Friday, June 26, 2015


In my first historical novel about the American Revolution, The Riddle of Penncroft Farm, there is a bit of confusion over the meaning of farthing when modern Lars meets Geordie, who is dressed up like George Washington (or so Lars thinks) for Halloween.

 "Huzzlecap's easy enough," he explained. "You need only pitch a farthing into the tricorne."

Lars, of course, has no idea what this Geordie guy is talking about.

A farthing was actually an old British coin that was worth very little: only 1/4 of a penny. It was used as a monetary unit until 1961.

I was recently able to buy a replica of a 1754 British farthing, minted during the reign of George II.

Here it is!

The front:

Front of 1754 George II Farthing

And the flip side...

French Frigate Lands at Yorktown with Cannons Blazing!!

Lafayette, Are You Here??

A French frigate recently arrived at Yorktown, Virginia with cannons blazing. It was L’Hermione, an exact reconstruction of the ship that carried General Lafayette to America in 1780. He was bearing the important news for George Washington that France was sending 6000 troops and a large fleet of ships to support us in our war against Britain. On Friday, June 5, 2015,  the cannons of the 21st century L’Hermione fired a 21 gun salute as she approached the Yorktown wharf. This was the first landfall in America of the vessel since she sailed from France on April 18.

Because I have written a novel (coming out in April 2016) for young readers about Lafayette’s 1825 visit to New Hampshire, called A Buss from Lafayette, I have learned a lot about this young French nobleman and what he did for us in the American Revolution.  

Therefore I was in Yorktown to witness the arrival of L’Hermione with an organization called American Friends of Lafayette, dedicated to the memory of the young French nobleman who was instrumental in the winning of our independence.

Celebrating the arrival of L’Hermione       

The bus getting us to the historic district was delayed, so we all sprinted through the national park to the harbor, worried that we might miss the actual docking. Suddenly, however, the ship came into view out in the James River, moving the same direction we were headed.

When L’Hermione finally tied up at the wharf, we all cheered as loudly as the crowds in Boston must have cheered on April 28, 1780, when the original vessel arrived there with the famous Major General Lafayette aboard. And that was before they knew what important message he carried from the French king.

Once the vessel docked, we waited for Lafayette to disembark. This took quite a while, as first military officers, Virginia dignitaries and the French ambassador to the U.S. climbed up the gangplank to greet the captain and crew. Meanwhile, we all periodically shouted out “Lafayette, where are you?” and “Lafayette, do you have news for us?” or, paraphrasing General Pershing’s famous 1917 quote, “Lafayette, are you here?” Mostly, however, we just cheered and waved at the crew, who cheered and waved back.

Part of the young French crew of L’Hermione

 Wearing authentic 18th century costumes, the 78 or so young French crew members then enthusiastically serenaded those of us watching from the shore with French sea shanties.

George Washington welcomes Lafayette in Yorktown

Finally, Lafayette climbed down the gangplank and greeted George Washington.
(It was a stirring moment, even if the re-enactors weren't quite as tall as the originals.)

The project to rebuild this historic vessel began in 1992.  Once it was completed, over 1000 young people applied to work as volunteers on the crew. Except for two days when the vessel was becalmed, L’Hermione sailed over 3800 miles across the Atlantic from France under power of its sails.

L’Hermione will be going up the East Coast before returning to France, making a number of stops. More information is available at

Friday, June 12, 2015

A REAL Carriage that Carried Lafayette during his Triumphal Tour

A Buss From Lafayette takes place during the time that Lafayette, the last surviving general from our Revolutionary War, visited all twenty four of our states in 1824-5.  When General Lafayette visited New Hampshire in June, 1825, he rode in an open carriage called a barouche - the convertible of its day.  During his 13 month, 16,000 mile journey, however, he rode in many different kinds of vehicles.

On a recent visit to Williamsburg, Virginia, it was raining so hard that the 18th century costumes worn by the girls working there were soaked up to the knees!  However, we persevered, and at one point my husband discovered this "closed" carriage stored in the stable at the "Governor's Palace."

And look who rode in it!!

What a fun discovery this was!

If it hadn't been pouring rain, this carriage would probably have been out and about in Williamsburg, and we would never have seen this sign.  On the other hand, we might have been able to take a ride in the same carriage that Lafayette rode in.  Oh, well!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

A REAL Pudding Cap!

In both of my historical novels for young readers, The Riddle of Penncroft Farm and A Buss from Lafayette, I referred to "pudding caps'.

Pudding caps were padded hats which were sometimes worn by toddlers in the 18th and 19th centuries to protect their heads. (I think that "pudding head", meaning a simple or unsophisticated person, is derived from the fact that these "pudding caps" were worn by the very young.)

Recently, I visited Williamsburg, Virginia. While looking around in a millinery shop, I spotted this on the counter:

I asked if this was a pudding cap, and the answer was yes!

I was surprised to see the gaps between the padded bits, and I'm wondering if this was a summer version, open for ventilation.  Perhaps those worn when it was cooler were more solidly padded.

Anyway, this is the first real pudding cap I have ever had the opportunity to see. Very exciting!

At Williamsburg, I spotted a number of other items from the 18th-early 19th century that are in my stories and I photographed them all.  I  will be posting them soon.



Saturday, June 6, 2015

A REAL Buss from Lafayette!

I recently visited Yorktown, Virginia, with the American Friends of Lafayette, an organization dedicated to the memory of the young Frenchman who did so much for America in our War of Independence.

General Lafayette, in case you didn't know, was instrumental in bottling up the British troops of General Cornwallis in Yorktown. After the French fleet arrived to put the plug in that bottle, George Washington and the French general, Rochambeau, arrived.  This ended with the surrender of Cornwallis and over eight thousand British troops: a major victory which effectively ended the American Revolution.

When at Yorktown, I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Lafayette himself (as expertly portrayed by Mark Schneider).

Along with my fellow AFL members, I was lucky enough to have Lafayette as a guide as we hiked around the Yorktown battlefield.

He also came to our banquet, where I had the opportunity to chat with him at length.

This General Lafayette was every bit as charming as the original.  Furthermore, he was kind enough (after I explained that I am the author of A Buss from Lafayette) to give me a buss - a smacking, playful kiss!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Laura Ingalls Wilder and Me, Part 2

Today I would like to reminisce about my childhood experiences that made me feel such a strong kinship with Laura Ingalls Wilder.

First of all, when I was four years old, my family moved from Massachusetts to Illinois. I distinctly remember my parents telling me we were going “west where the cowboys and Indians live”. This made me feel like a pioneer—minus the covered wagon, of course. I think we went west to the prairie in a maroon Nash, instead.

Secondly, about the time I was reading the Little House books, my parents and a group of their friends bought an actual “Little House in the Big Woods”. This was a real log cabin built in the 1840s by early settlers, the Root family. It was five or six miles from our home so we kids could ride out to it by ourselves on our bikes. (Those were the days of “free-range children” and we really ranged free.)

This log cabin was surrounded by forest and perched on top of an extremely steep hill that led down to a creek that was very like Plum Creek—mud, leeches and all. I seem to remember that we kids used to cover ourselves in mud and play “Monster from the Black Lagoon”. We also attempted to make “pots” out of the mud like the Indians did. Here are my sister, Carolyn (left) and me (right) playing in the creek in the best “Mary and Laura” tradition. Only without the sunbonnets.

Inside the cabin was a large stone fireplace.  For cooking there was an old-fashioned wood stove.  I think it was quite a challenge for my mother (shown here).  I remember that once we went to the cabin for Thanksgiving and Mom roasted the turkey in this oven. Of course, for us kids, this antique cookstove was as exotic as anything in the Little House books.

One of the things I liked the best about reading Laura’s books were the descriptions of interesting things to eat.  I tried to replicate these every chance I got.  Whenever it would snow, I would boil maple syrup (probably Aunt Jemima’s poor imitation of the real stuff) and pour it on snow. One time, I spotted buttermilk for sale in the grocery store. After Laura’s description of how delicious buttermilk was, I asked Mom to buy some for me. It was one of the great disappointments in my young life. Disgusting. Of course, I also made butter out of cream – I don’t know why I never tried drinking what was left after the cream turned to butter, which I presume was technically “buttermilk”.  After trying that stuff from the store, however, I wasn’t quite as adventurous in my antique culinary endeavors.

Finally, when I reached 8th grade, my teacher was Mrs. Maybelle Hettrick, who had homesteaded as a child in Oklahoma. She was a Pioneer Girl just like Laura! Her father worked in town like Pa, while Maybelle and her mother and siblings lived on the claim. She told us many stories of her childhood, such as the time she met Geronimo, who had been captured and jailed in her town. He put his hand through the bars of his cell and patted Maybelle on her head.  He said his daughter had worn her hair like Maybelle did – in pigtails. Maybelle said that they were always much more frightened of the cowboys than of the Indians. As I recall (although I could be wrong) her mother usually had a gun concealed in her skirts to scare off the cowboys when they rode in the wagon to see her father in town. She also told about the time she, her mother, her infant brother or sister, and a freshly baked apple pie were making the trip into town. They had to drive across a usually shallow river to get there.  There had been more rain than usual and the current was much stronger. The wagon tipped over.  Luckily some men were nearby (I think they might have been surveyors or a crew working on the railroad).  Anyway, they were just around the bend and came to the rescue.  Maybelle said they fished the baby out of the stream. The pie, however, went un-rescued.  Maybelle said she was grief stricken watching that delicious pie float away out of sight.

So between our own Westward Migration, our own “Little House in the Big Woods”, my "Plum Creek" experiences, my antique food experiments, and a real “Pioneer Girl” for a teacher, I grew up feeling very close to Laura Ingalls Wilder indeed.