In the family Bible it was written that “Michael Eisan married for the third time at the age of 101 and died of his excesses at the age of 103.” That was enough to convince me to write about this man who was my four times great-grandfather, and so began years of research and writing culminating in my historical novel The Loyalist.
The novel is told from two points of view. The first is Michael Eisan who takes 30-year-old Sarah Lawrence as a wife. An old man now, Michael remembers his experiences in South Carolina during the American Revolution. Trapped in an unhappy marriage, Michael chooses the losing side and fights in a Loyalist militia in this bitter civil war. Among other skirmishes, he fights at the Battle of King’s Mountain and the Siege of Ninety Six.
The second point of view is Sarah Lawrence, a widow who marries the old man, for the sake of her young son. In spite of her apprehensions, she finds herself falling in love with the centenarian. Embarrassed by this, she tries to find out all she can about his youth, but Michael remains secretive of his past. Sarah is resented by his many children, especially his oldest daughters, Janet McCarthy and Lizzie Eisan. This animosity comes to a head when Michael suffers a stroke and Sarah nurses him back to health in spite of his advanced age.
The historical incidents that are described in The Loyalist really took place, and my ancestor Michael Eisan, over the course of his long life (c. 1730- 1833), took part in them. However, he did not pass this story down to the next generations. I initially discovered much of it, including the quotation from the family Bible, on the Eisan family website, but my further research has revealed many more details about his amazing life.
You’ve heard this story before but never from this point of view. Elisheva, an old woman living in the Roman-occupied territory of Galilee, is consumed by anger for those who have beheaded
her only son. When her best friend’s son begins preaching a radical new message of love and inclusion, Elisheva feels compelled to follow him, all the way to Jerusalem and his death on the cross. There she finally finds the courage to speak in the Temple, daring the powers that be to take her life as well.
The Book of Elisheva, though a glimpse into the first-century life of a Jewish woman, still speaks to the human condition today in a world where beheadings, religious fanaticism, rule by tyrants,
and the marginalization of women continue to our shame.
A Garden in the Wilderness is the story of the Deans’ first year in Nova Scotia, beginning the day their New York-bound ship is boarded by the British and taken to Halifax Harbour. They learn to deal with the difficulties of pioneer life in remote Upper Musquodoboit including meeting the natives, clearing the land, finding enough to eat and even providing clothes from scratch for a family of ten. Death visits the family and each of them learns to deal with it in their own way.
Letters from a BelfastGardener is uneasily situated between the dramatic events in Scotland in The Gardener’s Wife and the Deans’ trip to the New World, described in A Garden in the Wilderness. The Deans spend six years in Belfast (1789-1795) in which old jealousies fester and new ones take root.
Each chapter is framed by letters, opening with a letter from John to his former fellow servants in Ellon, Matthew and Lavinia Henry, in which he discusses the simmering political situation in Ulster, and ending with a letter from either the Henrys or Penelope Dering, the mistress of Ellon Castle, who continues to foment trouble between the couple.
New problems ensue when Susan meets the radically republican brother and sister, Henry Joy and Mary Ann McCracken and their lives become entwined. Mary Ann lends Susan the book A Vindication of the Rights of Women by Mary Wollstonecroft, much to John’s annoyance.
John becomes jealous when he discovers a letter from Penelope in Susan’s book which seems to suggest something improper has passed between his wife and McCracken. He begins to doubt that he is the father of his newborn children, twins Charles and Esther.
Matters come to a head when he confronts Susan and then Henry Joy McCracken, but all is resolved before the family leaves for the New World.
The Gardener’s Wife begins where the fairy-tale romance ends. Susan Kirke has married the gardener she loves, John Dean. As a result she has been disowned by her family and the young couple are cast upon their own resources, made more difficult by the fact that Dean has been blacklisted by his father-in-law and cannot find work on an estate. They try to make ends meet in London, but they have 4 children in the first five years.
Then, through the favour of a friend, Dean finds a job at Ellon Castle working for the Earl of Aberdeen. A deeply religious Presbyterian, Dean is shocked to discover upon his arrival that his employer is actually the Earl’s mistress. Having moved his family hundreds of miles by coach to a new country, he has little choice but to stay.
Against his wishes, Susan becomes fast friends with the Earl’s mistress, a young Englishwoman named Penelope Dering. They have babies near the same age, and their young children play together, making life in the remote village of Ellon more endurable.
It is only a matter of time before events occur that convince even Susan that they must leave the castle of “the wicked Earl”, and so the family of 8 set sail for Ireland.
In 18th century England, exotic pleasure gardens are all the rage, and this is the setting where Susan Kirke, daughter of a gentleman, falls in love with the head gardener on her father’s estate. John Dean, her Mr. Right, is wrong in every way: wrong nationality, a Scot, wrong religion, Presbyterian, and worst of all, wrong class. When they confess their love to her father, he dismisses Dean and forbids Susan to see him again.
Sixteen-year-old Susan defies her parents’ attempt to marry her to her cousin, Herbert Fitzwilliam. While attending a masquerade with him, disguised as a man, she escapes to the streets of London in search of the gardener she loves.
When she finds Dean, they elope to his hometown of Dundee. On this journey, still in a man’s disguise, she finds that she must live up to the responsibilities of the costume when Dean is captured by a press gang and she alone can rescue him.
The romance ends as every romance must, with a marriage. However, happily ever after is belied in Books 2 and 3.