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Saturday, January 21, 2023

Historic Places: Mount Vernon

I recently made my fifth visit to Mount Vernon, the beloved home of George and Martha Washington. Each visit has included its own special element - a trip with my oldest son, one with my daughter, mint juleps just like George Washington used to drink, and the time I got to introduce my husband to one of my favorite places in the country. This time, I got to bring my book that includes my own little chapter about Martha Washington and her life spent mostly in this beautiful place. We also took an in-depth tour and got to see parts of the home that I hadn't seen before.

I'm excited to share it with you!

Scaffolding is often seen against one of the walls of Mount Vernon. This time, it was all along the portico facing the Potomac River, so the facade of the mansion was pristine.

The exterior of the home is sided in wood planks that are painstakingly prepared to give the illusion of stone. A special paint blended with sand is used to create this effect, just as it was in the 18th century. The estate has been restored by the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association to appear as it did in 1799, the final year of George Washington's life, but this is not how it appeared when he first inherited it. For a great overview of the evolution of Mount Vernon and George Washington's passion for improving the home and grounds, visit Mount Vernon's website which makes a vast amount of information available to the public

Inside, there is far too much for me to include in a single post, but the room the Washingtons were most proud of was the New Room that they built for entertaining in European style (they hoped, neither of the Washingtons ever traveled to Europe).

This room has a ceiling twice as high as any others in the home and was larger than the entire home of most other Virginians of Washington's time. Hints of George's love of farming and his belief in America's future as an agricultural nation are found all around, including this marble mantlepiece that was designed by him.

Other rooms that may be of particular interest to my readers include the Lafayette Room, where the Marquis de Lafeyette stayed while visiting the Washingtons. The portrait of the Marquis is a reproduction of one that George had commissioned to honor his friend.

Another room that I mention in Women of the American Revolution is the third floor guest room where Martha moved to after George's death. She never again slept in the bed they had shared.

The Mount Vernon Ladies' Association has performed an astonishing amount of research to determine which guest bedroom Martha used, what paper was on the walls, and all sorts of other facts that we take for granted when we visit Mount Vernon today. The estate was in ruins when they purchased it in 1859. 

I've discovered a fun fact connecting this to my current project on James Hamilton!

Mary Morris Hamilton, James's daughter, was the MVLA's first vice-regent for New York, and she raised about $40,000 of the estate's $200,000 purchase price. I can't wait to include more about her story in my next book! Needless to say, I have a greater appreciation for what these women went through than ever before.

I will share one more fun picture for those who are fans of the National Treasure movies.

You may recognize this cornerstone as the entrance to a secret passage. (We were assured that it is not.) It is a cornerstone believed to have first been used by George's grandfather, Lawrence Washington, to establish the family in Virginia. Mount Vernon researchers believe the cornerstone was preserved and moved until it was eventually installed in the Mount Vernon cellars when George Washington had them built. The one currently in place is actually a replica, but the original is in the on-site museum, which you absolutely must visit if you ever take a trip to Mount Vernon.

I have so many photos and will be sharing more on Instagram

If you would like to learn more about Martha Washington and other amazing 18th century ladies, please consider my newest book, Women of the American Revolution. It is available at Pen & Sword, Amazon, Book Depository, Barnes & Noble, or your favorite book retailer. I appreciate your interest and support!

I also have a few other articles written about Martha here.

Join me on your preferred social media for daily fun facts, on this day in history posts, and lots of pictures!




Tuesday, January 3, 2023

That Dickinson Girl


My dear readers know that I am a fan of novels that spotlight the lives of historical women, so I am happy to introduce my guest to you today. Joan Koster is here to share an excerpt from her new book, That Dickinson Girl.

Welcome, Joan!

~ Samantha


That Dickinson Girl: An Excerpt

Guest Post by Joan Koster

Julia eyed the intruder. Half a head shorter, more girl than woman, she wore a drab dress under a plain cloak. No ribbon or jewel relieved the narrow white collar. No ruffle or crinoline spoiled the fall of the skirt. Her upright stance and the quality of cloth reeked of the morality and righteousness Julia knew all too well. A Quaker, for sure.

Their eyes met. She glimpsed a smooth cheek and long, dark lashes, a wide, smiling mouth, and a square chin partially hidden beneath black curls cut so short that she could see the girl’s neck peeking above the stiff collar, pink as the dawn-tinted clouds. She wanted to rest her palm on that vulnerable bit of skin, pull her close, and steal her warmth. 

Julia pressed the pendant she hid beneath her dress, the sting of cold metal against her racing heart suitable punishment for her wayward thoughts. 

The stranger lifted her skirt and gave a sideways bow like an actress at the Arch Theater. “Anna Dickinson, at your service.” She swung her attention to Gracie. “And who is this who wants to become a doctor?” 

Julia twisted her fingers in the faded ribbon of her bonnet and stifled the impulse to drag Gracie away. Her independent sister would hate that. Besides, it didn’t matter; Little Miss Quaker would be gone as soon as she heard their last name. Every member of the Society of Friends knew the sordid tale of the man who’d stolen money from Arch Street Meeting.

Her sister stuck out her hand. “Gracie Pennington.” 

Julia waited for the girl’s smile to fade and that oh-so-respectable personage to flee. 

Instead, the Quaker wrapped both hands around Gracie’s and smiled. A do-gooder then, set on some charitable work for a ragged schoolgirl with aspirations beyond her station in life. Julia knew where that would end. 

She stepped closer. “And I’m Julia. Julia Pennington.” 

“Ah yes, the vigilant older sister. Don’t worry; I won’t steal her.” She tapped Gracie on the nose. “So, what’s stopping you from pursuing an illustrious medical career?”

Gracie toyed with the unraveling fringe of the shawl. “We’ve no money—” 

“Is that all?” the girl said. “A mere pebble in your road, my child. If you truly want something, you’ll find a way, no matter how many pebbles and rocks they throw at you. We make our own chances in life. Takes hard work, though. A medical degree requires a mind sharper than a milliner’s needle.”

Pebbles? Julia scrutinized the thick weave of the girl’s woolen cloak and the toe of the polished half-boot poking out from under her skirts. Little Miss Quaker had to be younger than Julia’s own nineteen years. What experience did this privileged girl have ducking pebbles or piercing cloth with a needle? 

She yanked on the interloper’s sleeve. “Gracie’s top of her class. She doesn’t need a busy-body do-gooder sticking her nose into something she doesn’t know beans about. She’s not your child. She’s my sister. I take care of her.”

The girl ran a finger down the frayed collar of Gracie’s too-small coat. “Well then, that is a shame. Makes me want to weep, seeing ambition denied”—the corners of her mouth turned up—“by beans.” 

Connect with the Author
When she is not writing in her studio by the sea, Joan Koster lives with her historian husband
and a coon cat named Cleo in an 1860s farmhouse stacked to the ceiling with books. In a life full of adventures, she has scaled mountains, chased sheep, and been abandoned on an island for longer than she wants to remember.

An award-winning author who loves mentoring writers, Joan blends her love of history, and romance,
into historical novels about women who shouldn’t be forgotten and into romantic thrillers under the pen name, Zara West. She is the author of the award-winning romantic suspense series The Skin Quartet  and the top-selling Write for Success series.

Joan blogs at, Women Words and Wisdom, American Civil War Voice, Zara West  Romance, and Zara West’s Journal and teaches numerous online writing courses.

Sunday, January 1, 2023

Freedom for Washington's Slaves

On New Year's Day 1801, Martha Washington granted freedom to a portion of Mount Vernon's enslaved population. An excerpt from Women of the American Revolution

"George had left Martha with a difficulty in his will. Over time, he had begun to struggle with the institution of slavery in a way that Martha never did, and he had granted his slaves their freedom upon Martha’s death. He might have meant for this to free Martha from the responsibility of coping with their emancipation, but it created a difficult situation where some of the Mount Vernon enslaved people knew their freedom was based on the elderly lady’s death. In addition to that awkward challenge, the enslaved populations of the Washington and Custis estates had become intermingled during George and Martha’s long marriage. Those that were a part of the Custis inheritance would legally transfer to Martha’s grandchildren upon her death, while those that had been George’s would be free. That not only seemed arbitrary and unfair but also left black families with some members anticipating freedom and others not.

Martha attempted to ease this tense situation by freeing George’s slaves on 1 January 1801. She was afraid that some of the enslaved people plotted her death in order to gain their freedom, so she gave it to them. Some eagerly took up their newfound liberty and left Mount Vernon, others stayed because of family who remained property or for the stability Mount Vernon offered. Her thoughts about this event are not recorded, but Martha had previously expressed shock and dismay when enslaved servants ran away. She did not understand why they would choose an uncertain freedom over the life offered at Mount Vernon. For a woman who had been part of a lengthy revolution based on liberty, it is an ironic blind spot."

Learn more about Martha Washington and other 18th century ladies in Women of the American Revolution. Available at Amazon, Pen & Sword, Book Depository, Barnes & Noble, and other major book retailers.

Friday, December 16, 2022

News of Hamiltonian Proportions

Portrait of Elizabeth Hamilton
by Henry Inman (1825)

Hello, dear readers! I know I have not been blogging as much as in the past, so if there is a topic you have been hoping I would cover, please let me know in the comments below. In the meantime, I have an excerpt from Women of the American Revolution that I would like to share with you. This comes from the chapter on Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton, and if you only know her from the musical, you will love to learn more about the 50 years of her life that it doesn't cover! That is where this excerpt begins:

Eliza forged ahead, creating a life of her own for the first time. In 1805, she joined the board of the New York Society for the Relief of Poor Widows with Small Children, joining the ranks of women in the early nineteenth century in branching out from their homes to help form and improve society through benevolence. In March 1806, she was one of a group of women who formed the New York Orphan Asylum Society, as many of the small children of poor widows inevitably became orphans. Eliza perhaps also contemplated Alexander’s youth as an underprivileged orphan and transferred some of her love for him to young people in need. 

Eliza led this organization from its formation in a small rented home in May 1806, and quickly realized more space was needed. A lottery grant from New York City Council raised $5000 toward a new building with more space for children’s quarters, as well as rooms for schooling, religious studies, and trade skill training. In Eliza’s lifetime, hundreds of children would receive housing, care, and education through the Orphan Asylum Society that she founded.

Her son, James, shared an anecdote of this time in his memoir. ‘She found a little fellow in the arms of a fireman whose parents had been destroyed by the burning of their house. Being an orphan, she directed the fireman to take the little “McKavit” to the Orphan Asylum, on the Bloomingdale Road, giving him the means to hire a carriage to do so, and gave him her card.’ Many years later, Eliza found this young man a position at the Military Academy. When he was killed in the Mexican American War, he left all he had to the Orphan Asylum that had cared for him. This organization exists to this day as the Graham Windham in Brooklyn.

Portrait of James Alexander Hamilton
by Aimee Thibault

The above quote from James Hamilton's memoir is not the only one I included in Eliza's chapter. In fact, I became so interested in his observations and experiences that I decided to write about him next! I hope that my dear readers will be as enchanted by James as I am. This third son of Alexander and Eliza lived to be 90 years old and was an intellectual observer of the Early Republic from the American Revolution through the Civil War. 

James Alexander Hamilton: Son of the American Revolution will be published by Pen & Sword History. Until then, here is a bit more of his personal story included in Eliza's chapter:

Eliza tirelessly continued her work for poor women and orphans in New York City throughout most of the last fifty years of her life, petitioning the city for grants, increasing awareness of public needs, and personally overseeing the work of the orphan asylum for many of those years. ‘She was a most earnest, energetic, and intelligent woman,’ wrote her son, James. ‘Her engagements as a principal of the Widow’s Society and Orphan Asylum were incessant. In support of these institutions she was constantly employed, and as I once playfully told her, “Mamma, you are a sturdy beggar.” She replied, “My dear son, I cannot spare myself or others; my Maker has pointed out this duty to me, and has given me the ability and inclination to perform it.”’ 

The world of women’s charity work of the early nineteenth century was one into which Eliza fit perfectly and helped define. She was able to extend her love for family and children to include those who needed her. As her children grew and had families of their own, she spent increasing time helping other women raise their children and serving as a substitute mother to those who had lost their own. Eliza not only was able to be a part of the raising of dozens of children, she had the connections necessary for the fundraising that was vital to any charitable organization.

She had connections with those who had resources but continued to struggle with the financial situation in which her husband had left her. In a letter to her son, James, dated 11 May 1827, Eliza reveals her continued need and her gratitude toward those who assisted her. ‘My Dear Son: Your unremitting kindness and attentions, and in this last instance of providing for my comfort, demands my most ardent and affectionate thanks….As all good acts are recorded in the habitation where your father now is, I have no doubt this one will be proclaimed to him, and have thus given him another motive to implore continued blessings upon you.’ 

Read more about Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton in Women of the American Revolution!

Available at Amazon, Book Depository, Pen & Sword, Barnes & Noble, and other major book retailers.

Thursday, December 1, 2022

19th Century Women in Business

I am happy to welcome author Michael Ross to the blog today. In addition to being one of my co-authors for Alternate Endings, Michael has a new book that will transport you to the 19th century. The Founding explores the fate of families forging their futures in the wake of the Civil War. For some, that meant women entering the business world in ways they hadn't before.

Welcome, Michael!

~ Samantha


19th Century Women in Business 

Guest Post by Michael Ross

Wars often have a way of changing society, more than just fighting. For the last two centuries in the United States, the actual fighting has been done primarily by men. However, when the men are away, someone still has to tend the farms, factories, and offices. In her husband’s absence, a wife may have to take on tasks that her husband usually does, whether plowing fields, paying bills, or making strategic business decisions.

As women began to assume these new roles, society’s perception of women and their capabilities began to change, along with their legal status. In 1859, women in Kansas were granted full economic rights, to own property and control it, in the Kansas constitution. In 1861, similar rights were granted to women in Ohio, if they were not living with their husbands, including husbands away fighting in the Civil War.

In my series Across the Great Divide, one of the primary characters is Julia Crump, sister to the main character William D. Crump. In the first book of the series, The Clouds of War, Julia is a dowdy farm girl who dreams of marrying rich. She may not be beautiful like her sister Albinia, but she is smart and endowed with a great deal of common sense, the will to work, and courage. Julia manages to marry a rich man, Hiram Johannsen, whose family owns a steamship business. When Hiram’s father dies, and Hiram goes off to war, Julia is left as the manager of the steamship business. She has to learn fast, and fight for respect, but takes to business as though she were born to it.

At the end of the war, Julia has successfully navigated the business waters, and avoided sinking by either the North or the South – but Hiram is home, and she no longer has a legal right to command. Hiram is impressed with what she has accomplished. He tries to take the traditional male role, but finds that Julia isn’t satisfied, and has a better grasp of some business dealings than he does. In The Founding, after a bumpy start, they agree to work together and divide responsibilities. Since their primary base is Cincinnati, Ohio, the laws on women’s rights from 1861 that gave Julia authority during the war seem more natural than they once did, and they combine forces to prevent the ruin of their business as steamships fall and railroads rise.

The latter half of the 19th century and the early part of the 20th was a time of rapid change for women. While most women still didn’t work outside the home, some did – particularly widows and women not ready to rush into marriage. The Civil War killed as many as 1 in 10 adult white males in the country, from ages 17 to 70 (Exact figures vary). That left a lot of women without husbands, and children to feed. Most found a way to re-marry, in time. Many inherited their husband’s property, and some were in no hurry to give it up. Following 1900, most women in the United States did not work outside the home, and those who did were primarily young and unmarried. In that era, just 20 percent of all women were “gainful workers,” as the Census Bureau then categorized labor force participation outside the home, and only 5 percent of those married were categorized as such. (1)

Julia is barren and never has children, which is unusual for the era. She pours herself into working with her husband and making the business a success, as we see in this short excerpt.


Abilene, Kansas, 1868

When Julia returned home, the front porch lamp was lit, and she could see Hiram on the porch swing, probably furious after arriving home to a dark house with no supper and no word. Served him right, she thought. The very idea of permitting the sale of a major stake in the railroad without her still set her boiling.

“Good evening, Hiram. I hope your day went well.”

He stood, clutching one arm of the porch swing as though to snap it in half.

“Why weren’t you here? And not even a word. I might have looked over half the town for you.”

“You might have, but you didn’t, did you? I had no idea when to expect you home. You didn’t tell me. I’ve been visiting Mrs. Pomeroy, who seems better informed on many issues than I am. You did tell me to cultivate the wives, did you not? Of course, we needn’t worry about Mrs. Gould anymore, and it appears not much for Mrs. Pomeroy either. When were you planning to tell me?”

“Now, Julia, you must understand . . .”

“What is it I must understand? You think me incapable of understanding anything.”

“No, it’s just . . . bills have been mounting and not much income. I didn’t want you to worry your pretty little head.”

When she heard that, she exploded. “My pretty little head! Is that what you think of me? I know as much as you do about this company, and you know it!” She drew her eyebrows together and glared at him, eyes shooting flames. She wanted to slap him. Her hurt and anger threatened to overwhelm her. She would not cry! She threw her umbrella at him, point first, hitting a shin.

“Ow! What was that for?”

“My pretty little head ran the company for three years. I think I can be trusted to know about a potential sale that affects everything. But if you think not, then my heavens! How can I even be trusted with shopping and getting your meals? I might just forget altogether!”

“I don’t like your tone. See here—”

“No, you see here! I am in this godforsaken cow town with drunks, gunfights, heat, and bugs instead of our comfortable home in Cincinnati to be with you and to help with the railroad, which was my pretty little head’s idea! Instead of a partnership, you think you’re a one-man show. I have to find out from Mr. Peter that we’re hiring five hundred for the southern line. Visiting Martha Pomeroy, I couldn’t ask for more details without appearing a fool. She did tell me that her husband swindled the Pottawatomie out of the best farmland in Kansas under threat of army intervention.”

Hiram’s shoulders drooped, and his head lowered in surrender. “I’m sorry. I only meant to save you from worry.”

“Don’t patronize me. We’re in this together, remember? For richer or poorer, or whatever it was in that Swedish marriage ceremony. I know how to read a balance sheet. If we’re in trouble, we share it. If we triumph, we share that.”


Two men, two dreams, two new towns on the plains, and a railroad that will determine whether the towns — one black, one white — live or die.

Will Crump has survived the Civil War, Red Cloud’s War, and the loss of his love, but the search for peace and belonging still eludes him. From Colorado, famed Texas Ranger Charlie Goodnight lures Will to Texas, where he finds new love, but can a Civil War sharpshooter and a Quaker find a compromise to let their love survive? When Will has a chance to join in the founding of a new town, he risks everything — his savings, his family, and his life — but it will all be for nothing if the new railroad passes them by.

Luther has escaped slavery in Kentucky through Albinia, Will’s sister, only to find prejudice rearing its ugly head in Indiana. When the Black Codes are passed, he’s forced to leave and begin a new odyssey. Where can he and his family go to be truly free? Can they start a town owned by blacks, run by blacks, with no one to answer to? But their success will be dependent on the almighty railroad and overcoming bigotry to prove their town deserves the chance to thrive.

Will’s eldest sister, Julia, and her husband, Hiram, are watching the demise of their steamboat business and jump into railroads, but there’s a long black shadow in the form of Jay Gould, the robber baron who ruthlessly swallows any business he considers competition. Can Julia fight the rules against women in business, dodge Gould, and hold her marriage together?

The Founding tells the little-known story of the Exodusters and Nicodemus, the black town on the plains of Kansas, and the parallel story of Will’s founding of Lubbock, Texas, against the background of railroad expansion in America. A family reunited, new love discovered, the quest for freedom, the rise of two towns. In the end, can they reach Across the Great Divide? The Founding is the exciting conclusion to the series.


Connect with the author:

Michael Ross is a lover of history and great stories.

He’s a retired software engineer turned author, with three children, and five grandchildren, living in Newton, Kansas with his wife of 39 years. Michael graduated from Rice University and Portland State University with degrees in German and software engineering. He was part of an MBA program at Boston University.

Michael was born in Lubbock, Texas, and still loves Texas. He’s written short stories and technical articles in the past, as well as articles for the Texas Historical Society.

Across the Great Divide now has three novels in the series, The Clouds of War, and The Search, and the conclusion, The Founding. The Clouds of War was an honorable mention for Coffee Pot Book of the Year in 2019, and an Amazon #1 best seller in three categories, along with making the Amazon top 100 paid, reviewed in Publisher's Weekly.

The Search won Coffee Pot Cover of the Year in 2020, and Coffee Pot Silver Medal for Book of the Year in 2020, as well as short listed for the Chanticleer International Book Laramie Award.

Connect with Michael online: Website, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Book Bub, Amazon Author Page, Goodreads

(Photos are property of Michael Ross. Copyright (c) HistoricalNovelsRUs 2018-2022)