Thursday, December 7, 2017

I Do So Enjoy Being Right (Once in Awhile)

In A Buss from Lafayette, I had a hard time deciding who Clara would guess the old veteran is in the following conversation:

Stamping my foot in frustration, I turned to see whose presence was interfering with the fulfillment of my plan. Among the familiar characters, I saw a tall, skinny stranger who looked to be nearly eighty years of age. He was wearing a rather moth-eaten old uniform of buff and blue. His pure white hair was also in a bygone style, long— if a bit sparse in front— and tied behind with a black ribbon. He held a black tricorne decorated with a black and white cockade. Even through my irritation, I could see that the most interesting thing about the stranger was not his antiquated clothes, his overly long hair, or his three-cornered hat with its leather flower, but his excitement. He was about the most animated person, especially of his age, that I had ever seen. I moved closer to the old gentleman. If I had to wait until he was done talking to get what I wanted from Mr. Towne, I might as well listen to what he had to say. 

“You will never guess who I was mistook for yesterday!” he exclaimed. His merry eyes looked at each of us listeners in turn. 

All of our guesses fell wide of the mark, from Mr. Towne’s boisterous, “President Adams?” to my softly spoken, “Old Father Christmas?” 

“No, t’was for the Nation’s Guest!” the stranger declared, slapping his thigh. “

What? Someone thought you to be Lafayette? Are you jesting?” Mr. Towne spluttered. 

The stranger went off into gales of laughter. “I am telling you the truth of it: folks in the hundreds— nay, the thousands— thought me to be Lafayette himself!”

 - A Buss from Lafayette © 2016 by Dorothea Jensen

The reason for my difficulty? I couldn't decide what Clara would call Santa Claus. I explained this in a "Insight" I wrote last year:

I had trouble deciding what Clara's guess about the old veteran's mistaken identity should be. Clement Moore's poem, "A Visit from Saint Nicholas" (sometimes called "'Twas the Night Before Christmas") was actually published in 1823, two years before the time of my story. This verse, with its Dutch Sinter Klaas inspiration, eventually had a huge impact on the American concept of Santa, but I figured it might not have been widely known in 1825. Therefore I just called the jolly old elf "Old Father Christmas", an earlier English tradition. (Even though I am so fond of Moore's poem that I model all my Izzy Elf stories on it, anapestic tetrameter and all.)

Anyway, you may imagine my delight in coming across this Christmas celebration at Old Sturbridge Village, which depicts Clara's era (more or less). Please note the reference to Father Christmas in the last line, followed by a picture of this historic version of Santa. As OSV scrupulously strives for historical accuracy, I'm taking this to mean I was correct in my decision to use this term in A Buss from Lafayette. Woo hoo.

 All I can say is THANK YOU, Old Sturbridge Village!

Buy links for A Buss from Lafayette can be found up above on the right side of this page!

Thursday, November 9, 2017


Free e-book editions of my prizewinning new historical novel for young (and old) readers age 10 and up, A Buss from Lafayette, are being given away from today through 11/15.  Here are the buy links:

KINDLE (Amazon)

NOOK (Barnes and Noble)


(Honest reviews posted on any of these sites are HUGELY APPRECIATED!)


In June, 1825, everyone around spirited 14-year-old Clara Hargraves is thrilled because the world-famous American Revolution hero, General Lafayette, is about to visit New Hampshire on his “Farewell Tour.” In one event-filled week, what Clara learns about her family, her friends, and Lafayette himself, profoundly changes her life. "Clara carries the story with the strength of her personality, humorous observations, and seemingly timeless adolescent woes. . .will entertain readers as young as 4th grade while older students will appreciate a teenager's perspective" - KidStuff Magazine. "A full-scale history lesson disguised as a can't put it down story." - I Read What You Write Blog.

One recent adult reader of this book, Peter Reilly, posted this on Facebook:
I really enjoyed this book. I'm thinking of switching to middle school girls fiction from here on in. Regardless I think it beautifully captures the excitement around Lafayette's visit and the way it permeated every nook and cranny of the country.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Here are a couple of photos of a 19th century store (in Old Sturbridge Village) like the one Clara visits in the story. Here's the description:

I spied Mr. Towne, his gray hair combed forward in the fashionable “Brutus” style, although his receding hairline made this look a bit odd. He leaned over his counter, which was laden as always with large glass jars of pickles, candy, and other delicacies. Behind him, shelves reached to the ceiling, stuffed with items fascinating to the eye. On one wall, the lower spaces held large wooden barrels of brandy, rum, gin, wine, and molasses, with boxes of oranges, lemons, figs, spices, and sugar loaves on the shelves above. My eye was drawn to the other wall, however, where a rainbow of lace, silk, cotton, wool, linen, gingham, and calico occupied most of the shelves. On the very top level were more personal items: hairbrushes, mirrors, pomatums, patent medicines, and combs. My miracle-working lead comb was up there waiting for me. - A Buss from Lafayette © 2016 by Dorothea Jensen

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Complicated Figuring

A couple of decades ago, I went to Old Sturbridge Village to visit the 19th  century buildings and talk with the costumed guides. I remember very well going to one of the stores and watching and hearing an explanation of how village stores functioned, which was quite differently than those today. The guy behind the counter showed me a thick ledger book full of complicated transactions.  It was common, apparently, for people to "trade" for goods at the store by paying with goods they had grown or made themselves. They also used the store as a way to pay another store customer for goods or services. They did this by designating that credit for what they "traded" at the store be applied to another customer's account.

In my story, the Hargraves family pays with strawberry jam, not only for their own purchases, but to pay a seamstress (another store customer) for making a dress for Clara. Her brother, Joss, buys ice skates, candy etc., by trading baskets of charcoal that he has made.

I went back to Old Sturbridge Village recently and visited the stores there. No one could find that ledger book, but I was allowed to photograph a few ledger pages that were available. These pages were originally handwritten but there were also typed versions that showed the information on  those handwritten pages more clearly.

I was delighted to find evidence of 1) customers paying with their own products and 2) customers paying with goods or money that was credited to a third party. It appears that when an entry is labeled "to", it means a customer bought something at the store and the cost has been written down as a debit in the ledger.  However, those entries labeled "by" seem to show transactions in which a customer has traded something for credit, either for him/herself for for a third party.

In the following excerpt, it appears that Customer #416, Reuben Jones, has earned credit at the store by braiding sixteen hats and supplying two dozen eggs.

In the following accounting, see that Noah Miles used the 
store as an intermediary to pay James Godfrey.

Finally in the excerpt below it appears that Thomas Laughton accrued credit on his account by trading cheese;p Edwin Bemis apparently paid with Rye (whiskey or grain?), Maria Knight by shoes she apparently made; and Polly Knight and Electa Fairbanks had some kind of exchange involving hat braiding credit.

I'm  thinking that there must have been a ledger that kept track of all transactions by a list of customer numbers.

Very tricky book keeping!

Friday, October 20, 2017

A New Boy in Town - Welcome Lafayette!

As faithful readers of this blog know, the young French major general, the Marquis de Lafayette, played a huge role in the American Revolution. This was particularly true at Yorktown, Virginia, the location of the final major battle of the war. It was Lafayette and his men who actually trapped the English, led by General Cornwallis, on the Yorktown peninsula. The timely arrival of a French fleet under Admiral De Grasse put the cork in the bottle. Between the two leaders, they were able to keep him there until Washington and the French general, Rochambeau arrived to besiege and attack the town.

For ten years or so, sculptures of Washington and  De Grasse conferring have stood near the Yorktown waterfront, commemorating one of the meetings they had. Lafayette and Rochambeau were participants at least one of these meeting. Sadly, however, the project ran out of money after sculptor Sid Player finished the first two figures.

The American Friends of Lafayette (a terrific organization of which I am a life member), discussed the possibility of commissioning a statue of Lafayette to put in its rightful place with Washington and De Grasse in Yorktown, to be done at some point in the future.

I am proud to tell you that my husband and I decided to start the ball rolling right away with a fat donation the very next day. By the end of that day, five other people matched our amount, and the fundraising took off. After six months of tremendous work by the people on the statue committee, enough funds were raised to commission Lafayette's statue to be created by Sid, the woman who had sculpted Washington and De Grasse.

Here I am standing in for the missing Lafayette one year ago.

On October 18, 2017, the statue of Lafayette was unveiled!
Here's the before:

Here is a profile view after the statue was revealed, the guy on the left is Our Marquis!

Here I am with the trio of famous heroes!

I tried my best to give a "buss" to Lafayette. However, because he is made of metal, he couldn't bend down, and because I am not quite of his stature, I couldn't reach up. However, please consider Lafayette well-bussed!

A thrilling day!

Thursday, September 7, 2017

A 31 Year Old Letter about RIDDLE!

I recently finally started sorting through boxes of stuff left behind by my father, who passed away in 2013. I was amazed to find a lot of handwritten letters (remember those?) I had sent to Dad over the years.  One caught my eye.  Here is what I said:

Oct 25, 1986

I'm glad you liked The Riddle of Penncroft Farm. The agent I sent it to rejected it—I made Martha [my sister] come over to open the rejection letter to read it before I did. It's a most painful process. It turned out that the agent did like the historical part but found the modern bits to be "too pale and uninteresting."

I am now in a frenzy of rewriting (14 hours a day!) and am nearly done. I've recast the whole modern story into 1st person, told by Lars. I've kept Aunt Cass alive until after Lars moves to Penncroft, then she dies—adding a nice bit of drama. Aunt Cass is a lot like Gramma Moorehouse—I get to work in all the G.M. Gems like "Tastes like cat pee." (Her assessment of iced tea in her first conversation with David.)[David is now my husband. He wasn't when she said this to him. He couldn't believe that I hadn't forewarned him about Grammy.]

I also have put in a girl character to suck in girl readers at the beginning. I think the Sandy character will interest them later on.

I believe the book is much improved.

I hope to finish the rough draft today and polish it next week.

Well, it took many more rewrites before I was able to find a publisher for this book. It was finally published by Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich in late September, 1989, three whole years after I wrote this letter. (I didn't put the cat pee comment in there, although the "Why didn't you pick more peas?" came straight from my Grammy.

The Riddle of Penncroft Farm has been in print ever since, has sold thousands and thousands of copies, and been honored in many ways. It won 1st place in the historical fiction category of the 2014 Purple Dragonfly Children's Book Awards. It was also an International Reading Association Teachers' Choice Selection, a Jeanette Fair Award winner, and a Master List Selection for the William Allen White Children’s Book Award, the Rebecca Caudill Award, the Mark Twain Award, the South Carolina Children’s Book Award, the Hoosier Young Readers Award, and the Sunshine State Young Readers Award. As a manuscript, The Riddle of Penncroft Farm won the Children's Literature Competition at The Loft, a regional literary center in Minnesota.

It is used in schools all around the U.S. as a cross-curriculum enrichment resource for the study of the American Revolution. Hooray!

So I guess the lesson displayed by this old, old letter is that it pays to keep trying even when the process is painful!

Here are some links if you would like a copy.

Barnes and Noble



Friday, September 1, 2017

Happy Birthday, America. Really.

When our son was sworn in as a member of the diplomatic corps in 1999, my husband and I attended the ceremony at the Main State Department in Washington, D.C. Afterwards, there was a gathering on the top floor in the John Quincy Adams Reception Room, pictured above.

I believe that we were served glasses of champagne, and I remember casually leaning against the desk just to the left of the  center of this photo to sip from my glass. It was only after I had taken a few sips that I looked down. To my astonishment, I saw what was displayed on this desk: the actual Treaty of Paris, signed by Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and John Jay on September 3, 1783,  to end our Revolutionary War. I had had no idea that it was kept here, and it was thrilling to see these signatures and know that this document marked the official separation from England, and therefore, the birth of our nation

Article 10th:
The solemn Ratifications of the present Treaty expedited in good & due Form shall be exchanged between the contracting Parties in the Space of Six Months or sooner if possible to be computed from the Day of the Signature of the present Treaty.  In witness whereof we the undersigned their Ministers Plenipotentiary have in their Name and in Virtue of our Full Powers, signed with our Hands the present Definitive Treaty, and caused the Seals of our Arms to be affixed thereto.
Done at Paris, this third day of September in the year of our Lord, one thousand seven hundred and eighty-three.

To read the whole Treaty, go to:

I later learned that there were actually three original copies of this treaty that were all signed by the official signatories. The other two are at the National Archives.

Anyway, to go back to my moment of stunned realization about this historic document, I looked around and on a nearby wall, over the mantel, I found the famous painting by Benjamin West depicting the signing of this treaty.

Label on Treaty of Paris Painting by Benjamin West
I had seen this painting reproduced in history books a zillion times, but never seen the original. And there it was right in front of me!

(Oddly enough, the year on the painting is  WRONG, it should be 1783!)

If you will notice, the right side, where British signer of this treaty would have been located, is blank. Apparently (according to artist David R. Wagner, who created a "completed" version of the scene), the British signer refused to pose for the picture.

Here is what Wagner says:

This depiction of the signing of the treaty between America and Great Britain by American Artist Benjamin West (1730-1820) was left unfinished because he could not get British Commissioner and member of Parliament David Hartley to sit for the painting. Hartley had posed for individual portraits before, and had actually signed the treaty, but refused to sit for this painting because he said he was "too ugly." In all probability he was commanded by his superiors not to pose, as this loss to the American Colonies was difficult to imagine and no artistic reminders were needed.

In any case, it was definitely the thrill of a lifetime to happen across the original painting and the historic document itself!

(Just glad I didn't spill any champagne on the latter.)

So let us lift our glasses (but not whilst leaning against anything that might contain priceless historical treasures) and sing "Happy Birthday, America!'


P.S. Yes, yes, I know. The 4th of July is the big "birthday" bash, but I think the date this treaty was signed should be celebrated, too.

So here you go: