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Late 1700s log cabin is foundation for historical novel for children
Published on Sunday, July 6, 2003
Peg Coleman is the
author of "Paul of Montgomery," a children's historical novel
about a young boy named Paul Drury who lived in a log cabin in the late
1700s. The idea for the book came to her while she was restoring the log
house behind her. The house was once owned by Thomas Drury. The story
is told through Drury's fictitious son, Paul.
"As I was working on it, I kept thinking of things; the way life was then and all the interesting things that would have been going on at the time (it was built)," said Ms. Coleman. "It was a way to amuse myself while I was cleaning out the rats' nests and picking up the old glass."
The restoration was finished several years ago, though she says there's always something to be done, and is now a thriving bed and breakfast known as Pleasant Springs Farm.
But thoughts of the old house's first owner, Thomas Drury, and the history that unfolded around its foundations, inspired her to write a children's historical novel based on the character of Thomas Drury and the county's history. The book, titled "Paul of Montgomery" ($16.95 paperback, 99 pages), is published by PublishAmerica and features Thomas's fictionalized family.
"Essentially, it's the story of this house," said Ms. Coleman, seated in an old rocker on the front porch of the house.
"Thomas Drury purchased the land in 1768," she said. "When he sold it, it had a structure on the property." That's a fact.
The rest of Thomas's family -- his wife, Beth, and son, Paul -- are fictional. While she knows Thomas came to the area from England, little else is known about him.
"I gave him a wife, Beth, and a son, Paul, and let them tell the story," she said.
When the story begins, Paul is 12 years old and full of excitement and wonder at all that's happening, politically and personally, in his young life.
The year is 1776 and war is imminent. The Rev. Dade, a priest in the Anglican Church of England, is bidding farewell to his parishoners, having been displaced by the war. "I must leave you," he declares from the pulpit. "As of July 4 in this most memorable year of 1776, the Anglican Church of England includes America no more."
In the story, Father Dade had also run a school for children, where Paul learned to read and write. Paul's world was being turned upside down at every turn.
"The Rev. Dade really was the first priest at what is now St. Peter's Episcopal Church and he really did lose his job as a result of the Revolutionary War," said Ms. Coleman. "Of course, I made up the incident of when he left."
New adventures await Paul each day. One bright sunny morning, Paul and his father head out to nearby Sugarloaf Mountain to visit the New Bremen Glass Manufactury to purchase a pane of glass that will replace a shuttered opening in the Drurys' cabin. On the way, they meet a family of charcoal makers who, in a conversational manner, describe the process to young Paul. At the glassworks, Thomas and Paul speak with glass maker John Amelung, who came to America from Bremen, Germany. The "glassmanufactory" near Sugarloaf actually existed from 1784-1795.
"People who have looked at my log cabin can tell that one window was put in later, after the cabin was built," said Ms. Coleman. So it was, too, for the fictional Drury family. The window was installed sometime after the cabin was built.
In order to have some chestnut logs cut into boards for roof sheathing, Paul is sent to a nearby mill, Darby's Mill, to bring back the miller's mule to drag the logs to the mill for sawing. Darby's slave, Hal, and his mules were sent with Paul to gather the logs.
"Darby's Mill did exist along Buck Lodge Branch," said Ms. Coleman. Traces of the millrace can be seen and the miller's house still stands. "I don't know if Darby had slaves, but there were some in the area. They were well treated," she said.
But the most exciting events take place at Hungerford's Tavern, three days' travel by foot from the Drurys' cabin. A historic vote is to take place there and a name for the new county, which is being cut from Frederick County, must be decided upon.
The election account is fictional, said Ms. Coleman, but a vote actually did take place at Hungerford's, in what is now Rockville.
"It was required that men vote," said Ms. Coleman. "I don't know how many people took it seriously."
While at Hungerford's, Paul is befriended by a dog named Prince. Their bond would change Paul's life forever.
"The dog was based on my first dog, a border collie named Sheba," said Ms. Coleman. She "inherited" the dog from a friend who wanted her to live someplace where there were sheep. Ms. Coleman raises sheep, and spins and dyes the wool, which she sells.
"I knew (Sheba) wanted a boy to play with," said Ms. Coleman of her border collie. "If someone came to visit she would try to get their attention by tapping on their leg with a stick. She wanted to play." The character of Prince is a tribute to Sheba, she said.
The story ends as the men at Hungerford's Tavern decide to name the new county for Revolutionary "hero" General Richard Montgomery -- but during the announcement, Paul finds himself in an unexpected situation.
"Paul of Montgomery" is Ms. Coleman's first work of historical fiction to be published, but it's not her first published work.
In 1980, she authored "Montgomery County: A Pictorial History," which is now out of print. The research she did for that book was useful in writing "Paul." She also edited "Circling Historical Landscapes," which was published by Sugarloaf Regional Trails.
"It's a trail guide to this area, with stories and explanations of what you'll see," said Ms. Coleman.
Writing fiction was a challenge, she admits. "It's very hard to do after you've written factual accounts. I didn't know it would be so hard," she said.
A sequel to "Paul of Montgomery" is in the works, she says. "Paul will be going to war and be in a couple (Revolutionary War) battles," she said. Paul's having learned to read and write from the Rev. Dade garners him the job of a clerk, "where he overhears a lot of interesting conversations."
Ms. Coleman, who holds a degree in history from Hood College in Frederick, was born in Montana and raised in Washington State. She moved to Maryland about 35 years ago and was intrigued by the area's history.
"It was like a different country," she said of her early years here. "The politics, architecture, the climate, fauna and flora are so different from the Pacific Northwest.
"I'm so interested in local history."
"Paul of Montgomery" is available online at amazon.com, from the publisher at www.PublishAmerica.com or from the author at www.pleasantspringsfarm.com.