Tag Archives: colonial williamsburg

Romance, Intrigue, Spies–The American Revolution and .99 Sale!


The American Revolution captivates me and is the focus of my Traitor’s Legacy Series, beginning with award-winning historical romance novel, Enemy of the King. Before touching on the series, I’m shouting out a .99 kindle sale on book 3, Traitor’s Curse. The sale will run from August 26 through September 8, and extends to other major online booksellers.

Inspiration behind the series: I have ancestors who fought on both sides of that sweeping conflict, including a British general. My research into the Southern face of the war was partly inspired by my great-great-great grandfather, Sam Houston, uncle of the famous Sam, who kept a journal of the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, North Carolina, 1781, used by historians.  

Stick around for a wild ride into Carolina Back County and the battle between Patriots and Tories. Our hero is the former and our heroine the latter.  Both of them bear names that belonged to my ancestors.

TheTraitorsLegacySeries_w11372_300LOVE, BETRAYAL, AND THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION! THE TRAITOR’S LEGACY SERIES!
Releasing as a box set in mid-September! Pre-order yours at Amazon now: https://www.amazon.com/Traitors-Legacy-Beth-Trissel-ebook/dp/B01L5PSE1K
This exciting series in a convenient and economical set! How cool is that?
Enemy of the King, an award-winning historical romance novel with a paranormal element, is my version of The Patriot. A big fan of Daphne Du Maurier since my teens, I was also influenced by her mystery/ghost story, Rebecca. Our Virginia home place, circa 1816, and other early homes left deep impressions on me. I’ve long harbored suspicions that those who’ve gone before us are not always entirely gone.  Most of all, I’m a Southern Virginia author, and it shows.

1780 South Carolina, spies and intrigue, a vindictive ghost, the battle of King’s Mountain, Patriots and Tories, pounding adventure, pulsing romance…ENEMY OF THE KING.

“I thoroughly enjoyed reading Enemy of the King. Not only are the characters memorable and the setting beautifully described, but the action is riveting and the romance between Meri and Jeremiah is tender. I highly recommend Enemy of the King to anyone who loves a well crafted historical romance.” ~Poinsettia Long and Short Reviews

*Publisher’s Weekly BHB Reader’s Choice Best Books of 2009 
*2010 Best Romance Novel List at Buzzle!

“An amazing and vibrant look into the American Revolution…this sexy historical is a must read!” ~Coffee Time Romance And More

“I love historical romances. They are one of my favorites and anymore when I think of a historical I think of Beth Trissel.”~Reviewed by Bella Wolfe, You Gotta Read Reviews

“Beth Trissel is a skilled storyteller and scene-builder. She immediately plunges the reader into  action and excitement with a vivid sense of time and place.” ~Historical Romance Author Kris Kennedy ( for Enemy of the King)

TRAITOR’S LEGACY–Sequel to ENEMY OF THE KING

(The Traitor’s Legacy Series)

Mystery, intrigue, spies, a coded letter, and stirring romance fill the pages of Traitor’s Legacy. Bringing history to life.

TraitorsLegacy_w8945_med.jpg (official cover) (2)Story Description

1781. On opposite sides of the War of Independence, British Captain Jacob Vaughan and Claire Monroe find themselves thrust together by chance and expediency.

Captain Vaughan comes to a stately North Carolina manor to catch a spy. Instead, he finds himself in bedlam: the head of the household is an old man ravaged by madness, the one sane male of the family is the very man he is hunting, and the household is overseen by his beguiling sister Claire.

Torn between duty, love, and allegiances, yearning desperately for peace, will Captain Vaughan and Claire Monroe forge a peace of their own against the vagaries of war and the betrayal of false friends?

Historical Romance Novel TRAITOR’S CURSE (SEQUEL TO TRAITOR’S LEGACY in the Traitor’s Legacy Series)

traitors curseGhostly, Gothic, historical romance novel, Traitor’s Curse, the sequel to Traitor’s Legacy, and the third novel in the series, came out in print and eBook autumn 2015 from The Wild Rose Press.

Set in historic Halifax, NC, on the heels of the American Revolution, Traitor’s Curse builds on the central theme in Traitor’s Legacy. Both novels center around the hidden treasure collected by a band of Patriots to bribe a Loyalist into revealing the whereabouts of the infamous traitor, Benedict Arnold, the man they badly wanted to hang. Although America’s most wanted ultimately fled to England, the treasure remained in Halifax where the haunting mystery in Traitor’s Curse unfolds.

While the historical aspects of that era are authentically depicted in the story, intriguing paranormal elements are also interwoven; among them, a ghost. Other possibilities for his presence in the home are suggested, so choose as you will. It’s kind of a mind game, but significant clues are given for the discerning reader. Bear in mind that the author believes in ghosts and cursed treasure.~

“The supernatural interventions mixed with foreshadowing are well done and believable, whether or not the reader doubts the ghostly possibilities and curses, they work well in the story … and do keep the reader turning the pages. The rapidly developing love story carries with it some inner turmoil in matters of belief and trust, but the gripping external conflicts are laced with danger and evil intent. The story draws the readers into the midst of the fray. And keeps them there.

I readily recommend this novel, “Traitor’s Curse” to anyone who wants to settle into a captivating read created by Beth Trissel, as she weaves her knowledge of the South, herbs and history into this enjoyable love story.” ~Marion Spicer

“A wonderfully spun novel that will keep a reader engaged till the end.” ~Stephanie Lodes for InD’tale
Won Creme de la Cover monthly contest
Nominated for Reader’s Choice at The Romance Review

***Traitor’s Curse is .99 in Kindle from August 26 through September 8. The sale extends to other major online booksellers.

Historical Romance and the American Revolution!


Mystery, adventure, spies, traitors, Patriots, Tories, and above all, romance, are interwoven in The Traitor’s Legacy Series. Book 1, award-winning historical romance novel, Enemy of the King, is my version of The Patriot with ghostly flavors of Daphne Dumaurier’s Rebecca. Pleasant Grove, the home featured in Enemy of the King, was drawn from Drayton Hall, the oldest preserved plantation in America that’s open to the public, located outside Charleston, SC. I also depicted parts of the old family homeplace in Virginia.

Enemyoftheking resizedPart of the inspiration behind Enemy of the King came from research into my early American Scots-Irish and British ancestors who fought on both sides of the American Revolution. One direct forebear five generations removed from me, Sam Houston, uncle of the famous Sam, fought in the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, NC and kept a diary used by historians today. I was also inspired by the Battle of Kings Mountain, in North Carolina, that helped turn the tide of the revolution in favor of the Patriots, and is featured in Enemy of the King. These accounts turned my focus to the Southern face of the war.

GeorgeEliot[1]Another tie to the past is my grandfather, seven greats back, Sir George Augustus Elliott, a British general and Governor of Gibraltar during the American Revolution. He was awarded the title Lord Heathfield, Baron of Gibraltar, in honor of his bravery in its defense during the attack by the Spanish and French. While Sir George was giving his all for king and country, his grandson was fighting under George Washington as a commissary officer. There must have been quite a rift in that family. While I’m on the subject of ancestors and the past, I should add that the research for this series is staggering, and seemingly endless. 

Story Description for Enemy of the King:

1780, South Carolina: While Loyalist Meriwether Steele recovers from illness in the stately home of her beloved guardian, Jeremiah Jordan, she senses the haunting presence of his late wife. When she learns that Jeremiah is a Patriot spy and shoots Captain Vaughan, the British officer sent to arrest him, she is caught up on a wild ride into Carolina back country, pursued both by the impassioned captain and the vindictive ghost. Will she remain loyal to her king and Tory twin brother or risk a traitor’s death fighting for Jeremiah? If Captain Vaughan snatches her away, he won’t give her a choice.

TraitorsLegacy_w8945_med.jpg (official cover) (2)The sequel To Enemy of the King, entitled Traitor’s Curse, features the fascinating antagonist, British dragoon Captain Jacob Vaughan.

Inspiration behind Traitor’s Legacy:

I’d pondered the sequel, but couldn’t decide on the site. Then in spring, 2012, North Carolinian, Ann See, a big fan of Enemy of the King and colonial American enthusiast, contacted me about setting a sequel in the historically significant town of Halifax, NC. As Enemy of the King takes place in North and South Carolina, and I have strong ties to both states, this suggestion was appealing.

 the Owens House

the Owens House

At Ann’s invitation, hubby Dennis and I made a trip to Halifax, and were given a royal tour of this carefully preserved glimpse into our nation’s dynamic past. The quaint town is like a mini colonial Williamsburg. Most impressive among Halifax’s claims to fame, in the spring of 1776, North Carolina’s Fourth Provincial Congress met there, and on April 12, unanimously adopted a document later called the ‘Halifax Resolves,’ the first official action by a colony proclaiming their independence from England. This made Halifax a nest of rebels and thorn in the side of the British––what I needed for my plot.

Photo of Person's Ordinary #2JPGMuch of Traitor’s Legacy takes place in and around Historic Halifax. Person’s Ordinary, featured in the novel, was an important stage-coach stop and is the oldest landmark in Halifax County. Located in Littleton, Person’s Ordinary is the oldest preserved structure of its kind in the East, and once served as a tavern owned by Thomas Person. The British occupied the Ordinary in May 1781 when they made their way through Halifax en route to Virginia.

The British Legion, also known as Tarleton’s Legion, headed by the infamous Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton, were on horseback and out in front of the rest of the army under command of General Lord Cornwallis. Tarleton underestimated the harassment inflicted by the local militia, whose stubborn resistance resulted in an extended stay by the British and reprisals against the town. In fact, there was so much looting that when Lord Cornwallis arrived, he had to court-martial and execute one sergeant and a dragoon. Apparently, his lordship didn’t want to leave a trail of animosity everywhere his army went. .

174389418Thornton Hall, the plantation home featured in Traitor’s Legacy, is inspired by a run down but once outstanding old house known as Little Manor. Located a mile or two from Person’s Ordinary, the original home was built by Thomas Person. He wouldn’t recognize it now. Dusk was falling when we drove to the overgrown site to see the derelict house. I knew at once I’d found the perfect home for the novel, and resurrected its glory days. The gardens are also lovely.

Mystery, intrigue, spies, a coded letter, and stirring romance fill the pages of Traitor’s Legacy, while bringing history to life. The story concludes in Williamsburg and Yorktown.

Bay Stallion

Story Description: 1781. On opposite sides of the War of Independence, British Captain Jacob Vaughan and Claire Monroe find themselves thrust together by chance and expediency.

Captain Vaughan comes to a stately North Carolina manor to catch a spy. Instead, he finds himself in bedlam: the head of the household is an old man ravaged by madness, the one sane male of the family is the very man he is hunting, and the household is overseen by his beguiling sister Claire.

Torn between duty, love, and allegiances, yearning desperately for peace, will Captain Vaughan and Claire Monroe forge a peace of their own against the vagaries of war and the betrayal of false friends?~

colonial militia preparing to fireBack to the novel that started it all, Enemy of the King made the top ten Publisher’s Weekly BHB Reader’s Choice Best Books of 2009  and is on the 2010 Best Romance Novel List at Buzzle. The story received a five cup review from Coffee Time Romance & More and was voted book of the week at Long and Short Reviews.

The third novel in the Traitor’s Legacy Series, entitled Traitor’s Curse, takes place soon after the American Revolution. While also carefully researched historically, the novel has a ghostly element and a mysterious Gothic flavor. Traitor’s Curse came out out November, 2015.

Enemy of the King, Traitor’s Legacy, and Traitor’s Curse are available in print and kindle at Amazon, and in eBook from all major online booksellers.

My Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/Beth-Trissel/e/B002BLLAJ6

If You’ve Ever Written Historical Fiction–Or Want To


Enemy of the King  3You will appreciate the staggering research that goes into penning anything set in the past. None of us were born knowing this stuff, unless you’re vividly recalling a former life. Even after all the enormous preparation required before typing a single word, more research is inevitable as new scenes demand added detail. I have yet to discover one that doesn’t. Such has been the case with my recently completed historical romance novel, Traitor’s Legacy, the sequel to award-winning historical romance novel, Enemy of the King. Both stories are set during the high drama of the American Revolution.  Yes, I studied the entire war before launching into my focus on the Southern Front because I needed to know how it all fit together. You can’t just dissect one facet of an era, but must see all the parts, or you will be like an ant seeing only the bottom of the elephant’s foot.

I finally finished Traitor’s Legacy right before Christmas, and intend to get this to my Wild Rose Press editor in the new year. Would you believe I succumbed to illness soon after? Could be I wore myself out. I hope my editor will fall all over it, but we shall see. Those of you eager to read this new story must wait until I have a contract and more information. Much thanks for your support.

Colonial Williamsburg reenactor on horsebackBack to the research. You may ask, do I enjoy these forays into bygone days? For the most part, yes. I find myself engrossed and often come across information that enhances the story, spawns a plot line, or even a new book. But there are those times when I’m exhausted and fervently wish someone could simply answer my question and save me hours of laboring to unearth what’s needed. And historians do not always agree with each other, so I am left to gain an overall consensus of an episode or the particulars of life in that time period. I also continually consult an etymology as I write to be certain my word usage is appropriate. (Image of reenactor from colonial Williamsburg)

Visiting the settings featured in my stories is a huge aid and I do so if possible. I toured all the North and South Carolina sites in Enemy of the King. In Traitor’s Legacy, the primary setting is Halifax, NC. I had a wonderfully informative tour and guides there, plus visited and revisited Colonial Williamsburg and historic Yorktown, as both locations figure into the story. Living in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley of Virginia makes these treks feasible. Scotland, not so much. For British settings, I am dependent on family and friends who’ve visited, or live there, and research. Always research.

Through the Fire cover Final4I am grateful for all the assistance I’ve received along the way. For my Native American themed stories, I’ve had the help of historians and reenactors (also for my American Revolution themes). Anthropologists, archaeologists, language experts, and the Shawnee themselves have been invaluable in my NA Warrior series. Copious reading material has been generously gifted to me, or purchased from museum bookshops, or borrowed from the library. Family accounts I’ve come across while doing genealogy enter strongly into my work. Some online sites are hugely helpful, but didn’t exist in my early writing days.

My knowledge of herbs is extremely useful in doctoring my characters, or sedating, even poisoning, them if necessary. Herbs were vital to every aspect of life in times past and the reason I give herbal workshops to various online writing groups. Authors need to know more about herbs and herbal lore to lend authenticity to their stories. Some of this knowledge is also important to have for ourselves today, and can be lifesaving.

Native American WarriorMy point in all of this, is a plea for appreciation of the tremendous effort poured into writing historical fiction of all lengths. Even shorter works require much research. I challenge anyone who thinks this is easy, to go for it, If you already know writing historicals is an arduous path, but long to venture into the past, then do it for the love of the journey.  It’s the only way I know of to time travel.

For those of you who are interested, here’s the link to my Kindle Page at Amazon. Amazon has all of my work. Other online booksellers have a number of my stories, but not all. I’ve indie published some of my titles, but many are with the Wild Rose Press, an excellent publisher.

‘A Very Virginia Christmas Stories and Traditions’–Charming Christmas Collection!


ea3ae-averyvirginiachristmasA Very Virginia Christmas: Stories and Traditions (2012 Independent Publishers Gold Medalist) by Wilford Kale debuted last November at the Barnes & Noble in Colonial Williamsburg. I was among the authors who took part in the auspicious signing. Why, you may ask?

Because I’m delighted to have an account from my nonfiction book, Shenandoah Watercolors, included in A Very Virginia Christmas. My holiday excerpt in this wonderful collection describes celebrating Christmas at the old Family home place in the Shenandoah Valley. I’m honored to be among the illustrious authors who span centuries of life in my beloved Virginia, and proud to add my voice to the holiday reminiscences from our beautiful valley. If you haven’t gotten your copy yet, you’re missing out, and it’s getting to be that time of year again. The book would make an excellent Christmas gift. A Very Virginia Christmas is available in hardcover at Amazon and from many other booksellers.
 
The publisher of this lovely Christmas Collection, Parke Press, has this to say about A Very Virginia Christmas:
“For the past 400 years, Virginians have created traditions of their own, borrowing from a variety of Christmas celebrations in other countries. This year, Wilford Kale has compiled the work of 16 contributors telling how Virginians observe the Christian wintertime holiday: from the Shenandoah Valley to the Eastern Shore, from colonial days up to the 21st century, in times of need to times of feasting and merriment. Read about eggnog, Robert E. Lee‘s Christmas, Parke Rouse‘s Christmas on the Southside, Richmond’s Nativity pageant, and Earl Hamner‘s childhood Christmas in the Virginia mountains. You will also find stories including the Christmas Truce, the origin of “Jingle Bells” and “Rudolph,” along with other Christmas favorites. Your storytelling time at Christmas will be warmer and cozier than ever with these tales that remind all ages of the real meaning of  “the most wonderful time of the year.”
An article in the Virginia Gazette gives even more insights to this vintage Christmas collection and the special man behind it, Wilford Kale. Entitled A Jolly Collection of Virginia Christmases, the article goes on to say: “Who better to compile a book about Christmas in Virginia than a man who could pass for Santa Claus. Wilford Kale, a long-time journalist, short-term politician and part-time Kris Kringle, has edited “A Very Virginia Christmas – Stories and Traditions,” a new collection of stories, anecdotes and traditions about Christmas. He’s included the work of some heavy hitters, including Earl Hamner of “The Waltons” fame, Booker T. Washington, Park Rouse and Francis Church. Oh, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Alfred Tennyson are included too.
The collection includes four centuries of Christmas memories and anecdotes, ranging from Capt. John Smith to the generations of children who visited perhaps the state’s best-known Santa at Miller & Rhoads in Richmond.”
To that I add, and me! For the complete article, visit the link. And God Bless us Everyone!
***Images of the old family home place outside of Staunton, Virginia, a wreath in Colonial Williamsburg, and a Victorian Santa Claus (royalty free)

 

Ties to My Past and A Colonial Recipe for Syllabub


“Where liberty dwells, there is my country.” ~Benjamin Franklin

George ElliotOne illustrious tie to the past for me is my grandfather, seven greats back, Sir George Augustus Elliott. A British general and Governor of Gibraltar during the American Revolution, he was given the title Lord Heathfield, Baron of Gibraltar, in honor of his bravery in its defense during the attack by the Spanish and French. While Sir George was giving his all for king and country, his grandson was fighting under George Washington as a commissary officer. There must have been quite a rift in that family.

Then there are the Scotch-Irish of whom I am one of the many descendants that people this land. The politically correct term is Scots-Irish, but we have always referred to ourselves as ‘Scotch.’ A colorful description of these highly vilified folks is given in an excellent Revolutionary War history, The Road to Guilford Courthouse.

‘They were belligerent, loyal, bigoted, valiant, crude and tough. The men drank hard, fought hard, and moved often. Their young women shocked sensibilities with public displays of bosoms and legs rarely seen in eighteenth century America.’ An Anglican missionary in South Carolina back country described them as ‘Ignorant, mean, worthless, beggarly Irish Presbyterians, the scum of the earth, Refuse of Mankind, and white savages.’

That’s my blood y’all, and the Scotch-Irish made all the difference in how the revolution played out. I hasten to add that my mother insists we descend from the pious noble Scots, but I suspect these others are also somewhere in my heritage.

My absorption with Colonial America encompasses  the high drama of the Revolution. Research into the Southern face of the war was partly inspired by my great-great-great grandfather, Sam Houston, uncle of the famous Sam, who kept a journal of the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, North Carolina, 1781, that is used by historians today.

This rich heritage led to further research and a deeper appreciation for those who’ve gone before us.  Some of my books are straight historicals while others include light paranormal elements (more or less) but my fascination with the past is a constant.  Historical Romance novel Enemy of the King grew out of my preoccupation with early American and the Revolution.

Being a Virginian from the Shenandoah Valley, I’m immersed in history. Nor are we far removed from historic Williamsburg, one of my most favorite places to visit.  I’ve touched on various aspects of Williamsburg in other posts and will from time to time.

A popular food that would have been served in the homes of early America is Syllabub. To quote from Colonial food in Colonial Williamsburg: “This dessert/drink tastes like fermented lemon chess pie. It has a thick portion which rises to the top of the glass. This section is eaten with a spoon, then the diner drinks the remaining wine mixture.”

For more on colonial cookery visit:http://www.foodhistory.com/foodnotes/road/cwf1/

Recipe for Syllabub from the Charleston Receipts book.  This one is reprinted from The Carolina Housewife by a lady of Charleston, Miss Sara Rutledge, daughter of Edward Rutledge the signer of the Declaration of the Independence.

To 1 quart of cream add 1/2 pint of sweet wine and 1/2 pint of Madeira, the juice of 2 lemons, a little finely powdered spice and sugar to taste. The peel of the lemon must be steeped in the wine until the flavor is extracted. Whisk all these ingredients together, and as the froth rises, take it off with a spoon, lay it upon a fine sieve. What drains from it put in your pan and whisk again.  Pour the froth into glasses.  Serves 12.  Chill.

*Nutmeg was very popular in colonial American so may be the spice referred to in the recipe.

Foxglove and Fairies–Herbal Lore–Beth Trissel


*These foxgloves are growing in a garden in Colonial Williamsburg.

“…where the deer’s swift leap Startles the wild bee from the foxglove bell.” ~John Keats

Foxglove, also known as Digitalis: I’ve grown this beautiful flower/herb and used to have a spectacular stand of foxglove but they died out one winter and I’ve had the dickens of a time getting new plants established.  Because foxglove is a biennial, it has to grow one season and survive the winter, the tricky part, and then resurrects the following spring and blooms in late spring/early summer.  If you’re fortunate the plants reseed and perpetuate themselves.  If not, you must begin again.  But it’s well worth growing.  I suspect our soil may be too heavy and needs to be further lightened with compost, so I did just that and planted a new variety of foxglove a week ago. So far, so good.

From A Modern Herbal: Foxglove: POISON!

“Other names: Witches’ Gloves. Dead Men’s Bells. Fairy’s Glove. Gloves of Our Lady. Bloody Fingers. Virgin’s Glove. Fairy Caps. Folk’s Glove. Fairy Thimbles. (Norwegian) Revbielde. (GermanFingerhut.

Part Used: Leaves.

Habitat: The Common Foxglove of the woods (Digitalis purpurea), perhaps the handsomest of our indigenous plants, is widely distributed throughout Europe and is common as a wild-flower in Great Britain, growing freely in woods and lanes, particularly in South Devon, ranging from Cornwall and Kent to Orkney, but not occurring in Shetland, or in some of the eastern counties of England.

Needing little soil, it is found often in the crevices of granite walls, as well as in dry hilly pastures, rocky places and by roadsides. Seedling Foxgloves spring up rapidly from recently-turned earth. Turner (1548), says that it grows round rabbit holes freely. The plant will flourish best in well drained loose soil, preferably of siliceous origin, with some slight shade. The plants growing in sunny situations possess the active qualities of the herb in a much greater degree than those shaded by trees, and it has been proved that those grown on a hot, sunny bank, protected by a wood, give the best results.

DescriptionThe normal life of a Foxglove plant is two seasons, but sometimes the roots, which are formed of numerous, long, thick fibers, persist and throw up flowers for several seasons… (*Not here, always.)

They bloom in the early summer, though the time of flowering differs much, according to the locality.

The flowers are bell-shaped and tubular, 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 inches long, flattened above, inflated beneath, crimson outside above and paler beneath, the lower lip furnished with long hairs inside and marked with numerous dark crimson spots, each surrounded with a white border. The shade of the flowers varies much, especially under cultivation, sometimes the corollas being found perfectly white.

The Foxglove is a favourite flower of the honey-bee, and is entirely developed by the visits of this insect. Going from flower to flower up the spike, he rubs pollen thus from one blossom on to the cleft stigma of another blossom, and thus the flower is fertilized and seeds are able to be produced. The life of each flower, from the time the bud opens till the time it slips off its corolla, is about six days. An almost incredible number of seeds are produced, a single Foxglove plant providing from one to two million seeds to ensure its propagation. (*But it has to survive long enough to bloom, I must add.)

It is noteworthy that although the flower is such a favourite with bees and is much visited by other smaller insects, who may be seen taking refuge from cold and wet in its drooping blossoms on chilly evenings, yet no animals will browse upon the plant, perhaps instinctively recognizing its poisonous character.

The Foxglove derives its common name from the shape of the flowers resembling the finger of a glove. It was originally Folksglove – the glove of the ‘good folk’ or fairies, whose favourite haunts were supposed to be in the deep hollows and woody dells, where the Foxglove delights to grow. Folksglove is one of its oldest names, and is mentioned in a list of plants in the time of Edward III. Its Norwegian name, Revbielde (Foxbell), is the only foreign one that alludes to the Fox, though there is a northern legend that bad fairies gave these blossoms to the fox that he might put them on his toes to soften his tread when he prowled among the roosts.

The earliest known form of the word is the Anglo-Saxon foxes glofa (the glove of the fox).

The mottlings of the blossoms of the Foxglove and the Cowslip, like the spots on butterfly wings and on the tails of peacocks and pheasants, were said to mark where the elves had placed their fingers, and one legend ran that the marks on the Foxglove were a warning sign of the baneful juices secreted by the plant, which in Ireland gain it the popular name of ‘Dead Man’s Thimbles.’ In Scotland, it forms the badge of the Farquharsons, as the Thistle does of the Stuarts. The German name Fingerhut (thimble) suggested to Leonhard Fuchs (the well-known German herbalist of the sixteenth century, after whom the Fuchsia has been named) the employment of the Latin adjective Digitalis (from Digitabulum, a thimble) as a designation for the plant, which, as he remarked, up to the time when he thus named it, in 1542, had had no name in either Greek or Latin.

The Foxglove was employed by the old herbalists for various purposes in medicine, most of them wholly without reference to those valuable properties which render it useful as a remedy in the hands of modern physicians. Gerard recommends it to those ‘who have fallen from high places,’ and Parkinson speaks highly of the bruised herb or of its expressed juice for scrofulous swellings, when applied outwardly in the form of an ointment, and the bruised leaves for cleansing for old sores and ulcers. Dodoens (1554) prescribed it boiled in wine as an expectorant, and it seems to have been in frequent use in cases in which the practitioners of the present day would consider it highly dangerous…

Strangely enough, the Foxglove, so handsome and striking in our landscape, is not mentioned by Shakespeare, or by any of the old English poets.

(*I found this strange indeed, considering their lore and beauty.)

The earliest known descriptions of it are those given about the middle of the sixteenth century by Fuchs and Tragus in their Herbals. According to an old manuscript, the Welsh physicians of the thirteenth century appear to have frequently made use of it in the preparation of external medicines. Gerard and Parkinson advocate its use for a number of complaints, and later Salmon, in the New London Dispensatory, praised the plant. It was introduced into the London Pharmacopoeia in 1650, though it did not come into frequent use until a century later, and was first brought prominently under the notice of the medical profession by Dr. W. Withering, who in his Acount of the Foxglove, 1785, gave details of upwards of 200 cases, chiefly dropsical, in which it was used.”

Agatha ChristieOf course the highly esteemed Author Agatha Christie used foxglove in one of her mysteries.  From the AGATHA CHRISTIE SITE: “THE HERB OF DEATH: SIR AMBROSE’S DINNER PARTY IS NOT GOING TO PLAN.  FOXGLOVE LEAVES, PICKED EARLIER THAT DAY, HAVE MADE EVERYONE ILL AND LEFT THE UNFORTUNATE SYLVIA DEAD…”

Christie went back to one of her favourite murder methods in this story originally published in 1930 in Storyteller.  It is included in The Thirteen Problems.”

Herb Gardens of Colonial America and Williamsburg–Beth Trissel


monticello in spring


“No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden.” ~Thomas Jefferson

As much as I converse with sages and heroes, they have very little of my love and admiration. I long for rural and domestic scene, for the warbling of birds and the prattling of my children.  ~John Adams

painted lady butterfly on catmint

I love old-fashioned gardens, particularly those with herbs. I grow many heirloom flowers and herbs, even included a lovely garden in my Colonial American historical romance novel set during the American Revolution, Enemy of the King. (For the post I did on the garden in the novel click here.)

apricot hollyhocks croppedHerbs and old-time flowers are in all my stories, more or less,  but back to the plants. (Image from our garden.  Photo by daughter Elise, as are all others taken of our garden from last year before the big wind tore through and knocked everything down. I’ll have to discover whether any of these heirloom apricot hollyhocks survived later this spring.)

Not only were the colonists acquiring native plants and the knowledge of their uses from American Indians, but they brought cherished plants with them from The Old World (seeds, rootstock).  By the mid to latter 1700′s, the variety of herbs and vegetables grown encompassed all those known to the Western World–or potentially could have.

The colonial kitchen garden was planted outside the back door, so these vital herbs were at the ready.  In addition to using the herbs fresh, many plants were bound together in bunches and hung upside down to dry from the kitchen rafters.  Dried roots were stored for later use. Tinctures and decoctions made from plant leaves and stems were administered in liquid form.

“Throughout colonial New England, on rural farms and in small villages, the dooryard was the focal point for many daily projects. Generally sited to receive the warm southern sun, and protected by the barn and other outbuildings from bitter northwest winds, this area was used for such activities as washing clothes, making soap and candles, chopping wood and processing meat.

The colonial woman’s dooryard garden, along with her larger vegetable gardens, was expected to provide many of the foods, flavorings, medicines and chemicals necessary for a largely self-sufficient household with little cash. Plants such as madder and woad were used to dye cloth, southernwood and pennyroyal served as insect repellents, basil and sage improved and sometimes masked the flavors of food. Since most households were isolated from medical care, herbs such as yarrow, angelica, feverfew and valerian were used to treat common ailments or aided in childbirth.”~

*For more on planting your own dooryard garden refer to the informative link above.~

I’ve read of tansy grown outside the back door to repel ants from coming into colonial homes.  Tansy is an attractive, robust herb with gold button flowers.  Be warned that it needs space, forming dense clumps. The sap attracts ants so maybe the idea is the ants cluster around the tansy and stay out of the house. Imagine the rich blend of fragrances in a colonial kitchen, the spicy scent of  dried herbs mingled with wood smoke from the hearth, the stew simmering in a big iron kettle and savory meat roasting over the flames. Delightful.  Also mentioned in my Colonial American romance novel as well as some herbal cures and treatments.

From: The Gardens of Colonial Williamsburg:

Colonists often mentioned what plants they were growing when they wrote to friends and relatives back home in Europe. Many of these letters survive and have served as a guide to planting the reconstructed gardens. Archaeologists have found seeds from some of the original plants in Williamsburg, and can do soil analysis to tell exactly what type of plant was grown in a particular spot. While most of the trees, shrubs and plants seen today in Williamsburg are authentic to the Colonial period, astute observers will notice an abundance of crepe myrtles, pruned as trees in the Southern tradition. That’s because John D. Rockefeller, who financed the restoration, loved crepe myrtles and wanted them in the restored city. And since he was paying the bills …”

“Many of Williamsburg’s gardens reflect the Dutch-English patterns, popular during the reign of William and Mary. This garden style, characterized by geometric symmetry within an enclosed space, was common in England in the late 17th and early 18th century. The emerging trend toward naturalistic gardens in contemporary England did not appeal to the settlers in Virginia, where a natural landscape did not need to be re-created. To them, a garden was nature tamed, trimmed and enclosed. Like many travelers, the colonists attempted to reproduce the homes they had left behind. Frequently they brought seeds of favorite plants and bulbs to rebuild a version of their old gardens. Garden paths were made of gravel, crushed oyster shells and bits of broken brick. Walkways paved with brick would have been too expensive.

Some favorite kitchen and medicinal herbs from Colonial America:

Basil, also called St. Josephwort, was grown for commercial use in Virginia before the American Revolution.

Used as a flavoring,  particularly in salads and soups, pea soup, the clove fragrance of basil improved the taste of foods.  Also a strewing herb.  And the leaves were dried for use in snuff  to relieve headaches and colds.  I love the fragrance and flavor of basil.  Several vintage varieties of basil are emerging from the newly seeded pots I sowed in the greenhouse a week ago. 

BEE BALM: 

(Image by daughter Elise)

Used for bee stings. Bee Balm is a member of the mint family. It is native to North America but colonists soon sent seeds to Europe for their friends to plant and enjoy. Tea brewed from its leaves was called Oswego tea and used as a substitute for china tea after the 1773 Boston Tea Party.

I am a big fan of bee balm, growing it with more or less success depending on the season.  The flowers really do attract butterflies and hummingbirds.  I set out new plants every year and have done so again this spring with high hopes that they will spread as they have done in the past but not so much in recent years. Too much drought, I suspect, even though I try to water.

CARAWAY: 

The roots were cooked and eaten like carrots, and the seeds chewed or added to cheese, fruit and baked goods.  Caraway seed is an aid to digestion. I’m not a fan of caraway.  No, not even a little bit, but included it for those of you who are, plus it’s historical.

(Image of colonial kitchen)

CATNIP:  

A tea brewed from the leaves was used to treat stomach ache and head colds. Catnip was also steeped in wine and imbibed that way. If a woman wanted to increase her fertility she might soak in a catnip sitz bath. Catnip will take over the garden if you let it, but I like the scent, and the plant, though kind of weedy, is appealing in full flower. Very cheery.

Of course, cats are big fans of catnip.They get quite intoxicated by the scent. Although this kitty seems rather relaxed. I have cats who literally roll on the catnip in the garden and nibble it. They also like the related herb catmint, pictured down below. I’ve grown catmint for years and the same plants are still there blooming faithfully each year, about late spring.       

Chamomile:

“Camomill is put to divers and sundry uses, both for pleasure and profit, both for the sick and the sound, in bathing to comfort and strengthen the sound and to ease the pain of the diseased.”~John Parkinson

Another herb commonly grown in Colonial Williamsburg was Chamomile, a lovely herb.  I grow both the lower ground cover variety and the annual reseeding kinds, known as Roman and German chamomile. In early summer the Roman chamomile forms a mat covered with daisy like flowers and the scent is delightful.  I clip off the faded flowers for regrowth and fresh blooms, but the best show is early on.

In early America, the flowers brewed into a tea were used to treat stomach complaints and dispel cold and aches.  A sugary syrup made with the flowers was thought to treat jaundice and dropsy.  Chamomile flowers in the bath are an aid to skin irritations.  It’s known as the gentle soothing herb. Chamomile is a strewing herb and insect repellent.  It’s also just darn cheerful.  A very happy herb to grow.  Lifts the spirits just to look at it and the fragrance is appealing, soothingly nice.

Chives:  

Who doesn’t like chives?  As long as you don’t get too carried away adding the chopped stems to food.  Chives flavored dishes and the flowers added color to arrangements in early America.  Onions and garlic figured prominently in treating many colonial ailments and were thought to offer protection from evil spirits.  I grow and like chives.  The purple blossoms are pretty in late spring.  I also grow a variety called garlic chives that are white when they flower later in the season, quite pretty, and add good flavor in cooking.  They also reseed freely so bear that in mind.

DILL: 

A favorite in our garden, partly because the caterpillars of the Eastern Black Swallowtail butterflies feed on the leaves and make their chrysalis on the stems, fun to watch, but also because dill smells wonderful and tastes good.  Colonial Americans grew dill to flavor stews and pickles, also for its healthful properties.  Again, another soothing herb.

They also used it to treat hiccups. But I don’t know if that works.  I don’t know that a lot of what they did worked.  It all depended on the herb and whether that plant actually possessed the properties colonists thought it did. (This image of dill in our garden is growing along with an old-fashioned poppy I got seed for from Monticello). 

HYSSOP: A popular medicinal herb in early America.  I used to grow hyssop but it died out and needs replanting.  The fragrance is potent and not altogether pleasing, but the plant is pretty.  The blooms come in pink, white or blue.  I prefer the blue color.  The colonists used hyssop tea mixed with honey and the herb ‘rue’ as an expectorant.  That doesn’t appeal to me.  I’d rather use the bruised leaves, as they did, applied with sugar to a “greene wound.”  Hyssop was thought to fight infection and to kill head lice when soaked in oil.  An oil of leaves and flowers was applied to arthritic joints.  Also used as a strewing herb.

PENNYROYAL:

Strewing herb. Flea and mosquito repellent.  I love the pungent scent of pennyroyal. After several failed attempts, pennyroyal has formed a low, fragrant mat in our garden and is spreading nicely. At least, it was, until this past winter. A few tiny patches have survived and I’m hoping it will make a comeback. It’s so very delightful. (This pic isn’t pennyroyal, but an image of a butterfly on flowering catmint as mentioned above)

MINTS: 

We have a variety of mints on a determined march to the sea in our yard and garden but we love the intoxicating scent and mint tea is a huge favorite, so we pull only a little of it out.  In colonial America, they drank spearmint to comfort the nerves.  I should also think as an aid to the stomach which the mint family is rightly known for.  In cooking, mint was boiled with fish or dried and added with pennyroyal to puddings and green peas. Also a strewing herb. And I can certainly see why! (Image of apple mint).

PARSLEY: 

I like the flat leaf variety and grow it.  Parsley was used in early America to dispel the gamey taste from wild meats, like venison. The boiled roots were thought to remove “obstructions of the liver” and to promote urine production. 

(This image of parsley in our garden shows it growing beside asparagus and black-eyed Susans.)

ROSEMARY:

A pot of this herb grows in my window, but several have made it through the winter this year with protection. Rosemary was important in colonial times and popular in Williamsburg. An oil made from the flowers was applied to restore eyesight and remove spots and scars on the skin. Compresses of the leaves and oils were used for the head and heart to relieve painful joints and muscles, or “sinews.”

Rosemary was often potted up and kept inside for the winter. The farther north you live the less likely you are to see rosemary in flower.  I seldom get the plants to that size.  Rosemary isn’t happy inside in winter here, but clings to life.

HOREHOUND: 

Used to make a cough syrup. Often used with honey and other herbs. Mixed with plaintain for snakebites. Soaked in fresh milk to repel flies. The leaves are used for flavoring beer, cough drops, honey and for making tea.  I have grown horehound and the plants definitely need room to spread.  I love horehound drops.  It does sooth the throat.

 LAVENDER:

Strewing herb and insect repellent.  Essential in English lavender water.  Recipes found their way to colonial America, as did the plants.  Lavender blossoms have long been dried and used in sachets and potpourri to freshen clothes, linens, rooms,  and to repel insects.  An excellent site on English Lavender Water and more on the herb. *Used to rinse hair.

“This light, refreshing potion is perhaps the oldest known and most frequently used lavender product. Recipes for it were exchanged by women of the Roman era, books throughout Europe and Colonial America. Ours is classic English lavender infused with fresh floral and citrus notes.”

I definitely want a bottle or two. I love lavender, am forever planting new varieties trying to get some to survive our winters.  We have heavy soil, so am amending that and someone suggested growing the lavender in among stones that hold heat to warm the plants.  *Images of lavender in our garden.  The wooden stakes we use not only help support sagging plants but also discourage large farm dogs from sitting on them.  So we use a lot of stakes and large sticks fallen from various trees.  Also called ‘marking sticks’ so we remember where we’ve planted a row of seeds or new seedling.

fuzzy sage with blue larkspurSAGE:

“Why should a man die whilst sage grows in his garden?” ~ Old English proverb

A favorite in our garden, sage has been grown for untold ages, as have all these herbs.  Sage was a culinary favorite in colonial America, and soon gained popularity with Native Americans, and was an important  medicinal herb for a plethora of illnesses.  As a spring tonic to cleanse the body, colonists fasted on sage with butter and parsley. Sage brewed into an ale was given to women to aid in delivery.  Sage has may other uses, as a tea sweetened with honey for sore throat or as a gargle.  Sage reduces perspiration and was used for fevers. And so on. (Image of fuzzy sage and larkspur in our garden)

THYME:

I love thyme.  We grow many varieties.  The species of thyme grown by the colonists was an upright, wild variety that survived the cold winters.  I need to find this one. The best I can do is the English thyme which seems to be hardier than the French. Some of the creeping thymes do well here. Colonists used thyme for melancholy, spleenic conditions, flatulence and toothache. (One of several kinds of creeping thyme we grow in our garden).

A wonderful sounding book that I would like to get is Flowers and Herbs of Early America~
It’s a beautiful big hardback book and rather pricey so we shall see. Recommended by the Colonial Williamsburg Historical Society–available at the Amazon link above.

This past summer I purchased two lovely hardback books while visiting in Colonial Williamsburg:The Gardens of Colonial Williamsburg by Kent Brinkley and Gordon Chappell. And, Vegetable Gardening the Colonial Williamsburg Way by Wesley Greene.

18th century methods for producing herbal remedies:

Tincture: herb is soaked in alcohol, strained and used.

Decoction: This method was used for tougher parts of the herb plants, the roots, stem and bark. The herb is boiled in water until water is reduced by 1/2 to 1/3.

Infusion: Immersing the herb in water as in tea.

Distilled: Infusing the herb with water, boiling same and catching the condensed steam. Makes a condensed form of an infusion.

From COLONIAL USE OF HERBS:

We contemporaries must understand the basis on which decisions were made in early America. Colonists based portions of their world view on teachings of early Greek writers. Theories about alchemy and astrology and concepts such as the four cardinal humors influenced many of the colonists’ agricultural, dietary and medical practices. The four cardinal humors were the body fluids: blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile. The conditions and proportions of these affected the physical and mental health of the individual.

There were thought to be four basic human temperaments:

  • Yellow bile or choler – hot and dry, characterized by a fiery nature and a bilious complexion.
  • Phlegmatic (phlegm) – cold and moist, characterized by apathy and a pale complexion.
  • Melancholic (black bile or choler) – cold and dry, characterized by depression and sullenness.
  • Sanguine (blood) – hot and moist, characterized by great appetites and capacities, and a ruddy complexion.

The educated colonist would study an herbal, a book containing the names and descriptions of herbs, or plants in general, with their properties and virtues. The earliest herbal written in the English language was published in London in 1525. Additionally, much knowledge was passed along from parent to child, since many colonists were illiterate.

Most herbals listed the qualities of temperature of each plant – hot, cold, dry and moist – paralleling the four elements – fire, air, earth and water. These characteristics were said to be reflected in the human temperament.

In almost all individuals one humor was thought to dominate the personality. There were certain potential health disorders or imbalances associated with each humor. For example, the sanguine person was believed to be amusing and good-natured, but prone to overindulgence. Diarrhea or gout could be a problem for such an individual, so cool, dry herbs like burdock or figwort were used to cleanse the system.

Overly cooling foods were given when a patient had a fever, but those same foods were considered unsafe if consumed by a well person. Foods had to be combined to produce the proper combination for a healthy person.Melons were chilling, so they were served with ginger or pepper, warming spices. Lettuce was cold and moist, so hot and dry pepper, hot and moist olive oil and cold and dry vinegar dressed it. Vinegar, itself, was considered cooling, so it had to be enhanced with peppercorns, coriander seeds or other warmers. Otherwise, vinegar would “make leane” and cause melancholy.

young girls in colonial garb at historic farmAnother old idea of the period was the “Doctrine of Signatures” or “Law of Similars”. This was the notion that a plant looked like the human organ or symptom of the disease it could benefit. Plants containing a milky juice, like lettuce, were thought to “propogate milk in nursing mothers”. The walnut, which looks somewhat like a brain, when properly prepared and laid upon the crown of the head, was said to comfort “the brain and head mightily”.

The use of herbs and plants in the colonial household was carefully decided based on the knowledge and observations of the time.

 A very interesting article on  Apothecary Herbal Healing“Before pharmacists, there were apothecaries. During the Colonial period in America, apothecaries dispensed medicines, including herbal remedies. Apothecaries functioned as pharmacists and doctors. Their skills with herbs made apothecaries reliable resources for people seeking healing from any ailment. 

herbs_pennyroyalApothecary gardens  (link to a site that tells how to plant one) provided herbs to aid healing. The art of apothecary continues in the modern era. Herbalists grow their own herbs and treat ailments just as their colonial foremothers-and fathers. The term, apothecary, came to be used for the store where the apothecary operated. Apothecaries are the ancestors of modern pharmacies or drug stores.”~

***In conclusion, herbal treatments may or may not have been administered based on an actual knowledge of how that plant’s properties affected a particular condition.  Some remedies were tried and true while superstition influenced other supposed treatments and cures.

For more on Colonial Herbs and their uses visit: http://www.chaddsfordhistory.org/history/herbs4.htm

 

*Pics are from our garden,  Colonial Williamsburg, Monticello, and Mt. Vernon. All images are royalty free.