Sunday, December 16, 2018

Jamestown Struggles to Survive in 1614-1619

Last month I shared how even the gentlemen farmers in Jamestown in the 1600s had to learn to work if they intended to eat. But one crop wasn’t exactly for nourishment.

By 1614, John Rolfe’s experimentation of growing tobacco paid off when a variety of West Indian tobacco flourished in Virginia. Even those who’d spent their earlier years searching for gold started “rooting” in the ground to grow the weed, going so far as to plant tobacco in the streets of Jamestown. In those early years, tobacco was almost worth its weight in silver and was sometimes even used as currency.

From the beginning, the settlers were hired employees of the Virginia Company. They lived in company towns, bought supplies from the company store, and cultivated company ground with company supplied tools. But things began to change when Governor Dale allowed each settler three acres to grow his own crops. He also reduced the work load exacted by the company to one month a year provided the settler paid a tax of two and a half barrels of corn annually.

But even those concessions to the future of the settler’s lives didn’t negate the fact that the wilderness area of Virginia had acquired a reputation of a misery and death back in England. Few Englishmen of any means were willing to risk their lives in the “inferno” that was Jamestown since the settlers were dying faster than they could be replaced.

Governor Dale proposed to the Virginia Company that they replenish the colony by emptying the jails of England. The governor said that the felons wouldn’t be any worse than the “abandoned wretches” already in Jamestown. King James I gave his consent and gave the company permission to select 100 of the likeliest-looking convicts to send to the New World. Whether these convicts had any say in the matter is left to speculation, but it is likely they had no choice in the matter. In 1615, the king issued a proclamation ordering the transportation of the felons to Virginia. Those convicted of rape, murder, burglary or witchcraft were ineligible for transportation.

Orphaned street children were also rounded up off the streets of London to serve as apprentices in the colony. Understandably, many of the children refused to go and had to be forced to board the ship. While a new life in a new land might seem to be a good move for these street children, it’s no wonder that they were terribly frightened to cross the vast ocean on the flimsy promise of a better life.

Regardless of how they felt about the matter, inevitably the felons and the street kids were shipped to Virginia. But what the colony needed more than a horde of lonely felons and street-smart kids was … women.

Join me next month on the 16th to see how Governor Dale, the Virginia Company, and King James resolved this perplexing problem.

CBA Bestselling author PAM HILLMAN was born and raised on a dairy farm in Mississippi and spent her teenage years perched on the seat of a tractor raking hay. In those days, her daddy couldn't afford two cab tractors with air conditioning and a radio, so Pam drove an Allis Chalmers 110. Even when her daddy asked her if she wanted to bale hay, she told him she didn't mind raking. Raking hay doesn't take much thought so Pam spent her time working on her tan and making up stories in her head. Now, that's the kind of life every girl should dream of.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

The Trees of Northern Michigan PLUS Giveaway

The Trees of Northern Michigan

By Carrie Fancett Pagels
and Debbie Lynne Costello

There’s a reason people like to say “Write what you know” – it can make things easier as you’re writing. However, even if you write about a setting you think you know well, it can be good to verify what you “think” is true. And if you’re not writing about a setting you know well, it does help to know about the surroundings. In many places trees are a big part of the landscape. So before you mention the hero or heroine lingering under a certain tree, you’ll need to verify that those types of trees indeed grow in that setting. We had that come up in a recent collection, one of the few stories I’ve written where I hadn’t visited the location. So in due diligence we checked to see if one of our authors’ specific tree could actually grow there. It could but had to be near where the story was set as they didn’t grow far away from there in that state.

Sometimes the benefit of visiting a setting, even if you’ve grown up in the area, is verifying your hazy recollection. And what exactly do those trees look and feel like in person? After all these years does it feel the same to stand under that spectacular forest canopy? And what historical significance do certain trees have?

Northern Michigan features such beautiful trees as the American Basswood, also referred to as the American Linden. Many of my childhood stories featured linden trees, usually in a small town. 

The basswood was used by Indians. They would soak the bark for two to four weeks which would loosen long fibers. They used the fibers to make bags and baskets, fishnets, mats, snowshoe netting, ropes, and even sewing thread.

Do you remember the old song, “Don’t Stand Under the Apple Tree With Anyone Else but Me”? We don’t picture the couple being in the dessert or on an island do we? It’s pretty amazing how having the right trees and flowers and in the correct seasons can ground a story.

In northern Michigan and in the Upper Peninsula we have beautiful birch trees. They used to be everywhere in great abundance, in my youth. Less so now. All manner of beautiful local craft items would be made from birch. One of my favorites was a chunk of birch with a circle cut-out for a candle.

Native Americans used the birch tree in their healing tepees. They burned small pieces of the bark where the sick person stayed in order to purify the air and kill germs. They also took the bark and made a flour for baking.

The Sugar Maple tree is one of the favorites of my childhood. It’s very prevalent in the mixed hardwood forests of the Eastern Upper Peninsula and practically glows a florescent orange, red, or yellow in the autumn. If you’re lucky, one of your friends will collect maple syrup in the spring and invite you along to observe or help. Or better yet, they’ll also share the syrup and you can make something yummy with it.

Some of the earliest settlers in the new America Northeast learned about sugar maples from Native Americans. There are different legends that tell how the sweet maple syrup was found in these trees. One tale tells how a chief threw a tomahawk at a tree and sap ran from it. His wife then cooked venison in it.

When I lived in South Carolina and Georgia, I was really struck by how different the Southern pines seemed compared to the pines I’d grown up with in the Upper Peninsula.  However, I think part of that was because I was so used to young pines and different types of pines than the tall Eastern White Pine (pictured below). The northern Eastern pines are more substantial than the Southern pines but you can still see the same high up collection of extended conical tree top. White pines are of major historical significance not only to Michigan but also to the entire MidWest which benefited from the boom of “White Gold” the White Pines harvested out of Northern Michigan in the 1800’s, as I included in The Christy Lumber Camp Series. Towns and cities were built almost overnight as trees were felled, hauled to the mills for sawing into boards, and then shipped onto areas such as Chicago and Buffalo.

And last, but not least, one of my other favorite trees, the Northern red oak. They grow tall pretty fast and can really dominate a forest. They have such a really cool bark. Note how textured they are and rough (image below.)

The Red Oak is considered a medicine tree by many eastern and midwestern tribes. It's also associated with strength and protection.

Thanks for visiting with me and enjoying the view of the trees of Northern Michigan with me. Authors, do you have specific trees you like to put in your stories? Readers, do you notice if an author puts trees in a story that you know don’t belong in the setting?

To be entered in Carrie's giveaway of choice of any of her books, answer one or more of the questions above in the comments. Thanks!

Carrie Fancett Pagels, Ph.D., is the award-winning author of sixteen CF publications including her latest, a novella "Love's Beacon" in the Great Lakes Lighthouse Brides Collection.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Classic Christmas Movie List

I have loved classic movies since I was in the second grade. I used to go to the local library and borrow all the movies from the 30's, 40's, 50's, and 60's I could get my hands on. Names like Doris Day, Gene Kelley, Fred Astaire, and Betty Grable were often on my 8-year-old lips. To this day, I still prefer an old movie to a new one. And when people say: "I love Christmas movies!" my mind always goes to the great classics, instead of the newer ones on Hallmark or Netflix.

Here is a list of my favorite classic Christmas movies, in no particular order, with the release date, stars, and synopsis of each. I hope you take the time to watch a couple of these this holiday season.

Remember the Night (1940)
Starring Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray
A shoplifter and her prosecuter fall in love, creating tensions in their family lives.
It Happened on Fifth Avenue (1947)
Starring Don DeFore, Ann Harding, and Charles Ruggles
A homeless New Yorker moves into a mansion and along the way he gathers friends to live in the house with him. Before he knows it, he is living with the actual home owners.

Holiday Inn (1942)
Starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire
At an inn which is only open on holidays, a crooner and a hoofer vie for the affections of a beautiful up-and-coming performer.

The Bishop's Life (1947)
Starring Cary Grant and Loretta Young
An angel in human form enters the life of a bishop in order to help him build a new cathedral and repair his fractured marriage.

Christmas in Connecticut (1945)
Starring Barbara Stanwyck and Dennis Morgan
A food writer who has lied about being the perfect housewife must try to cover her deception when her boss and a returning war hero invite themselves to her home for a traditional family Christmas.

The Shop Around the Corner (1940)
Starring Margaret Sullavan and James Stewart
Two employees at a gift shop can barely stand each other, without realizing that they are falling in love through the post as each other's anonymous pen pal.

Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
Starring Maureen O'Hara and Edmund Gwenn
When a nice old man who claims to be Santa Claus is institutionalized as insane, a young lawyer decides to defend him by arguing in court that he is the real thing.

White Christmas (1954)
Starring Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye
A successful song-and-dance team become romantically involved with a sister act and team up to save the failing Vermont inn of their former commanding general.

It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
Starring Donna Reed and James Stewart
An angel is sent from Heaven to help a desperately frustrated businessman by showing him what life would have been like if he had never existed.

All Mine to Give (1957)
Starring Glynis Johns
An immigrant family in 1850's Wisconsin prospers until tragedy strikes and the oldest brother is forced to find homes for his siblings on Christmas Day.

Have you seen any of these on the list? Do you have any to add? What are your favorite Christmas movies?

If you're looking for a beautiful Christmas book, my recent release, A Christmas Promise, is available in the Victorian Christmas Brides Collection with eight other delightful stories.

Experience a Dickens of a Christmas

Faced with the daily extremes of gluttony and want in the Victorian Era, nine women seek to create the perfect Christmas celebrations. But will expectations and pride cause them to overlook imperfect men who offer true love?

A Christmas Promise by Gabrielle Meyer
London, England, Christmas 1899

Lady Ashleigh Pendleton is hosting a houseful of guests for Christmas when railroad executive Christopher Campbell unexpectedly arrives from America with a mysterious agreement signed by their fathers before their birth.

Gabrielle Meyer lives in central Minnesota on the banks of the Mississippi River with her husband and four children. As an employee of the Minnesota Historical Society, she fell in love with the rich history of her state and enjoys writing fictional stories inspired by real people and events. 

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Thursday, December 13, 2018

A Primer for Your Mid-1800s Christmas Ball

An 1847 Godey's print of mingling at a ball.
by Denise Weimer

Do you find the intricacies of the nineteenth century European or American ballroom daunting? Well, I don’t claim to be able to teach you the Varsoviana (I know, even the name is scary) via a simple post. But with some basic rules of mid-1800s dance and etiquette learned during my years instructing a vintage dance group, you’ll better understand the ball scenes in your favorite historical romance … or maybe feel emboldened to attend a ball yourself!

First, dances of this period served as social mixers. Charles Durang in his 1856 The Fashionable Dancer’s Casket states, “A gentleman should not dance frequently with one lady,” and “married couples ought not to dance with each other.” 

Balls were arranged with this concept in mind. Group dances were most common, executed in lines (reels), squares (quadrilles), or circles. The gentleman escorted the lady on his right arm. Most dances were performed with a walking step, although some called for the steps used in the couples’ dances—waltz, polka, galop, or schottische.

Victorian couples ready for a quadrille.

  • In line dances, a line of men faced a line of ladies. The head couple stood at the top, nearest the band. The Virginia Reel was perhaps best known, with the earlier form being the Sir Roger de Coverly. La Tempete, or The Tempest, was a much more complicated reel formation that involved pass-throughs to other lines.
  • In square dances, the head couple stood nearest the band and led off the steps with the facing couple. The steps were then repeated by the side couples. Sometimes all four couples interacted by making chains or stars in the middle, or by promenading across or around the set. The Lancers Quadrille—offering five distinct movements—retained popularity for decades.
  • In circle dances, couples faced other couples, performed a series of movements, then completed a pass-through to repeat those with another couple, eventually working their way around the whole circle. Popular circle dances included the Soldier’s Joy and Spanish waltz.

Of couples’ dances, Durang said, “All romping, dragging, hugging and leaning or stooping over the shoulders of partners is decidedly objectionable, and only fit for places of loose resort.”

Not everyone took dance etiquette quite so seriously. A scene in Sautee Shadows, the first novel in my Georgia Gold Series, captures a dance school where the instructor reads from “A Canon for Mr. Polka,” published in London by a mischievous Captain Knox. “Every ballroom was like a whirlpool; dancing more resembled the driving home from Derby than anything else; the collisions rivaled in frequency and severity, those of the iron railways. … The price of fans rose frightfully, partly from the pressing necessity of them, and partly from the enormous destruction of them in the melĂ©e.” 

Shy socialite Carolyn Calhoun quickly stops laughing when she’s asked to demonstrate the polka with the admiring Dylan Roussaeau—in front of his devastatingly handsome older brother, Dev.

Feeling ready to venture onto the dance floor? Post below with the state where you live, and I’ll share any good opportunities that come to mind!

Represented by Hartline Literary Agency, Denise Weimer holds a journalism degree with a minor in history from Asbury University. She’s the managing editor for Smitten Romance of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas and the author of The Georgia Gold Series, The Restoration Trilogy, and a number of novellas, including Across Three Autumns of Barbour’s Colonial Backcountry Brides Collection. A wife and mother of two daughters, she always pauses for coffee, chocolate, and old houses! Connect with Denise here:

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Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Christmas on the Plains and Molasses Candy

A footnote from history by Stephanie Grace Whitson

Here in Nebraska, we nearly had a white Thanksgiving. The  snow melted before "Turkey-day," but winter storms never fail to set me to thinking about what winter was like for pioneer settlers. And they always make me thankful I live in a day of central heating where all it takes to keep warm is a setting on a thermostat. 

In December of 1866, troops sent to aid the survivors of the Fetterman Massacre "waded or dug their way through snows, knee deep, and often waist deep, while the mercury ranged from 25 to 40 degrees below zero." They arrived at

their destination with frostbitten hands and feet. In January, when some of the women were transported to safety, the mercury on their only thermometer froze in the bulb, so they no longer knew how cold it was. They "sliced" frozen bread with a hatchet. 

Residents of sod houses often mentioned how much warmer the three-foot-thick sod walls kept their homes. In fact, some lamented the loss of that insulation when they moved into their first farmhouse with only boards, plaster, and lathe to hold in the warmth from the wood stove in the kitchen. 

In 1913, when Bert Snyder went for more coal during a blizzard, "his eyes were frozen shut before he'd gone half a dozen steps, and the snow was so fine and thick that he could barely breathe." After the storm when Bert saddled his horse to see about the cattle on his ranch, the drifts were so high and frozen so solid that he rode right over the tops of fences.

What was Christmas like for those pioneers? Jessie Short Segard, author of From Dugout to Mansion wrote this about Christmas, 1886: "...some Christmases we had nothing at all. One Christmas Mother had made sorghum taffy and made some into rings and other things of the taffy. That was the extent of our gifts that year. Here's a recipe I found for molasses candy. Let me know if you try it! 

from Nebraska Pioneer Cookbook 
compiled by Kay Graber

Two cups of molasses, one cup of sugar, tablespoonful of vinegar, small lump of butter. Boil rapidly until it drops brittle into cold water, pour into buttered tins, and when cold pull till it is white.

Jessie's memoir continues, "Another Christmas Aunt Sally had received a barrel of apples from Iowa and brought one apiece for us. What a treat that was, a whole apple for each of us."

When Jessie's family moved from Kansas to the village of Brainard, Nebraska, her father had an idea for decorating a Christmas tree. "Before Christmas that year Father told us children to save all the tissue paper we could find in the street. Everybody was a litterbug then and it was easy to find white, yellow, red and blue tissue where stores tossed their rubbish. Father got a branch limb of a tree. We covered it with strips of those papers and he nailed it to the wall and that was our first and only Christmas tree we ever had. We thought it was very beautiful.

Christmas morning we found on that tree overshoes for Father, I don't remember what for Mother, a wool cap for us two girls, and I forget what for the boys except that we all got a little pocket mirror and a sack of hard candy. The aid society had given us those things and Father had not let us children know about it. Oh! You see, it takes very little to make a real poor family happy."

At Christmas in 1884, Jessie was fourteen and a half. "I wanted so much to buy a Christmas gift for mother but only had one nickel. The only thing I could think of to get her was a spool of sewing thread but to her it was a good useful gift."

What about you? Do you have memories of "lean" Christmases? Do you have a favorite gift that was inexpensive and yet cherished because of the sacrifice made to acquire and give it? 

May God grant us all an attitude of thankfulness for the abundance He supplies. Merry Christmas!


My heroine in Mended Hearts, a novella included in the collection at left, has gone through a rough year. She's felt shunned and abandoned, but as Christmas looms, she hopes a change is on the horizon. 

Learn more here:

To win a free copy of Christmas Stitches, 1) share the link to this blog post with a friend and then  2) e-mail with topic line SHARED and your shipping address in the body of the e-mail. I'll select and notify the winner on December 15. Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

A Christmas Legend

The Night the Animals Talked

When our boys were very young, we bought a set of encyclopedias for them to use to learn more about our world and the things in it. Included in the set were Childcraft volumes. One of those was a volume of myths and legends of the Christmas season. I read these stories and legends to the boys as they grew up. One that always fascinated me was the legend of the animals talking on Christmas Eve.

As I did research on the legend, I discovered many different children’s books written around the tale. That led me to write my own short story about the animals when the boys were older. I hadn’t thought about it for a long while as our children are grown with families of their own, but as I was searching for books for our great-grandchildren, I found children’s books about this legend were still around. That’s when I decided to make it the subject of this blog.

The legend originated in Norway where children were drawn to stables in snow laden fields all around the country on Christmas Eve night. There they hoped to hear the miracle of the animals talking about the birth of Jesus.

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago, Mary and Joseph were not in some abandoned place but in a working stable or cave filled with animals belonging to the owner. These innocent creatures, in humble surroundings, witnessed the miraculous birth of the Savior of all men as he came into the world as a tiny baby.

The legend tells us that the baby was born at exactly midnight surrounded by the love of Mary and Joseph and God’s animals. Mary lovingly wrapped the baby in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger to sleep.  At this precise moment, God gave a voice to each animal, and they began praising God for the miraculous event they had seen. The animals worshiped the child until the shepherds appeared seeking the baby.

The shepherds had been told of the birth of Christ and made haste to find the child exactly where the angel had said. As they entered the stall, the animals fell silent. The only ones who heard their voices were Mary, Joseph, and the Christ child. 

The story, passed down through the generations, still persists today in Scandinavia, especially Norway. On Christmas Eve, wide-eyed, expectant children leave their warm beds and creep out into the cold to the stables at midnight in hopes of hearing the animals praise God.

Even though adults, grown out of their belief in myths and legends, scoff and complain about the children being out so late, they remember their own childhood. The faith of the children leads them to believe that animals really do praise God every year at exactly midnight. Who are we to say that our all-powerful God couldn’t make this happen? With God all things are possible, so why not have all of God’s creatures rejoice and praise the Savior as humans celebrate the birth?

Through the years, Christmas Eve has evolved into a magical time of year when all kinds of good things can happen. Some even say miracles abound on this special night. Why not? The greatest miracle of all happened on this night. The Bible gives us a beautiful account of an angel announcing the birth on a starry night to a group of shepherds in the fields with their sheep. Then a heavenly host of angels joined in song to praise the child who would bring peace, truth, and light to a darkened world.

Today we see Nativity sets and the larger ones all feature animals. Cows, donkeys, and sheep all represent the animals in the stable that night when Christ was born at midnight. Nativity sets range from very simple with Mary and Joseph and the baby to very elaborate ones, from simple drawings to beautiful paintings. When you see them this year, think of the animals and how they worshiped the Baby in their stable.

Legends abound about the candy cane, poinsettias, Saint Nicholas, the Christmas tree, and other things associated with Christmas. I love these legends as they tell a beautiful story of that blessed, miraculous night in Bethlehem.

 Do you have a favorite legend or story of Christmas? I'd like to hear it, so please share with me.

 My new Christmas book features a children's play about the Christmas story performed by the children at an orphanage.

Wealthy socialite Florence Middleton admired Joel Fowler when she was a senior student at Oak Dale Bible College and he was a teaching assistant. Now that he’s a full professor and she’s worked with him for several years on various projects for the college, she has fallen in love with him. Joe loves her, but her wealth and standing in the community keep him from declaring that love. When they work together at the orphanage to present a children’s Christmas play, they grow closer, but Joel squelches his feelings for her. Will the magic of the Christmas season and the children’s play be the spark that nurtures the seeds of their love and brings them to full bloom at Christmas?

Martha Rogers is a multi-published author and writes a weekly devotional for ACFW. Martha and her husband Rex live in Houston, Texas where they are active members of First Baptist Church. They are the parents of three sons and grandparents to eleven grandchildren and great-grandparents to four, soon to be five. Martha is a retired teacher with twenty-eight years teaching Home Economics and English at the secondary level and eight years at the college level supervising student teachers and teaching freshman English. She is the Director of the Texas Christian Writers Conference held in Houston in August each year, a member of ACFW, ACFW WOTS chapter in Houston, and a member of the writers’ group, Inspirational Writers Alive.
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