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!"
"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.)