I never intended to write a novel about Catharine Montour, aka Queen Catharine, a Native American and French woman who was born in Pennsylvania around 1729 and lived through the French and Indian War and American Revolution. Her name (and spirit) is perpetuated everywhere in Montour Falls, NY and surrounds. She’s revered and a sort of talisman for the locals. Everyone claims to know her, especially the historians, but she is mysterious and obscure and many historical accounts are inaccurate and contradictory. The Montour family was one of the most famous, or perhaps infamous, and elusive families of early Pennsylvania and New York frontiers. In 1779, Queen Catharine, the matriarch of her village (Catharine’s Town/Montour Falls), led her people to Fort Niagara during the Sullivan-Clinton Campaign to destroy all Iroquois villages of the American Revolution.
I grew up hearing this part of the story, but little else. I felt her in some sort of affectionate way every time I saw her memorial or paid attention to her namesake on motels, roads, and places. I was interested in her, but how to know her? I left home and for a long time forgot about her, until fifteen years ago when I visited her memorial on a walk and heard a voice within me, “Write my story!” I laughed aloud and said, “No, I’m writing Norah’s story.” I was finishing my third novel, Norah, and knew I’d be writing another one about Norah McCabe. I was immersed in The Irish Dresser Series! And it was enough craziness researching Irish-American history for these novels and I couldn’t imagine tackling this mysterious woman of local history. Thereafter, a number of experiences ensued that were clearly spiritual and transcendent…paranormal perhaps (and I was somewhat familiar with this with my Irish novels). I couldn’t say no to this queen and so I started on a rigorous, difficult, and mind blowing journey with Queen Catharine. And each time I decided to chuck the idea of a novel, I encountered her through mysterious ways and sometimes they were so palpable that I cried out to her to leave me alone. They inspired me to keep going, but it was at times exhausting and even too strange. One of my first encounters, was waking up to a dried kernel of corn in my bed after reading about the three sisters of the Iroquois (corn, bean, and squash). And that was a tame encounter. There have been quite a few and I’ll reveal them as I speak about my novel.
I write here of the first and second encounter (voice and kernel of corn) and I’ll end with this latest encounter whereby I recently sat in a restaurant in an old inn in Exeter, NH. An inn I just learned was built by General John Sullivan who led the campaign against the Iroquois (and attacked Queen Catharine’s village). Hmmm, a perfect place it will be for a book launch in New Hampshire…poetic justice…Queen Catharine speaks 243 years later in the home of her oppressor! ‘Catharine, Queen of the Tumbling Waters,’ my novel, is finished, but her story and her people’s stories are only beginning.
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