Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Remember When . . . The Pilots Didn't Fly?

I was researching for my Civil War era book when I first read about pilots. I'd heard the term in this context, of course, but I still had to pause. Frown. And think, "They obviously don't mean airplane pilots, so..."

Okay, it didn't even require that much of a pause, given that I was reading about boats and ships trying to maneuver through complicated riverways. Pretty obvious that when they say they need to find an able pilot, they're not looking for someone to wing them through the clouds. ;-)

Still, it's come up again, and I've been struck by how important a job these people had. During the War of 1812, for instance, the action in the Chesapeake depended heavily upon how one could navigate the web of estuaries. Those native to the region could find ways around the blockade by following smaller streams and branches around and about until they were past the British ships in the bay. But the British...when they were trying to launch raids with their fleet, they couldn't do a whole lot on their own.

In both the War of 1812 and the Civil War, the visitors to the territories they were trying to invade relied on a particular group of pilots to aid them--the slaves. Both with the same promise--freedom. Though Maryland was technically a Union state in the Civil War, it was one of the two highest traders of slaves in the early 19th century, sending them south and west. Needless to say, there were plenty kept there too. And much as they had done during the Revolution, the British put out the word that any slave to run away from his master and join the British would be granted their freedom.

This is how they got their pilots. They lured local slaves away and then used their intimate knowledge of the land and rivers to lead the invading force away from the coast.

In Whispers from the Shadows, my hero is a a New Englander who moved to Maryland as a teen. Having been raised with the sensibilities of one from a state that had outlawed slavery before he was even born, he sees this practice and shakes his head--knowing that this same weakness that is bringing the British too close for comfort now will continue to divide his nation. Which, naturally, will lead right into the third book in the trilogy, when his granddaughter finds herself caught in a rather precarious position between the southern sympathizers meeting secretly in Baltimore and her Union-sympathizing family...

But I'm getting ahead of myself. ;-)

Oh, and many, many thanks to everyone who took the time to wish me a happy birthday yesterday! I had a lovely day with my family, and it was brightened still more by all the online greetings. =)


  1. I LOVE when you get ahead of yourself :)

    1. There for a while I had more figured out about book 3 than book 2, LOL. Not so much anymore, thankfully. =) But I am definitely looking forward to breathing life into Marietta and Shade here in a few months! Pinkertons versus Knights of the Golden Circle. *rubbing hands together in anticipation*

  2. It's a love-hate relationship when it comes to hearing about your upcoming books. I absolutely love hearing about what exciting things are coming up but I don't like remembering the fact that they are not here yet. I still love hearing about it though. I'll keep listening.

    Speaking of books, my mom is LOVING Annapolis. I knew she would. She's not finished yet. We were talking about your use of the historical language the other day. Many authors will incorporate the culture and language but you really capture it. It is just really is so excellent. The more I read it the better it becomes.

    1. You're such a sweetie. =) I guess if I were kind I'd make my posts more relevant to the books that I'm promoting rather than writing, but my brain can't keep up with all that, LOL. So I'll just keep tormenting you. ;-)

      So glad your mom's loving Annapolis!! And my editor really helped me nail the historical voice with one of her suggestions. =)