The Rebellion of Jane Clarke
The Story Behind the Story
The fun thing about writing historical fiction is that while searching out one particular thread I always finds another that I can't resist tugging. My hometown of Brewster, on Cape Cod in Massachusetts, is rich in historical lore, but the tale that niggled at my brain longest was one involving my own ancestors and a feud over mill stream rights that continued throughout the eighteenth century. The Winslows sued the Clarkes. The Clarkes got the Winslows cast out of church. Someone cut off the ears of Winslow's horse. I couldn't forget that horse, but neither could I figure out how to build an entire book around it. So when I set out to write my first historical novel, The Widow's War, I kept the Winslows and Clarkes and the beautiful mill stream and its ugly feud tucked away on the side.
I knew, however, that if I wanted to write believable prose about eighteenth century Massachusetts, I needed to condition my ear to the language of the time. To our good fortune and their misfortune, John and Abigail Adams were separated by long distances, and often an entire ocean, for great periods of time. The letters that traveled back and forth between the couple gave the world, and me, a treasure-trove of valuable information on the people, the history, the culture, the language, and the actual personalities of the era in which they lived. I began to read every word the Adams family members wrote to one another, and one thing that stuck in my mind was the relationship between John and his daughter Nabby. He was able to persuade his daughter to discard one suitor in favor of another not because of an iron-clad dictatorial will, but because Nabby truly admired and respected her father's judgment. She switched suitors because she believed her father did know best, that his judgment was superior to her own.
After completing The Widow's War I began on my second historical novel, Bound. In writing Bound I discovered I needed to know more about eighteenth century courtrooms, and the most famous eighteenth century court case that came to mind was the trial of the British soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre. So I began to read a book by Hiller Zobel called, sensibly enough, The Boston Massacre, and in it I found the description of an eighteenth century court room that I was after. But not too long into it I found another one of those threads — here was John Adams again, brilliantly defending the British soldiers while simultaneously incurring the wrath of the town. I also encountered a most interesting young woman named Jane Whitehouse, whose testimony greatly influenced the soldiers' trial. Eager to track down more about her testimony I went to John Adams Legal Papers, and there I found, much to my surprise, my old pals, Winslow and Clarke; John Adams had traveled to Cape Cod and defended Clarke in one of the mill stream feuds!
I guess this is how it always works. The head begins to spin. The threads begin to weave. There I was back at the family feud, but now I had the feisty John Adams and this courageous, headstrong Jane Whitehouse on board, and in no time at all Nabby Adams had worked her way in. How would Nabby have felt, I wondered, if she'd made a life-changing decision based on her trust in her father's impeccable judgment only to find out afterward that her father's judgment was not always so impeccable after all? What if she found out, for example, that he'd cut off the ears of a neighbor's horse in a fit of pique? Thus The Rebellion of Jane Clarke was born