by Patricia Fay Reece
A few years ago, I feverishly began searching for my family’s genealogical roots, which started me down the path to an unexpected love for history that, previously, I had not known. My first family had arrived on ship in Virginia, in 1619. All the other roots of my family tree were established in the North American colonies prior to the start of the Revolutionary War.
Names, dates, locations and events had mostly filled my history books as a student. Learning those didn’t give me any pleasure, not to mention it was hard work. Somehow, it was different when I had to research history in order to write in the America of the 1700s. I enjoyed applying what I learned to each of the scenes in my story.
As a child, sketching was a favorite pastime. I leaned toward expressing emotion through artistic venues. Those things didn’t seem hard. I didn’t grow tense or get a headache using my creativity, like I usually did when learning about history.
Now, though, the desire to track and uncover my distant kinsmen had lit a passion to commit my ancestral line to paper. I began a multi-generational Christian historical book. The story begins in the middle of the eighteenth century in the Colony of Maryland.
After my first trek into historical America, I found that I didn’t know much about the world that had birthed our rights to live and worship freely. Men and women had bled and died to wrest our freedom from the British Empire.
Writing about the eighteenth century turned out to be a bucket of hard work. A small detail person, I struggled with each and every element of the times, as I uncovered interesting little facts that helped bring the story to life.
I started out writing my story first, before researching the history to validate the time period. I’m not exactly sure when that changed. It came so subtly. One day I realized that, now, I plotted my book for research to show the period, as much as to write the novel.
America’s past—our beginning—could not truly be told without deep research. I read many sources in my quest to unearth the day-to-day activities of the 1700s. The details lurked in history books, in centuries-old books, and in snatches of information scattered through the annals of the time. All were rewarding discoveries for me.
I wanted to know about the lives of my forbearers, what they wore and ate, where they lived and how they managed to do so much with little more than ambition and hard work.
My head ached as I read through Edwin Tunis’s “Colonial Living” and his other books, painstakingly put together with sketches of the period. I poured over his works, and then concluded I needed more information for a more thorough picture. I acquired William Chauncy Langdon’s “Everyday Things in American Life, 1607-1776,” then his “1776-1876” book. Now, that was a pair of books I didn’t readily jump into and swiftly read my way out of.
Tunis’s and Langdon’s books laid a foundation for my historical connections. I built on that with various other sources.
I found young America and experienced it for myself. Interesting to me was that everyone in the family worked, including their dog. A good natured, short-legged terrier of that period, was used to walk in a cylindrical cage, or on a treadmill, to rotate the spit that held a roast, the family’s supper.
The essentials needed to survive and thrive were subjects that I eagerly absorbed (with my aspirin bottle close by), to a point where I could almost have lived as my ancestors did.
The 1700s spoke to me of women who wore long, graceful dresses that gently swirled at their feet. The men they loved didn’t need a directory to call the builder, gardener, or even the mechanic. They, or someone in the family, were likely qualified to do these things..
They lived their lives with the Lord holding a prominent position in their home. If not, that person at least acknowledged that God should be the center of his household, even if He wasn’t. Childbirth was difficult and an important event, as babes were birthed with help from the women, while the men comforted the proud father-to-be. The birth of a living being was a miracle they never took for granted.
Finally, the ‘old folks’ that had raised their family, and now had grandchildren, were not pushed out of the way like they were useless. They still contributed to the training and raising of the future generations in the family’s home, or close by.
Writing prompt: In 1774, a man stumbled down the street, jacket and breeches dusty, waving a parchment in the air. He stumbled and fell. People reached his side, hearing him say before he died, “I…I was told give this only to…”
Patricia Fay Reece lives in Washington state, along the Columbia River. A native of Tennessee, she enjoys researching the past history of her ancestors and the times in which they lived. The historical novels she writes have been inspired by that history.
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