Like many historic fiction writers, I love the hunt, the research that pays off in details that allow readers to learn about our country’s past.
When the reviews came in for the first book in my Revolutionary War time-travel series, ONE IF BY LAND, TWO IF BY SUBMARINE, I was delighted when readers noted the historic accuracy.
Schnabel pays attention in the book to details particular to that period, such as equipment, weapons, and even personal details like hygiene and dressing which indicates in depth research while making sure not to take away from the fictional component of the novel.
I’m currently working on book two, SARATOGA, and once again on the hunt. I thought I’d share with you the process as it unfolds for one of a hundred details that will make their way into this story.
My main character meets with British General Burgoyne at his headquarters at Saratoga just before the battle. To make this scene as accurate as possible, I’ve been on a quest for clues to his living quarters during October, 1777.
Lots of research. No results. But like the Continental army, I persevered.
Then one day I came across an old map at the British Library.
BY JOVE, I THINK I’VE FOUND IT!!!
Burgoyne stayed at Swords’ House! BIG PROGRESS!
Who were the Swords? What kind of house?
Which led me to the SARATOGA COUNTY, NEW YORK historic records.
Turns out, Thomas Swords’ family, logically enough, were loyalists with their own curious history.
This family may make a cameo in SARATOGA, but in the meantime, I wanted to make sure I had my house – a.k.a. British headquarters. So I contacted the fabulous rangers at Saratoga National Historical Park to confirm Burgoyne was headquartered at the Swords home in October:
Houston we have a problem – did you notice those dates?
September 1777 NOT October 1777.
I STILL needed to know where he was during the Second Battle of Saratoga – in October, 1777. Jumping ahead a few steps, the rangers at Saratoga National Historic Park said General Burgoyne would have been headquartered in a tent during this period. And it would have been a tent similar to what American General George Washington would have used.
But what kind of tent did Washington use? It turns out I wasn’t the only one curious about this.
I soon learned another history detective was on his own hunt. Jennifer Schuessler‘s fascinating article in The New York Times provided the next set of clues. See article here: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/15/arts/design/washingtons-tent-a-detective-story.html
Late one night last spring, Philip Mead, the chief historian at the new Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia, was browsing auction listings online when he spotted one for a panoramic watercolor of the Continental Army encamped in the Hudson Valley.
“There was a marquee tent up on a hillside,” he recalled. “I thought to myself, ‘Could it be…?’”
Apparently, it was. And now, six months after that “Where’s Waldo?” moment, the museum is announcing that it has acquired what it believes is the only known wartime depiction of Washington’s tent by an eyewitness.“
“We have no photographs of this army, and suddenly here is the equivalent of Google Street View,” Mr. Mead said. “Looking at it, you feel like you are walking right into the past.” https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/15/arts/design/washingtons-tent-a-detective-story.html
Success at last.
One mystery solved. When my character, Kep Westguard, meets with General ‘Gentleman Johnny’ Burgoyne in SARATOGA, I can now describe his headquarters with some accuracy.
But what did the INSIDE of that tent look like? And what was the general wearing???
The quest continues….