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"Roundheads and Ramblings"

Frogmore

A Remarkable Woman You've Probably Never Heard of. . .


Miss Laura M. Towne was a Unitarian, an Abolitionist, and a medical student.  In 1862, at the age of 37, she left her Philadelphia home to travel to the Sea Islands of South Carolina.  Her purpose: to do whatever she could to help the newly freed slaves become useful and productive citizens.The Road to Frogmore, published in 2012, tells the story of the first few years she spent in South Carolina during the Civil War.

 Laura Town and her life-long friend Ellen Murray joined the Port Royal Experiment in 1862 to test their abolitionist ideals against the realities of slaves abandoned by their owners in the Low Country of South Carolina. They hoped to find a place they could call home, as well as an outlet for their talents as schoolteacher and doctor.. It seemed like a good idea at the time, until . . . 

. . . until they experienced the climate—violent storms spawned over the Atlantic, searing heat, tainted by swamp gasses, cockroaches, bedbugs, swarming mosquitoes,and the pesky “no-see-ums” that left nasty bites in their wake. 

. . . until they met the slaves themselves—full of fear and resentment of white people caused by centuries of cruelty, slaves who had never seen the outside world, slaves whose superstitions included breath-sucking night hags, evil graybeards living in local trees, and unfree spirits rolling down the roads at night in balls of fire. 

. . . until the dedication of the missionaries found itself tested by lack of food, furniture, medicine, and the bare necessities of life. Until the unity of the abolitionist effort fell apart under the strains of religious differences and unrecognized prejudices. 

. . . and until the combination of battle wounds and a raging smallpox epidemic made death their constant companion. Could these two independent women survive the Civil War and achieve their goal of turning slaves into citizens?

In the next couple of days, you'll have a chance to meet some of the real people with whom she worked--and those against whom she had to struggle in order to establish the kind of school she wanted to provide for the children she loved.

The Road to Frogmore,  a biographical novel by Carolyn P. Schriber, won a Silver Medal from The Military Writers Society of America in 2013. A digital version will be available for free in the Kindle Store from Monday, April 25, 2016, through Wednesday, April 27, 2016. Don’t miss this chance to read the story of a remarkable woman.  

Lunch and a Book Discussion at Frogmore


The Road to Frogmore provides much fodder for a book club discussion, and my new Pinterest board offers some ideas to be considered along the way.  It starts with a bit of author biography, in which I talk about some of the ways I have always felt myself to be something of a misfit. (That’s an observation that most writers could make, I suspect.)

Then we move to a longer passage about Laura M. Towne and the reasons I became interested in her rather than some of the other missionaries whom she accompanied to the Low Country. Laura was also a misfit, and the ways in which she differed from her companions explain much about her later life.
 
Next, I have offered some questions to stimulate discussion.  They center on the usual breakdowns of setting, plot, theme, and character, but they are only starting points for those who seek to understand the book.  I’ve also included two reading lists — one listing the other books in this series, and (more importantly) several other books that cover the same events as this book. Dr. Rose’s massive study,
Rehearsal for Reconstruction, provides an overview of the Gideonite experiment; the others are first-hand accounts written by Laura and others among her friends.

And then we come to the good part — suggestions for what to eat and drink at such a meeting.  As I have done with my other Book Club Guides, I have tried to keep the choices true to the book itself. Laura and her housemates were on limited rations.  The Army provided them with small allowances of commodities such as flour and sugar, but for the most part, they relied on the same sources of food as did the slaves.  They had their own gardens for vegetables, and a few chickens to provide eggs (or meat, if the chicken quit laying eggs.).  Most of their protein came from seafood or the white fish that could be pulled from the freshwater streams in the area. They had no access to alcohol, so this luncheon will be one fit for teetotalers.

Laura’s diary describes some of their meals in detail. At almost every meal they ate turtle soup, so that might be a natural choice, if it were not for the fact that now, most turtles in the Carolinas are endangered species, and trying to find recipes for turtle soup is likely to yield an internet lecture on why the turtles may not be eaten. I’ve included a recipe, but I really don’t expect anyone to serve it.
The slaves the missionaries had come to help continued to work for them as cooks and fishermen, so Laura’s table served Gullah recipes, which fall into two categories.  One set starts with seasonings of tomatoes, onions, and peppers, along with a bit of fatback or bacon, adds some sort of seafood, and then serves the resulting dish over grits.  The recipe here is for the iconic shrimp and grits of South Carolina.

The other variation starts with the same seasonings to create a type of gumbo, although this is not the gumbo we’ve come to know from New Orleans.  The Gullah variety uses okra as the thickener instead of a rich dark roux and is served over rice, which continued to be grown on the plantations of the Low Country.  Either dish, accompanied by some fried green tomatoes, would provide a satisfactory and authentic Gullah lunch.

Another possibility is to rely on that perennial favorite, Frogmore Stew, a tradition that also began with the slaves of St. Helena. What does one do when no one has enough to provide supper?  You get together with the neighbors, and each cook throws into the pot whatever she has -- a chicken, some sausage, a few potatoes, an onion, some cobs of corn, some shrimp, or crabs, or oysters, or fish.  It all boils together, and then is poured out onto a table, where the diners gather around and help themselves.

If the group does not want to eat a sit-down meal, they might snack on boiled peanuts and soft ginger cookies. Peanuts were a staple of slave diets. The cookies remind the reader of the ginger cakes that Lottie Forten baked for her friend, Dr. Seth Rogers, surgeon of the famous 54th Massachusetts.

If this menu were completely legitimate, the only beverage would be molasses water, which the slaves loved and the missionaries drank grudgingly.  If you want to get an idea of what it tasted like, think of a glass of coke poured over ice and allowed to sit for several hours, until the ice all melted and the soda went completely flat. A pitcher of lemonade might better bring this meal to a close.



Meet the Characters: The Road to Frogmore

This is my favorite -- and also the best-known--picture of Miss Laura M. Towne.  She was a Unitarian, an Abolitionist, and a medical student.  | In 1862, at the age of 37, she left her Philadelphia home to travel to the Sea Islands of South Carolina.  Her purpose: to do whatever she could to help the newly freed slaves become useful and productive citizens. The Road to Frogmore, published in 2012, tells the story of the first few years she spent in South Carolina during the Civil War.

 Laura Town and her life-long friend Ellen Murray joined the Port Royal Experiment in 1862 to test their abolitionist ideals against the realities of slaves abandoned by their owners in the Low Country of South Carolina. They hoped to find a place they could call home, as well as an outlet for their talents as schoolteacher and doctor.. It seemed like a good idea at the time, until . . .

Until they experienced the climate—violent storms spawned over the Atlantic, searing heat, tainted by swamp gasses, cockroaches, bedbugs, swarming mosquitoes,and “no-see-ums” that left nasty bites in their wake.

Until they met the slaves themselves—full of fear and resentment of white people caused by centuries of cruelty, slaves who had never seen the outside world, slaves whose superstitions included breath-sucking night hags, evil graybeards living in local trees, and unfree spirits rolling down the roads at night in balls of fire.

Until the dedication of the missionaries found itself tested by lack of food, furniture, medicine, and the bare necessities of life. Until the unity of the abolitionist effort fell apart under the strains of religious differences and unrecognized prejudices.

And until the combination of battle wounds and a raging smallpox epidemic made death their constant companion. Could these two independent women survive the Civil War and achieve their goal of turning slaves into citizens?

For the next week or so, I'll introduce you to some of the real people with whom she worked-- and those against whom she had to struggle in order to establish the kind of school she wanted to provide for the children she loved.

Jumpier Than a Long-Tailed Cat in A Room Full of Rocking Chairs

That's one of those sayings my mother used when I was growing up.  The imagery was very effective in settling me down when I was trying to do too many things at once.  And for that reason, if no other, it applies to me today.

It's also a term borrowed from the world of traditional publishing.  It refers to a book that starts off with slow sales but then begins to get some notice in odd places and eventually becomes a perennial best seller.  In the traditional publishing world, a new book generally gets a grace period of about six months to hit it big.  Publishers all try to get bookstores to give their newest volumes front and center space -- a shelf or display all to themselves -- cover facing outward -- signs in the window -- ads in the newspapers.  But if it doesn't work, the book disappears into the back of the store, stored spine-out on a shelf with several hundred other  wonderful books that just didn't quite make it.  A Long-Tailed Cat is a book that customers keep asking for, even after the publicity hype is over.  Most books hit the remainder table outside within a year, and after that are either returned to the company or sold off in bulk to fates better not even thought of.  Long-Tailed Cats survive.

In the world of electronic publishing, however, there are no storefronts to dominate, no bookshelves to fill with the covers facing outward, and no need to move out to make room for the newcomers.  Remainders are a thing of the past.  Electronic books  (at least theoretically) can live forever.  And that means that we can have lots more long-tailed cats!  

My first one appeared almost exactly a year after publication.  Beyond All Price hung around on social media sites until I had sold a copy to everyone I knew.  But when I had exhausted the list of friends and relatives who were willing to cough up the price of a book, it appeared doomed. I had been conditioned by that traditional publishing world to expect a run of no longer than a year.  So by the summer of 2010, I "remaindered " it, at least in my own mind.  I offered it for free on Smashwords and prepared to forget all about it. Then the long-tailed magic happened.  Amazon price-matched the book and featured it on one of their website lists (what made them choose that book, I have no idea).  And without my turning a hand on its behalf, Nellie Chase's story began to grow its own tail of some 47,000 copies..That was some three years ago, and Beyond All Price still sells well.  Today, I even had an inquiry from someone who would like to do narrate the book in audio format, so it looks like the tail continues to stretch.

The best news today, however, is that I'm beginning to detect another long tail.  The Road to Frogmore has been published since November, 2012. Sales have been steady but slow.  There just hasn't been a "buzz" about the book -- until now.  When things happen in threes, I am superstitious enough to take notice, and Frogmore has had its three already this week.  A couple of days ago I mentioned the quarterly online magazine of Military Writers Society of America, which revealed that The Road to Frogmore had been chosen as Book of the Month for last November.  And then a second commendation included it on the Author of the Year's recommended reading list for Winter 2014.  

And then, today, I woke to an announcement that the Association of Independent Authors had decided to feature the trailer for Frogmore on its front page for the month of January. (You can view it here).  Already there has been a small flurry of new sales, as word of the book begins to spread out.  This true story of  a strong and determined woman, who almost single-handedly established successful schools for newly freed slaves in South Carolina during the Civil War, is not fluffy reading, but it tells an inspiring story.  Those looking for both entertainment and enlightenment will find them here.

To celebrate and encourage Frogmore to become another Long-Tailed Cat, I am cutting the price of the Kindle edition.  Starting tomorrow and for the rest of the month, the electronic version will cost just $1.99 instead of $3.99. And if you bought the paper version from Amazon, (or if you plan to do so now, ) you can claim your matching Kindle edition for just $.99.  Let's keep the tail growing!

















Laura Towne: Misfit

Thanks to all the great folks who showed up at the St. Helena Library today to hear me chat about Laura Towne.  Here's a more formal account of what we talked about.

For all of her adult life (and much of her childhood as well), Laura Towne had known that she did not fit in with the society around her.  If someone had told her that in 150 years she would be touted as an example of a woman who made a permanent difference in the world, she would not have believed it.  Nor would she have believed that anyone would ever write a book about her life.  She knew she was different; she just didn’t know that being different was going to make her important. I see her as an example of how women can change their world.  She deserves to be honored during Women’s History Month.  Here’s why.
 
Laura’s world demanded that women fulfill one of two roles in society.  She could either marry and become a dutiful wife and doting mother, or she could remain in the family home as the caretaker of her parents, the support of her brothers and sisters, the family anchor. Laura wanted no part of either one.  She could not bring herself to be subordinate to a man, especially one who was not as intelligent or capable as she was.  She loved children but wanted to encourage them to flee the nest, not hover over them as protector. Her mother died when she was nine, her father when she was in her early twenties, so there was no need to take on the role of caregiver.  And she had no interest in encouraging her siblings to lean on her any more than they already did. She cherished a close friendship with another woman whom she considered her equal in every way.  She dreamed of sharing their lives, but knew that while Philadelphia society might allow two women to live together, they would never give their relationship the status of family. She thought she would always live a solitary existence, without the bonds of love and affection that sustained other people.
 
Laura wanted a career, even though she knew that there were few career options open to her.  She petitioned for years to be allowed to attend medical school, and finally found admission in Philadelphia’s first medical school for women.  There she was allowed to attend academic classes and lectures, but barred from any clinical experience on the grounds that women should never see the body of a man other than their husbands or children. Frustrated with the lack of contact with patients, she gave up her pursuit of a medical degree and turned to the study of homeopathic medicine, which put her even further outside the boundaries of acceptable careers. Most trained doctors looked down on homeopathy as quackery, but Laura found much to like.  It allowed her to be in close contact with her patients; treating them as individuals, not  cases; offering comfort and palliative care; and avoiding the harshness of dangerous medicines, quick amputation, or blood-letting.
 
Laura was a non-conformist when it came to religion, too.  In a city involved with evangelism in all its many forms, as well as a city that had been founded by Quakers, Laura was a Unitarian.  What was that?  The question bothered other people, too.  Unitarians believed in one God.  Only one, not a Trinity, which seemed to make them non-Christians.  They disliked dogma, official church doctrine, and any and creeds.  They believed religion should be a quiet and private affair.  They were ethical and reasonable, believers in free will, and flexible in their religious observances.  They were particularly irritating to traditional Christians because they denied the divinity of Jesus while following his teachings more closely than most Christians did.
 
Finally, there was the matter of politics.  Women did not have the right to vote and  were not expected to have political opinions.  They certainly were not expected to speak out about their views. But Laura was an abolitionist, and an outspoken one at that.  She was not afraid to express her hatred of slavery and demanded equality for all people, including women.  Abolitionists were usually northerners, but they were no more popular in the north they were in the south.  Workers feared an influx of free blacks would take away their jobs, while the wealthy feared attacks from those who had much less than they did. Laura the abolitionist was one of a very few uppity women who were hated by nearly everyone.

I'll post the second half of the talk tomorrow, so please come back then.