Monday, June 20, 2011

The South's Other War by Suzanne Adair

Award-winning novelist Suzanne Adair is a Florida native who lives in a two hundred-year-old city at the edge of the North Carolina Piedmont, named for an English explorer who was beheaded. Her suspense and thrillers transport readers to the Southern theater of the Revolutionary War, where she brings historic towns, battles, and people to life. She fuels her creativity with Revolutionary War reenacting and visits to historic sites. When she’s not writing, she enjoys cooking, dancing, and spending time with her family. Check her web site  and blog  for more information. Or hop over to her Facebook  and Twitter  pages to say “hi.”

The South's Other War
by Suzanne Adair 

You've seen the bumper stickers and T-shirts:

"The South Shall Rise Again!"

"Forget, hell!"

"Dern tootin' I'm a rebel!"

Obviously we're talking about the Civil War—for many people, the only war of significance in the South. From school history classes, Americans receive the impression that the Civil War was fought almost exclusively in the South, while the North claims the Revolutionary War.

People forget that North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia were part of the original thirteen colonies. The fact that Florida was strategically important for King George III is almost unknown. In fact, St. Augustine, Florida is the oldest city in the United States. It was settled by Spaniards in the sixteenth century, decades before the English founded Jamestown. During the Revolutionary War, St. Augustine belonged to the British, and they also had strategic bases in Pensacola, Florida and Mobile, Alabama.

While I was a child growing up in Florida, these omissions annoyed me enough that I resolved to find a way to put Florida on the map historically for the general public. I wanted to show the importance of Florida, considered a Southern state, before the time of railroad barons Flagler and Plant, before the Civil War. Florida, important in the war that's so often attributed to the North, the Revolutionary War. That opportunity arrived with my first published novel, Paper Woman. The Florida Historical Society awarded me the Patrick D. Smith Literature Award for it.

In subsequent novels, I’ve continued to press home the fact that in the Revolutionary War, major, decisive battles occurred in Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina. The South is where the British strategy to subdue the colonial insurrection finally collapsed. Most historians now believe that more battles were fought in South Carolina than in New York. But almost none of that information makes it into history texts. So I keep writing, because I’m still irked that the South draws the short straw for recognition when it comes to the Revolutionary War.

Literature by Southerners is some of the most lyrical writing on the face of the earth. However, writing from the South can receive a more skeptical reception than that from other regions. Southerners have deep roots in folklore. Sometimes, we embrace folklore so well that we fail to distinguish it from fact. When that happens, we shoot our own credibility in the foot. Here’s a great example of what I mean.

I once received email from a columnist at a small Georgia paper. (I'll call him "Jimmy Olsen," for the cub reporter in "Superman.") Mr. Olsen wrote a piece about how the South's contribution during the Revolutionary War has been downplayed. He wanted feedback from me, a novelist who writes about the South in the war, to substantiate his views. I asked him to email me his article.

When I read it, I cringed. Not only had Jimmy Olsen gotten facts incorrect about the Revolutionary War in the South, he'd accepted as fact tales of Southern folklore. Maybe he meant well, but the bottom line was that we Southerners had shot ourselves in the foot. Again. Why should anyone bother to take the South's claims of significance in the Revolutionary War seriously when Southerners cannot even get their facts straight and believe in myths and boogey monsters of the war?

I submitted a letter to the editor that supported Jimmy Olsen's overall premise and gently corrected his mistakes. The paper never published my letter. Did I irritate them? Embarrass them? I certainly hope I did. What's disturbing is that Mr. Olsen told me he also teaches high school. That means he's perpetrating factual errors upon subsequent generations.

More than 225 years ago, Southerners fought hundreds of crucial Revolutionary War battles within the Southern colonies. Today, Southerners are fighting ignorance about their own history. This ignorance is perpetrated in a vicious cycle from school texts to schoolteachers. Even Hollywood doesn't get the story right; "The Patriot," released in 2000, purported to show facts of the war in the South but only reinforced folklore.

The best way off this rat wheel is to study the history. I’m the first to admit that poring over dusty tomes of non-fiction in a library basement is hardly a glorious way to spend a summer afternoon. So I’m going to put you in the hands of some excellent writers of Revolutionary War fiction. In honor of Independence Day, 1–7 July 2011, I'm posting an entire week of essays by historical novelists on my blog, The British are Coming, Y’All!   I invite you to join us. Each essay will have an Independence Day theme. Authors like J. R. Lindermuth and award-winner Charles F. Price will be giving away their books in drawings. If your TBR pile is running low, all you have to do to qualify for a book drawing is leave a relevant comment about the associated essay. Mark your calendar for the first week of July, and join us for fun at my blog.

But that’s ten days away, so let’s have some fun right now with Southern myths. What’s the biggest chunk of balderdash most entertaining myth, legend, or folk tale that you’ve heard about the South? (Let's keep it PG-13, folks.)


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Oh, there are so many misconceptions--where to start? I guess the one that makes me saddest is the Southern Bumpkin misconception. It's the most common stereotype I see on TV and in film. There are plenty of bumpkins here, but no more than other places...

Anonymous said...

I agree with Elizabeth - so many misconceptions. I'm from Texas, which is part of the South and also part of the Southwest and also just a whole other country I guess. People think many things about my state that are incorrect, but what can you do? Hollywood shows what it shows and people believe it.

I guess one of saddest things to me is when people don't realize that the six flags Texas has been under are not just an amusement part gimmick. And that we don't all have big hair and jewelry. LOL

I'll make a note of the July event on Suzanne's blog and be around to read it. Thanks!

Suzanne said...

Elizabeth, nice to see you here! Ah, yes, the "Southern Bumpkin misconception." It's why Southerners are encouraged to get rid of their accents if they want to move up in the world. And I admit that I've hung onto the non-Southern accent I acquired while growing up in South Florida (which is definitely no longer a part of the South. :-/


Suzanne said...

Hi Kay! One thing that's definitely true about Texas is that you cannot drive across it in one day -- unless you're driving very, very fast. ;-)

The city of Galveston, TX is named for Bernardo de Galvez. Long before Yorktown, Lord Cornwallis's military strategies were being hampered by Galvez and the Spaniards. There's some of that history in my first book, Paper Woman.

And I look forward to seeing you on my blog the first week of July. Thanks!


Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

Playing Devil's Advocate here, I have to say that in my experience most people don't really believe what they see in the movies when it comes to being southern. And because I know several journalists with The Atlanta Journal/Constitution and have three cousins, and two uncles who are newspaper journalists, I'd have to guess that your Jimmy Olsen is in the minority in his ignorance.

There are just as many stereotypes in other cultures, ie, the Jewish people all being penny pinchers, Jewish mothers all being so over-bearing, Polish people all being "dumb," etc etc etc, the list goes on and on - all to be taken with a grain of salt.

JUST my opinion.

Suzanne said...


Gosh, you mean all those stereotypes aren't really true? LOL

Seriously, you have to admit that people don't think of the South first when the topic is the Revolutionary War.


Suzanne said...

Unfortunately, it isn't just the reporter from South Georgia who has his facts wrong. We're almost clueless about our history. Such an environment nurtures misconceptions.

Sally Clements said...

Good blog post, Suzanne. I think misrepresenting the past is a common problem worldwide. As you know, I'm in Ireland, and there is a lot of stuff parroted as 'history' that really isn't. I love the idea of your series showcasing authors writing good stories with a factually correct background - so much more interesting than recycling the same old misconceptions!

Meg said...

WOW! I had no idea there were more battles fought in South than North during Revolutionary times... and I'll definitely look into this series. Love history, want to make sure I get it right, y'all!

Warren Bull said...

In the Bahamas I met descendants of Southerners who left the colonies when England was defeated. The British had strong support in the South, especially before their troops started abusing civilians and creating enemies.

Suzanne said...

Hi Sally! Thanks for stopping by. The first thing you bump into when you're doing research is all the folklore. In some cases, you have to think like a forensics expert to pierce all the layers of myth and figure out what really transpired. That's what many of us who write fiction about the Southern theater of the Revolutionary War try to do.


Suzanne said...

Meg, my sons' history texts spend so much time on the Northern theater of the Revolutionary War that the Southern theater seems an afterthought. I wonder whether the scholars who write the texts get caught up in the events of the war that have transcended to myth -- like the Boston Tea Party, and Washington at Valley Forge -- then realize they've run out of room, so they squeeze the Southern theater into a couple paragraphs.

Make sure you stop by my blog 1 - 7 July. And thanks for your comments today.


Suzanne said...

Warren, it's good to see you here. The Bahamas and Canada are a couple places the Loyalists went when they were run out. The redcoats and the patriots abused civilians toward the end of the war, and much of the nasty stuff was done in the South. Definitely tit-for-tat. Chaos.

Linda said...

Great post Suzanne (and all three books are AWESOME, by the way, although I think The Blacksmith's Daughter was marginally my favorite)!

As a Texas I'm always surprised that because I speak with a drawl, Northerners feel I must be slow of thinking...and as Kay mentioned--we don't all ride horses, wear boots and cowboy hats, or live on ranches LOL.

Well-written historical fiction like yours sends me to my research material (I'm old enough to love the traditional encyclopedia and card-catalog way of learning more about a topic). I loved the way you described Francis Marion and how the true history of South Carolina was told in an engaging fashion...

Thanks for the insistence that historical novels should be as accurate as possible. You've found a lifelong fan in me because of it and I recommend you everywhere because of your accuracy.

And Kaye, thanks so much for a wonderful blog with such exceptional guests ;-)

Pat Marinelli said...

Gee, am I the only person who remembers Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox, from the Revoluntionary War? And, to boot, I'm a Northern Jersey Girl. I know I read the book, studied it in history class and, of course, there's the Disney TV series from when I was a kid.

Suzanne said...

Linda, thanks for the glowing praise. (gosh!) I'm so glad you enjoyed the first trilogy. I have a new book coming out in October. Stay tuned via Facebook, Twitter, and my blog for more information.

What the average person thinks of any of the "heroes" from the Revolutionary War is about 90% myth/deity. In Camp Follower, it was indeed a challenge making Francis Marion mortal but an obvious leader.

I'm crushed to learn that that not everyone in Texas lives on ranches. I must have misunderstood J.R. Ewing.


Suzanne said...

Pat, thanks for stopping by and commenting. Portions of South Carolina off of I-95 are all about Francis Marion. Miles and miles of Swamp Fox this and Swamp Fox that. And there's the huge, freshwater Lake Marion. South Carolinians have made sure that Francis Marion is well remembered.

And now I probably won't be able to get that silly Disney Swamp Fox song out of my mind for at least a day. :-)


Vicki Lane said...

Wonderful post, Suzanne! One of the misconceptions that annoys me -- as the descendant of a Florida pioneer family and the wife of another -- is the misconception that Florida's not really Southern. Granted, there are a lot of Yankees and others living there now, but there's still a Southern core in many areas.

And before my ancestors got to Florida, at least one fought in the Revolutionary War -- in SC.

Suzanne said...

Vicki, thanks for stopping by. Until railroad barons Flagler and Plant got hold of the east and west coasts of Florida, the whole state was very Southern. That's the "pioneer" phase that Patrick D. Smith captures in his book A Land Remembered.

Certainly the Northern third of the state as well as great portions of the interior are still Southern. You aren't paying attention if you can drive through towns like Williston, Perry, Marianna, and DeFuniak Springs without acknowledging the Southern core. But the coasts? Pfffft, as Kaye would say.


jenny milchman said...

I will enjoy seeing all the misconceptions corrected, Suzanne. I am the first to say that I don't have anywhere near as deep an understanding of other regions in these United States (the south included) as I would like to. We will be traveling through one of these days, and I plan to go in with my eyes and ears open, hoping to soak it all in.

Suzanne said...

Jenny, it's great of you to stop by. Every region has some history that's become myth. Hollywood doesn't make it easy to distinguish the two. Unfortunately, Hollywood is where too many people "learn" history.

Make sure you email me your itinerary before you head south. Maybe we can connect!


Suzanne said...

A huge thanks to Kaye Barley for the opportunity to post again on Meanderings and Muses!

Suzanne Adair