First of all, it’s a thrill and an honor to join fellow historical fiction authors this week on Suzanne Woods Fisher’s blog. I’m especially excited to chat with you, our readers. Since we’re discussing research breakthroughs this week, let me give you the inside scoop on one of the key research moments for Freedom’s Price.
Often my historical romances are set against the backdrop of real events. With the Keys of Promise series set in Key West in the 1850s, it was only natural that I include a wrecker or two in my novels. Wreckers were unique figures in Key West history. They waited eagerly (perhaps too eagerly) for news of a ship wrecked on the reef. The first wrecking vessel to reach the foundered ship took charge of the salvage and reaped the lion’s share of the profits.
Owners and ship masters often considered wreckers little better than pirates. In the early, unregulated days of wrecking, some unscrupulous wreckers colluded with the ship’s master to run the ship aground and split the profits. Rumors persisted of wreckers luring ships onto the reef. In 1828, the territorial government (and, after statehood, the federal government) stepped in to license and regulate the industry. However, the damage to the wrecker’s image was already done. To their credit, wreckers saved the lives of passengers and crew without compensation in a time before the U.S. Lifesaving Service came into existence.
In Freedom’s Price, we find Tom Worthington in charge of his own wrecking vessel. To bring the hero and heroine together, I needed a wreck, or at least a storm. 1856 provided historical evidence of a tropical storm/hurricane that wrecked the sailing ship Isaac Allerton. That fact provided a perfect beginning—except the heroine, Catherine, could not be on board the Allerton, since this vessel didn’t hail from her port of embarkation.
Since the salvage of the Allerton had historically required the assistance of most of the wrecking fleet, Tom would have taken part in the salvage of the Allerton. But if he was wrecking the Allerton, how could he meet Catherine? I decided that the storm could have damaged other ships, perhaps to the point of needing assistance. That solution would bring them together but not for long. Tom would soon depart for the Allerton.
Now, I knew from other accounts that many men lost their lives during salvage—some from diving into the holds of sunken ships and getting trapped, others were crushed between the wrecked ship and the salvage vessel, still others drowned in the heavy seas. In spite of the danger, fortunes could be made. That drove many to wrecking and was a motivation for Tom, who recognized that Catherine came from a much higher class than he did. Only wealth could hope to attract her. That made the risk worthwhile.
Tom had to go to the Allerton.
To make the salvage of a historic shipwreck as realistic as possible, I needed more information, not only on the wrecking process but also on the specific techniques used on the Allerton wreck. This seemed a bit daunting for an island whose records were periodically lost to hurricanes and fires. Then I located the admiralty court record of the Allerton salvage. To my delight, the record includes a description of both the processes used to extract cargo and the dangers faced.
It was exactly what I needed! I could make those salvage scenes tense with danger and based on fact. This was truly unexpected treasure.
All that remained was to thrust Tom into the heart of danger and see if he could survive and earn Catherine’s admiration.
Thank you for visiting today. Have you ever traveled on a ship or a boat? If so, what type? If not, have you toured a historic ship or replica or visited a maritime museum?
More about Freedom’s Price:
When Englishwoman Catherine Haynes loses both her parents and her home in 1856, she decides to cross the Atlantic to find her American mother’s family in Louisiana. She enlists the help of Tom Worthington, a dashing Key West man who makes his living salvaging wrecked ships, but whose real goal in life is to bring to justice the man who stole his father’s ship and caused his untimely death.
When Catherine finally arrives at her family’s plantation, she finds it in disarray and her family absent landowners. Torn between returning to Key West with Tom or beginning the hard work of restoring the plantation, Catherine soon finds herself snared in a plot to steal her inheritance. When an incredible secret comes to light, both she and Tom will face a choice. Can they relinquish the dreams that have been holding them captive in order to step forward in faith—even if it costs them everything?
Christine Johnson loves history, especially when it centers on ships and the sea. In addition to her Keys of Promise series with Revell, she has authored a dozen books with Steeple Hill and Love Inspired. She and her ship captain husband split time between the shores of Lake Huron and the Florida Keys.