Blogging in Place
As I write this, “The Lincoln Moon” is undergoing its finally copy edit and we are sequestered due to the Covid-19 pandemic. But thankfully my copy editor is helping it into final shape for its September, 2020 release and that is more than helping me pass the time.
In 2005, I was suddenly seized with the learning more about Abraham Lincoln. I had just finished presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin’s masterful study of the Lincoln Administration, “Team of Rivals” and wanted to know more. So I read eight more biographies in a row. It was quite a reading experience!
One event from his story kept popping out at me, however. It was the mention of Lincoln’s brilliant defense of Duff Armstrong, a man accused of murder and who just happened to be the son of Hannah Armstrong. The more I researched, the more I learned that Hannah was major in Lincoln’s life. His older sister, Sarah Grigsby had tragically died young, and Abe took her very hard. Eventually, he left home to seek his fortune, as it were, but I think it was because he was mourning Sarah. He took a job piloting a river flatboat and finally settled in New Salem, Illinois
(as you’ll learn in my book). Here he met Hannah
Hannah was at once a sister figure to Abe, someone to fill the hole in his heart left by Sarah’s death. Hannah took under her wing. She mended his buckskin britches, listened to his hopes and aspirations, his heartache, and she was also there when he met
(and lost) his first love, Ann Rutledge. For a time, Hannah was the major female figure in his life.
Initially living in the store where he clerked, he was suddenly without a roof over his head when the business failed, so Hannah and her husband, Jack, took him under their roof. He became part of the family and they loved him, and he was still on the scene when Hannah and Jack gave birth to their first son, Duff. Abe adored Duff and it made him long for children of his own. In the years to come, as we now know, Duff would be charged with murder and Lincoln would step up to defend him.
This bit of biography rumbled about my subconscious for years. “The People v. Armstrong” wasn’t the most exciting trial, I discovered, although it is certainly well-known. How could I tell it in a way that honored these relationships and the tenor of the times, I wondered. Then one day when I was daydreaming and, in my mind’s eye, I clearly saw Lincoln standing beside a little red-haired boy. Hannah stood directly behind them.
The boy eventually revealed himself as my protagonist, “Scrump,” Hannah’s youngest son. The character is, I admit, a total fiction. But he was the catalyst that guided me through my story. He was able to offer first hand recollections of daily farm life in mid-nineteenth century America, of his encounter with racism, of the trial and of Lincoln himself. Of course, Hannah would be there, too, as strong and resolute as she surely must have been to Abe in those early years. (I especially loved writing for her character.)
Suddenly, although I didn’t have all the details, I knew I had a story.