I absorbed history, poetry, tidying, and craft of writing books last month

“They” say a writer must read a lot if they aspire to be good at their craft. I can’t argue with that, but the last couple of months have not been conducive for me t,o get a lot of reading done. I’m learning that some months a writer has to concentrate on their writing and the business or being a writer. Otherwise, no one will know I’ve written anything.

I hope you’re not on book marketing overload from my recent blog posts and Facebook postings. There’s more to come for I have more projects in the works. You’ve been warned!

Since it’s the first Monday in the month, I’ll tell you about the books I read in December. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a novel in the bunch.


Threshold: Poems, by Ray Griffin

Threshold: Poems, by Ray Griffin

I received this book of poetry early in December. In such a busy month, I was grateful to have an excuse to steal away every night for some quiet moments to read poetry.

In this collection of poetry, Mr. Griffin touches on many facets of life. Some poems embrace the beauty of the natural world as it is observed and enjoyed today, and some stem from the writer’s reflections on a life well lived.

Many of those memories are also rooted in special times in the Appalachian Mountains and the beaches on the east coast of America, but there are also pieces that bring to life memories of trips in the western states and the unique wonders that part of the that area hold. There are sweet poems of the love of a life partner as well as verses that pay tribute to and bring to mind memories of departed parents. One poem reveals the poet’s feelings of guilt for not being with his parents when they died.

There are poems that express one’s feelings after a cancer diagnosis. There are poems about the current war in Ukraine and wars in the past.

This collection of heart-felt poems will pull at your heartstrings. Some bring a smile, while others bring a tear to your eye. However, the poet almost always brings you to a positive state of mind in the final lines of each. I regretted coming to the end of the book. I wanted more poems, but at least for the time being I’ll have to be satisfied with re-reading a few of the poems each day until Mr. Griffin graces us with additional verses from his heart.

Threshold is Ray Griffin’s third book of poetry. His second book, Winsome Morning Breeze, was published in 2020. Both books are available on Amazon or look for them or request them at your favorite bookstore. Here’s the Amazon link to Threshold: Poems by Ray Griffin: https://www.amazon.com/THRESHOLD-RAY-GRIFFIN/dp/B0BLQYMR11/ .


Writing Vivid Dialogue: Professional Techniques for Fiction Authors, by Rayne Hall

Writing Vivid Dialogue, by Rayne Hall

I tend to have more trouble writing narrative than writing dialogue. At least that’s what I think. I found this book helpful, though.

One issue briefly addressed in this book was that of authenticity versus political correctness. When writing dialogue for someone in the 18th or 19th and even in the 20th century, some characters, to be authentic to their time and place, would use words that are offensive to our 21st century ears. This most often comes into play in racist remarks, but it is also an issue when writing the words of a character who is misogynistic. Should the writer shy away from such words because they are not politically correct today? That is something each writer has to decide for herself or himself.


The Battle of Cowan’s Ford: General Davidson’s Stand on the Catawba River and its place in North Carolina History, by O.C. Stonestreet IV

The Battle of Cowan’s Ford, by O.C. Stonestreet IV

This little book about our regional history in the southern piedmont of North Carolina made me aware of some details about the Battle of Cowan’s Ford in the American Revolutionary War. I recommend it to anyone interested in the American Revolution or North Carolina history.

In case you didn’t know, General William Davidson was killed in the battle. The nearby town of Davidson and Davidson College are named for him.

When Duke Power Company created Lake Norman in 196_, the site of the battle was covered by the lake. As a tip of the hat to history, I suppose, Duke’s hydroelectric dam near the site of the ford and the battle was named Cowan’s Ford Dam. That’s little consolation to history buffs.


How to Write Short Stories and Use Them to Further Your Writing Career, by James Scott Bell

How to Write Short Stories and Use Them to Further Your Writing Career, by James Scott Bell

This book was a tremendous help to me in my writing career status. Until reading it, I planned to publish a book of four or five short stories in 2023. It was going to be my way of introducing you to my fiction writing.

A few months ago, I started reading advice for novice fiction writers that/which said I needed to give away my writing in order to attract readers. No one wants to be told to give away things they’ve worked hard to create. I’m no exception. However, in reading James Scott Bell’s book, I finally had an epiphany!

I started thinking in terms of making my historical short stories available free of charge as e-books. The more I researched my options and the length of the stories I’ve written, a new plan materialized. My current plan is to self-publish Slip Sliding Away as an historical novelette in February.

Mr. Bell’s book prompted me to look into Kindle Direct Publishing’s “Select” program. That program will give me the opportunity to publish Slip Sliding Away on Amazon for 90 days. The novelette will be free for five of those days and probably for 99 cents the other 85 days.

I will alert you to that publication and it’s five free days in a blog post in February, so stay turned!


Joy at Work: Organizing Your Professional Life, by Marie Kondo and Scott Sonenshein

Joy at Work, by Marie Kondo and Scott Sonenshein

You’re probably familiar with Marie Kondo’s bestseller, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up:  The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. Joy at Work: Organizing Your Professional Life, is the third book in her “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up” series.

Much of this book didn’t apply to my situation since I work at home and I’m basically my own boss. The main thing I took away from the book was how to go about tidying up my emails and my electronic and paper documents.

It remains to be seen if I’ll follow through and put those recommendations into practice. I need to give it a try.


#OnThisDay: As a result of the oil crisis that started in 1973, the US Congress enacted the 1974 Emergency Highway Energy Conservation Act. The act imposed a 55 mile-per-hour speed limit nationwide in an effort to decrease gasoline usage. It was not well received.


Since my last blog post

I’ve formatted more than 62,000 words for Harrisburg, Did You Know?  Cabarrus History, Book 2. It’s on schedule for self-publication on Amazon later this month. Watch for an announcement.

Harrisburg, Did You Know?  Cabarrus History, Book 1 can be purchased in Harrisburg at Gift Innovations (4555 NC Hwy. 49) or Second Look Books (4519 School House Commons.) If those locations aren’t convenient for you, look for the paperback and the e-book on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/Harrisburg-Did-You-Know-Cabarrus/dp/1888858044/

While you’re at Gift Innovations, look for my vintage postcard book, The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. (It’s also available in paperback and e-book from Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/Ridge-Mountains-Carolina-Postcard-History-ebook/dp/B00NB5FJIO/.)

My website is being redesigned. Watch for an announcement about it soon.

I’ve designed the cover for my historical e-novelette, Slip Sliding Away, and will decide soon if I should also publish it in paperback.


Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I hope to read at least one novel this month.

Make time for family, friends, and a hobby.

Remember the freezing but very brave people of Ukraine.

Janet

2022 is in the Rear-View Mirror

2022 has been a good year for me. Coming out of the worst days of the Covid 19 Pandemic has given me a chance to try to get back into my normal routine.

Being able to once again go out in public (except to medical facilities) without wearing an N-95 mask is a nice change from 2020 and 2021. It still feels odd to eat inside a restaurant or travel. All the things I used to take for granted are more appreciated now.

2022 was a year of accomplishment for me as I published Harrisburg, Did You Know? Cabarrus History, Book 1 the last week in November. It’s been exciting to see it well-received and appreciated.

Publishing the book gave me a sense of accomplishment I didn’t expect as I was able to format it and design the cover. I even learned how to make a QR Code that will take people to my website! I still have trouble remembering what the “Q” and the “R” stand for, but I’m making progress. Those are small technological accomplishments in the big scheme of things, but they are huge for me!

The formatting of Harrisburg, Did You Know? Cabarrus History, Book 2 is coming along nicely, so watch for it perhaps in February. I’m on my own schedule for that, so that lessens the pressure of meeting someone else’s deadline.

I hired a company to redesign my website. I’ve now seen the home page and the “about” page, so it’s coming together. I look forward to unveiling the new website in a few weeks. The URL will still be JanetMorrisonBooks.com.

I’ve made progress working on my family genealogy and putting the information in a software program that will allow me to easily share the information with others in the family. They might not appreciate it now, but I’d like to think they will later.

The decluttering I did early in the year is but a distant memory now. (Why did I keep this stuff?) My writing projects sidetracked me. I must make time for more decluttering in the new year.

I’ve read some good books this year, but my writing has derailed my reading list the last several months. Too many books, not enough time!

The historical short stories I’m writing have taken a back seat to the Harrisburg local history books, but I look forward to turning my attention back to them now that Book 1 is out. In fact, I edited one of my stories on Saturday.

The older I get, the more I realize I’m racing against the clock to get all my projects finished. Too many interests and projects, not enough time!

As you look back over 2022, I hope you remember the good times and all your blessings. I can’t forget the sad times or the difficult times but, when I stop and think, I know I’ve been truly blessed this year. I hope you feel the same way about 2022 as we prepare for a new year.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read! I’m reading a book of poetry by Ray Griffin. The name of it is Threshold. I’ll write more about it in my next blog post.

It’s been an unusually cold past week here in the United States. I hope you’ve stayed safe and warm wherever you are.

Remember the cold and brave people of Ukraine.

I hope you’re having a nice holiday season, no matter your beliefs.

Janet

#OnThisDay: 8 Valley Forge facts that will actually surprise you on this 245th anniversary

The encampment of the Continental Army at Valley Forge began 245 years ago today. We’re all familiar with the image of George Washington leading his troops across the frigid Delaware River. We know that it was a bitterly cold winter, but there are some interesting facts I hope to surprise you with today.

            1,700 to 2,000 soldiers died of disease at the six-month encampment.

            Food for the troops was scarce. The Oneida delegation, allies of the Patriots, arrived in May 1778 with white corn. Polly Cooper of the delegation instructed them on how to safely prepare the corn for consumption and stayed after most of her fellow Oneidans had left. She received a shawl from Martha Washington in thanks for her assistance.

            In December it went down to 6 degrees F., 12 degrees F. in January, 12 degrees F. in February, and 8 degrees F. in March.

            It was the last time United States soldiers served in a racially-integrated army until the Korean War in the 1950s.

            The volunteer drill master was Baron von Steubon, a Prussian military commander. The Prussian military drills and tactics he taught the troops were used by the United States military for the next 30 years.

            It is thought that 250 to 400 women were in the encampment, serving as cooks, nurses, laundresses, and menders of clothing.

            Mary Ludwig Hayes, a.k.a., Molly Pitcher, was at Valley Forge with her husband. She is remembered for jumping into service to help load a cannon at the Battle of Monmouth Courthouse after her husband was wounded.

            Hannah Till was an enslaved cook for George Washington at Valley Forge. She purchased her freedom a few years later and became a salaried cook.

            We hear a lot about our “forefathers” but not enough about our “foremothers!”


Since my last blog post

Look who’s reading my book! He must have found it on Amazon or in Harrisburg, NC at Second Look Books or Gift Innovations! It’s in short supply in Harrisburg until I get my next shipment. If you prefer an e-book, remember it’s available for e-book and in paperback from Amazon.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a wonderful Christmas or whatever holidays you are celebrating.

I hope you enjoy time with family and friends.

Remember the suffering people of Ukraine.

I’ll see you again here at my blog on December 26 – the last Monday in 2022!

Janet

What I Tried to Read in November and How to Buy My Book

On the first Monday of the month I usually blog about the books I read the previous month. There was a good reason that didn’t work out this month. My local history book, Harrisburg, Did You Know?  Cabarrus History, Book 1, had been published and I couldn’t wait to announce it on my blog last week.

It was a good month for that to happen because I didn’t have any earth-shattering news about the books I read in November. Working toward getting several books published in the coming days and months left me little time to read.

Most of my reading time was spent on books about the craft of writing and history books I needed for research. Those aren’t necessarily the type books my blog readers want to know about.

Those books included Sketches of Virginia, by Henry Foote and Artisans of the North Carolina Backcountry, by Johanna Miller Lewis. The “Artisans” book was especially helpful as I worked on my novel.              

I tried to read some fiction. It just didn’t work out well – partly because of my time constraints and partly because the books I chose didn’t grab my attention enough for me to make time for them.

I started reading Less is Lost, by Andrew Sean Greer. I really enjoyed his earlier book, Less. It was humorous. Less is Lost is probably humorous, too. I only got to page 12 in the large print edition. I’ll check it out again later.

I started reading The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce. It is an odd story about a man who sets out one morning to walk to the mailbox. He’s worried about a former co-worker who has cancer and lives far away. Instead of stopping at the mailbox to mail a letter to her, he just keeps walking. I got to page 66 in the large print edition. He was still walking. I didn’t have time to read the next 381 pages to see if he made it to his destination.

I started listening to Mad Honey, by Jodi Picoult. After falling asleep too many times to count and having to re-listen to the first several discs, when I got to disc number four I seriously questioned why I was trying so hard. I don’t know if it was me or the book. It just didn’t work out. I’ve enjoyed other Jodi Picoult books I’ve read, but this one just didn’t work for me.


Until my next blog post

Harrisburg, Did You Know? Cabarrus History, Book 1 is available on Amazon in many countries. Here’s the link to it in the United States: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1888858044/ for e-book; https://www.amazon.com/dp/1888858044/ for paperback. (Thank you, Rebecca Cunningham for cluing me in that there’s a way to shorten those outrageously long URLs Amazon gives a book.! This looks much better. I hope the links work!)

In case you live in the Harrisburg area and prefer to purchase Harrisburg, Did You Know?  Cabarrus History, Book 1 locally instead of ordering it online, it is now available in limited numbers in Harrisburg at Second Look Books at 4519 School House Commons and at Gift Innovations at 4555 NC Hwy. 49. I’m pleased to announce that those local small businesses will have my book!

I hope you have a good book to read. If it happens to be Harrisburg, Did You Know?  Cabarrus History, Book 1, then all the better!

Remember the brave people of Ukraine.

Janet

The Attraction of the “Warmth of the Other Sun” in Washington, DC

My planned topic for today’s blog post was #OnThisDay: World War I Treaty of Versailles; however, a book I started reading earlier this month and hope to finish in July pulled at my heartstrings and begged to be written about. The name of the book is The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson.

One of my blogger friends, Janet Givens (author of LEAPFROG: How to Hold a Civil C Conversation in an Uncivil Era) moderates a group on Zoom the second Wednesday night of each month for 10 months this year. I’m privileged to be in the group. We’re from varied backgrounds and regions of the country; however, I am the lone Southerner. This puts added pressure on me to make interesting and intelligent contributions to the discussions. Being the introvert that I am, this isn’t easy.

Each month, we discuss a different chapter in Janet’s book. The group is all-female and there are no people of color. Since race relations is such an important and difficult issue in our society today, our discussions often evolve into that subject matter. I’m making some strides to help the others in the group see that all white people from the South aren’t bigots.

During our group discussion in May, one of the members said she was reading and highly recommended The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson. I immediately got on the waitlist for it at the public library. I’m so glad I did.


The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson

I read the first 50 pages of this nonfiction book and the notes about the author’s methodology on my Kindle before it had to be returned to the library. I was captivated by the subject matter: The Great Migration of black Americans from the South to points north and west from 1910 into the 1970s.

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, by Isabel Wilkerson

The author interviewed more than 1,200 people and did extensive research. It had to be a labor of love and devotion because the miles and decades involved in The Great Migration would have deterred most researchers. The book is beautifully and artfully written and puts names and personalities on the stories of the hardships these migrants faced in the South and the courage and desperation it took for them to leave the only homes and people they knew and to strike out in search of a better life in other regions of the United States.

The Jim Crow laws and unwritten laws and policies in the South were the driving force in The Great Migration.


The Govan brothers of Harrisburg, North Carolina

Reading this book brought to mind a story a black man in his 90s told me around 2010 when I was a freelance local history columnist for Harrisburg Horizons newspaper in Harrisburg, North Carolina. Mr. George Govan graciously allowed me to visit him on numerous occasions and ask him anything I wanted to about his life. We talked about race, and he helped me realize what a privileged life I’d lived due to the color of my skin.

One of the stories Mr. Govan shared with me was about one of his older brothers. I won’t give his brother’s name in this blog post out of respect for the man’s privacy, although I’m quite certain he’s no longer living.

When I interviewed Mr. Govan, I’d never heard the term “The Great Migration,” so I didn’t make a connection at the time. A few pages into The Warmth of Other Suns, I couldn’t help but recall what Mr. Govan had told me about his brother.

Without giving any advance indication that he planned to leave Harrisburg, North Carolina, George Govan’s older brother stopped plowing with a mule in the middle of a field in 1929 or 1930, shrugged out of the straps of the plowing apparatus, walked several miles into town, and hopped a northbound train.

Photo credit: AG ZN on unsplash.com

When George got home from school that afternoon, his father told him that his brother had left and now, in the ninth grade, George would have to quit school and do the farm work his brother had been doing.

It would be two years before the family would learn that George’s brother had made it to Washington, DC. There, he struggled for years before making a good life for himself and his family.

What struck me about that story is that George Govan felt no ill will toward his brother. I’m not sure I would have been that gracious and forgiving if my older brother or sister had left me in a situation that made it necessary for me to have to quit school in the ninth grade.

In my many conversations with Mr. Govan, I never picked up on any bitterness in his heart although, as a black man born in 1917, he certainly had numerous excuses for being bitter if he had chosen that life path.

Since my last blog post

Our computer printer suddenly stopped working one day. Going a week without a printer can drive a writer to distraction. At least, that’s what it did to me.

I’ve been reading, reading, reading.

When I’m not reading, I’m eating tomatoes, squash, okra, and corn from the local farmers market. Nothing can beat that first tomato sandwich of the summer or that first bite of bi-color corn-on-the cob.

Until my next blog post

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that tomorrow would have been my father’s 110th birthday. Unfortunately, he died at the age of 66 in 1977. He and Mama both instilled in me a love of history and reading. My mother was an author in her own right, and I’m very proud today of the church history she wrote in 1976.

I hope you have a good book to read. I’ve had many good ones to read in May, and I can’t wait to tell you about them in my blog posts on July 5 and 12.

Were you or were members of your family part of The Great Migration? Did you know people of color who left the South and moved west or north between 1910 and into the 1970s?  I’d love to hear your stories.

If you don’t wish to share your stories with me online, please take time to tell the younger people in your family about your experiences. Also, write them down. You can do it! Your written memories will be a wonderful gift to leave your family.

Janet

Other Books I Read in September 2020

My blog last Monday was about Code Talker, by Chester Nez. Here’s the link to it: Navajo Code Talker Chester Nez. Today’s post is about the other books I read in September. I hope you’ll find at least one that is of interest to you.


Leaving Time, by Jodi Picoult

Leaving Time, by Jodi Picoult

Jodi Picoult is known for tackling hard issues. Leaving Time is about a young woman’s search for her mother who has been missing for 10 years. Jenna was three years old when her mother disappeared, so she is surprised to learn that her father never filed a missing person’s report. Her father is now in a facility for patients with dementia, so he’s not able to give Jenna any reliable answers.

Jenna’s mother was a well-known elephant expert, so Ms. Picoult deftly weaves into the story facts about elephants’ memories and grieving rituals. After piecing together the death of an unidentified woman coinciding with the time her mother disappeared, Jenna tracks down the former police detective who worked on the case. The case was never solved. The former detective reluctantly agrees to help Jenna.

Jenna eventually seeks the help of a psychic. The psychic is also reluctant to help the 13-year-old Jenna because her gift of “second sight” has waned. It turns out the psychic has her own backstory.

Leaving Time was published in 2014. It is not one of my favorite Jodi Picoult novels. I listened to it on Playaway from the public library while I walked each day. That’s probably not the optimal way to listen to any book, so my mode of listening possibly influenced my less-than-stunning impression of the book.


Last Mission to Tokyo: The Extraordinary Story of the Doolittle Raiders and Their Final Fight for Justice, by Michel Paradis

Last Mission to Tokyo, by Michel Paradis

This book was recommended by John Grisham, and that influenced my decision to read it. I listened to about 25% of it and put it aside. I found it difficult to follow on CD, so then I checked out the e-book. It was much easier to keep up with the various characters, especially the ones with Japanese names.

The early part of the book is quite interesting. It is the story of the Doolittle Raiders in World War II and how Doolittle and his “raiders” worked tirelessly to get the B-25 bombers down to a low enough weight and high enough speed that they could launch off an aircraft carrier with just enough fuel to complete their bombing missions in Japan and get to China where Chiang Kai-shek had promised them a landing strip.

That part of the book really grabbed my interest, but I soon discovered that the bulk of the book was about the trials of the Japanese who tortured the captured Doolittle Raiders. That didn’t interest me as much, although I can see how it would keep an attorney like John Grisham spellbound.

I don’t mean to leave a negative response to this book. It’s merely a matter of interest. It is an extremely well-researched book. There are more than 100 pages of footnotes.

If you’re not familiar with the heroics of the Doolittle Raiders, the early part of the book gives an excellent overview of their training and what they accomplished against all odds.


The Book of Lost Names, by Kristin Harmel

A coded list of names of Jewish children smuggled out of France.
The Book of Lost Names, by Kristin Harmel

Kristin Harmel’s new novel, The Book of Lost Names, was “right down my alley.” It is a beautifully-written historical novel inspired by the unsung heroes in France and Switzerland during World War II who risked their lives to try to smuggle Jewish children and adults out of France and to freedom in Switzerland as Germany was relentless in rounding up Jews for forced labor and the gas chambers.

Ms. Harmel has done extensive research about the World War II era, and this is evident in her writing. In The Book of Lost Names, she weaves a story of intrigue and personal loss through the protagonist, Eva Traube Abrams. I liked Eva from the beginning and pulled for her throughout the book. (As a writer, I strive to create such a protagonist!)

The personal losses Eva endures are huge and every time you think she’s going to find happiness, there is another twist in the story. She inadvertently of falls into the role of forging government documents for herself and other Jews while she and her mother are in hiding.

Eva works tirelessly to perfect her skills. In the process, though, she is driven by the need to leave a record of the children’s real names. Many of them are too young to remember their true identities or the names of their parents.

Eva and her fellow-forger, Remy, develop a code through which to record the children’s names in an old nondescript book on the shelf in the secret church library in which they do their work in a tiny French village hidden in the mountains. Eva and Remy use the Fibonacci sequence to code the names in the pages of the book.

Eva and The Book of Lost Names will stay with me for a long time. I love historical fiction for the way it entertains and educates me.

It was coincidental that I read Code Talker, by Chester Nez and The Book of Lost Names, by Kristin Harmel during the same month.

One by One, by Ruth Ware

One by One, by Ruth Ware

This is the fifth novel I’ve read by Ruth Ware, a British author. She is a modern-day master of suspense. In fact, David Baldacci has called her “The Agatha Christie of our generation.”

In One by One, Ms. Ware gives us a 21st century story of office colleagues going on a weeklong retreat at a French ski resort. There’s a snowstorm. There’s an avalanche. Communications are down, which is ironic because these people work for a tech startup in London.

The relaxing retreat is immediately thrown into chaos when a shareholder proposes a buyout. Tensions grow as rescue grows more and more unlikely. It’s cold. Food is running out. And the retreat participants are knocked off, one by one. Can you figure out who the killer is? #OfficeRetreatGoneBad

I was a little disappointed in this book, but I’ll read Ruth Ware’s next novel anyway. Since I wasn’t enthralled by three of the five books I read in September, perhaps it was my frame of mind and not the quality of the books that is to blame for my less-than-stellar impressions of the books.

Since my last blog post

I’m rounding up the photographs to include in my book of local history newspaper articles, Harrisburg, Did You Know? A couple of pictures and the cover are all that are still to be done to complete this book of historical tidbits from Township One and Harrisburg, North Carolina.

Instead of becoming more accustomed to my new daily schedule due to my dog’s diabetes diagnosis, it felt like all my fatigue caught up with me this past week. To quote a Pennsylvania Dutch saying, “My get up and go got up and went.”

There are many projects vying for my attention, but I am tired and I lack motivation. I think I’ll blame the pandemic. I think most of us have pandemic fatigue. Those of us living in the United States also have political campaign fatigue.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read.

If you’re a writer or other artist, I hope you have satisfying creative time this week.

Now that flu season is coming to the northern hemisphere in addition to the on-going Covid-19 pandemic, please wear a mask. Not wearing a mask shouldn’t be a political statement; it merely tells me that you really don’t care about anyone but yourself. I’m probably “preaching to the choir” because the people who refuse to wear a mask because of their political or religious convictions probably don’t read my blog.

Thank you for your time.

Janet

“Had a family once.” (Revisited)

In my blog post on June 18, 2018 “Had a family once.”, I wrote about the opening line of the prologue to Right Behind You, by Lisa Gardner:  “Had a family once.”

Central American Refugees – “Had a family once.”

I can’t get that line out of my head. “Had a family once,” must be how the refugees at the US-Mexico border feel. Children have been separated from parents and there was, obviously, no plan in place for the uniting of those families. What a logistical nightmare now, and all the result of an ill-conceived change in US Government policy. “Had a family once.”

Young soccer team and coach in Thailand

As I write this, the world is watching and holding its collective breath as valiant attempts are being made to rescue a dozen young soccer players and their coach from a flooded cave in Thailand. Those boys, their parents, and their coach must have spent many hours in the past two weeks thinking, “Had a family once,” and praying they’ll still have their families intact when this ordeal and rescue is over.

African Slaves in America – “Had a family once.”

My interest in genealogy and local history recently led me on a fascinating trek into the lives of some people of African descent who were slaves in Cabarrus County, North Carolina in the 1800s. That sounds like a long time ago, but it really isn’t when you think in terms of a person’s lifespan and generations within families.

“Had a family once.”

Caroline had a family once.

In the records of Rocky River Presbyterian Church, Caroline, infant daughter of slaves Nat and Marie owned by R. Biggers, was baptized on August 16, 1835. Caroline, a slave of George Leroy Morrison, joined the church April 29, 1859. Was this the same Caroline?

Yes, she was! There is a bill of sale dated October 30, 1856 in which a 22-year-old woman named Caroline and her two children (Robert, aged about four years and an unnamed infant about three months old were sold by Rebecca Biggers to George Leroy Morrison.

The idea of slavery is repulsive, but seeing an actual bill of sale makes me physically ill. Having this information, I owed Caroline a few hours of my time to try to determine if she survived to be free after the American Civil War. What I was able to piece together was surprising and thrilling.

1863 Cabarrus Tax Assessment

In 2004, I compiled a list of the records of the more than 900 slaves who were baptized at and/or joined Rocky River Presbyterian Church between around 1820 and the end of the Civil War in 1865. The 1863 Cabarrus County Tax Assessment List gave details about some of those slaves such as age, physical condition, and monetary value.

George Leroy Morrison died May 6, 1860. The 1863 Cabarrus County Tax Assessment states that his brother, Q.C. Morrison was guardian of four slaves:  Abram, aged 45 and valued at $1,100; Caroline, aged 26 and valued at $1,400; Robert, aged 9 and valued at $900; and Matt [name was probably Nat] aged 1 and valued at $100. Q.C. Morrison died in the Civil War on August 7, 1863.

According to the 1863 Cabarrus County Tax Assessment, Rebecca Biggers had a 55-year-old slave named Nathaniel. He was valued at $100 with the notation, “cripple.) Rebecca did not have a slave named Marie at that time, but we know from church records that Nat and Marie were Caroline’s parents.

Armed with that information, I wanted to know more. I wanted Caroline to survive the War, gain her freedom, and have a life. She’d “had a family once.” Did she have that same family after the War?

Yes, she did!

The 1870 US Census of Cabarrus County, Township One finds Caroline, wife of Albert Morrison, along with children Robert, Nathaniel, Edward, and Albert.

According to the agriculture schedule of the 1870 Census, Albert and Caroline Morrison owned 40 acres of improved land valued at $200 along with farm machinery valued at $15. They owned livestock valued at $100 and reported how many bushels of wheat, Indian corn, and corn they had raised in 1869.

And, by the way, Albert Morrison was one of the five elders elected at the founding and organizational meeting of the African-American church that was formed by former slaves who had been members of Rocky River Presbyterian Church. Originally called Rocky River Colored Presbyterian Church, it soon became Bellefonte Presbyterian Church and is still going strong in Harrisburg, NC.

The next record of Caroline

The next time we find a record of Caroline Morrison is in the Cabarrus County, NC Wills and Estate Papers. “The widow Caroline Morrison & family” of seven children received a one year’s dower on March 30, 1876.

1880 US Census

Caroline Morrison is the head of a household in Township One in Cabarrus County, NC when the 1880 federal census is taken. Sons Edward, Albert, Eugene Mc., and John are in the household along with Caroline’s granddaughter, Harriet.

Summary of my research

I won’t go into all the details of the rest of my research into the life of Caroline Morrison. Suffice it to say that I found marriage licenses for her sons, Nathaniel A. and Albert. Albert (Jr.) and his wife and children are in the 1900 US Census. I even found a 1925 death certificate for Albert (Sr.) and Caroline’s son, Robert. He was employed at the Southern Railway Railroad Shop in Forsyth County, NC.

Did Caroline have a family? Yes, she most certainly did!

Until my next blog post

There’s no telling what interesting history tidbits I’ll uncover. I love this stuff!

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading Educated:  A Memoir, by Tara Westover and several other small nonfiction books.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time. I didn’t work on my novel last week, but I had a rewarding time researching Caroline Morrison and writing about my findings.

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog. I appreciate it!

Janet

No Place for Preacher’s Son?

Today’s blog post is an edited local history newspaper column I wrote for the August 23, 2006 edition of Harrisburg Horizons newspaper, Harrisburg, North Carolina. Appearing in the newspaper as “Pioneer Mills:  No Place for a Preacher’s Son,” it paints a picture of the Rocky River and Pioneer Mills communities in Cabarrus County in the 1870s.

Manse wasn’t ready!

The Rev. Joseph B. Mack came from Charleston, South Carolina in 1871 to be the pastor of Rocky River Presbyterian Church. When he and his family arrived, the manse the congregation was building for his family to live in was not completed.

Church members Robert Harvey Morrison and his wife, the former Mary Ann Stuart, moved their family into a tenant house and gave the new minister’s family their home in the Pioneer Mills community. This was no small sacrifice because the manse was not completed until 1873! The Morrisons’s two youngest children, an 18-year-old daughter and a 16-year-old son were still in the household, and Mr. and Mrs. Morrison were in their 50s.

Robert Harvey Morrison House
Robert Harvey Morrison Home, built circa 1846. (Photograph taken by Janet Morrison, May 3, 2008.)

The Robert Harvey Morrison home was built as early as 1846 when he inherited the land from his father. The house and its numerous out-buildings have been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1990.

In case you’re wondering

Robert Harvey Morrison was a relative of mine but not a direct ancestor. In the 1800s my part of the family didn’t live in grand houses like the one pictured. Gold was never found on the property my part of the family owned. There was a gold mine on the land that Robert Harvey Morrison inherited from his father.

Pioneer Mills was a gold-mining boom town in the early- to mid-19th century. It was apparently still a rip-roarin’ place in 1871.

Dr. William Mack’s memories in 1912

A special homecoming was held at the church on August 12, 1912. Rev. Mack’s son, Dr. William Mack, was unable to attend. He sent his regrets from New York and put some of his childhood memories on paper. Fortunately for us, his letter to homecoming master of ceremonies Mr. Morrison Caldwell was printed in the Concord newspapers the following week.

Dr. Mack wrote, “My first Rocky River recollection is of getting off the train at Harris Depot [now, Harrisburg, NC] and going in the dark to the home of Uncle Solomon Harris.” I don’t believe Dr. Mack was related to Mr. Harris. This was probably a term of endearment and respect.

He continued, “There we met Ed and ‘Little Jim’ (to distinguish him from ‘Big Jim,’ the son of Mr. McKamie Harris.) Uncle Solomon had the biggest fire-place I ever saw; it seemed as big as a barn door.

“Shortly afterwards we went to Pioneer Mills….  There… was the old Gold mine, Barnhardt’s store and McAnulty’s shoemaker shop…. While there I decided to become either a merchant or shoemaker, for Barnhardt’s store and McAnulty’s shop kindled young ambitions; better to ‘keep store’ or ‘mend shoes,’ than as a preacher’s son to be moving around from place to place.

“But Pioneer Mills was ‘no place for a preacher’s son.’ Soon we moved again; this time to the brand new brick parsonage, close by the church. We used to go to church in a big closed carriage drawn by two mules; now, every Sunday, we walked to church, going down a steep hill, across a branch, and through the grove to the famous old house of worship.”

Dr. Mack’s letter also read, “Those were happy years; happy in springtime with its apple blossoms, song birds, morning-glories and Tish McKinley’s Sassafras tea; happy in the summertime, with its blackberries and plums, its bob-whites in the wheat fields, its lightning and thunder storms, its bare-footed boys and girls, and its bitter quinine to keep off third-day chills; happy in the autumn time, with its white fields of unpicked cotton and its beautiful trees with leaves of myriad hues; and happy in the wintertime, with its snows, its big hickory back-logs, its boys in boots red-topped and toes brass-tipped, its red-cheeked girls in wraps and ‘choke rags,’ and its Christmas Holidays and turkeys.”

Dr. Mack’s colorful memories paint an idyllic picture of life in Township One in Cabarrus County in the early 1870s. I hope the children growing up here in the 21st century will have equally-as-fond memories of this place.

My sources

My sources for this blog post were the following:  The Presbyterian Congregation on Rocky River, by Thomas Hugh Spence, Jr, 1954; The Concord Daily Tribune, August 16, 1912; The Concord Times, August 19, 1912; http://www.hpo.ncdcr.gov/nr/CA0498.pdf (photocopy of the National Register of Historic Places Registration Form for Robert Harvey Morrison Farm and Pioneer Mills Gold Mine); and Descendants of James & Jennet Morrison of Rocky River, by Alice Marie Morrison and Janet Sue Morrison.

Until my next blog post

Please share this or any of my other blog posts on social media by using the buttons below. Thank you!

I hope you have a good book to read. If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time.

Janet

 

N is for Newspaper Column

Today is the 14th day of the 2017 A to Z Blog Challenge, so the featured letter is “N.” I wrote a local history column for a weekly newspaper, Harrisburg Horizons, in Harrisburg, North Carolina for six and a half years.

My freelance “job” with the newspaper took me in many unexpected directions. One of my first columns (July 12, 2006) was titled, “Native American Projectile Points.” The following is a slightly revised version of that column. Some of the wording has been changed and all the photographs have been added to this blog post.

Do you think Harrisburg’s history began with the earliest European settlers, or even with the coming of the railroad in the 1850s? Today, I invite you to join me on a journey into prehistoric Harrisburg in the southern piedmont section of North Carolina.

Schiele Museum, Gastonia, NC

I recently made an appointment to take my collection of Indian arrowheads to Dr. Alan May, staff archaeologist at the Schiele Museum in Gastonia, NC. The first thing I learned was that I didn’t have a collection of Indian arrowheads!  The proper term is “projectile point,” which includes spear points and arrowheads.

I proudly opened the box containing my small collection. Dr. May examined each piece. I held my breath and waited for him to gasp upon spying a rare and valuable piece. He did not gasp.

My collection turned out to be mundane and of no particular interest to an archaeologist; however, the insight Dr. May shared that day gave me much to think about and opened a window on prehistoric Harrisburg.

I expected Dr. May to tell me that my projectile points dated back to the 1600s or possibly a little earlier than that. I expected him to tell me that the points were typical of the Catawba or perhaps even the Cherokee. That’s not what he said.

Middle Archaic – Morrow Mountain

Two of my projectile points are called “Morrow Mountain” pieces. They are from the Middle Archaic period which ended around 3000 B.C. (or B.C.E., if you prefer.)

Base of a projectile, Morrow Mtn., Middle Archaic
Base of projectile, Middle Archaic, Morrow Mountain.

Arrowheads, Tools, & Rocks 012
Middle Archaic (2,000 to 3,000 B.C.E.) Morrow Mountain Projectile Point

Middle Archaic Guilford

Two other pieces are of the “Guilford” style and also date to the Middle Archaic period when Native Americans hunted bison in North Carolina.

Broken example of Middle Archaic - Guilford
Broken example of Middle Archaic – Guilford projectile point.

Middle Archaic - Guilford
Middle Archaic, Guilford projectile point.

Late Archaic

Several of the projectile points in my collection are “Savannah River Stemmed “ points from the Late Archaic period, 1000 to 3000 B.C. This period was cooler than Middle Archaic. Deer, rabbits, and raccoons were hunted for food.

Late Archaic. Flagstone or field stone argilite, probably like what's coming out of the quarry nearby.
Late Archaic. Flagstone or field stone, probably like rock that is currently being mined from a nearby quarry.

Late Archaic. Thin bioface straight-sided projectile broken in use or when re-sharpened. Good material.
Thin biface straight-sided Late Archaic projectile point. Broken either by use or when re-sharpened.

Ancient Tool:  Anvil

I was certain that Dr. May would identify one of the smooth rocks I took him as an early Native American tool. He said it was just a rock that had been smoothed by water. Another rock, which hadn’t seemed as interesting to me, turned out to be an anvil.

This is an anvil. Notice the slight depression in roughness in middle on one side.
This is a stone anvil.

Some rocks I took to the museum were magnetic, which wasn’t a surprise; our red clay soil is rich in iron. One piece that appeared to be a rock was identified as slag hammered by a blacksmith. That made sense, because my father told me that there used to be a blacksmith’s shop in what is now my front yard.

Gold?

The rock I hoped he would say held flecks of gold, held flecks of worthless pyrite instead. I can see why it’s called “fool’s gold.”

pyrite and flecks of gold and lead. Dr. Alan May at Schiele thought this was a neat piece.
Lead with pyrite and flecks of gold. Dr. May thought this was an interesting piece.

Dr. May recommended that I send a detailed report about my collection to the Office of State Archaeology in Raleigh. The State has a form called “North Carolina Amateur Archaeological Site Form.” Dr. May said they will pinpoint my yard on a map and keep a record of my findings.

My visit with Dr. May brought surprises, both good ones and disappointing ones. I came home knowing that 5,000 years ago as the Egyptians developed hieroglyphic writing and the darkness was first lighted by candles, Native Americans were hunting deer and bison in my yard. Wow!

That was the end of my July 12, 2006 newspaper column. For now, it’s the end of the story. When I read the column last night for the first time in many years, I realized that I never followed through with Dr. May’s recommendation that I send a detailed report to the Office of State Archaeology in Raleigh. I’ve added that report to my “to-do” list, but writing must still come first.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. (I’m reading a nonfiction book, In Order to Live:  A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom, by Yeonmi Park with Maryanne Vollers. It was published in 2015, but I’m finding it particularly interesting as I read it during rising tension between North Korea and the United States. I highly recommend it!)

If you are a writer, I hope you have productive writing time.

Janet

Trains Crash in Harrisburg, 1897

My blog post on February 7, 2017 Two Lines I Like from a Margaret Maron Novel was about train whistles. I quoted a couple of lines from Long Upon the Land, by Margaret Maron and reminisced about train whistles in my hometown of Harrisburg, North Carolina. Today’s blog post is an edited version of a two-part article I wrote for my “Did You Know?” local history newspaper column in Harrisburg Horizons weekly newspaper on April 4 and April 13, 2007.

nc-transportation-museum-6-19-10-010
Steam locomotive at the NC Transportation Museum, Spencer, NC.

Head-On Collision!

Did you know that the Sunday morning tranquility in Harrisburg was shattered on April 11, 1897, by the head-on collision of two steam trains?

North-bound Southern “fast mail” train No. 36 had orders to wait at Harrisburg until 11:15 for the south-bound local passenger train No. 11. The passenger train from the nearby town of Concord was running behind schedule. As No. 36 approached Harrisburg, engineer W.B. Tunstall of Danville, Virginia, expected to see No. 11 sitting in the siding.

Seeing no waiting train, Tunstall steamed ahead at 45 miles per hour. By the time the No. 11 came into view, there was nothing Tunstall could do but apply the brakes and jump out of the locomotive.

Newspaper accounts indicate that some Harrisburg residents saw what was going to happen but were helpless to do anything. The crash was heard for miles around and was likened to “a sharp crack of thunder.”  The engine of No. 11 ran over the engine of No. 36. The boiler of No. 36 rested on the floor of No. 11’s postal car.

An express car of No. 36 derailed and landed 150 feet from the track. Another car, hauling strawberries and fresh vegetables, was torn to pieces. Produce was strewn over the area. Train parts were thrown as far as seventy-five yards away.

None of the 96 passengers on No. 36 were injured. They immediately exited the train to see what had happened and, subsequently, did what they could to help the injured train and postal employees.

Less than three minutes after the collision, with its headlight up in the telegraph wires, No. 11’s postal car burst into flames. If not for the quick action of one of the train’s postal clerks, John Hill Carter, both trains probably would have burned, but newspaper accounts do not tell how he extinguished the fire. Mr. Carter was praised for risking his life to put out the fire and save others.

Casualties

The accounts of the agony suffered by the employees who were killed or injured in the wreck are given in great detail in the newspaper accounts of the day. Some were pinned under the wreckage, while others were badly burned by the steam from the boilers. Passengers formed a bucket brigade to throw cold water on one of the trapped men to help relieve his suffering from the steam.

Capt. Tunstall was found unconscious and badly scalded on an embankment. The conductor of No. 11, James Lovell of Richmond, Virginia, was cut on the face. Fitzhugh Lee, a porter on No. 11, was pinned in from the knees down. William Clemmens of East Durham, North Carolina, and R.E. Gallagher, an express messenger, were also injured.

The impact itself and the resulting release of steam caused four deaths and a number of serious injuries.

Those who were killed in the wreck or died immediately after were as follows:  Postal clerk T. Clingman Benton of Monroe, NC and Charlotte; John or Titus Eudy of Forest Hills in Concord; No. 36 fireman Will Donaldson of Lynchburg, Virginia; and J.C. Kinney of Thomasville, NC. Capt. Kinney was badly scalded. It was thought that he also inhaled steam which caused internal misery.

First Responders and Thrill Seekers

News of the collision was immediately telegraphed to the train depot in Charlotte. In less than forty-five minutes, a rescue train was dispatched from that city. It transported a Dr. McCombs and Dr. E.M. Brevard. Cots were taken for transporting the wounded and dead to Charlotte. Mr. Eudy survived the crash but died en route to Charlotte.

The citizens of Harrisburg were praised in the newspaper accounts for helping to clear the wreckage. Engines pulled from both directions to clear the track. Debris removal continued through the night, while another work crew laid a temporary track around the wreck. That track was in place by that night when the No. 35 fast mail train gingerly made its way through Harrisburg.

On April 12, 1897, The Charlotte Observer reported that hundreds of thrill seekers “on wheels, horseback and in buggies were flying toward Harrisburg. At 2 o’clock a horse could not be had in any of the stables for love or money.”  Many other people gathered at the train depot in Charlotte to await the arrival of the rescue train at 4 p.m.

That same newspaper account reported that one of the No. 36 passengers, Charles Bitterman of New Orleans, belonged to “The Riverside Wheelmen” cyclist club and was on his way to a bicycle race in New York. The article stated that Bitterman belonged “to National Circuit and will be here later with the professional men.” (Cycling clubs were all the rage in America and Europe in the 1890s.)

As I edit this article in 2017, the at-grade railroad crossings in Harrisburg have been closed and replaced by bridges in order to make way for the new high-speed rail. I have crossed that railroad thousands of times, and after learning about the 1897 train wreck in 2007 I was often reminded of the gory details of that fateful day when mangled and splintered train cars, bodies, and fresh produce were scattered in the nearby fields. It must have been an awful sight along with the screams of the injured who were in agony.

The train wreck of 1897 was, no doubt, long-remembered by Harrisburg and surrounding residents. When I interviewed Harrisburg resident and retired railway employee Harry R. Higgins on January 21, 2007, he remembered that Floyd Smith often came to the train depot in Concord when Mr. Higgins worked there. Mr. Higgins heard him tell about a block office employee who let a train into a block by mistake when another train was coming. The man realized his mistake and left in guilt because he knew what was about to happen. Mr. Higgins did not know if this was referring to the 1897 wreck in Harrisburg or not.

At the end of my article I asked for anyone who knew of a first-hand written account or oral history of the accident to please share that information with me, but no one offered additional details.

My Stint as a Newspaper Columnist

I am glad I had the opportunity to write a local history column in Harrisburg Horizons for six years. It gave me a reason to visit many of the older members of the community and take notes about their memories. Local newspapers preserved on microfilm sometimes provided a topic for me. I found it surprising that I had never heard about this horrific steam train head-on collision until I stumbled upon it in the microfilmed newspaper records. Mr. Harry R. Higgins has died since I asked him about the train wreck. He followed in his father’s footsteps as a railroad employee.

A Call to Action

If you have an interest in the local history where you live, I hope you talk to the older residents and record their memories. This is especially important if you live in a rural area or a small town that has never had a newspaper. That was the case here in Harrisburg. The town did not have a newspaper until 2006 and, unfortunately, it ceased publication in 2012.

Until my next blog post

Until my next blog post, I hope you have a good book to read. If you are a writer, I hope you have productive writing time. Please help me get the word out about my writing and my blog by clicking on the social media icons below or by the old-fashioned way – word of mouth. I appreciate it!

Janet

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