Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A Culloden Connection

I buy a lot of used books about history. Most of the time it's Colonial, Revolutionary, early Federal and Native American history. But now and then I find I need a book on some aspect of Scottish history too.

For the past couple of months, when I haven't been working on edits for Burning Sky, I've been plotting the story and writing the opening scenes of a novel that takes place in the 1740s, mostly in North Carolina. But it begins during a battle in Scotland's history, known to most now as Culloden.

I've written Scottish characters who have this battle in their back story, or members of their immediate family do. One of those families is the Camerons of Boston and North Carolina, characters in a novel called Kindred. That book was written back in 2004 and 05 and probably part of 06 as well.

It had been a while since I needed to brush up on my Highland and Jacobite history, so over on the writers forum, where now and then I ask the helpful folks there a research question, I learned about a book called Culloden, by John Prebble. Convinced it was a needful resource, I found a copy on line (www.bookfinder.com) and ordered it.

I received my copy a couple of days ago. It came over from somewhere in England, is used but clean and well preserved for its age, a 1973 hardcover edition. Even its dust jack looks almost new. It smells wonderfully (if mustily) of Used Book Shop.

 But what's exceptionally interesting about this gently used copy of Culloden are the personal photos pasted on the inside front cover board. There are two of them. Both were taken at Culloden Field, where memorial stones have been set up for all the clans who fought and died there. Both photos are of a solitary young man standing beside one of the Clan Cameron memorial stones. Both young men are standing in the exact same pose, looking at the photographer, with one hand reaching down to touch the rounded top of the stone.

The first photo looks to have been taken circa 1950, and is of Derek, the man whose name is, along with the date 1973, inscribed in the front of the book (I know this because I peeled up a corner of this old, sepia, white-bordered photo and saw that his name is also written there. He is 15 years old at the time this photo was taken). He's wearing a tweedy blazer, slacks and shiny shoes. There's a button or round pin on his lapel. His hair is dark and slicked to the side.

The second photo, pasted beneath the one of Derek, is of a young man, tall and rather gangly, and also dark-haired. He's called John (no last name given). He is also 15 (I peeled up a corner of this photo as well), and by his shaggy hair and style of clothing I place the date of this faded color photo in the 1970s.

If it is indeed the same stone these two young men, separated by some twenty years, are touching (and I think it is) then the pine forest behind the Clan Cameron stone grew dramatically in those decades. But the stone looks the same. Maybe just a bit easier to read in the older photo.

Are Derek and John father and son? Why the Clan Cameron stone (Derek's surname, written on the first page, isn't Cameron)? Who put these photos into the book? Why did the family give away the photos along with the book? Did they do so accidentally? I'll keep their photos where I found them and forever wonder about that, I guess.

And feel the small connection to these two, and that place, that stone, that clan, and my characters from Kindred, Ian and Hugh Cameron.

Scotland, by Shadowgate, Flickr Commons

 An excerpt from Kindred Copyright 2013 Lori Benton (All Rights Reserved)

North Carolina, 1793

They emerged into sunlight and sultry warmth. Thomas sat on a bench outside the stable doors, saddlebags at his feet; the picture of the uncomplaining slave. Ian had shed the half-breed coat, but what he wore beneath only reinforced the impression of a man well on his way to gone native—fringed hunting shirt; tomahawk and knife hung from a beaded belt at his waist; worn leather breeches rent up the left thigh, inexpertly stitched.

Ian brushed at a bit of straw clinging to his shirtfront while his uncle got a proper eyeful of him. “Ought I to change? I’ve clothes more befitting….” He gestured toward the house, white and commanding beyond a spreading chestnut. But his uncle’s gaze lifted beyond the house, past a scattering of outbuildings, to the leafy apple orchard rising toward a low hogback ridge. Beyond it rose the higher ridges of the isolated Carraways, rolling westward in thick-wooded waves like a rumpled coverlet.

“The Camerons were first, ye ken.”

“Sir?” Ian said, but his uncle didn’t look aside.

“Aye, first to answer the Stuarts’ call. ’Twas Jeanie Cameron led us down from Glendessary to join with Lochiel, and then to Glenfinnan to raise the standard o’ the prince from o’er the sea. I went down wi’ my da and the lads. All but wee Robbie.”

“Ye mean the ’45?” Ian asked. The rising of the Highland clans for Charles Stuart, son of the exiled King James, which had ended in slaughter on a frozen moor—a slaughter that claimed Ian’s grandfather and two uncles. He frowned at the turn of conversation. “What made ye think of it?”

Gazing at the ridge rising beyond the peaceful orchard, Hugh Cameron didn’t seem to hear.

“This land is ours now,” his uncle said. “Cameron land, and none shall take it from us.”

His uncle’s voice had gone as hazy as the rising hills. The man himself seemed hazy somehow, compared to Ian’s memory of him. Seen in the full light, his complexion was no longer the burnished bronze of a red-head well acquainted with the sun; there was a hint of something sickly in its hue, like copper begun to green. For a moment more his eyes held the blue of distance, and a grief as raw as new-dug earth. Then he blinked, and turned to Ian.

“Here I’m forgetting my manners, keeping ye standing in the yard. Come awa’ in, Nephew, and we’ll see ye settled.” Hugh Cameron glanced at the house and, firming his jaw, added, “And ye maun make the acquaintance of your auntie.”


8 comments:

  1. I love this kind of thing! I'm apt to use photos, postcards, etc. as bookmarks and keep them with the book I'm reading at the time. It's fun to later pull these books off the shelf and see what's inside. I wonder how many bits of "me" have gone out to used bookstores.

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    1. Me too, but I always try to check them before I let them go (not the I ever let many go!). Same with library books.

      I kind of hope John or Derek or someone of their clan will stumble upon this post and ask for their photos back. I have them in safe keeping, until then.

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  2. This gives me chills, Lori! There's definitely a story there.

    I gobbled up the Diana Gabaldon novels about Culloden and its aftermath. What a fascinating time period. It obviously had an impact on many of our founding fathers.

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    1. I credit her books, and her availability at the aforementioned writers forum for the past 20+ years, with my interest in the 18th century. She's been a big inspiration for me in so many ways.

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  3. Lori, what an awesome story and such a treasure! That is so cool. :)

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    1. Just a little neat thing to have happened. I kinda hope I can give those photos back to that family, one day. Will see what I can find on line, but what are the chances?

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  4. What a treasure you've found, Lori. It's particularly interesting that the stone is Clan Cameron's and it came into your hands. Meant to be? I feel so. And I hope one day before too long Kindred will be published. It's too good not to be. :-)

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    1. Me too, Joan. :) It's the story that nearly every other story I've written since intersects with, at least in some small way.

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