When History Meets Romance


Portrait of an English soldier, by Reynolds

Truth lies not in the accounts but in the account books. – Josephine Tey, Daughter of Time

I had a lot of fun researching the Oregon Border Dispute when I was writing The English Lieutenant’s Lady. (Yes, I’m a geek. I like research.) Specifically, I searched for information about the two spies: a pair of British Army officers named Lieutenants Vavasour and Warre. The Colonial Office sent them to Oregon from Montreal, with instructions to pass as gentlemen of leisure on a scenic tour. Their mission was to evaluate the territory and its population to determine whether the British should declare war against America to defend their claim to the land.

The two men travelled across the continent to the Pacific coast, where they tried to purchase the aptly named Cape Disappointment. Failing at that, they went up the Columbia River and then the Willamette, evaluating sites for potential forts and even drawing up a plan to occupy the only town of any size in the area, Oregon City.

My story focuses on a character based on one of the actual lieutenants, Vavasour, and a fictional woman from the Oregon Territory. At least, I thought she was fictional. But looking through the records, there is evidence that the lieutenant was involved with someone while on his mission.

fullsizeoutput_115Looking through the accounts of items purchased by Vavasour at Fort Vancouver, I found evidence that he purchased not only the standard supplies he would need for his stay in the territory, food and such, he also made some intriguing additional purchases. He purchased a pair of ladies shoes and several yards of gauzy material. On a couple occasions he purchased hair ribbons.

All these purchases went on the official record. He was given an allowance to buy what he needed for his mission, and he included these items in the list. Therefore, it is logical to assume he was prepared to justify the act of buying ladies shoes and fripperies as being required for his mission.

Hmmmn… supplies for his mission? Ladies shoes and hair ribbons? Even if I weren’t a romance novelist I would be starting to suspect that love was in the air.

The British in Fort Vancouver held a ball during this time, as well as putting on several plays. Festivities, in other words. Events for which a lady would need special clothes… hmmmmm…

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