This past summer, like many other people, my husband and I finally have the opportunity to escape. COVID certainly put an end to travel for the past year, but it was time to spread our wings. We are (sadly) aging. Our hikes aren't as far, we don't carry heavy backpacks anymore, or scale mountainsides the way we used to, but whenever I get to visit the American West, I'm rejuvenated. Clean, pine-scented air that's crisp in both morning and evening, the sounds of owls and coyotes at night, and huckleberry pie.
Several months ago, I shared a blog on a man of vision--Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson had an eye on the American frontier and sent two extremely gutsy men out to explore it. Famous for their Corps of Discovery, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark journeyed from St. Louis all the way to what is now the Washington coast and back. Jefferson hoped they'd find a direct waterway to the Pacific, and though that didn't happen, their exploration turned out to be the most memorable journey in American history. Their plethora of discoveries, from plant life to new species of animals helped create what became the Westward Expansion movement in the 19th century.
Lewis & Clark's exploration was fantastic, to be sure. But it led me to ask some questions. What happened AFTER their journey west? What became of them? And even more importantly, how did their invaluable journals finally become The Journals of Lewis & Clark? And who was involved in that process? Ever since November of 2020, I've been piecing together my next project, hoping to answer some of these questions. However, my protagonist will not be Lewis OR Clark, but a young girl by the name of Julia Hancock.
So, today, I want my readers to meet Julia!
Julia Hancock was the daughter of a Revolutionary War hero, George Hancock. She and her family lived in a small but vibrant community called Fincastle, Virginia. At the end of the 18th century, Fincastle had become the county seat of Botetourt County, named after a beloved British Colonial governor, Lord Botetourt.
The portrait of Julia on the right is the only known surviving likeness of her that dates from her lifetime. Sadly, she didn't live a long life. However, it was certainly an intriguing one. This fine work is shared by permission of the Missouri Historical Society Museum in St. Louis.
The Hancock family lived in a splendid Federalist-style mansion, known as Santillane.
Though much of the home was destroyed by fire in around 1811-12, the kitchen (at the right) survived. It's the oldest part of the home, dating from the 1790's.
Nowadays, the home is privately owned and continues to be a jewel in Fincastle's crown. Julia grew up here, along with her two sisters and younger brother, George, Jr. She was even married at the house.
Local lore from the area clings to an amusing story about a fated meeting between Julia and a soon-to-be famous red-headed gentleman--William Clark. That tale and the rest of Julia's compelling story will be a part of my next novel, because Julia eventually became Julia Hancock CLARK.
So please join me as I continue sharing occasional bits and pieces of my new project. Just like Marc Antony, Julia and William had their weaknesses and faults. Yet, like anyone growing up in the American frontier, their story is full of intrigue and Julia is faced with bolstering her own courage as she matures and finds herself in the burgeoning and often fearsome town of St. Louis.
People in early 19th century America were often a scruffy but gallant lot. Where Fincastle had once been a frontier town, now St. Louis became the rough and tumble center, where French culture, Native American tradition, the stubborn courage of frontiersmen, and a young woman from Virginia blended into the great American melting-pot.
I'm pleased to say that I'm well on my way to draft #4, and am mighty excited at the way my plot and characters are coming along. I'll continue to share tidbits along the way, hoping to whet my readers' appetites.
Read ON, everyone!