I had been putting off this trip for some time. Its main purpose was to finish research for The Fortune, the proposed third book in the Jack Mallory Chronicles. Prior to the publication of The Prodigal, I figured why spend money on a research trip for a book that would most likely never see publication if The Prodigal did not sell first? Happily, with The Prodigal being published this past spring by Fireship Press, I could now justify my travels.

There are few things I enjoy more than travel, so research trips are always a blend of work and play. Ever since writing The Prodigal, I had wanted to visit the Outer Banks (for those of you who haven’t read the novel, the climax of the story takes place off the North Carolina coast), so besides research in Virginia, I decided to add time on the Outer Banks. (That part of the trip will be discussed in a separate, future post here on my blog.)

My first stop on the trip was a day spent at historic Jamestown. There are two sites on the banks of the James River dedicated to the history of America’s first English settlement, one run by the Commonwealth of Virginia, the other by the National Park Service. Both have something to offer those interested in history.

I visited the former first. The site offers a very impressive, large visitor center which includes museum galleries that explain and interpret the history of Jamestown.

Below is a fountain outside the entrance to the visitors center, made to represent the vessels that brought the English to America’s shores.

The highlight of this particular site for me was the replicas of those vessels: the Susan Constant, the Discovery, and the Godspeed. The first is shown in the photo below.

There were several living historians throughout the site, including the ships and the replica of James Fort. I found all of them to be interesting and knowledgeable. Equally pleasing to me was the steady flow of visitors at the site (as well as the NPS site). It’s nice to see Americans who want to actually learn about their history.

Jamestown National Historic Site is, of course, the more valuable of the two sites because it is the actual site of the settlement (the other site is just next door to this). The park contains an ongoing archaeological dig inside the perimeter of James Fort, the fort that was once thought to have been erased by erosion along the James River until evidence of the wooden palisades was uncovered in 1994 by archaeologist Dr. William Kelso. The photo below, taken during my visit, shows today’s continuing work to uncover Jamestown’s past.

Many of the artifacts recovered over the years are preserved and available for viewing by the public on site at the park’s Voorhees Archaearium Archaeology Museum, a very interesting place indeed. One of my favorite displays there was this early-17th century drinking jug, found intact.

The focus of my own research was quite narrow compared to the scope of the park. One scene in The Fortune takes place in Jamestown, much later than so much of historic Jamestown’s focus. Some might even wonder why I would go to the time and expense of such travel simply because of one scene in a story. I believe it’s imperative that the writer of historical fiction does everything, large and small, to get the facts correct for the reader, even if it is a small detail. One thing I learned in particular when researching my Civil War novel, The Edge of Hell, is that no matter how much you read about the topography of a site, you can never truly understand it and get the correct “picture” and feel unless you go there yourself. If you can’t experience/see what your characters experience/feel, then the writing can fall short of that authentic feel.

The scene in question takes place in the summer of 1692, outside one of Jamestown’s taverns. So I wanted to make absolute sure that taverns even existed on the site back then. This bit of information came quite easily. A simple tour of the “new towne” area of Jamestown revealed physical evidence of just such an establishment, Swann’s Ordinary.

Details about this particular tavern and others like it were provided on nearby markers.

Another marker read: “Taverns were popular meeting places in Jamestown.”

Wandering around “new towne” gave me insight into not only the buildings and people that had been there in Jack Mallory’s day but also an idea of what Jack would have seen when he looked out upon the broad James River where the Prodigal lay moored. (Granted, the channel markers would not have been a part of Jack’s view. 😉 )

I hope that my experiences at Jamestown help to enrich my writing and will allow my readers to feel as if they are sitting outside that “new towne” tavern with Jack Mallory and Josiah Smith.

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  1. I really appreciate your comment about visiting a site that you’re writing about. I did the same for my books and was rewarded with a review that stated that I must have visited the site because the reviewer could imagine the setting.

    • susankeogh says:

      That’s very satisfying to hear, wasn’t it, Joan? Good job!

      • Yes, and it really does make a difference because I could remember how things felt, looked, sounded, and smelled. (Smell is something I have to keep reminding myself to write about.) It even makes it possible to make minor changes to suit the story without making it a lie.

  2. I hope to visit Jamestown soon!

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