Thursday, June 20, 2013

Interview with Author S. Thomas Bailey

Today we're talking with S. Thomas Bailey, author of Shades of Death: The Gauntlet Runner Book II

FQ: You have obviously woven a fair amount of history in this novel. What are your preferred references, if any?

I used a number of different references for my research. Paintings by Robert Griffing, John Buxton, Todd Price, David Wright and other artists who depict historically correct material in their work. Some of them are my friends and their hours of research are very evident. There are a number of excellent written sources and authors that I also referenced. In particular, books by Fred Anderson’s Crucible of War, Rene Chartrand’s work with Osprey Publishing Books and Robert Lickie’s A Few Acres of Snow.

To me the best sources for information and inspiration were the actual historical sights. There is nothing like walking Braddock’s Trail or understanding the terrain and mountains that Jacob and Maggie experienced. Talking with the great staff at the sghts, the living historians or just being amongst the historical atmosphere that many of these places hold, gives me the background and inspiration to continue with my writing.

Anyone interested in the 18th Century should visit and support the many forts in and around New York and Pennsylvania area such as Fort Ligonier, Fort Ticonderoga or Fort Necessity.

FQ: You obviously have a passion for this particular era in American history. Can you pinpoint its origin and tell us a bit about it?

I come by it honestly. My Grandfather on my mother’s side was a full blooded Mi’kmaq from Eastern Canada. The Mi’kmaq people fought alongside the French in the defense of the Fortress at Louisbourg during the French and Indian War. On my father’s side, his mother’s maiden name was Cook and she was directly related to James Cook. He surveyed the St. Lawrence River system for General Wolfe before they attacked the French at The Plains of Abraham. James Cook later became the famous explorer who mapped out most of the Southern Pacific region.

The time period has always intrigued me. It is referred to as the ‘Forgotten War’ and not many readers know the importance it had in our history. Jacob and Maggie were typical of a young settler family and I really wanted to tell their story and what these amazing people faced to have a small plot of land and decent living.

FQ: Maggie and Jacob lost their children to the Huron in a raid. Joshua and One-Ear were childhood victims of this practice. Can you tell us more about these child abductions? Was it a commonplace occurrence?

The native people in the Ohio Valley region did raid the growing number of settlers who encroached into their lands west of the Allegheny Mountains. White captives were commonly taken for many reasons. They were used for trading for goods with other tribes or their French allies. Captives were also used as a threat against other settlers to leave or to discourage future settlers from moving into their territory.

Captives were used as slaves or laborers in some villages but one of the main reasons they were taken was to supplement a tribe’s population. If a husband, wife, son or daughter were lost due to illness, disease or war, a white captive would be ‘adopted’ into the tribe basically inheriting the same rights and privileges as the deceased. For a great story about an ‘adopted’ captive taken as a young girl who remained with her new family until her death, you will enjoy reading the accounts of Mary Jemison of Pennsylvania.

FQ: Monsieur Lamont, the infamous and somewhat evil merchant, claimed that Maggie was his property. Did merchants deal in human trafficking as well as hard goods? Can you tell us a bit about this?

Human trafficking was unfortunately practiced and a lucrative trade at the time. There was ‘value’ in trading white captives primarily between the French and their allies. Some were shipped off to Continental France and used as laborers and slaves. Most were sent to Quebec and used as farmhands to replace the Canadian Militia off fighting in the south. This proved to be one of the best ways to encourage recruitment into the local militia since they could use English, German and Dutch laborers to keep the food supply moving and their families fed.

Just as Maggie experienced, a captive could be traded for food, muskets or rum. They held enough value that a young, strong captive could be shipped to Quebec City and become a wealthy family’s maid or servant.

FQ: There was a call-to-arms that included soldiers from southern states. Can you tell us about these soldiers and what their lives were like?

The Colonial Militia was the backbone of the war. The British brought over several Irish and Scottish regiments but they had no knowledge of the area and were ill-prepared to fight on the frontier of North America in the 1750’s.

The Militia provided the army with hunters, tradesmen, laborers and experts in wilderness fighting. The European-trained British regulars struggled to alter their fighting tactics but after several disastrous battles, they finally adopted a similar way to fight like their colonial allies.

The men who fought within the ranks of the various militia units were simple settlers who hacked their way through the wilderness to secure a plot of land to raise a family and make a meager living. If they decided just to let the British regulars fight the French and their native allies, we might be speaking French instead of English.

Like most colonials, Jacob and his brother joined for a term of service. In return they received a small wage and the promise of some land. As a Militia volunteer, you provided your own musket, clothing and anything else you could carry. The regular British soldier and officers only saw them as undisciplined, crude men but their enemies saw them as fighting units they feared.

FQ: There was a brief mention about the Black Robes. Obviously these were religious missionaries of sorts. Pray tell, who were they?

The Black Robes were the missionaries sent over by the King of France to ‘civilize’ and Christianize the native population in what is now Quebec and Ontario. The name Black Robes came from the attire they wore while they traveled in the wilderness visiting the numerous villages. Some even made their way down into parts of New York and Pennsylvania but were more prevalent in 17th and 18th Century Canada.

FQ: Readers who are interested in the history of this era will obviously recognize figures such as General Braddock. What did the British learn from his fatal mistake?

Unfortunately it took a couple other costly defeats to finally convince the highly disciplined British regulars to rethink their battle plans.

The blame for Braddock’s defeat was directly pointed towards Braddock and his officers. Washington did attempt to have some of his Virginians take cover within the woods but Braddock would not permit such ‘dishonorable’ actions and ordered his men to stay in line.

In future books, I will be covering the additional disasters that severely weakened the British campaign until they changed their tactics and fought more like their colonial counterparts.

FQ: Jacob Sims (Murray) and Joshua joined forces with Captain Stevens’ Provincial Rangers. Tell us a bit about the Provincial Rangers and their role during the war.

The Ranging units became an invaluable arm of the British army, despite several senior officers who never appreciated their value. The most famous Ranging units were formed by Robert Rogers in the New England territory.

Jacob was the perfect Ranger. An expert marksman, scout and hunter, he thrived once he got away from the over-disciplined British army and had the freedom to scout ahead of the advancing units. Most of the men were backwoodsmen and trappers who knew the endless trails that traversed the Pennsylvania and Ohio territories. Their specialized skills kept their mates fed, safe and alive.
When the harsh winters hit, most of the frontier forts were lightly garrisoned. Most of the militia returned to their farms and the British regulars billeted back in Philadelphia and Williamsburg. The Rangers remained back on the frontier, setting trap lines or raiding what Indians or French dared to travel the trails during the winter.

In future books, Jacob and Joshua will soon make their way into the New York province and meet up with Robert Rogers and his famous Rangers.

To learn more about Shades of Death: The Gauntlet Runner Book II please read the review at: Feathered Quill Book Reviews.