Christmas Tea Party winners: Shannon McNear's - Sarah Taylor, Carrie Fancett Pagels' - , Debra E. Marvin's - Linda Marie Finn, Janet Grunst's winner - Connie Porter Saunders. Naomi Musch's winner .Angela Couch's winner is Kaitlin Covel. Jennifer Hudson Taylor ( - Deanna Stevens won a copy of For Love or Loyalty & For Love or Country/Alicia Haney won Backcountry Brides, Pegg Thomas, Congratulations, all! Please private message your e-mail or mailing address to the authors.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Criminals of Early America: Samuel Mason

The mighty Ohio River (looking across to Kentucky from Illinois)
History is full of men (and women) who have wanted to live without law. One could argue that part of the reason explorers like Daniel Boone took to the wilderness was to escape the strictures of civilized life, but there’s a huge difference between those who in their own heart hold moral law in high enough regard but feel the need for “elbow room,” and those who have no regard for morality at all.

And then there are the interesting subjects who fall somewhere in the middle.

Such was the case of Samuel Mason, former captain of the American Revolution, who became a river pirate.

Until the opening of the Wilderness Road to wagon traffic in 1795-96, travel down the Ohio River was regarded as the easiest method of travel into western lands during the Federal era—if the most dangerous because of the threat of attack by natives. But the danger was by no means limited to by that from the Shawnee, because as soon as the native tribes migrated west, others found travelers a too-easy target as settlers poured into the frontier by both land and waterway.

Cave-in-Rock State Park, Illinois
No one really knows enough of Mason’s background to say why he chose a life of crime, but it’s said that he came of a solid, well-connected family in Virginia, served on the western frontier before and during the Revolution (in what would become Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, among other things on a campaign led by George Rogers Clark), and became associated with others who preferred theft to honest work. He’s most known for heading up a gang based out of Cave-in-Rock, a large natural hollow in the limestone rock overlooking the Ohio River from the Illinois side, about halfway between what is now Henderson and Paducah, Kentucky.

Mason was later credited with being shrewd but not bloodthirsty, bragging that he never took a life “unless necessary” (self defense and avenging family members seemed to be included in that). This was in contrast to the notorious Harpes, a pair of men who although called brothers were likely cousins, and who wreaked mayhem all up the Wilderness Road and across Kentucky and Tennessee. (The saga of their murder spree in 1798-99 provides the background for my upcoming release, The Blue Cloak, #5 of Barbour Publishing’s True Colors series.)

Keelboats and flatboats, both popular with settlers
The Harpes are another study entirely, and I’ll share more about them later, but for now suffice it to say that they were so twisted and cruel, not even river pirates wanted them around.

It was around this time—again, no one is really sure—that Mason abandoned Cave-in-Rock and drifted over to the Natchez Trace, a road which connected Nashville, Tennessee, with towns farther south in Mississippi Territory and eventually reached New Orleans. His fate is later tied up with the Harpes in a most bizarre manner, but the man had a wife who apparently did not approve of his activities, and sons who joined him at least occasionally.

Robbery and murder were not the only criminal acts taking place on the frontier. Counterfeiting became big business as well, and a sort of mafia-like “protective” service offered by some.

And how did folk on the frontier deal with such things? Well, more on that later. :-)

Friday, January 10, 2020

COLONIAL WILLIAMSBURG ~ Its establishment, decline, and restoration

Jamestown, the first capital of the Virginia colony was established in 1607. It remained there until 1699 when the Virginia Assembly relocated the capital inland to Middle Plantation. The town was later named Williamsburg after England's King, William III.

The rationale was to get away from Jamestown’s swampy conditions which fostered contaminated water, disease, poor living conditions, and flooding. Williamsburg, a mere seven miles inland is located on a peninsula between the James River and the York River, was at a higher elevation than Jamestown.

The Capital
Williamsburg quickly grew to be a center of economic, social, and political life in Virginia, the largest and most populated British colonies in America. 
At one end of its main street, named after his Highness William Duke of Gloucester, was the Capital. At the other end of DOG Street was the
William & Mary
College of William and Mary established in 1693.
The Royal Governor’s Palace was situated halfway between the two. 
Businesses, churches, a courthouse, magazine, and homes were constructed within the approximate 300 acres. In 1773, the nation's first mental health facility opened in Williamsburg. Large estates or plantations as well as smallholdings developed throughout the area.
The Royal Governor's Palace

There were several reasons for Williamsburg’s decline in the latter part of the eighteenth century. In 1780, the capital of Virginia moved from Williamsburg to Richmond, a more central location in the Commonwealth. While some Tidewater residents were resistant to the move, Governor Thomas Jefferson was a strong advocate. The war with Britain was still underway and the enemy was shifting its focus to the southern colonies.  Williamsburg’s proximity to the Chesapeake Bay placed it dangerously close were there to be a naval or military invasion. Another factor was navigable rivers were the primary means of transportation. The James River flows right through Richmond. The Virginia Gazette, a primary publication also moved to Richmond. Williamsburg returned to be a rural quiet college town.

Dr. William A. R. Goodwin served as rector of Bruton Parish Church twice.
Bruton Parish
reconstructed in 1715 remains an active parish
First in 1903 when he led a campaign on the restoration of the church. After serving at a church in Ney York he returned to Williamsburg in 1923. Fascinated by Williamsburg’s historic past, and concerned by its modernization, he feared the town’s distinctive past and charm might be lost. Returning the town to its former glory would require immense financial resources. He first approached Henry Ford about the project to no avail. When he shared his vision to John D. Rockefeller, Jr he got the promise of financing required. Rockefeller authorized the hiring of an architect and the acquisition of key properties. 

Such a massive restoration was unprecedented. Records were searched to reproduce the former structures with accuracy. Thomas Jefferson’s architectural drawings for the Governor’s Palace aided in its rebuilding from 1930-1934. The town was being reconstructed and restored with the aid of historians, archeologists, and craftsmen of every sort.

The undertaking to develop the world’s largest living history museum that began in 1927 and continues to this day. Walking through the structures and streets of Colonial Williamsburg one can meet and chat with skilled artisans and interpreters all attired in eighteenth-century clothing. 
Shields Tavern
Dining at one of the period eateries is a treat. Visitors see a variety of accurately depicted conveyances, as well as animals that would have been a part of the community.
Coming to Williamsburg is like returning to the eighteenth century, filled with many learning and fun experiences--no doubt why so many people return.
Rush Hour in Colonial Williamsburg

Friday, January 3, 2020

Legend of the Flying Canoe ~ A New Year's Cautionary Tale

Happy New Year, Colonial Quills Readers!

To celebrate the New Year in an Old World way,
I'll share with you a brief retelling and embellishment of the 

Legend of the Flying Canoe
or La-Chasse Galerie
a cautionary tale of French Canadian folklore, originally written by Honoré Beaugrand in 1900, based upon other legends.

La Chasse-galerie by Henri Julien, 1906, Museé national des beaux-arts du Québec

Many years ago, on a deep winter's night in Canada, New Year's Eve to be exact, seven lumberjacks dreamed wistfully of their loved ones back home in Quebec. The snow had fallen steadily all the day long until it was so deep the men ceased their work, exhausted. They could only huddle around the fire and imagine the good times their loved ones were having in their celebrations.

"Ahh...I miss my woman," their leader Baptiste Durand said. "Right now she is probably dancing, laughing, eating..."

"I am afraid someone will steal my beloved Élise and marry her while I am away," his nephew Martin bemoaned. "I would go there and remind her of my love, if only I could."

"Oui. We would go." A murmur of assent by all the lumberjacks went up to the sky with the sparks of their fire.

"But how?" said one of them. "The rivers are frozen. Snow lies thick across the roads. Even the trees shiver with the cold. We would freeze to death."

That's when a howl raised in the distance, and soon the panting of a tall gray wolf could be heard just beyond the ring of firelight. The beast stepped into the light. "So you want to go back to your sweethearts, eh?" His voice was gruff and sly. "I can make it so for you. I can send you in a magical bark canoe that will fly you past the stars this night, straight to the arms of your friends and lovers in Quebec, but..."

"But?" The men edged closer, eager to hear the wolf's stipulation.

The eyes of the wolf narrowed and gleamed against the fire's blaze, and they knew at once that he was the devil. "You must not speak the name of God," said the wolf, his lip lifting in a snarl that revealed long fangs, "and you must not touch any crosses or steeples. You must also return by dawn. If you do not keep this agreement, you will forfeit your souls."

The men hardly noticed the heat of the wolf's breath sending steam spiraling into the darkness, as they quickly agreed.

Only Martin hesitated, for his mother had taught him not to listen to the voice of the wolf, but his uncle Baptiste quickly persuaded him to go. "You don't want some other man to steal Élise after all, do you?"

Martin shook his head and joined them.

The wolf lay down and stretched comfortably near the fire as the men settled into the canoe. They felt the earth fall away as the magical craft rose into the air. Soon, being expert canoe men, they grasped their bearings and picked up their paddles. They embarked with a joyful song as they paddled away across the heavens, and in a short time they arrived at the home of one of their friends in Quebec, where a festive party was taking place. Fiddlers played a rollicking tune, while people dressed in best array danced and sang.

The lumberjacks spilled through the door, joining their regale, and soon they all found their wives and sweethearts and kissed them well.

The night wore on. It seemed that five o'clock came much too soon, but alas, the time had come for the men to bid their loved ones farewell and be on their way. Martin had gotten a promise from Élise, so he, most of all, did not want to be ruin their pact with the wolf.

"It's time to embark!" He called the others together, only his uncle Baptiste was not to be found among them. Time ticked by, and the men began to panic. Finally they discovered Baptiste, drunk and asleep on the floor of a local establishment. Knowing his proclivity to profanity and clumsiness when he imbibed, they gagged and tied him in the bottom of the bark canoe, and soon they were sailing off into the heavens.

Just before dawn, however, Baptiste awoke with a start. The gag worked free and he used the Lord's name in vain.

"Non!" cried the men, as the canoe lurched. One of them reached out, grasping at anything which might steady them, and accidentally touched the cross at the top of a church steeple.

The men all shouted in despair, and Martin cried out to God as the canoe plunged downward toward the trees, spilling them into the darkness. Only the howl of a wolf met their ears from below.

They struck the ground in a whirlwind of light, and a moment later, Martin opened his eyes. He lay in his bunk in their forest shanty and there, across the room, came the rumbling snores of his uncle Baptiste. Martin jerked upright and stared about the familiar cabin. A row of smelly socks hung stiff and dry on a line above the wood stove, just like always. Brisk morning air cut through Martin's shivering shoulders, just as it did each morning before he pulled his wool shirt over his long, heavy underwear. A little gasp of joy burst out of him, startling the others awake.

They came to one and all, each man's eyes widening with surprise that laced together fear and relief. They stared wordlessly at their surroundings. Had it been true then? Had they really flown precariously away, but been returned whole? One man felt his chest, testing to see if he were alive. Another muttered a prayer. Were their souls intact?

Martin and his uncle exchanged a long look. Perhaps that old wolf was merely a figment of their imaginations, or... maybe Divine intervention had given them another chance.

It was New Year's day, after all.
~ The End ~

I have a lot to look forward to in the coming year. If you care to hear about upcoming books, historical research, the writing life, and some family fun, I invite you to listen to my recent podcast interview on The Bookshop at the End of the Internet.

Happy New Year, Everyone!
Naomi Musch

Monday, December 23, 2019

Early American Artists: Benjamin West

By J. M. Hochstetler

My last post was about John Trumbull, often called the “Painter of the American Revolution.” In my next few posts I’m going to take a look at several of the most important early American artists. Today we’ll focus on Benjamin West, who received great acclaim while living in London as the “American Raphael” and significantly influenced Trumbull and many other American artists in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Birthplace of Benjamin West
West was born on October 10, 1738, the tenth child in a Quaker family in Springfield, Pennsylvania, where his parents ran a small inn in a house that is preserved on the Swarthmore College campus. The family later moved to Newtown Square, Pennsylvania, where his father was the proprietor of the Square Tavern, which still stands. Although the simple Quaker life offered little in the way of art, young Benjamin showed artistic talent early on. One day while his mother was out of the house, he found some pots of ink and drew his little sister Sally’s portrait. When his mother returned she exclaimed, “Why, it’s Sally!” and kissed him. In later years he noted, “My mother’s kiss made me a painter.” His memoir, The Life and Studies of Benjamin West (1816, 1820), relates that Indians taught him how to make paint by mixing clay and bear grease. Although he excelled as an artist, he received little education and admitted that even when he was president of the English Royal Academy he could scarcely spell.

Self Portrait, Benjamin West, 1776
In 1756 West moved to Philadelphia to study painting, and by the time he was 20 he was a successful portrait painter. However, his classical painting Death of Socrates, based on an engraving in Rollin’s Ancient History, but with significant differences from the original, soon brought him to the notice of a wider audience. Considered “the most ambitious and interesting painting produced in colonial America,” it attracted wealthy and politically connected patrons, whose numbers grew throughout his career due to his amiable personality and attractive appearance. He was close friends with Benjamin Franklin and not only painted his portrait, but also later made him godfather to his second son.

West’s trip to Italy in 1760 to further his art training was financed by several patrons. In 1763, on his way home to America, he stopped off in London, where he showed his paintings of historical scenes in the new neoclassical style to great public acclaim, including from King George III. His American patrons advised him to stay in London, and he did so, moving into a house in Bedford Street, Covent Garden, and in 1765 marrying Elizabeth Shewell, a fellow American.

Death of General Wolfe
West became best known for his large-scale historical paintings using expressive figures, colors and compositions, which he called “epic representation.” His most famous painting, The Death of General Wolfe (1770) in which the Wolfe is depicted wearing period-correct uniform rather than traditional classical robes, was exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts in 1771 and became one of the most frequently reproduced images of the period. As a result of the acclaim and controversy it inspired, West was appointed historical painter to the king in 1772 at an annual fee of £1,000 and was given a residence and studio at Windsor Castle.

West’s personality and good looks continued to make him a favorite in society and held the king’s confidence throughout the turmoil of the American Revolution. The two men were quickly on intimate terms, often discussing the state of art in England and the establishment of a Royal Academy of Arts, which became a reality in 1768, with the famous artist Sir Joshua Reynolds as its first president. Among the many paintings West completed are nine portraits of members of the royal family, including two of the king. He was appointed Surveyor of the King’s Pictures in 1791, a position he held for the rest of his life. On Reynolds’ death in 1792, West was elected president of the Royal Academy of Arts and held that position, except for one year, until his own death at his house in Newman Street, London, on March 11, 1820. He was buried in St Paul’s Cathedral.

Joshua passing the River Jordan
with the Ark of the Covenant, 1800
West maintained that, “Art is the representation of human beauty, ideally perfect in design, graceful and noble in attitude.” Yet his paintings are not the only reason for his important place in American art. He acted as counselor, teacher, and friend to three generations of American artists who came to England to study under him, providing them advice, instruction, food, money and even jobs as studio assistants as needed. His collection of artworks of the old masters and casts of classical sculptures offered a gallery they could study when no comparable public collection existed. Three generations of American artists traveled abroad to study under him, among them John Trumbull, Gilbert Stuart, Charles Willson Peale, and John Singleton Copley. His influence on the development of art in America was extensive, and he was elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1791.

Do you think the visual arts are important in culture and society? How and why? Please share your thoughts!
J. M. Hochstetler is the daughter of Mennonite farmers and a lifelong student of history. She is a professional editor, a publisher, and the author of award-winning historical fiction whose books have been endorsed by bestselling authors such as Lori Benton, Laura Frantz, and Jocelyn Green. Her American Patriot Series is the only comprehensive historical fiction series on the American Revolution. Book 6, Refiner’s Fire, released in 2019. She is also the author of One Holy Night, the Christian Small Publishers 2009 Book of the Year, and co-authored the award-winning Northkill Amish Series with Bob Hostetler.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Christmas Tea Party & New Release

It's time to celebrate Christmas with a Tea Party to to celebrate a December new releases by Colonial Quills team member, Shannon McNear. Welcome Friends!


December 1 marks the release of Shannon McNear's first Civil War novel, The Rebel Bride, #10 of the Daughters of the Mayflower.

From the back cover:

In the clash between Union and Confederacy, Tennessee farm girl Pearl MacFarlane is compelled to help care for Yankee wounded, but determines to remain unmoved by their cause—until she faces the silent struggle of Union soldier Joshua Wheeler, a recent amputee.

This story is set September-November 1863, against the backdrop of the Battles of Chickamauga and Chattanooga in southern Tennessee. As a side note--Pearl is granddaughter to Kate and Thomas from The Cumberland Bride, and Josh is grandson to Sally and Sam from The Highwayman (from The Most Eligible Bachelor Collection.) It was fun to work in hints of the connection!

About Shannon:

Transplanted to North Dakota after more than two decades in the Deep South, Shannon McNear loves losing herself in local history. As the author of four novellas and three full-length novels, with her first novella, Defending Truth in A Pioneer Christmas Collection, a 2014 RITA® finalist, her greatest joy is in being a military wife, mom of eight, mother-in-law of three, and grammie of three. She’s also a contributor to Colonial Quills and a member of ACFW and RWA. When not sewing, researching, or leaking story from her fingertips, she enjoys being outdoors, basking in the beauty of the northern prairies.

GIVEAWAY! One signed copy of The Rebel Bride! Please comment if you're interested in winning this title to be entered. ❤



MERRY CHRISTMAS to our Colonial Quills followers! I'm giving away free codes for my new audiobook of colonial novella Mercy in a Red Cloak!

And for my debut book in Christian Fiction on audiobook, too, Return to Shirley Plantation!

All you have to do to enter for these free codes (and I have a lot of them!) is to put "Audio" in your comment and indicate Mercy (for Mercy in a Red Cloak) Return for (Return to Shirley Plantation) or put Mercy Return for both!


Pegg Thomas is giving away one paperback copy of A Bouquet of Brides that includes her Colonial-era story, In Sheep's Clothing, winner of the 2019 Romance Writers of America, Faith, Hope, & Love Chapter's Readers Choice Award. To be entered for this book, simply comment below and include the word SHEEP somewhere in your comment. Drawing after the close of the Facebook party.


Naomi Musch will be giving away a copy of  Mist O'er the Voyageur, a 2018 Selah and Book of the Year Finalist, and NE MN Book of the Year Nominee. If you haven't yet read this romantic adventure, let Naomi know in a comment  below to be entered in the drawing. 


Janet Grunst will be giving away a copy of The Highlanders, to a continental US blog commenter. This is a Smitten Historical Romance Collection just released in November of four stories that take place in different eras. Never underestimate the heart of a Highlander.  


Jennifer Hudson Taylor will be giving away the first two novels of her colonial trilogy to one winner. Book 1 is For Love or Loyalty, set in 1760 and begins in Scotland and follows a highland family to Charleston, SC. Book 2 is For Love or Country, set in 1781 during the American Revolution in NC and carries the story of the MacGregor family to the second generation. To a second winner, Jennifer will be giving away a copy of the Backcountry Brides, eight novella collections set during the colonial period by many of the authors here on Colonial Quills.


Angela K. Couch will be giving a way a winner's choice of her Hearts at War series as a e-book. For more information on these stories check out Also, for the Christmas season, enjoy a short story set during the American Civil War. I Heard the Bells will be free for the week on Amazon!
 Virginia, December 1864
Three years ago, Gabriel Morgan left his home in Virginia to fight for the Union army, despite his family and his fiancée’s loyalties to the South. Now, with battle fresh in his mind, and the war still raging, he chances a quick trip home with one prayer…to make peace this Christmas.


Please be sure to also come by our Facebook Party tonight, Tuesday December 17th from 6-9 PM Eastern Time! In the meanwhile, sit down for a spell and let us serve you a lovely Christmas tea!