Will Travel for Words: Up the Road, Back in Time
Our intrepid traveler Karen A. Chase is back with her monthly column for Shelf Pleasure. Come along as Karen discusses her latest adventure while researching her new book set during the American Revolution.
Jaunts to places featured in my historical fiction are a regular occurrence for me. In part, I moved to my current home in Richmond in the hopes of being nearer to sites my characters would frequent. My book is set during the American Revolution, specifically 1776, and so now I live in one of the original thirteen colonies, three blocks from St. John’s Episcopal Church where Patrick Henry gave his famous “Liberty or Death” speech. Most importantly, Colonial Williamsburg is forty-five minutes away. This restored, 301-acre, 18th century colonial village is a treasure-trove of research resources, re-enactors, and tour-guides anxious to share the finest of details.
Last month, I visited Williamsburg and took a guided tour of the George Wythe home. My main character visits Wythe–a signer of the Declaration of Independence–and they meet in his study. Working from old pictures in books and online before my tour, I wrote about the two men gathering in a room, in the back on the right that was simple and contained only a few functional pieces of furniture. I was incorrect, and ill informed.
I soon discovered that the room was in the back left of the house and under the stairs. Large west-facing windows overlooked a yard with symmetrical English gardens and several out buildings that included two ‘necessaries’–more than one of these outhouses was a sign of wealth. Inside the study, there were indeed only three or four pieces of furniture, but there was also a fireplace, and an abundance of maps, law books, charts of the constellations, globes, and pamphlets by Isaac Newton. Specimen jars filled with alcohol containing preserved snakes, rodents, and lizards lined cabinets and shelves. There were so many books in the room that you would have been able to smell the bindings.
My bland little chapter is now suddenly alive. By taking one little trip up the road, I’m now able to walk my reader through the house and faithfully show them Wythe’s 1776 world. My visit, and the fabulous tour guides, changed my writing. Most certainly for the better.
Karen A. Chase is a regular contributor to Shelf Pleasure, sharing journeys near and far in the pursuit of stories and novels in her monthly feature, Will Travel for Words. She is the author of Bonjour 40: A Paris Travel Log, and is currently working on an historical novel set during the American Revolution.
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