|Author Allison Pataki
Colonial Quills welcomes debut author Allison Pataki as guest. Allison has a new colonial release out, The Traitor’s Wife. Thank you to CQ member, Pat Iacuzzi, who suggested Allison visit with us.
Allison, what got you interested in the colonial time period?
Growing up in the Hudson River Valley, right across the Hudson from West Point definitely played a huge part. Our area was referred to as “the cockpit of the American Revolution,” and George Washington dubbed West Point “the key to the continent,” so my hometown area is steeped in the history of the period. You can’t drive more than half a mile in any given direction without passing a historical marker. And, being the history nerds that we are in my family, we always stopped to read them.
What inspired your latest colonial work?
A couple of years ago my mother and I were walking our dogs near our home near West Point. We paused to read a historical marker, which described “Arnold’s Flight,” on the walking trail we hiked. The marker described the three main characters of Benedict Arnold’s conspiracy to sell West Point: Benedict Arnold, John André, and Peggy Shippen Arnold.
I was intrigued. I knew Benedict Arnold, the notorious American turncoat, and that he had lived right near where I had grown up. Funnily enough – I played in Benedict Arnold’s backyard as a child! I also knew John André, the British spy with whom Arnold had conspired. His was the second biography on this historical marker.
What I had not known, however, was whose face belonged to the portrait of the beautiful young woman beside Benedict Arnold. Her name was Peggy Shippen Arnold. I read on, learning from this historical marker about how Peggy was courted first by John André before she married the patriotic officer, Benedict Arnold. Peggy was a beautiful young society belle, a favorite of George Washington’s. And, most surprisingly of all, Peggy was a loyalist to the British cause.
What business did Peggy have liaising first with the British spy John André and then marrying Benedict Arnold who, at that time, was a trusted colonial hero? Reading this, I thought to myself: how do I not know this twist in the plot? It seemed like pretty juicy stuff!
As I continued my walk, I could not stop thinking about Peggy Shippen Arnold. What must her life have been like? What role, if any, must she have played in this most infamous act of treason? I asked myself, was Peggy a central figure in orchestrating the plot? If so, why don’t we know more about her?
I could not wait to dig into the history to uncover these answers. Once I began the research, and continued to uncover the salacious details of the whole plot, the idea for the novel took off.
Do you have a favorite colonial place you like to visit and why?
There are so many, I don’t know how to pick one. Well, any of the forts and historic homes in the Hudson Highlands would be up there. West Point does a great job of honoring and preserving its history. Philadelphia does too. I love walking around the old neighborhoods of that city.
I love visiting Mount Vernon and trying to imagine that George Washington will stride through the front door at any minute. And I absolutely love Colonial Williamsburg. I first went there at about age 10 and I was enthralled. History really comes to life there, and if you’re a young kid with an over-active imagination, it doesn’t take much to imagine yourself slipping back in time.
If you care to say, you can tell readers where you live and what colonial places you have in your state or your home state if different.
I live in Chicago currently, so our history picks up a little bit later than the eastern seaboard states in terms of when Illinois joined the Union. But the history of the Prairie State is equally fascinating. You can still see some of the homes and places where Abraham Lincoln frequented. And Chicago is chock-full of history. One period that is fun to study from Chicago history is the World’s Fair of 1894. That was when Chicago really came into its own as a world-class city.
Do you have a favorite colonial recipe you enjoy and would like to share with readers?
I have to go with an old favorite: Shepherd’s Pie. Such comfort food. I got this recipe from Colonial Williamsburg.
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 pounds lean, organic, hormone-free ground beef
1/2 pound turnips, peeled and diced
1/2 pound carrots, peeled and diced
3 celery stalks. trimmed and sliced
1 medium onion, peeled and diced
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups vegetable stock or water
1/3 cup tomato paste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 pounds white or red boiling potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 egg yolk
Salt and pepper to taste
-Melt butter in large pan. Add meat and brown on all sides. Remove meat and set it to the side.
-Add turnips, carrots, celery and onion to pan, and saute for 3 minutes, stirring frequently, or until the onions are translucent. Return the meat to the pan along with the thyme, and sprinkle the flour over the beef and vegetables.
-Cook over low heat for 3 minutes, stirring frequently, to cook the flour.
-Add the cold stock or water, raise the heat to medium high, and bring to a boil. Stir in the tomato paste, and season with salt and pepper. Cook the beef mixture covered over low heat for 40 to 55 minutes, or until meat is tender.
-Place the potatoes in salted cold water and bring to a boil over high heat. Boil potatoes until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain, and then mash the potatoes, adding in the butter, egg, yolk, salt and pepper.
-Place the meat into large baking dish or individual dishes, and spread potato mixture on top. Cook in oven until potatoes are golden brown.
The Traitor’s Wife Book Synopsis:
A riveting historical novel about Peggy Shippen Arnold, the cunning wife of Benedict Arnold and mastermind behind America’s most infamous act of treason . . .
Everyone knows Benedict Arnold—the Revolutionary War general who betrayed America and fled to the British—as history’s most notorious turncoat. Many know Arnold’s co-conspirator, Major John André, who was apprehended with Arnold’s documents in his boots and hanged at the orders of General George Washington. But few know of the integral third character in the plot: a charming young woman who not only contributed to the betrayal but orchestrated it.
Socialite Peggy Shippen is half Benedict Arnold’s age when she seduces the war hero during his stint as military commander of Philadelphia. Blinded by his young bride’s beauty and wit, Arnold does not realize that she harbors a secret: loyalty to the British. Nor does he know that she hides a past romance with the handsome British spy John André. Peggy watches as her husband, crippled from battle wounds and in debt from years of service to the colonies, grows ever more disillusioned with his hero, Washington, and the American cause. Together with her former love and her disaffected husband, Peggy hatches the plot to deliver West Point to the British and, in exchange, win fame and fortune for herself and Arnold.
Told from the perspective of Peggy’s maid, whose faith in the new nation inspires her to intervene in her mistress’s affairs even when it could cost her everything, The Traitor’s Wifebrings these infamous figures to life, illuminating the sordid details and the love triangle that nearly destroyed the American fight for freedom.
Allison Pataki is the author of the New York Times bestselling historical novel, The Traitor’s Wife. She graduated Cum Laude from Yale University with a major in English and spent several years writing for TV and online news outlets. The daughter of former New York State Governor George E. Pataki, Allison is currently working on her second novel, The Accidental Empress, a historical fiction inspired by the life of Empress Elisabeth of Austria, to be published in February 2015. To learn more and connect with Allison visit AllisonPataki.com.
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