Genesis of the Journeyman Chronicles

7:24 pm


How did the Journeyman Chronicles come to be?

Research. I have been researching aspects of the American Revolution and other colonial conflicts for several years.  As a PhD prepared researcher, I am adept at finding and synthesizing key information about any topic.  As a result, I had in my files a good many articles from the Journal of the American Revolution (readable, scholarly, free) and other scholarly journals like the historical society journals of various Southeastern states (North Carolina, Georgia, Florida).  Casual research from books and other documents kind of piled up in folders on my computer desktop.  Every scholar will tell you that new information begets other new information.  As a result of several years of casual data gathering with no real focus nor any specific agenda, I amassed a trove of information.

What personal experiences helped you to write the Journeyman Series.

Personal experience. An experiential component helped drive some of the focus for the stories.  When I was about six years old, my dad began dealing in antique weapons.  It was not entirely by choice.  The late 1950s was a difficult time in the American economy and my father’s main job was vacuum cleaner salesman.  Few people had money for consumer goods, and money got tight.  My dad, being the entrepreneur he was, saw that there was a market for antique guns as the Centennial of the Civil War approached.  Our home became a constant flow of old rifles, swords, pistols, and so on.  My father carefully researched every weapon and was always quite happy to share his knowledge with me.  I drank in every detail, learning a lot about all those old guns, how they worked, and the history wrapped around them.  Dad made a living for the family for quite a few years going to gun shows when gun shows were more about antiques.  Sure, he had some modern guns come through, but mostly it was about Civil War guns and other old weapons.  Although we had a very disciplined focus on safety, even at age six I was permitted to handle these weapons. 

Ancestral research. The impetus for the book came when I did some ancestral research on my family.  I learned that almost every line of my family on both sides came to British North America in the 1600’s, first on the Eastern Shore of VA and DELMARVA area, and ultimately settling in Edgecombe County NC.  All these families were of English stock and moved as part of the general Scots Irish/English colonial diaspora toward Appalachia and North Georgia in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  I was fascinated with the general diaspora of my families as well as other, similar, migration among Scottish, English, Irish and German immigrants.

Diaspora.  That diaspora fueled my general story line about Will Yelverton and his desire to go to the frontier.  Will’s internal conflict in the stories is his natural focus on his future and the opportunities presented by the Tennessee and North Georgia frontiers versus the demands of a young nation on its citizens to stand up and demand freedom and independence.  Will is a good person whose only real desire is to move to the frontier and live his life.  Many, many people in the 1770’s wanted nothing more than the same.  Yet, the revolution and its attendant fights demanded lives be put on hold.  Will continually runs headlong into the conflict between nation and self.

What were some of the ironies you encountered while writing the Journeyman Chronicles series?

Historical ironies. Research into North Carolina during the period disclosed some delicious ironies and connections.  For example, Colonel Richard Caswell – later Governor Richard Caswell – was pulled into the book because I knew I was going to write about Moore’s Creek Bridge.  I needed someone to be the harbinger of Lexington and Concord who was ‘in authority’.  So, rather than introduce another character for that purpose, I had Richard Caswell drop by the gunshop in New Bern to get his prized pistol repaired and announce the Massachusetts news of Lexington and Concord to Bert Koontz and Will.  Incidentally, there actually was a Swiss/German gunmaker in New Bern NC named Kuntz.  The character Bert Koontz was named for my good friend and former boss, Colonel Bert Koontz, USAF, who died way too young. 

Dicky.  I examined Caswell’s bio on Wikipedia and noted he had a son, Richard Caswell, Jr., born a year after Will Yelverton.  Will needed a buddy who was his age, and Richard Caswell, Jr., fit the bill.  Only, you can’t use the same name for two characters because readers get confused.  So, I arbitrarily named the character Dicky.  As a result of all this, Governor Caswell and Dicky became central characters in Will’s life.  Here’s the irony: long after I finished the draft of The Bridge, I discovered Caswell’s ancestry website.  Glancing down the list Caswell’s relatives, I was surprised and delighted to find that Richard Caswell, Jr., was actually called Dicky!  I laughed and laughed about that!

Governor Caswell.  Governor Caswell was quite a historical character of great value to the story of Will Yelverton.  Considered a Founding Father of the United States, Richard Caswell owned huge tracts of land in NC and was a land speculator in Tennessee.  Caswell and John Sevier (later first Governor of Tennessee) were land speculators together in the Tennessee portion of Western NC before it became a separate entity from NC.  Caswell also was a surveyor and was Grand Master Mason of NC.  He and George Washington were well acquainted.  Caswell’s appearance in the novel became critical to Will’s success.  His letters of introduction for Will to George Washington as well as to Benjamin Franklin and others would be a common phenomenon of the time (I found a letter from Caswell to Washington recommending another person.  Some of the verbiage from that letter appears in the letter Will presents to General Washington).  Ultimately, Will and Sevier will meet, and Caswell’s letter to “Nolichucky Jack” Sevier will finally be delivered. 

John Willcox.  John Willcox of Crosscreek (aka Fayetteville), North Carolina, is another character who was real.  Willcox was son of Ben Franklin’s paper manufacturer and often stayed with the Franklins when in Philadelphia as a boy.  Franklin often loaned “Jonny” money and billed his father for it.  A letter from John Willcox to Franklin would not have been out of the ordinary.  How did I find this?  I searched for John Willcox and found a scholarly article written by his descendant about the Willcox family’s Roman Catholic origin and information on the various generations.

The Kennedy School of Rifle Makers.  Alexander Kennedy was scion of a ’school’ of gun making centered on Bear Creek, North Carolina (current city of Robbins, NC). Kennedy’s gun factory was in operation from 1760’s into 1830’s when it disappeared without a trace (well, there may be some archeological evidence to be found if we can ever get past a fascination with Oak Island in Canada.  It’s not at all unlikely that an apprentice like Will might visit and learn from Kennedy.  Did such an apprentice actually exist?  Did Kennedy have a daughter named Abigail?  These are unknowns, but Will’s character being close to such a family as the Kennedys is not an unusual situation. 

Van Leer.  I do want to note that Captain Van Leer, who owned the furnace at Reading PA and whom Will meets briefly in The Bridge, had a descendant named Blake Ragsdale Van Leer – 5th President of the Georgia Institute of Technology.  On a personal note, I am a graduate of the Georgia Institute of Technology, and my first class at that institution was held in the Blake Ragsdale Van Leer auditorium in the Electrical Engineering Building.  The linkages from the eighteenth century forward to today are interesting and exciting.

Yelverton Taylor.  I’ll close with the interesting irony that one of the privateers operating out of Egg Harbor (Atlantic City) NJ was, indeed, Yelverton Taylor, Captain of the Comet.  This would not be a surprise since the Yelverton’s apparently settled into the DELMARVA area initially, and it’s not far across the water from Delaware to coastal NJ.  That a child might be given his mother’s maiden name was not uncommon in colonial America.  There was quite a privateering and smuggling trade in coastal NJ, and the British actually tried to shut it down immediately after Will’s escape.  Lt Colonel Simcoe and Major Andre were directly involved in the subsequent violent action at Little Egg Harbor resulting in many colonists’ deaths. 

Why is it a good time to read about the American Revolution?

AMERICA250.  Quite coincidentally, I finished my last doctoral student in 2021 and began writing The Bridge  as the start of a third career.  I had not considered the march of history until one day it dawned upon me that we are approaching the 250th Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.  It’s called, awkwardly, the semi-quincentennial.  The US Government and the governments of many states have started planning for celebrations culminating in 2026.  I hope that the Journeyman Chronicles series of books adds to that celebration of our Great Nation. 

Conduit.  I have made the comment before and will repeat it here:  some of Journeyman: The Bridge ‘wrote itself’.  I was merely the conduit from history to the page.  Did Will Yelverton actually exist?  No, he is entirely fictional, but there were many Will Yelvertons and they made America the great nation it is today!