Beecher.  He had attended Yale for two years preparing to become an engineer.  Believing that he was going blind, he had left Yale and moved to Florida to grow oranges.  Two years later he had returned to New York, having learned that his vision problem was merely astigmatic; what he had needed was glasses.  Rather than return to Yale, he has decided to go West to “make myself into an engineer.”  During their off-and-on conversation – one of the best scenes in the novel -- Susan notices physical features and mannerisms that attract her.  At the end of their shared time together, he suggests that while he is out West they correspond.  She is amenable.  I had bonded with each character. 
Nearly five years pass.  They write each other.  He is in love with her.  She regards him as a friend.  She has taken a romantic interest in the cultured Thomas Hudson, assistant editor of Scribner’s Magazine.  When Thomas eventually chooses Augusta to be his wife, Susan is distraught.  Gone from her life is the potential husband and lover and, very probably, her closest female friend.  Leaving New York City, she returns to her parents’ residence in Milton.  “Within two days after she heard of the engagement of August and Thomas, Oliver Ward wrote that he was coming home from the West.”  He visits her in Milton.  Not long afterward they are engaged.
The following is the scene that Lyman imagined happened when Susan and Augusta met after Susan had accepted Oliver’s proposal.  Not only does it illustrate Wallace Stegner’s considerable skill at showing (not telling) action and using crisp dialogue that conveys emotion.  It intimates why Susan went against her instincts and cultural inclinations to commit herself to a marriage that over the succeeding years would cause her to be increasingly dissatisfied.
“Oliver Ward?  Who on earth is he?  Have I met him?  You’re joking.”
“No, I’m quite serious.  You haven’t met him.  He’s been in California.”
“Then where did you meet him?”
“At Emma’s, one New Year’s Eve.”
“And he’s been gone since?  How long?”
“Four years, nearly five.”
“But you’ve been writing to him.”
“Yes, regularly.”
“And now he’s proposed and you’ve accepted, all by mail!”
“No, he’s back.  He’s been visiting at Milton for a week.”
Augusta, sitting with her hand lowered, found a loose thread in the trimming of her gown and pulled it out.  Her fingers smoothed the ruffled rickrack braid.  Her dark angry eyes touched Susan’s and looked away.  “Doesn’t it seem to you odd—it does to me—that you wouldn’t ever have mentioned this man’s name to me?”
“I didn’t know he was going to become so important.”
“But now after a week’s visit you know.”
“I do know, yes.  I love him.  I’m going to marry him.”
Augusta was shaking her head.  “I never expected to see you fall in love like a shopgirl with the first handsome stranger.”
“You’re forgetting yourself!”
“Sue, I think you’re forgetting yourself.  What does this young man do?”
“He’s an engineer.”
“In Calfiornia.”
“And he wants to take you out there.”
“As soon as he finds the right place, with some permanence in it.”
“And you’ll go.”
“When he sends for me, yes.”
Augusta resumed her pacing, throwing her hands outward in little distracted gestures.  She straightened a picture on the wall without stopping.  She bent her head to gnaw on a knuckle.  “What about your art?  What about everything we’ve worked for?”
“My art isn’t that important.  I’ll never be anything but a commercial illustrator.”
“You know that’s utterly wrongheaded!”
“I know I want to marry him and go where his career takes him.  It won’t be forever, but it may take some time.  He’s not flashy, he’ll take a little while to establish himself.  I can go on drawing.  He wants me to.”
“In some mining camp.”
“I don’t know where.”
Now Augusta’s agitation broke out.  She stopped, she gripped her hands before her face and shook them.  “Susan, Susan, you’re mad!  You’re throwing yourself away!  Ask Thomas.  He’d never agree this is right.”
“In this,” said Susan, as if in a novel, “I can consult no one but myself.”
“And make a mistake that will ruin your career and lead you a desolate life.”
Susan does live over the years, in her mind, a desolate life.  She is ashamed at various times that her husband is closed-mouthed during social conversations with cultured people.  Oliver is a kind, very considerate husband exceedingly well-liked by common people.  He is honest.  Not confrontational.  Dishonest people take advantage of him.  She holds this against him.  Worst of all, she cannot help holding him responsible for her not having a permanent place of her own to raise their children in a cultured environment.  Her husband’s continued defeats and her increased dissatisfactions lead him to drink, in her mind the worst of sins.  The following scene late in the novel illustrates how far their marriage has deteriorated.
Oliver had been offered a two-year job working for the United States Geological Survey.  It would mean abandoning seven years of waiting and hoping to see realized a grand irrigation project conceived by Oliver to turn Idaho desert into fertile farm land.  Susan wants him to take the job.
“You wouldn’t be giving up everything.  All your work would be useful for this government survey.  Maybe when that’s done, irrigation will be better understood and you’ll get your backing and can go on.”
“Do you believe that?”
“I don’t know.  Don’t you?”
“Still …!”
“Still I ought to take it.”
“I think so, yes.”
“And what do you and the children do?”
“It doesn’t matter what we do!  I’d be happy anywhere if I thought you were working and … satisfied with yourself.  I can support the children [writing about and doing illustrations of the West for Thomas Hudson’s Century Magazine] Haven’t I been doing it?”
It was not the thing to say.  She knew it, but could not help saying it.  The steady, heavy stare of his eyes told her that he resented her and hardened himself against her, and the moment she saw his reaction, she resented him.
“It will do you good to get away from those people and that town,” she said.  “You’ll be out in the mountains doing what you like to do.  I want you to take this job and I want you to promise me you’ll stop drinking.  If you’re working, there’s no excuse, is there?”
“No,” Oliver said.
At his tone she flared up.  “Is there?  Is there?  I’ve tried to understand.  I’ve excused you, because I know how … But now if you’re working again there isn’t any excuse.  You’ve got to promise me!”
“You’d better let me work that out for myself,” he said.  “I do better when nobody is pushing and pulling.”
“You think I’m pushing and pulling?”
He looked at her and said nothing.
“If that’s what it is,” she said, close to crying, “if you think I’m a bossy managing woman, it might be better if I took the children away somewhere and never came back.”
He was exactly like a balky mule.  She could see his hind quarters settle and his ears lie back.  Aghast at what she had said, more than half afraid she meant it, she stared into his frowning face.
“That’s what I mean by pushing and pulling,” he said.  He walked away from her and sat on the table, looking out the window down toward the bridge and Arrow Rock.  He talked to the window, or to her reflection in it.  “You’re a lot better than I am,” he said.  “You think I don’t know that?”  In the glass his eyes found and held hers.  “You think I don’t know what I’ve put you through?  Or that I don’t care?  But I tell you, Sue, I’m not going to do any better because anybody, even you, is hauling at me.  I’m doin’ my best right now.”
[He explains,] “If a promise means anything, I have to make it to myself.  … Then if I break it I’ll be harder on myself than you’d ever be.  But I can imagine breaking it.”
[She responds,] “I can’t understand.    Doesn’t it shame you to be … enslaved that way?  Doesn’t it humiliate you to think that you can’t resist that temptation when someone like Frank [Oliver’s best friend who -- Oliver and Susan know -- is in love with her], living out on the railroad with the roughest sort of men, never touches a drop?  Why can’t you be like Frank?”
And that was the greatest mistake of all.  “Because I’m not Frank,” Oliver said, staring at her reflected face.  “Maybe you wish I was.”
That terrible happening, which will affect drastically the lives of five people, the consequences of which, in Lyman’s mind, she seeks to attain angle of repose for the remainder of her life, Susan alludes to in a letter she writes soon afterward to Augusta.
“I am gong back.  Behind all this anguish, I believe, has been my refusal to submit.  I do not mean to my husband only.  I have held myself above my chosen life, with results that I must repent and grieve for the rest of my days.  I have not been loyal.  If there is ever a chance that our lives may be patched together, it must be in the West, since that is where I failed.”
Angle of Repose thoroughly engaged my emotions.  I wanted so much for Oliver to succeed in his endeavors and for Susan to be happy and fulfilled.  Each person I considered to be an excellent human being.  Stegner’s account of their deteriorating marriage gives spouses of long-standing marriages pause to reflect on their own marital commitments, their personal weakness, and the necessity of embracing understanding and forgiveness.