Friday, November 30, 2012

Putting a Historic Figure in the Novel

As near as I can determine, there are no pictures of Captain Benjamin Forsyth.

He was an American hero of the War of 1812, leader of Forsyth's Rifles, a dashing if rowdy and larcenous crew involved in many important battles on the Canadian-American border in the Thousand Islands area. He plays a part in the story of Bucker Dudley. When Bucko was imprisoned in Elizabethtown, Captain Forsyth and his Rifles crossed the frozen river, raided the town, and released all the prisoners. This was an actual raid, carried out by the actual historical personage, Captain Benjamin Forsyth. But what did he look like?

Sean Bean

I like to think of him as looking like Sean Bean when he played Richard Sharpe of Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe's Rifles, a gorgeous hunk in a skin-tight uniform, broad-shouldered, maybe six and a half feet tall, his handsome brow creased with the consciousness of having killed many men and broken the hearts of many women.

But maybe he was short. It has been said that in the woodland skirmish where he lost his life Benjamin Forsyth climbed up on a stump to see what was happening, whereupon a British marksman picked him off. A tall man wouldn't have had to do this. And maybe his shoulders weren't broad at all. You can never tell about the people of that time, since broad shoulders were so unfashionable that even a man who had them would be painted as not having them, wearing those cramped, pinch-shouldered jackets that were in style in those days.

Portrait of General Hull

But who cares? I'm writing this story. I can make Captain Benjamin Forsyth as fine-looking as I like. It's called poetic license. My poetic license hangs over my desk. Take a look at it. The powers it gives me are sweeping.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


Most Americans, when they hear that the Texans want to secede from the union, immediately think the case parallels the Civil War (aka the War Between the States). They do not think of the War of 1812, when the New Englanders nearly seceded. Yes, folks, in those days it was the Yankees who couldn't stand the bull from Washington anymore. They even went so far as to meet in Hartford to go forward with their plans for secession. Here's how it went down.

First of all the New England merchants and farmers were sore at President James Madison. They hadn't voted for him, but for DeWitt Clinton, the Federalist candidate. When he declared war on Great Britain they were filled with alarm and venom. The war quickly began to go badly. The British blockaded all trade. The merchants lost money. In spite of New England's refusal to support the war with money or men, the federal government continued to fight against the British.

After two years of things not going their way, the Yankees decided they weren't going to take it anymore. In December of 1814, with the war dragging on, delegates came to Hartford from all over Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, as well as a few from New Hampshire and Vermont. Nobody knows how the treasonous meetings went, for they kept no minutes, possibly for fear of being hanged. In the end they backed down from outright secession and made a list of amendments they wanted made to the Constitution. They sent a delegation to Washington to put their list before the Republicans in charge of Congress, without hope of winning them over, but thinking to embarrass them.

The delegation arrived in Washington to make their constitutional demands about the same time that the news arrived that the Treaty of Ghent had been signed, Jackson had whupped the British in New Orleans, and the war was over. How embarrassed they must have been. The New England Federalist cause was irrelevant now. As a result not only the New England secessionist movement but the entire Federalist party lost all influence in the country, and withered away completely.

The Texans might want to think about that.