CONTEXT: Writing Close to Home

Sisters in Time Cover Daria  More than a dozen years ago I saw a display for a book series called “Sisters in Time” in our local Christian bookstore.  I noticed that the cover illustrations all portrayed adolescent girls, and each also displayed a medallion with a year in it.  The girls’ hairstyles and clothing  matched the year shown.  I bought a couple of the books and hurried home to read them and to Google the “Sisters in Time” series to learn more about it.

I discovered that Barbour Publishing in Uhrichsville, Ohio, required that each book be set in a particular place and year in which something of historical significance took place.  The junior-high age heroines had to be fictional, but the events and places must be real. Hmm.  I was a writer; I had a degree in history and teaching fields in geography, sociology, government, and economics, which would all be used in such a project; I had two daughters who had successfully gotten through adolescence; and I had taught girls that age for years.  Was this “a match made in heaven”?  I read the books and loved them, then got very bold and called the editor of the series.  He was gracious and friendly, and we discovered that he even had graduated from the same little Ohio college as I had, ten years later.  He encouraged me to write and send him a book to consider for the series.

I was so excited!  I live only about 20 miles from Hannibal, Missouri, “America’s Home Town,” and home of Mark Twain.  I would write about a girl who lived in Hannibal when Sam Clemens was a boy! I started my research.  Hmm.  I found absolutely NOTHING interesting about historical Hannibal during Sam Clemens’s time there that he hadn’t already written about as Mark Twain.

What I did find, however, was that my city, Quincy, Illinois, had several quite amazing things happen in not only the same year, but the same month of that year:  October, 1838.  That summer the U.S. Army had rounded up the Kickapoo and Potawatomi Indians from their towns of tidy frame houses and the outlying farms in Indiana and Michigan, and force-marched more than 850 of them to a reservation in Kansas.  The trip was known as the Trail of Death.  The soldiers, wagons, and the Native Americans, with their young Catholic priest, reached Quincy the first week of October.  It took three days to ferry them all across the Mississippi.

Also in October, 1828, on the 27th,  Missouri Governor Wilburn Boggs issued what was called the “Extermination Proclamation,” a document that expelled the  Mormons from the state on penalty of death.  They began heading for the closest city in a free state:  Quincy, Illinois.  More than 5000 arrrived in Quincy and Adams County, population 1600,  through the next few months, and were sheltered in every available space until their leader, Jo. Smith, came in the spring and led them an hour north to establish Nauvoo.

AND Quincy was a major center for the Underground Railroad!

I had my place and my year, and I began the research to write my book.  (To be continued)

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