Saturday, October 09, 2010

Frontier Forts

Turns out the last major subject I needed to research while writing the first draft of The Quiet in the Land (unless I get thrown another surprise in the last few chapters) is frontier forts, specifically Fort Stanwix, which was built along the old portage trail in Oneida territory (the Oneida Carrying Place), which formed the connecting link between the Mohawk River and Wood Creek, an important trade route linking the Atlantic with the Great Lakes.

Fort Stanwix saw its demise at the end of the Revolutionary War, not through siege, which it had withstood, but due to fire and flood. It was abandoned by the American military in 1781, but the ruined fort was used as the site for two important peace councils between the newly independent United States and the Six Nations of the Iroquois, which were divided tragically during the war, some fighting for the British, some for the Colonists. One of those peace councils comes into play in The Quiet in the Land.

I hadn't realized I'd need to research this fort until I reached a chapter a week ago and found my POV character standing outside it. Thankfully I had some months ago ordered a book called Fortress America, The Forts That Defended America, 1600 to the Present, just on the off chance I might need it, and because it looked like a very interesting book. It's written by J. E. Kaufmann and H. W. Kaufmann, and has many illustrations of fort layouts, construction, and maps by Tomasz Idzikowski. A great resource for anyone dealing with the subject during any US time period.

Question for you: if you've researched this subject, do you have another good resource? If so, please share it in the comments. You'll be enabling a research addict, but don't let that trouble you.

Fort Stanwix: drawbridge

Sutler's quarters.

Commandant's quarters

Officer's quarters

  Photos of Fort Stanwix by swisstek at Panoramio, used under creative common license


  1. Alas, I know nothing about forts! This looks amazing though :)I am so intrigued that your character wound up there, leading you to a new setting!

  2. Yep. I knew the peace council would be happening off stage and would affect this character, but when I wrote the opening sentence of the scene, there he was looking at the place. Hours of research went into this brief passage:

    From his vantage point at the edge of the cleared land surrounding Fort Stanwix, which stood along the old Oneida portage route between the Mohawk River and Wood Creek, Joseph Tames-His-Horse found the view uninspiring. He hadn’t seen the old log fort since the war. Between then and now the once-commanding structure had fallen into ruin, blackened by fire, rotted by flood, and had been abandoned as a military post.

    Tents were pitched on the field outside the dilapidated fort now, though, and it appeared more than one trader had taken advantage of the meeting of Indians, commissioners, interpreters, and army officers to indulge in acts of commerce. Still, Joseph thought, observing the comings and goings among the canvas shelters, there seemed too few Indians or white men present to represent a formal peace council. He turned to the old Oneida who had spotted him standing with the horses at the forest’s edge, and crossed the clearing to speak with him.

    “Is Brant somewhere among those tents?”
    [end excerpt]

    Some of the biggest surprises in my writing are the opening sentences of scenes and chapters. I don't know why that is, but I'll sit here and wait for it, and usually within a few minutes something pops up that feels right, and is in the character's voice. Sometimes just a phrase, or a few words. I'll hurry and start writing it before I know how the sentence will end. Often there will be something in it that informs the rest of the chapter in ways I hadn't planned. Like the current chapter I'm working on. It started yesterday morning with the sentence, "It was late in the season for deerflies." The thought process went something like:

    I stare at the screen, reading what I just wrote. Deerflies? Really? Are you sure? Okay. Then they'll have _something_ significant to do with the scene. Hmmm... buzzing, biting deerflies... deerflies drawing blood... I have musket balls flying about later in this scene. Could one be mistaken for the other, if one was being shot at unawares but the bullet just missed its mark...? Yes, deerflies it is!

  3. Oh, thanks for posting this and for the info on that book. I want that. I have been doing all my fort research online. Love this info!

  4. Carrie, Hope it proves helpful! That's part of why I like to share about research, maybe provide a short cut for someone else.

    Plus I'm just that geeky.

    So glad I got to sit with you and Laurie Alice at that one meal at ACFW. I just wish it had been a little quieter so we could better conversate!

  5. Hello there I love your blog! I am totally in love with the 17th and 18th centuries.. that is my passion! to say the least! ;) I love the French and Indian wars..Rev wars,,etc... I live in a 1751 original saltbox I keep as it was all with my collection of 18th c antiques .My house was in the Early American Life mag . I love to get in touch with 18th c lovers!:) I just wrote a reference book for kids for all in fact :) with pics of my collection and My own illustrations about the 18thc.. working on a dummy for it now.... ..Nice to meet you !! ;)

  6. Hi Bird. Always great to meet another 18C enthusiast. That's so cool about your house. I'd love to live in an historic home, but that's hard to do on the West Coast! Best of luck with your book project. It sounds like the kind of book I often to start my research with. Any new topic that comes up, I like to start with children's books whenever one is available, to get an overview.