In the writing room right now ...

In the writing room right now ... I am working on book #3 in the Winds of Freedom series, a teen adventure series set in the 1850s in North Danville, Vermont. My 1852 Vermont adventure THIS ARDENT FLAME is scheduled for June 2021 publication with Five Star/Cengage -- I will give you updates and early order information as soon as I know! I'm also writing a memoir; revising a mystery; in the midst of a novel about a grandmother and her granddaughter; and always writing poems. Yes, I guess I do like multi-tasking! How about you?

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Unpacking a Vintage Postcard: The Little Revelations of Research

My husband Dave was the main collector of vintage postcards here. With a dozen want lists, ranging among his passions of Vermont history, AT&T founder and Lyndonville experimental farmer and philanthropist Theodore Newton Vail, the village of Gilman, and Jewish themes, he spent hours roaming the online listings, and something intriguing arrived in the mail most mornings.

It's taken me time to absorb his tasks in with mine, since his death two years ago. But I am now hunting postcards when I have time. I picked up this one for its charming "Bird's Eye View of West Derby, Vt." (which is now part of Newport, Vermont), thinking we might not have the image itself among his Newport and Derby postcards.

And then, of course, the back of the card drew me in.

It's hard to read, scrawled in pencil and overlaid with a Newport (Vt.) postmark. Even the postmark year is difficult to parse, though we can see it comes from the years when a postcard traveled for the cost of a penny stamp. Even the stamp is a challenge for my aging eyes! But with the aid of a lighted magnifier, I read "Balboa 1513" and marveled that this U.S. stamp commemorated the Spanish explorer's claiming of the Pacific Ocean on behalf of his nation.

The message, once you turn it upright, reads as follows:

July 17 - '15

Dear friend You card rec'd this a.m. Was so glad to know you'd not forgotten me. I'm getting stronger every day and hope you are also. It was so nice of Leola to see me off. I was about sick for three days after coming home. Very sincerely, Mrs. Kimball

I puzzled over the address for a while, and came up with Mrs. B. W. McCosco, 54 Concord Ave., St. Johnsbury Vt.  However, I thought I probably had the name wrong, since I'd never heard that name before. So I started pulling up town listings from the early 1900s. It didn't take long to realize that McCosco was indeed a local surname, and here's what I found:

Mrs. Maude C. McCosco was a teacher who boarded at 159 Railroad Street in St. J. She was the second wife of Basil Winfred McCosco (born in West Danville in 1872, died in St. J in 1920). Her marriage took place in 1912, and her name before the marriage was Winifred Maude Blair Clifford (she lived from 1879 to 1967).

Note that her postcard was addressed using her husband's initials, B. W.; also note that she was listed in the town as a "boarder" just a few years after her marriage. I wonder now ... had Basil left her alone for some reason? What caused him to die at the relatively young age of 48? Which years did Maude teach school, and where?

Which just goes to show: The more you pull out the clues from a postcard, the more mysteries you open up in response.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Vermont History Comes Alive -- on the Pages, and in Short Videos

Photo by Darcie McCann

A huge joy in my writing life is researching and writing articles for the North Star Monthly that focus on remarkable people of this region of Vermont, whose lives and adventures have become part of our history.

Many people ask me, "How did you get the idea to look into that one?"

So I've started a series of short videos on "where this story came from." If you're curious, you can check them out at my YouTube page, or go directly to one of these:

The Fur Farms of Vermont

Pioneering Aeronauts of the NEK (Northeast Kingdom of Vermont)

I'll add another each month. Hope you enjoy these!

Cover Release! THIS ARDENT FLAME, Publication in June 2021

 I love this cover design from Five Star/Cengage -- it certainly tells you that the protagonists in THIS ARDENT FLAME are women! In this case, they are teens, taking on their share of putting the abolition of slavery front and center for Americans, especially Vermonters, in 1852. You already met Alice Sanborn in The Long Shadow (Book 1 of Winds of Freedom). Join her as she meets Caroline, whose return to North Upton startles Alice into recognizing how limited her own world has been.

Now, of course, I'm writing book 3 of Winds of Freedom, set in 1854, and featuring Almyra Alexander. You'll want to watch for her arrival, too, in THIS ARDENT FLAME.

Looking forward to sharing the new novel with you soon!

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Lemonade from Pandemic Lemons: Here Come the Ebooks!

Although hardcover publishing for my next book is delayed until June 2021, Speaking Volumes has created an ebook of The Long Shadow, my 1850 Vermont adventure novel. A new cover accompanies the publication, and I love it! 

It's wonderful to be able to share more of my work via ebook versons now. And there will be other novels soon to come.

Monday, November 16, 2020

"Aging in Place": Eliza Ann Ide Henry, Wife of a Timber Baron

Because I live on the Vermont side of the Connecticut River, I focus more on the history of the Green Mountain State. But when we're talking about the decades of timber harvesting, both sides of the river have complex and fascinating stories to tell.

For the Vermont side, the books by Waterford native Robert E. Pike, Tall Trees, Tough Men and Spiked Boots, narrate the winter lives spent in the northern forests, followed by the perilous spring adventures of bringing the logs down the swollen rivers. River log transport ended on the Connecticut as Waterford watched construction of the Comerford Dam in 1930. It can still be witnessed on occasion in Maine, but the risks outweigh the benefits and need most of the time.

 On the New Hampshire side, J. E. (James Everell) Henry undertook construction of railroads that penetrated deep into the forested landscape. Not only did his timing mesh with the willingness to spread out the rail network, but it also coincided with the use of shorter logs that could fit onto rail cars.

Littleton, NH, author Mike Dickerman compiles material on Henry, along with a vast knowledge of the high peaks of northern New Hampshire. In August 2014, he visited the Waterford Historical Society to talk about Henry and his own book on this ambitious and accomplished leader.

Today, as Dickerman prepares a new book on history of the high peaks, he shared a photo of the Waterford woman who would marry J. E. Henry: Eliza Ann Ide (daughter of Joseph and Almira), who was 20 years old when this photo was taken. Her marriage would follow two years later.

Eliza Ann Ide, 1912, before marrying J.E. Henry.

Since the photo was taken in 1852, it's a perfect mesh with the historical fiction series I'm writing, Winds of Freedom. I can absorb from this image of Eliza's face a reminder of both the lack of experience and the determination to enfold life that so many of our New England young women combined at age 20 in the nineteenth century. It reminds me, too, of my own early adult years, the mistakes and successes, the surprises, the constant learning, from kitchen to garden to babies to how a marriage works and how to sustain love over the long term. (That takes a lot of learning!)

Mike Dickerman also shared this photo of Eliza (Ide) Henry taken 60 years later, in 1912 -- I think she looks younger than her 80 years in the photo, and clearly she's still industrious and creative.

Eliza Ann Henry, 1912, after her husband's death.


It seems to me that in this pandemic year, as we shelter in place while waiting for medical science to develop the vaccines we so desperately need, we mustn't overlook that we are also "aging in place." Such a close relationship with place is a traditional resource and value of this northern area, where family roots may go back a century and more, and even newcomers begin to bond with the terrain, the light, the plants and animals, as they struggle through their early seasons here. It's been a joke to "city folks" that we in rural areas talk about the weather so much ... but it defines each day's opportunities and necessities. So we have to pay attention.

Living beyond the years of a beloved spouse or child also change our relationship with time, in my observation. Instead of the calendar being significant for upcoming milestones, it has more to say about counting from major events: I am in my second year after my husband Dave's death. Through the long powerful rope of love and "missingness," I am tethered to what has been an anchor for me. 

 In the 1912 photo, Eliza had been a widow for only days or months. I wonder how she saw her past, and how she looked ahead. She would live nearly 20 years longer, dying at age 99 in Pasadena, California, so at some point she clearly decided to stir up excitement in her golden years, and travel across the nation (by rail, I trust!). 

That's a good reminder for today: We are sheltering in place, and aging in place -- but the years ahead will include freedom from the pandemic, and amazing adventures, if we choose. 

[Hope you'll make time to browse more of my tales here of historical research, writing, and life! Tap the link to reach the rest of the material:]

Sunday, November 8, 2020

"Mining" a Postcard: Speedwell Farms, T. N. Vail's Model Agricultural Effort in Lyndonville, and Margaret Bean

Front of postcard

I have a lot of reasons to watch for information about Speedwell Farms. This agricultural effort of Theodore Newton Vail, whose telegraph-related enterprise skills empowered AT&T in the early 20th century, was a model of modern agriculture for its times. Through a series of local connections, T. N. Vail, a quintessential "out-of-stater," bought farmland in Lyndonville, Vermont, and developed it in both size and farming methods.
Back of postcard

Following the highest moral code of his time, Vail contributed heavily to his Vermont town, and both Lyndon Institute and Lyndon State College, now NVU Lyndon, owe their strengths to his support.

Vail's life and philanthropy were the major collecting interest for my husband Dave Kanell, enlivening his retirement years with an endless quest for related materials. Last week I noticed what's called a "real photo postcard" set at Vail's Speedwell Farms, and being sold online. The price was higher than Dave would ever, ever have paid, so with great regret, I didn't purchase the original, but the two photos here show the front and back of the card.

I have another connection to this beyond Dave's passion for it: Speedwell Farms took its name from the New Jersey ironworks that the Vail family established in the previous century, in Morristown there -- a place I often visited as a child with my mother, who loved its historic houses and battlefield. Talk about nostalgia!

Finally, this postcard was mailed to Miss Margaret (spelled Margrett) Bean in "Watterford Vermont" -- that is, my own town of Waterford. It's postmarked in both Lyndonville and Waterford -- on June 30, 1908, at 8 pm, in Lyndonville, and then the next morning (July 1) in Waterford. I transcribe the writing as follows: 

June 30 Lyndonville Speedwell Farms / Just a line I am well hope you are the same is Al at home yet good buy from EOK

[If you see it differently and have a reason to think you know the sender, let me know!]

In documents archived online, I can find  Miss Margaret Bean teaching in Waterford in 1925. She was quite young when this card was sent, though, only six years old at the time! Her parents were Ervin Lester Bean (a farmer; 1873-1957) and Orpha P. Kerwin Bean (1879-1929), both born just across the state line in New Hampshire. Margaret married Warren Weston Whitney in 1925, and lived in Littleton and then Lancaster, NH, where her burial stone stands.

Since one of my 5-great grandfathers is Jonathan Bean of Candia, NH, I'm especially curious about Margaret and may pursue this again later! 

Most important for me today, though, is the pleasure of finding a Speedwell Farms image, and enjoying the link between Lyndonville and Waterford residents in 1908.

1905 Waterford VT directory

Sunday, October 11, 2020

My Eight-Greats Grandmother Valued Her Clothes!

It's Vermont Archives Month, and that's taken me into sorting many letters and photos from my mother's side of the family, and updating the family tree a bit further. 

Women's clothing in the 1850s and 1890s keeps coming back onto my research schedule, for a couple of books that I'm writing, one set in each decade. (The 1850s one will be book 3 in my Winds of Freedom series, published by Five Star/Cengage.)

But I was totally amazed to discover today the will of my 9-great grandmother Sarah Littlefield Sawyer, 1649-1734, who lived in Wells, Maine, when it was still part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Check out item 12 in particular!

If, like me, you have no idea of what "calaminco" means here -- check out this handy article by Leimomi Oakes, a textile and fashion historian, who says "Calamanco (also spelled callimanco, calimanco, and kalamink) is a thin fabric of worsted wool yarn which could come in a number of weaves: plain, satin, damasked, and was even brocaded in floral, striped and checked designs.  The surface was glazed or calendered (pressed through hot rollers)."

The Will of Sarah Sayer

   To All People to whom these Prestns shall come Greeting. Know ye, that I Sarah Sayer of Wells in the County of York in the Province of the Massachusets Bay New England Relique of William Sawyer late of Wells aforsd Decesd (thô weak of Body, yet of sound & well Disposing mind & Iudgment) Do Committing my sperit in the first place unto God the Father of it thrô Jesus Christ, & my Body into the hands of my Executors hereafter named to be by them decently Interred in hopes of A Blessed Resurrection, Dispose of the Temporall Estate with which God has been pleased to bless me in the manner following vizt

   1. My Will is that all my Iust & honest Debts, together with my Funerall Charges shall be paid out of my Estate by my Executors hereafter Named.

   2 I Give & bequeath unto my son John Wells Eight Pounds to be paid him by my Executors within six months after my Decese. I Will also that A Bond of thirteen pounds given by him to me, shall be freely surrendred up unto him by my Executors within the aforsd term of six months after my Dece'se And I Will that the Eight pounds I herein give unto this my sd son John Wells be laid out by him in procureing A Funerall Coat after my Disc.

   3. I Give & Bequeath unto my son Thomas Wells Eight pounds to procure A Funerall Coat after my Decese the which sd sum shall be paid him by my Executors within six months after my Decease. I will also that A Bond of thirteen pound given from him to me shall be freely surrendred up to him after my Dece'se.

   4. I Give unto my Daughter Patience Clark five pounds (besides five pounds I have already given her) to be paid unto her by my Executors within six months after my Decease.

   5. I Give & Bequeath unto my Daughter Sarah Sayer of Newbury two pounds & four pounds A piece to Each of her two sons Vizt Jonathan Sibley & Samll Sibley these several sums to be paid vnto my sd Daughter Sarah Sawyer & her aforesd two sons by my Executors within six months after my Decease.

   6. I Give & Bequeath unto my son Francis Sawyer thirty pounds to be paid unto him within six Months after my Decease by my Executors.

   7. I Give & Bequeath unto my Grand son William son of my son Daniel Sayer De'csd thirty pounds, to be paid him by my Executors within six months after my Decease.

   8. I Give & Bequeath unto my Daughter Hannah Chesley thirty pounds to be paid her by my Executors within six Months after my Decease.

   9. I Give & Bequeath unto my Daughter Ruth Sampson Thirty pounds to be paid her by my Executors within six Months after my Decease.

   10. I Give & Bequeath unto my great grand-Daughter Mary Clarke Daughter of my grand son Nathall Clarke A Certain Feather Bed that has an homespone Tick to be Delivered to her by my Executors within six Months after my Decease.

   11. I Will that what ever Use or Interest shall be found due upon my Bonds that any of my Children or Grand Children have Obliged themselves unto me by, shall be freely wholy and absolutely remitted released & given up unto such from whom it may be found due by my Executors at my Decease.

   12. I Give & Bequeath unto my four Daughters my wearing Cloths as follows vizt I give to my Daughter Patience Clark A black Calaminco suit & my black blew searge Petty Coat. I give to my Daughter Sarah Sawyer my silk Crape suit & my red & Yellow under Petty Coat. I give unto my Daughter Hannah Chesley my silk suit. I give to my Daughter Ruth Sampson my striped Calaminco suit, & A striped Calaminco Gown & A black silk Petty Coat. all the Rest of my Cloths I will shall be Equally Divided among these my four Daughters. And if either of these my Daughters shall Decease before I shall, then I will that their Daughters shall have such Clothes as their Mother would have had by Vertue of this my Will if they were Liveing.

   13. I Will that four pounds shall be paid by Executors unto the Church of Christ in Wells, within six months after my Decease, to be distributed by them among some of the poor Members of sd Church.

   14. I Will all my Estate of what nature or kind so ever not already disposed of in this my Last Will & Testament unto my two grandsons & my two Daughters hereafter mentioned vizt Joseph Sayer, Wm Sayer, Hannah Chesley & Ruth Sampson to be delivered up unto them & equally Divided amongst them within six months after my Decease.

   15. finally I Do hereby Ordain Constitute & appoint my son Francis Sayer & my Grand-sons Joseph Sayer & William Sayer to be the sole Executors of this my last Will & Testament and Do hereby revoke & Disannull all former Wills & Testaments heretofore made by me & Declare this to be my last will & testament : As Witness my hand and seal this twenty seventh Day of April Anno Domini 1734. Annoque R R Georgii secundi magnæ Brittanniæ &c septimo.

Signed sealed & pronounced
   in presence of
   Hans Dalzel
   Jeremiah Storer
   Jeremiah storer Jur

NB : the words or grand Chil-
   dren were interlined be-
   tween, ye sixth & seventh
   Lines from ye top of the
   second page before signing
   & ye word between will &
   all in ye thirty first line from
   ye top of the second page
   was erased before signing
   Sarah Sayer : (seal)

   Probated, 10 Feb. 1734-5. Inventory returned 2 June 1735, at £540: 2: 6, by John Storer, Samuel Wheelwright and Daniel Morrison, appraisers.

[Source: Maine Wills, 1640-1760 (Portland, Me., 1887), p. 356]