Cokie Roberts Inspired This Blog Post

FYI: NOT our boat.

Blogger’s Note: I originally posted this on July 6, 2019. However, today (09/17/19) I learned of Cokie Robert’s passing. So, I present to you my redux of the blog post that Cokie Roberts inspired.

My husband Jonathan and I recently purchased a 35 foot sailboat.

I didn’t grow up in a “boating family.” Neither did my husband. We both grew up in middle-class families with multiple kids and multiple priorities. About once a summer or so, my own parents rented for me and my sisters paddle boats, a rowboat, or perhaps a canoe from a PA State Park boat concession. My dad eventually purchased a used canoe from a boat concession auction.

When Jonathan and I were on our honeymoon, he purchased a kite. He flew his new kite on the beach. He told me that wind power fascinated him. He later confessed to me that sailboats and sailing actually fascinated him since childhood but that he was too shy to mention this to his parents.

We took a few sailing lessons on a Flying Scot at Lake Arthur at Moraine State Park in Western PA. We borrowed my parents’ canoe once. We purchased our own canoe / kayak hybrids.

Jonathan monitored Facebook for postings about boat sales. I learned that prospective boat buyers have no problem finding boats for sale at the end of summer, before prospective boat sellers need to store their boats for the winter. So, on one October Friday, Jonathan drove through several counties to meet the man selling a Flying Scot. By the end of that day, we owned our first sailboat.

That weekend gave us “hot” October weather. We took our “new” Flying Scot to Lake Arthur that Saturday. We rigged our new boat in the parking lot of Moraine’s public boat launch. We sailed and sailed. We noted that the sun started to set and that other boaters headed to shore. We headed to shore. Then . . . the wind died down.

Did I mention that our Flying Scot had no motor? Yeah, this is important. The wind powered our boat. After the wind died, we sat in the middle of the lake.

We sat there for about an hour. Then, Jonathan grabbed the boat’s sole oar and “paddled” us to shore. In the twilight. Then, we had to de-rig our sailboat in the dark, assisted by one flashlight.

That next summer, we returned to Lake Arthur with our Flying Scot and rented a slip at the marina’s dry dock. We sailed again. And again, the wind died on us. We found ourselves becalmed on Lake Arthur, with no motor, again.

Except, this time the wind died due to a very impending, severe thunderstorm. We saw the lightning as we sat, stationary, on the lake. Mother Nature mocked us.

I said a few angry things to Jonathan. He grabbed the oar and, once again, paddled us back to shore.

The storm’s downdraft actually pushed us the last few feet to the dock. We jumped off of the boat and ran through the rain to our truck. Then, we realized that our truck keys were still on our boat! So, Jonathan had to run back to the boat before we found shelter inside of our truck.

Jonathan is very lucky that I sailed with him again after this.

This summer we now have a sailboat docked in Erie, PA, on Lake Erie. I sailed with Jonathan ON THE OPEN LAKE. I have the experience of sitting becalmed on Lake Erie, covered in bug spray and swatting at biting flies. Thank destiny that we now own a motored boat!

After I first sailed, I collected the sailing mishaps noted in historical fiction AND nonfiction.

For instance, Aaron Burr’s only child, Theodosia Burr Alston, boarded the schooner Patriot in 1812. The ship sailed from South Carolina. It never arrived in New York City. History noted Theodosia Burr Alston as “disappeared” or “lost at sea.” Theories and folkore (see Wikipedia) abounded on the fate of “Dear Theodosia.” One famous legend involved pirates. In fact, one storyteller described Theodosia walking the plank to her death.

Now, for the promised 1779 sailing mishap, here is a passage from Chapter Five of “Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation” by Cokie Roberts. This recounts John Jay and his wife Sally’s voyage to Spain after Congress named John Jay as Minister to Spain during the Revolutionary War:

“ Two months later, still aboard the ship and nowhere near Spain, Sally recounted their adventures to her mother. After being at sea a couple of weeks, she heard a terrible noise on the deck in the middle of the night: “We had been deprived of nothing less than our bow-spirit, main-mast and missen-mast . . . however our misfortunes were only begun, the injury received by our rudder the next morning served to complete them.” The ship was dismasted and rudderless, the seas were high, and winter was on the way. A council of ship’s officers concluded tht there was no way to reach Europe under those conditions, so they set course for the island of Martinique. It took a couple of weeks for the winds to get them going in the right direction, but, Sally cheerfully reported, “we are now in smooth seas having the advantage of trade winds which blow directly for the island . . . while our American friends are amusing themselves by a cheerful fireside, are we sitting under an awning comforting ourselves with the expectation of being soon refreshed by some fine southern fruits.”  . . . What she didn’t tell her mother was that she was pregnant. Stranded at sea, Sally and John threw a party, surprising and delighting fellow passengers. Finally, at the end of December, the ship limped into port in Martinique, where Sally was able to send off her letter home.”

Cokie Roberts, “Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation.”

Just imagine drifting around for several weeks on the ocean in a ship that lost most of its sails. And its rudder. Just hoping that the trade winds would blow the ship to Martinique before winter. With a navigation system from the late 1700’s. And no motor!

Maybe, if this happened in 2019, Sally Jay would tweet a selfie of herself on the disabled ship. “Can’t believe where I ended up. LOL.”  Followed by an interview with Anderson Cooper. (Or Cokie Roberts.)

Stay tuned for my next sailing update.

Meeting Aaron Burr in the Alleghenies

Scene from the Allegheny Mountains between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia

On July 11, 1804 – 215 years ago today – Aaron Burr shot Alexander Hamilton in their famous duel. Alexander Hamilton died the next day.

Burr reportedly travelled west through Pennsylvania in the duel’s aftermath.

Later, Burr was accused of conspiring to found new empire and install himself as the leader. Burr allegedly travelled from Pittsburgh, down the Ohio River to Blennerhassett Island. Burr allegedly intended to stage a militia at Blennerhassett Island. Allegations swirled that other prominent Americans, including future POTUS Andrew Jackson, played a role in the Burr conspiracy.

From what I understand, Burr’s daughter Theodosia waited at Blennerhassett Island, thinking that her father would install her as his official hostess in this new empire. The Blennerhassett family had to flee from the island after the allegations came out against them and Burr.

Now, the Burr conspiracy allegedly happened in 1804/05 – 1807, and Aaron Burr was arrested in 1807 and tried for treason. A U.S. circuit court acquitted Burr.

I found a chance connection between Aaron Burr and the mother-in-law of ANOTHER future POTUS. Julia Dent Grant (JDG), the wife of future POTUS Ulysses S. Grant, was the first First Lady to write her own memoirs. Mrs. Grant’s memoirs were published years after her death.

In “The Personal Memoirs of Julia Dent Grant (Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant),” she wrote that her own mother, Ellen Bray Wrenshall Dent, grew up in Pittsburgh and travelled to Philadelphia to attend school.

Mrs. Grant wrote in her memoirs that Mrs. Dent told a story to her children about the time that she stopped in a tavern in the Allegheny Mountains and Aaron Burr was at that same tavern! Mrs. Dent remembered that Burr and “his army” showed kindness to her.

Actually, here is the quote from JDG’s memoirs: 

Mamma has told me of riding on horseback all the way from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia, where she was sent to school, and of once meeting Aaron Burr and his army in the Allegheny Mountains encamped around the little tavern which contained one room and a kitchen. This one room was, of course, occupied by the officers. Mamma, though much fatigued, was very loath to lie on the settle, or bench, before them all to rest until they pressed around and made for her a bed and a pillow of their cloaks and begged her to rest, telling her she would be just as safe there as in her mother’s arms. Lying down at last, they covered her with another martial cloak, and she slept as soundly as the princess in the fairy tale.

Now, I actually grew up in the Allegheny Mountains between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. I never heard this story until I read JDG’s memoirs.

I wonder what year this occurred. Mrs. Dent was born in 1793. I am under the impression that Mrs. Dent would have been a schoolgirl in the first decade of the 1800’s. Keep in mind that Burr shot Hamilton in 1804. The Burr conspiracy allegedly happened in 1804/05 – 1807. Aaron Burr was arrested for treason in 1807.

So, was Burr in the process of planning the alleged Burr conspiracy when JDG’s mother saw him at the tavern? When JDG said “Aaron Burr and his army,” did JDG mean the militia that Burr allegedly raised for the conspiracy?

This story stands out to me because, in my mind, Mrs. Dent said to her children (including future FLOTUS Julia Dent Grant), “Did I ever tell you about that time that I met a very famous person? Wait until you hear about this!”

Now, keep in mind that Ellen Bray Wrenshall Dent passed away in 1857. The American Civil War started in 1861. Mrs. Dent’s son-in-law, General Ulysses S. Grant, captured Forts Henry and Donelson in 1862 and saw victory at Vicksburg in 1863. So, Mrs. Dent passed away before her own son-in-law became nationally famous.

Did you ever meet famous person? Was this person Aaron Burr-famous?

Anya Seton and Reincarnation

This is a book report on Green Darkness by Anya Seton.

Anya Seton (1904 – 1990) wrote several historical fiction novels about real-life and fictional protagonists. My high school library, my college library, and my Grandma Gaffron’s library all carried her books. Philippa Gregory wrote forwards to new editions of several Seton novels.

I read Dragonwyck first.

Perhaps our high school librarian set it out as one of her recommended books. Dragonwyck told the fictional tale of a poor young farm woman in New York State who married a rich man who knew President Martin Van Buren. She learned that the rich husband actually poisoned his first wife and intended to kill her as well. Dragonwyck has the same gothic plot as movies (such as The Babysitter’s Seduction starring Kerri Russell) and at least one Mary Higgins Clark book (A Cry in the Night).

Then I read Seton’s novel Katherine because I saw it on a list of the “best historical fiction that aspiring writers should read.”

Katherine fictionalized Katherine Swynford’s life in the 1300’s. Katherine grew up in a convent after her father (a knight) died serving the King of England and the Black Death killed her grandparents. Her sister Philippa married Geoffrey Chaucer. Katherine married John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster after his first wife died of the Black Death and his second wife also died of something horrible. Katherine’s stepson, Henry, overthrew his own cousin Richard II from the throne of England. Henry became Henry IV of England.

Next, I read My Theodosia.

My Theodosia fictionalized the life of Theodosia Burr, daughter of Aaron Burr. This is the same Theodosia who inspired the song Dear Theodosia in the Hamilton musical. In real life, Theodosia Burr married a future governor of South Carolina and she moved to his plantation. She ended up “lost at sea” at the age of 29. She was a passenger on a boat that disappeared in the Atlantic Ocean in 1813. (Just a note of caution: My Theodosia‘s story line and language turned racist after Theodosia moved to the plantation.)

Finally, I read Green Darkness.

Now, I consider Green Darkness (published in 1972) as a cross between fantasy and historical fiction. The story “begins” in the year 1970. A fictional American – Celia Marsdon – moves to England with her British husband, Richard.

Richard grew up in his family’s ancestral seat in Sussex, but he hated his childhood there. Richard still decides to move back home after his father’s death. Big mistake.

The Marsdons show up in Sussex on Halloween. They stop first at the ruins of Chowdry House, a real-life Tudor mansion that burned down in the 1700’s. Celia insists that she remembers being in that mansion before it burned. The Marsdons watch bonfire lights in the rural darkness. They meet business associates at the real-life, ancient Spread Eagle Inn. During drinks, somebody jokes about Halloween and its “wormy dead” which “rise from their graves.” The business associates tell Celia a ghost story about a “black monk” (a Benedictine monk) who haunts the area. Celia slips out of the inn to look for the ghost monk. Celia finds the ghost monk and chases it. (Just like every episode of Scooby Doo!) Richard finds Celia and gets angry.

The Marsdons “settle” into Richard’s ancestral home. Their marital problems continue. Richard plays the song “Celia, Wanton and Fair” over and over on his record player.

Celia tours a famous “real” landmark, Ightham Mote, with her mother. They learn that renovation crews recently found a skeleton walled up in the estate’s main house. Celia suffers vague flashbacks to prior events there and she falls ill.

The Marsdon newlyweds hold a dinner party for a bunch of people that they barely know. However, all of the guests at the party actually seem “familiar” to Celia. Celia suffers a medical emergency that night.

As Celia recovers in a hospital, her mother brings to her bedside a physician / Hindu teacher. Under this doctor’s “guidance” Celia recalls memories from her prior life as Celia de Bohun in the 1500’s in Sussex.

The story goes back to the 1500’s for about 500 pages.

Celia’s husband from 1970, Richard Marsdon, is a Catholic Benedictine monk named Stephen Marsdon in the 1500’s.

Brother Stephen Marsdon lives in an English monastery until Henry VIII closes it through the Dissolution of the Monasteries. I imagine that Stephen’s monastery resembled Tintern Abbey. (I will blog about Tintern Abbey next.) Stephen flees to France, but later returns to Sussex.

I need to mention that Celia de Bohun’s aunt, Ursula, is obsessed with predictions and divinations. Aunt Ursula hires a famous mystic to tell Celia’s fortune. The mystic predicts Celia’s early and violent death.

For the next several hundred pages, Celia de Bohun and Stephen Marsdon fall in love as they dodge the wrath of the Tudor monarchs.

As you probably guessed, Stephen Marsdon and Celia de Bohun leave behind “unfinished business” in the 1500’s that Richard and Celia Marsden resolve in 1970.

Celia Marsdon wakes from her trance in 1970 and she realizes that the guests from her dinner party were all reincarnated from people that she knew as Celia de Bohun in the 1500’s.

The two Celia’s, Richard, and Stephen are all fictional, as are all of the guests from the 1970’s dinner party. However, several of the characters that Celia de Bohun met in the 1500’s are real historical figures. The “ghost monk” that Celia Marsdon chased on Halloween is based on the “real” ghost story about the Black Monk of Pontefract.

Green Darkness spans about 600 pages. In my opinion, Seton should have cut this down to 300 pages. The story goes off on many side plots (tangents) that have nothing to do with Celia and Richard’s “unfinished business.” I suspect that Seton plugged unused material from her other books into this, her final finished novel.

I laughed when Celia de Bohun mentions Katherine Swynford’s famous marriage to John of Gaunt two centuries earlier. (John of Gaunt’s son, Henry IV, married Mary de Bohun in 1380. I suspect that the author intended that the fictional Celia de Bohun of the 1500’s belonged to the same de Bohun family.)

If I ever return to the United Kingdom, I might visit these real places listed in Green Darkness: the Chowdry Castle ruins, the Spread Eagle Inn, and Ightham Mote.

In Green Darkness, some of the characters who mistreat and abuse others in the 1500’s pay dearly for it in 1970. Similarly, kindly Aunt Ursula suffers in the 1500’s but during the 1970’s dinner party she is rich and beautiful.

It’s important to be nice to people. Karma exists.

Anya Seton passed away in 1990. Hypothetically, if she was born into another life in 1991, she would now be 28 years old in her new life. Perhaps Anya Seton lives on in the body of another writer.

Aaron Burr and the Two Logan Inns

Vice President Aaron Burr shot and killed Alexander Hamilton.

Did he then hide out at the Logan Inn, mere blocks from present-day downtown New Kensington? Here in the land of Sheetz and the Black & Gold?

Or, did he flee to a different Logan Inn, in present day Flyers & Eagles Country?

Here is the link to Mrs. Luella Rodgers Frazier’s “The Early Years of New Kensington, Pennsylvania.” Halfway through this history, Frazier wrote that Alexander Logan owned the land that became Parnassus.

Frazier wrote that Aaron Burr stopped at Logan’s property “for a few days” after he dueled Alexander Hamilton. Per Frazier, “the Logans did not know about the duel and did not recognize Mr. Burr.”

As Frazier noted, Burr proceeded (by way of Pittsburgh) to Blennerhasset Island in the Ohio River.

Harman Blennerhasset owned the island and he allowed Burr, General James Wilkinson, and others to store men and supplies on the island in their  bid to create a new nation in the southwest.

Burr’s accusers arrested Burr in Alabama. They chained him. (This, during a time when men chained their slaves. During a time when Burr’s own son-in-law owned a plantation.) The accusers brought Burr to Virginia in these chains. They tried him for treason.

Burr won his freedom by acquittal.

This follows the history and lore of Aaron Burr.

History buffs know about the Logan family’s prominence here. I even added to this blog post the photo that Jonathan took of the former Logan Trust Company in downtown New Kensington.

However, ANOTHER Logan Inn on the opposite side of PA – along Ferry Street in New Hope – also claims that THEY hosted Burr after the duel. The OTHER Logan Inn markets itself with Aaron Burr lore.

Perhaps Aaron Burr did in fact shelter at two Logan Inns, on opposite sides of the state. Perhaps both ends of the Pennsylvania Turnpike own this story.

What do you think?

Here’s my post from my other blog about the novel My Theodosia by Anya Seton.