“I, John Culpepper” is FREE on Kindle through 4/19. Grab a copy and relax with a good book this weekend. Click here – “I, John Culpepper” at Amazon.
Below is the blurb and a snippet from the book.
I, John Culpepper
John Culpepper was born into a privileged childhood, surrounded by abundant wealth, vast land holdings, and stately English manors. As he grew, he was expected to follow family tradition—attend law school and serve in Parliament, following which he would retire to a quiet life as a country gentleman.
John, however, had different desires. He longed to captain a mighty ship, to hear the snap of the sails, to taste the salty spray on his lips. To follow his dreams, John would have to risk being disinherited by his unyielding father. He would have to defy family convention. He would ultimately be forced to choose between the woman he loved and his mistress—the sea.
I, John Culpepper is a work of historical fiction based on the life of the 17th-century man historians refer to as John Culpepper the Merchant. He is believed to be the progenitor of the modern-day American Culpeppers. He was my 10th great-grandfather.
Here’s a snippet from the day John was born. The photo is the replicas of the ships mentioned in the scene. These replicas were built in the late 1900s and are currently docked on the James River in the Jamestown settlement where the original ships were heading. Road trip! Let’s go!
1606, Blackwall, London
“Master Culpepper! Master Culpepper!” the servant boy shouted over the bells clanging from the church steeple. He pulled the scratchy scarf tightly around his neck to ward off the chill as he pushed his way through the masses gathered on the foggy banks of the Thames.
The crowd had been gathering on the wharf for nearly two days to witness the departure of the ships, and they were prepared for a spectacle unlike any they had seen before. When the tide came in, the three ships carrying one hundred forty passengers and sailors would depart England on an exciting adventure. The air smelled of salt and tar and sweat. This was a remarkable place, a magical place, where the preparations were as exciting at the coming voyage. The anticipation in the air was nearly as thick as the fog.
The boy stopped for a moment as a wooden cask was rolled across the cobblestone in front of him. He watched as workers carefully rolled the barrel up the tilted gangplank. He remained frozen in the middle of the bustling crowd, staring at the ship. He had never seen anything so majestic in all his twelve years, and his jaw dropped at her sheer size. She was an enormous castle-like structure, at least eighty feet in length, her belly bulging at the side where the last of the cargo was being loaded in. Crates and boxes were continually being carried up the gangplank, where they disappeared into the ship’s dark interior. The deck above the cargo area was much narrower and the boy imagined that’s where the sailors would remain during the voyage, climbing masts and hoisting sails. Circling the spiderweb of hemp ropes and yardarms, seagulls cawed as if singing along with the rhythmical clanging of a nearby metal object. The boy scanned the scene for the source of the sound and noticed a blind beggar sitting on the cobblestone near the bow of the ship, tapping a stick on a metal bowl.
Behind the ship floated a second ship, nearly as large as the first, and behind that loomed a third. Each hosted its own cast of sailors, supplies, vagrants, and gangplanks. As wavelets gently raised and lowered the vessels, moans of protest arose from the taut ropes, and the weathered wood creaked with each stomp of a sailor’s boot. Nearby, two mangy hounds barked and growled over some fish scraps, bringing the boy’s attention back to his task at hand. Remembering why he had come, he yelled, “Master Culpepper!” He spun around and around looking for the man, weaving between horses, carts, trunks, and sailors shouting commands. He darted in and out of the crowd, making sure he didn’t bump into any wealthy gentlemen, recognizable by their long cloaks adorned with colorful silk threads.
In April, King James had created the Virginia Company, which would finance sailings to Virginia and Plymouth with the aim of settling colonies and profiting from the land’s abundant natural resources. The aristocracy funded the expeditions with the expectation of making an exorbitant profit. The three ships embarking from Blackwall on this day would sail to Virginia and bring back riches. There were rumors of gold, silver, and gems merely washing up on the shore for the taking. If nothing else, there was surely timber to be harvested. The trees in England had long been felled and the rising price of timber would certainly bring the investors a hefty return.
After they finished loading supplies and the morning fog had dissipated, the ships would raise their sails and ride the tide down the Thames. They would enter the English Channel and cross the great ocean and return by summertime.
The boy bobbed in and out of the crowd, searching for his master.
“Who are you searching for, lad?” a man in a ruffled collar asked.
“Master Culpepper,” the boy replied, removing his hat and revealing his dirty blond hair, which was sticking this way and that like a wheat field in a mighty windstorm. He twisted the wool hat in his hands.
“Johannes or Tom?”
“Johannes Culpepper, sir.”
“I saw him down by the front ship—the Discovery—only moments ago. He was standing right on the dock.”
The boy nodded, replaced his cap, and shoved through the workers and onlookers toward the front ship. As he passed the first ship, he looked at the name written on her side and sounded out the letters. He couldn’t make any sense of the words Susan Constant, but when he reached the second ship, he could read God…speed. He wondered if the Godspeed was true to her name. If he were to sail, he would rather sail on the Godspeed and get there faster. From what he understood, it was a two-month voyage if the weather was bonny, maybe four months if the ship ran into rough seas.
He had once spent a morning in a small fishing boat and instantly became green with sickness that lasted for days. He didn’t think he would be able to survive the time it would take to sail to Virginia. He gawked at the bow of the Godspeed as he ran past, witnessing a young lad about his age. The sailor dripped with sweat, even in the chill of the damp morning air, as he coiled ropes and folded sails. What a great adventure it would be to sail to Virginia, but alas, the boy would never get to do such amazing things. He was a servant, a gift from His Majesty King James I to Johannes Culpepper. He would always be a servant, but perhaps someday he would be fortunate enough to serve the king. Even though Master Culpepper was good to him, he wished to someday live at court and be somebody. At least he had the slimmest of chances. His sister had been placed in the kitchen of some castle in Wales. She would never be anything more than a scullery maid. Women would never hold a place in society. They were not welcomed on this voyage, either.
He hopped up and down, unsuccessfully trying to look over the crowd. “Master Culpepper!” he called.
A man turned and pointed. “Culpepper is right over there, son.”
“Thank you, sir.”
The boy sprinted in the general direction, and when he pushed through a couple workers conversing on the dock, he saw him.
The boy ran up behind Johannes Culpepper and patted the back of his master’s arm, hopping up and down. “Master Culpepper!”
Johannes turned and looked down at the boy, his square jaw set and his blue-gray eyes burrowing into the lad. “What is it, boy? Why are you making such a commotion?”
The boy panted, out of breath from running. “Master Culpepper, m’lady is havin’ the baby, sir!”
Johannes’s face turned red as he glanced around the crowd to see if anyone was eavesdropping. When he saw no one was, he folded his arms across his chest and stroked his beard. “You came all this way to tell me that?”
“Very good, boy. You run along home now.”
The boy didn’t move. How could his master not be excited about this news? Did he not want to return home and see his wife and child? Was there anything the boy could say to convince the man to accompany him back to the house?
“Go on. Run along.” Johannes waved the boy off with a flip of his ringed fingers and abruptly turned his back.
“Yes, sir.” The lad backed up, keeping his eyes on his master, wondering what he would tell the governess when he returned home without his master in tow. He had ridden nearly four hours to get to Blackwall this morning, most of it in the dark as the sun had not even risen when he left. He would have a four-hour return trip to think of something. He turned and walked back in the direction from which he had come.
Here’s a little background on my series – The Stuckey’s Bridge Trilogy.
My childhood: I grew up in Meridian, Mississippi and heard the legend of Stuckey’s Bridge my whole life. It actually began in a book about the area written in the 1970s. The local paper, The Meridian Star, picked up on the legend from the book and the story spread like wildfire. The bridge instantly became THE place to party on the weekends, searching for ghosts and frightening girls into cuddling closer. (If you want to go there: head south out of Meridian on Interstate 59. Turn right at exit 142, then a quick left onto Meehan-Savoy Road. Travel 2.2 miles until you see a dirt road on your left. That is Stucky Bridge Road. The bridge will be about two miles down the dirt road. It is now closed, so you’ll have to turn around to leave. After you read the following legend, you may not want to go.)
The legend goes: In the late 1800s, a former member of the Dalton Gang came to Lauderdale County, Mississippi to find his fortune. He opened an inn near the Chunky River and stood on the old wooden bridge at night, flagging down merchants with his lantern, offering them a warm bed and a hot meal. Supposedly, he murdered his victims in their sleep and buried their bodies on the banks of the river. In 1901, the Virginia Bridge and Iron Company began rebuilding the old bridge and the bodies were discovered. The innkeeper, Old Man Stuckey as he is known to the locals, was hung by a posse from the iron rails of the new bridge.
If you know me, you know I couldn’t stop searching until I figured out who this Old Man Stuckey really was…that became the first book in the Stuckey’s Bridge Trilogy – The Legend of Stuckey’s Bridge. (Check out the book trailer here…creepy!)
While writing the story, I didn’t want Old Man Stuckey to be alone all the time, so I had him run across a young boy named Levi. In the story, young Levi took on a creepiness all his own, and I received tons of emails and messages asking what Levi’s past was. As usual with my overactive imagination, I was more interested in his future than his past, so I wrote Stuckey’s Legacy: The Legend Continues. At the end of that book, Levi “got his” and the story became focused on the young woman Levi met during the story – Penelope Juzan.
Back to my childhood: There was a second legend around the area where I grew up. Supposedly there was an inn on Lake Juzan in the 1840s where an innkeeper murdered his guests for wealth, much like Old Man Stuckey. The man’s name was Pierre Juzan, and he dumped the bodies in the lake with the help of his Indian sidekick. Toward the end of the legend, one of them killed the other for the wealth of gold they had confiscated.
Side note: There were also a couple different accounts of trunks of confederate gold disappearing as they traveled through the area during the Civil War.
I thought all these stories had a similar thread, and I wondered if I could separate them or maybe combine them.
Back to the trilogy: I came to the conclusion that these legends were indeed different stories, but thought they were probably connected in some way. Those crazy ideas in my head became the third book in the trilogy, Stuckey’s Gold: The Curse of Lake Juzan.
These tales tickled me pink while writing them, and I hope you enjoy them too!
I began researching my ancestry as a teenager. I knew my Culpepper line came to America from England in the 1600s, and I knew they were wealthy land owners with much prestige in the English court, but I didn’t understand why they would give all that up to sail to an inhospitable land full of savage Indians, facing the possibility of shipwreck, starvation, and death. How did those aristocratic people end up as the modest family I knew in my youth in Mississippi? The journey to find these answers became a series of four books about my 10th great-grandfather, John Culpepper.
Follow the series as John rebels against his father, the English civil war destroys the family, John ends up as the family patriarch in the colony of Virginia, and finally, as John comes to terms with his life and his past. The first book in the series is I, JOHN CULPEPPER. The subsequent books are JOHN CULPEPPER THE MERCHANT, JOHN CULPEPPER ESQUIRE and CULPEPPER’S REBELLION.
Here’s the opening chapter of I, JOHN CULPEPPER, setting the stage with his tumultuous relationship with his dad.
“No! For the hundredth time, no!”
John looked down at the intricate grain of the walnut desk beneath his fingertips and shifted his weight to his other foot. He sighed, feeling his dreams disintegrate before his very eyes. The snap of the white sails, the taste of the salty spray on his lips, the smell of the tar that sealed the decks—the visions were quickly vanishing behind the thick fog of his father’s adamant disapproval. He pictured his mighty ship sinking into the black waters of condemnation, bubbling like a cauldron as it disappeared from sight. There was nothing he could do to change his father’s mind, and he wondered whatever possessed him to come to this man for assistance. He should have known better.
His father glared at John from behind the desk. He propped his elbow on the scrolled arm of the chair as his large hand methodically stroked his pointed beard. “Is there anything else?” he snapped.
John didn’t look up. He shook his head and mumbled, “No.” He turned and padded across the thick rug toward the door, listening to the man’s heavy breathing behind him. He reached for the brass doorknob, paused, and turned back. “You know I’ve always done everything you’ve asked of me. I went to school. I studied to be a lawyer. I did it all for you. I never wanted to practice law. I’d never be happy on the bench.”
“Happy? What makes you think life has anything to do with being happy? You are a Culpepper, and as such, you have an obligation to serve your family and your king in a manner befitting your station. This childish notion of owning a ship is nothing but rubbish.”
John released the doorknob and walked back toward his father’s desk. The intimidating man dwarfed the desk, his size exaggerated by the broad shoulders of his leather jerkin, yet he sat up taller in his chair in preparation for the quarrel to continue. It was a wasted gesture, as his opponent already knew the battle was lost.
John made sure he didn’t raise his voice. “Father, you have financed merchant ships for as long as I can remember. What difference does it make if I’m the one who owns the ship?”
“Culpeppers don’t own ships. I funded those expeditions as an investment—a losing investment, I might add.” He rose from his chair and his voice grew louder, echoing off the oak panels that lined the walls. “There has never been a Culpepper placed in a position of experiencing hunger and savages and shipwrecks, and there won’t be one now, not with my blood written on the purchase. I will not fund a ship for you, John, not now, not ever.” He pointed his finger in John’s face. “And if you somehow find a way to procure a ship, mark my words—I will disinherit and disown you. No son of mine will become a common sailor. I am finished with this conversation once and for all. Have I made myself clear?”
John exhaled, beaten. His shoulders slumped as he broke his father’s glare and dropped his eyes to the floor.
“John? Have I made myself clear?”
The recipient of 5-stars at Readers’ Favorite, I, JOHN CULPEPPER is available in paperback and Kindle at Amazon. CLICK HERE.
“In I, John Culpepper, you will be transported back to the time John lived and you will feel like you are a part of John’s life. The experience of reading this book was out of this world. … it is a magical experience and you will not want to miss it for anything! Amazing!” ~ Rabia Tanveer for Readers’ Favorite
If you haven’t yet heard about Old Man Stuckey, he’s a little like Dexter, but with less conscience and a lot more lovable. THE LEGEND OF STUCKEY’S BRIDGE got its start when I wondered about the real man behind the ghostly legend I grew up with in Mississippi. I got so many emails and letters asking about the secondary character, Levi, who is a little psychopath in his own right, I wrote the sequel, STUCKEY’S LEGACY: THE LEGEND CONTINUES. There were similar legends around the same time and the same place, so I pulled them all together and finished up the trilogy with STUCKEY’S GOLD: THE CURSE OF LAKE JUZAN. They are best if read in order, but can stand alone on their own.
Here’s a creepy scene featuring Old Man Stuckey in his younger days…
He stood silent and still for a long time, not knowing what to do next. It wasn’t like he had ever killed anyone before. He didn’t have this planned out. He was certain his father would beat him to a pulp when he found out. He stood with his back against the barn door, gazing down at his dead brother, and came up with a plan.
He gathered piles of hay and arranged them in mounds in the middle of the floor. He then pulled matches out of his coat pocket and set the hay ablaze. He added more hay. And more. The fire came to life and roared as he watched. Black smoke filled the air. He felt as angry as the fire looked. His brother deserved to die and to burn—in hell. This was as close as he could come to creating the real thing.
He felt the flames hot on his face, and the smoke made him cough. He covered his nose and mouth in the crook of his arm, and breathed through his sleeve as he watched the flames grow higher and larger. The fire crackled and hissed as it quickly raced up the dry wooden ladder into the storage loft above. There was nothing up there but last summer’s hay, which lit with a whooshing sound.
He looked up. The dimness of the barn had been replaced by a bright yellow glow. Within a few short minutes, the fire had spread all the way across the loft and the roof. While he watched the loft, he didn’t notice the fire had spread all around him, eating everything in sight. Even with his nose covered, he began to cough violently, and he made his way through the black smoke to the barn door.
He pulled on it. It wouldn’t budge. He pulled it again. It wouldn’t move an inch. His brother’s dead body was lying in a heap in front of the door, blocking his escape. He bent down and grabbed the arms and attempted to pull the body out of the way, but the dead weight was far too heavy for his small, slender frame. He gave up, coughing even harder, and tried to pull the door again. He was having trouble breathing and thought he should have planned this better. He was going to die in this barn with his brother.
Suddenly, he heard his mother’s voice outside. “Is anyone in there? Thomas? Wilson?” She pounded on the door.
“Ma, I’m in here. I can’t get the door open,” he yelled over the roar of the flames.
“Thomas, is that you? Pull the door!” She was screaming now, hysteria building.
“I am! It won’t open!”
The fire was thunderous; it was almost as loud as a train roaring down the tracks. He never realized fire made such a deafening noise. The flames spread quickly toward the door, licking at his feet. He looked behind him, and all he could see were yellow flames and black smoke.
“Push the door, Ma!”
He pulled the door as she pushed from the outside, and it inched open just enough for him to squeeze out. She grabbed his arm, and they ran about a hundred yards before they stopped and turned to look back at the barn. Black columns of smoke billowed into the sky, and the flames were a continuous rumble.
When he took his initial breath of fresh air, he coughed even harder. He wrapped his arms around his mother’s waist, buried his head into her bony shoulder, and hugged her tightly. She asked again if Wilson was also in the barn, and tried to pull away from him to go check. He coughed more through tears and hugged her even tighter. Again and again she tried to pull away from his grasp to go search for her other son, but he wouldn’t let go until he was sure the fire had erased all traces of his deed.
When the walls collapsed and the flames finally began to die down, he released his grip on his mother and said, “Thank you, Ma. I’m fine now.” He glanced at the smoldering rubble, then back at his mother, and added, “I don’t imagine Wilson is, though.” He turned toward the house and walked away, leaving her standing in the field with tears streaming down her smoke-stained cheeks.
A five-star recipient at Readers’ Favorite, THE LEGEND OF STUCKEY’S BRIDGE is available in paperback and Kindle at Amazon. CLICK HERE. Pick up a copy and root for the bad guy for a change. 🙂
Word on the street is Amazon will celebrate its 20th anniversary on July 12 and will kick off a mega sale sometime during the week. I’ve heard they have asked for overtime by their staff, hired some temps, and notified their carriers that the volume of packages will double.
Update: Amazon has confirmed a huge one-day sale called Prime Day on July 15. Lightning Deals, seven Deals of the Day, and according to Amazon, more deals than black Friday.
Well…cool! 7,305 days we’ve been together and I still love you, Amazon!
I’d like to take you back in time to the War of 1812 with a snippet of my book ELLY HAYS. Elly’s husband has decided to move the family from Tennessee to the Mississippi Territory, the land we know today as Alabama. He wants to get his family out of the way of the coming war. Little does he know, the Creek Indians living in the place he wants to go are in the middle of a civil war, so he is completely wrong about the family’s safety. Too bad they won’t find that out until they get there.
I’d like to offer you a FREE Kindle copy of ELLY HAYS while your shopping the sale at Amazon July 12-16. Click here to visit the ELLY HAYS Amazon page and bookmark it so you can return July 12-16 and get your FREE copy.
“So, what are you saying, James? You want to pack all of our belongings, our animals, and our children, leave Tennessee, and move to some wild Indian territory that’s not yet settled?”
He sipped his coffee and nodded. “Yes, that’s exactly what I want to do.”
“What about the children? What about their school?”
“We’ll do what we have to do, Elly. We’ll school them ourselves if that’s what it takes. This is a great opportunity, and the timing couldn’t be better. The government is selling that land for next to nothing, and we’ll have twice the property we have here. Our farm will be twice as large, earning twice the money. And honestly, with what’s going on in the North, I don’t think we should stay here any longer. It looks as if we’re going to declare war upon the British. They’re already fighting up there, and I’m afraid the fighting is going to move its way down here. I would rather school the children myself than to take a chance on them living in the middle of a conflict, or worse, dying in it.”
She looked at him in disbelief and didn’t know what to say. He had a tendency to exaggerate, so she didn’t know if he was being truthful or purposefully saying shocking things about the children’s welfare to get her to agree to move.
He continued. “During the revolution, my father was too old to fight, but he housed many soldiers who related vile tales of death and destruction. He told me stories of the horrors. Men who weren’t killed or injured in battle often starved and died anyway. Women and children were often caught in the crossfire. I don’t want to sit here and watch history repeat itself. The revolution gave us our independence, but the British are still dominating and oppressing us. We still don’t have the freedom we desire. That’s what they’re fighting for in the north—freedom. I agree with what they’re doing, but I don’t want my wife and children caught in the middle. I think there’s going to be a second revolution. After what my father told me about the first one, I can’t help but be fearful that this one is destined to be the same.”
“Yes, I know the stories. I’ve heard them myself. But I don’t know about moving, James.” She shook her head as she lifted her skirt to stand. She walked away from the table and placed her coffee cup on the counter. “I don’t know how to pack all of our things and start all over. It seems impossible.”
He sipped his coffee again and grimaced. It had grown cold. He placed the cup down on the table and looked at her. “I don’t think we have a choice, Elly. The war is coming. We have a good opportunity right in front of us to avoid the whole situation, to start fresh, and to keep the children safe.”
She leaned her back against the counter and placed her hands on her hips. “What about Indians? Aren’t there Indians there?”
“Yes, there are, but I’m sure they won’t be any problem. Other people live amongst them. And besides, we’ll be buying the land from the government, not from the Indians. It will be our land, fair and square. At least we won’t find ourselves caught in the crossfire because the Indians don’t have guns. From what I’ve heard, they live off the land and keep to themselves.”
She sighed, knowing he would not let this go. He wanted an answer right now, but she couldn’t give him the one he wanted. She looked across the room and stared out the wavy glass of the window for a few minutes, trying to decide what to say. After a while, she folded her arms and looked at her husband. “All right, I’ll make you a deal. You go and look at the land, and if it’s nice and there are no Indians, I’ll agree to move there.”
It is the story of young John Culpepper, whose only dream is to own a merchant ship. As you will see in the snippet below, his aristocratic father is not the most supportive. Some of the story occurs simultaneously with historical events we know well. The follow snippet happens on September 6, 1620.
Fourteen-year-old John stood on the banks of the Thames and stared at her. She was the most majestic creature he had ever seen. He admired her pear shape, her curved lines. From the beak of her prow to the tip of her stern, she must have been nearly one hundred feet in length. Three masts towered above her decks and her white sails billowed, straining against their ropes. Fluttering atop her mainmast, the red-and-white English flag proudly announced her pedigree. She rode the gentle waves toward the English Channel, sailing into the rising sun. Her sharp silhouette stood in contrast to the backdrop of a clouded pink-and-purple sky.
“What are you looking at, boy?” his father bellowed from the carriage.
He pointed at the river as he turned. “Look at the ship, Father!”
“Stop gawking and get over here and unhitch these horses.”
“Yes, sir,” John mumbled. He trudged back toward the carriage, wondering why there wasn’t a footman or stable boy to take care of the animals. He walked around to the other side of the horses and wrapped his fingers around one of the halters.
He peeked around the horse’s nose, watching his father march through the puddles as he crossed the road toward the inn. His father’s long black cloak billowed behind him, caught by an unexpected breeze. John looked up at the sky. Last night’s storm clouds were dissolving and large pockets of blue sky were beginning to show through. When he looked back at his father, the man’s shadow was walking beside him, just as formidable as the real man.
Thomas appeared by John’s side and plopped their father’s large trunk on the ground at John’s feet. The horse jumped and John quickly released the halter.
Thomas complained under his breath, “You’ll never learn, will you? That’s not one of our ships sailing for the Virginia Company. That’s a competitor’s ship. Father isn’t interested in that ship. As a matter of fact, Father has lost so much money investing in these expeditions, he’s not interested in any ships or your fascination with them.”
“How much money?”
“What?” Thomas asked from the back of the carriage, where he was now retrieving another trunk.
“How much money has he lost?”
“I don’t know exactly, but he’s been waiting for shipments of timber from Virginia that never arrived. He said the men who sailed there were too busy trying to survive to cut any trees. So, each time a ship returns empty, Father loses money.”
“But money aside, how can he not love them? All of them. They’re beautiful. Imagine where that ship is heading, sailing off to some enchanted seaport. Silk from the Orient, cotton and tobacco from the colonies. I can picture it coming ashore in Virginia, where one can view rolling land as far as the eye can see, so much land and it’s nearly free for the taking.” John turned to gaze again at the ship as it rounded the bend of the river. He took a step away from the horses so he could see her better, if only for the next few moments until she disappeared.
“Don’t admire that ship too fondly. She’s not going to the Orient. She’s called the Mayflower and she’s going to Plymouth.” Thomas looked at the ship. “And she’s not so grand. As a matter of fact, she’s rather old. She’s already crossed the ocean quite a few times.” He looked back at John. “And why are you talking about rolling land? You’ll never own land.” He laughed as John struggled with the horse’s buckles. “Father will leave everything to me. You will be sent to Middle Temple to be trained as a lawyer, and someday you will oversee my estates.”
John gave up on the buckles and marched toward his brother. “I don’t want to oversee your estates. Oversee them yourself.”
I, John Culpepper is available at Amazon.
Stop by the Culpepper Saga Facebook page to see more of the people and places of the series.