Sunday, January 31, 2016

Back in the Old Days

The first two books that I released, Finding Father and Kerry's Calling, were contemporary novels with modern American characters. Kerry's Calling involved research about the South Pacific, Bible translation, and various dialects, but the lifestyles, social situations, and habits of thought were pretty easy to write about. Both of these stories were set in evangelical church situations where I have spent my whole life and so I felt right at home in these stories. But my most recent novel, The Rebel's Return, as well as the next two that I plan to release are set in Colonial America. Of course, these involved a whole different level of research!

For The Rebel's Return I had to research the course of the Revolutionary battles so that I understood the timeline of that year, the end of 1776. Along the way I learned some fun tidbits, like about spying during the Revolution and George Washington's possible mistress. But just as important as the battles themselves were the lifestyles and social situations of the characters themselves. I needed to be able to get inside my characters' minds. For writing The Rebel's Return, I needed to understand how the people of the time felt about the great political upheaval taking place around them. For Johanna's Journey, the story of a young indentured servant in New England, it was really important to understand social class in colonial society, how the different classes related to each other and felt about each other. In the sequel, Ellen encounters the Huguenots, French Protestants who have fled religious persecution in France. For Ellen's story, I needed to research their dramatic history and flight from France and the challenges they encountered along the way.

One thing that all these books share is that they are all romances, and all involve weddings of some kind or another. So for writing these books I had the fun job of researching colonial weddings. I learned that weddings during that time were pretty different from modern American weddings. The elaborate white wedding gown was unheard of back then. (It actually came into use during the Victorian age.) Instead, brides wore their best dress. If they could afford it, they had a new dress for the occasion, but they planned to wear it again for other special events. Weddings in the South were bigger events, but in New England they were usually just vows spoken in front of a magistrate. The Puritans considered marriage to be a civil, not a religious, ceremony, so magistrates instead of ministers performed the weddings in those colonies. I wanted Justin's niece in Johanna's Journey to have a big wedding, and it seemed likely that with her mother growing up in New York, she would have been exposed to the fancier Dutch affairs in that colony and would want a large wedding for her daughter. Bridesmaids were in style, but I found no evidence that they all wore matching dresses!

Events leading up to the wedding were similar in some respects to our own but different in others. Girls generally married in their early twenties and young men in their middle or late twenties. If a young man wanted to court a woman, he was expected to go to her father and ask permission. Then the couple were allowed to spend time together without being chaperoned too closely. Among wealthier families, the parents would sit down and agree on a marriage settlement: the property that each partner would bring to the marriage. Marriages weren't usually arranged, but the parents had more say in choosing a partner than they do in modern times. However, during the course of the eighteenth century the influence of the parents began to wane, and it became more common for a young woman to get pregnant before marriage in order to force her parents' hand.

We like to think that premarital sex was a rare occurrence in the old days, but the statistics show that a quarter of all brides were pregnant when they married. Those who were caught in this condition were expected to confess in church, but the situation was so common that some churches had preprinted "confessions" for the couples to sign. A custom that seems odd to us was bundling: allowing a courting couple to spend the night together with a board down the middle of the bed, or with the young people tied into bags. With customs like this, it's probably not surprising that pregnancy was so common, but the advantage was that the parents were witnesses to the situation and the young man would be obligated to marry the girl if she became pregnant. Unlike today, both partners faced strong pressure to marry when pregnancy occurred.

Those who have read The Rebel's Return may ask, "But where was the wedding that story? Phoebe's story ended before the actual wedding!" The good news is that I am adding an epilogue about Phoebe's Revolutionary War wedding, and would be happy to send it to anyone who would like to read it!