My latest release, a historic novel, Catharine, Queen of the Tumbling Waters, is an enlightening story about an unsung Iroquois and French heroine who lived during the French and Indian War and the American Revolution in Pennsylvania and New York. Catharine Montour, the matriarch of her village, guided her people to safety in Canada at the end of the American Revolution when General John Sullivan led a campaign initiated by General George Washington to destroy all Iroquois villages.
From the beginning, perhaps when I was still relatively young and believed inspiration and spirituality would carry me through the arduous journey of researching and writing a novel, I said yes to Catharine Montour. I had already been through journeys with the four novels in my Irish Dresser Series. It had been gruesome, at times, but thrilling, and it hadn’t destroyed my innocent belief in creativity and saying yes to a voice from the past.
I said yes and then I said no for fifteen years while I researched Catharine’s life, wrote, and continued to write and promote my other novels. Researching an obscure, yet famous, and mysterious Native American woman seemed impossible. Me, a white woman, who grew up with Catharine’s memorials and spirit in my backyard, didn’t know beans (corn and squash) about her, her people, and the unique and complex times of early America.
Catharine Montour sent me dried kernels of corn throughout the years. They were her gifts to me, along with other paranormal experiences, to keep me on this journey with her, to tell her story, to channel, of sorts, her spirit, and to let the kernels of truth grow within me and hopefully, sprout and flourish beyond my life and telling.
The Three Sisters – the planting of corn, beans, and squash, an Iroquois and other indigenous belief has been passed down to Europeans. Many gardeners plant the three together, for they nurture each other. How much nature speaks! Different plants sustaining and taking care of one another. Certainly, the Iroquois and others powerfully lived this truth, both in planting and community.
They came, these kernels of corn – in my bed, on remote deer paths, alongside roads, and always when I had nothing to sustain me to keep writing. And then I would find Catharine in old tomes and blossoming in my heart. I kept going. I kept planting the truth of the corn she gave me.
In my novel, when Catharine and her people from her village are fleeing from General John Sullivan’s soldiers, it’s harvest time and the corn is taller than men. Catharine instructs each woman to gather corn into their baskets before they leave. “Soon, we are fleeing Eagle Cliff Falls, my heart broken, and as we pass by our field of corn, I reach down to caress my sister corn.”
Catharine’s gifts of dried corn kernels have nurtured my writing and storytelling. And they have given me a new friend. Masheri Chappelle, the New Hampshire Writer’s Project chair, is a Native American seer. We only met since Catharine’s story was birthed. She reminded me that one kernel of corn was the beginning of life and provided the power to sustain. She reminded me that Catharine gave me these kernels to lead me to her story and to give me faith that she was really reaching out to me. And that I would know how important telling her story was to her and her people. She gave me something of great value.
First, I celebrated Catharine’s story at the site of her village in Montour Falls, New York in May. It was attended by those who love and want to know more about Catharine. It was magical. Corn fields lay all around the area. And then I celebrated Catharine in New Hampshire where I’ve lived many years. My book launch and celebration was at an old inn, on the Ambrose restaurant patio, Inn by the Bandstand in Exeter, New Hampshire. It was elegant and delicious, full of meaning. Tapas, some made with corn were served. Chef Stanley and one of the owners of the inn, Jaime, are originally from South America and Mexico. How befitting, these sons of the Corn Mother are here at this inn.
And maybe not poetic justice, but poetic healing was served. This very inn was built by General John Sullivan’s son after the American Revolution. General John Sullivan, who led the assault to destroy Catharine’s village! He and his solders slashed and killed Sister Corn. Catharine and her people had to leave. And then there is the power of corn. Catharine Montour, through me, returns two hundred and forty-four years later to the inn built by the oppressor whose father believed he was doing right for a new country. In the beyond, it’s over, forgiven. It is here we need to know and forgive. And what a party of forgiveness it was!
Tell all the truth but tell it slant --
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind --
- Emily Dickinson