Although I write historical fiction, my book shelves are filled with non-fiction. They are the core tools for my research.
While my favorite sources are the original writings of those who lived long ago, I also love old volumes—now out-of-print—that offer special insights into Colonial America, the setting for my fictional tales. While these books are by no means my only sources (historians are some of my favorites!), here are a few of my most used and most treasured volumes that have permanent residency in my home:
This volume by Shirley Glubock is an edited compilation of the writings of Alice Morse Earle. I have to smile whenever I see this book. The first time I discovered it, it was sitting on the shelves of my local library. I checked it out. Then renewed it. Then renewed it again. After about my fifth time asking to renew, the library said I had to send it back. That's when I knew I needed to find a copy of my own. I searched on Amazon and managed to locate an old one. That made my day. :)
Any books by Eric Sloane are a gem for research. He includes information that I've not found anywhere else—human interest stories as well as drawings of buildings I've never even heard of before. I discovered the "Sabbaday House" in one of his works, which provided fodder for my book, The Legacy of Deer Run.
Revolutionary Mothers by Carol Berkin is also a favorite and includes many incidents in the American Revolution that involved the women of the time. Berkin introduced me to Frederika Charlotte Riedesel, wife of the German Commander of the Brunswick troops at the Battle of Saratoga. I have admired that historical figure ever since.
A Narrative of a Revolutionary Soldier by Joseph Plum Martin is a first person account of a young man who began his life with the Continental Army at the age of 15 and continued with the military until the surrender at Yorktown. His personal recollections are indeed insightful as to speech used at the time as well as culture of the soldiers. Many describe this author as keeping a diary during the war. In fact, his written work was penned as an older man in his seventies. There are several versions of this book available.
This book by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich is filled with excerpts from midwife Martha Ballard's diaries. Some of the commentary by the author was worth skipping over. Some of it added insight to the amazing life of this woman who lived long ago and, not only birthed babies, but often cared for the family's medical needs as well. Well worth keeping on a writer's book shelf!
British Soldiers, American War is one of my newer research books and contains actual diary excerpts from British soldiers who fought in the American Revolution. Fascinating, insightful, and also debunks the myth that most redcoats were prisoners. Most were young men seeking adventure. One was actually a potter by trade.
Don Troiani's Soldiers of the American Revolution is an OUTSTANDING coffee table book with gorgeous illustrations by Troiani himself. He creates artwork depicting soldiers from each country that participated in the war, with detail about their uniforms that I've not seen elsewhere. The book also contains photos of artifacts that have been discovered—items used by soldiers during battles. A five-star research volume!
This list is by no means complete and I'd love to hear about some of your favorite nonfiction books about the American Revolution and Colonial America.
Elaine Marie Cooper is the author of Fields of the Fatherless and the Deer Run Saga. Her upcoming December release (non-fiction) is entitled Bethany's Calendar.