In honor of my coming October book release of “Elly Hays,” today’s Writer’s Corner will be about the book’s heroine, Elizabeth Hays Rodgers, and how she came to be the center of a novel.
She was the only daughter of Samuel Hays and Elizabeth Priscilla Crawford, born in North Carolina in 1774. She spent her young childhood in the unrest of the Revolutionary War. She married when she was sixteen, and after twenty-one years of marriage and eleven children, her husband decided to uproot the family from Tennessee and start a new life in the Mississippi Territory. Considering what they were walking into, I had to write her story. A portion of it is below. It will help you understand that area of the country at that time in history.
The (unedited) Prologue
In 1811, America was on the verge of war. The victory in the Revolutionary War gave Americans their independence, but the newly formed country had many unresolved issues. Americans had a vast frontier to settle and they considered the land now known as Canada to be part of their land. They wanted to expand northward and westward, but the British joined forces with the Native Indians in an attempt to prevent the Americans from expanding in either direction.
The British had also begun restricting America’s trade with France and the mighty Royal Navy ruled the seas. The Royal Navy had more than tripled in size due to their war with France, and they needed sailors. They captured American merchant ships off the coast of America and forced the men with British accents to join the ranks of the Royal Navy, proclaiming they were not American, but indeed British. Kidnappings and power struggles in shipping ports like New Orleans loomed over the newly formed United States.
The British not only invaded the southern coastal cities of the United States, but also the eastern seaboard, attacking Baltimore and New York, and burning Washington D.C. to the ground. The War of 1812 is historically referred to as the second war for independence. It was the battle for boundaries and identity for the Americans.
Sadly, the Native American Indians had the most to lose in the power struggle. Shawnee warrior Tecumseh was but a child when he witnessed his father brutally murdered by a white frontiersman. His family moved from village to village and witnessed each destroyed at the hands of the white men during and after the American Revolution. As a young teen, following the Revolution, he formed a band of warriors who attempted to block the expansion of the white man into their territory, but the effort saw no lasting result. Conflict with the white man was a battle he had fought all his life, and as a warrior now in his early forties, he knew the stakes were high for the Indians in the coming battle. He traveled the southeast, coaxing the numerous Indian nations to unite against the white man, promising help from the British in the form of weapons and ammunition, and offering reinstatement of the Indian’s lost lands upon victory. Tecumseh’s prophet, who traveled with him into Creek territory, forecasted a victory, foreseeing no Creeks being wounded or killed in the battle.
In the Eastern Mississippi Territory, which later became the state of Alabama, the Creek Indians were divided. Many Creek villages had been trading with the white man for years and participated in civilization programs offered by the United States government. These Creeks had been taught the ways of the white man. They spoke English, could read and write, and even incorporated white man’s tools into their daily lives. They traded or were given gifts of plows, looms, and spinning wheels, and had no qualms with the white man. Many had married whites, and they did not want to join in the fight.
In opposition, many villages joined with Tecumseh, for they wanted to maintain their way of life, claiming the white man’s ways would destroy their culture. They had witnessed the white man encroaching on their lands, destroying their forests and villages, and polluting their streams. And probably, some suspected the white man’s intent was not co-existence but domination, for they had seen this come to fruition in the treatment of the black slaves.
In 1811 and 1812, tribal tensions were growing due to these differences in beliefs, and this caused a great war in the Creek nation called The Red Stick War. It was a civil war fought between the Creek people, but by 1813, it expanded to include the American frontiersmen and the U.S. government. At the height of the War of 1812, the Creeks were at war with nearly everyone, including their own people.
It was in this turmoil that a white farming family moved from their home in Tennessee to the fertile farmlands of the eastern Mississippi Territory, a place known today as Clarke County, Alabama. James Rodgers, his wife Elly, and their eleven children unknowingly entered a hornet’s nest.
If you have read the first book in the Okatibbee Creek series, “Okatibbee Creek,” you will be familiar with its heroine, Mary Ann Rodgers. “Elly Hays” is about Mary Ann’s paternal grandmother, Elizabeth Hays Rodgers, better known as Elly. If you have not read any of the Okatibbee Creek series, they are a collection of stories about one family and the strong women of our past. These are the real-life stories of my grandmothers, aunts, and cousins, but if you live in the U. S., they could also be the stories of your female ancestors – the women who fought for us, for our safety, our lives, and our freedom, and who sacrificed everything with the depth of their love and their astounding bravery.
“Elly Hays“ will be release October 2013 in paperback, Kindle, and Nook.