One of the things we love most about Diana Gabaldon’s writing is her ability to create the most colorful, humorous characters and bring them to life. Although we love the actors who portray these roles on the TV series, we don’t always get the full impact of the images Diana’s written words inspire. Such is the case of one John Quincy Myers, rustic mountain man and comic relief.
We first encounter John Quincy Myers in Wilmington, NC where Claire, Fergus, young Ian, and Rollo await the return of Jamie from his search for a gemstone buyer. Imagine Claire’s shock as this spindly, gaunt, buckskin-clad giant approaches her in the streets of Wilmington. His bushy black beard overtakes his face and his hair hangs in “loose, snaky black locks.” Taller than Jamie, he sports a “disreputable slouch hat” with a ragged turkey feather. When he squats down, “his knee joints pop like rifle shots.” One can only imagine the stench that must have accompanied this hazel-eyed behemoth with the “thin layer of greasy brown dirt” that covered everything. (Ah, if only there were a scratch and sniff version of Outlander.) Claire offers him her hand, but surprisingly he lifts it to his nose, sniffs it, then; breaks into a wide grin that is “nonetheless charming for missing half its teeth.”
After learning Claire is a “yarb woman,” Myers unabashedly asks her opinion of his mysterious malady, a “great big swelling [that] come up just along behind of my balls.” He suddenly starts to remove his pants to show Claire! Fortunately, Jamie arrives in the nick of time. Now the “two enormous specimens of mankind size each other up,” according to Fergus, “like two dogs… Next thing you know, they will be smelling each other’s backside.”
Myers persists in relaying his tale of the “Big purple thing, almost as big as one o’ my balls. You don’t think it might could be as I’ve decided sudden-like to grow an extry, do you?” Claire fights to keep from laughing. She explains this swelling must be an inguinal hernia that she couldn’t surgically repair unless Myers is asleep or unconscious. Later, Jamie gives Claire one of his famous quips, “What is it [Sassenach] that makes every man ye meet want to take off his breeks within five minutes of meetin’ ye?”
Now we fast forward to Aunt Jocasta’s formal dinner party at River Run where an inebriated John Quincy Myers (complete with black eye and ripped shirt), suddenly staggers in the doorway insisting he is now ready for Claire to operate on his offending bulge. To which Duncan opines, “I did try to stop him, Mac Dubh.” Claire protests that alcohol is like poison to the body and could result in Myer’s death if she operates. Someone in the room comments, “No great loss.” Phillip Wylie interjects, “Shame to waste so much brandy. We’ve heard a great deal of your skill, Mistress Fraser. Now’s your chance of proving yourself among witnesses!” Claire finally relents, and Myers’ comatose body is moved to the salon. “Relieved of his nether garb, Myers lay tastefully displayed on the mahogany table, boneless as a roasted pheasant, and nearly as ornamental.” (What an image these words paint!) What follows is an unusual after dinner entertainment; let’s call it “the Claire Surgical Show,” as she diligently works to repair the inguinal hernia amidst a sea of curious onlookers. These dinner guests have no qualms about commenting during the procedure with such remarks as, “Expensive way to kill lice”, and “Jesus, Lord, it’s true—he’s got three balls!” I wonder how this whole scenario would have played out on the big screen, had the writers and producers the luxury of additional episodes in Season 4.
There are more humorous antics of John Quincy Meyers to delight the reader. If you haven’t read about him in a while, you might want to review his part in Drums of Autumn to get the full effect of his character. I have no complaints about the actor chosen to portray Myers on the screen, nor his performance. He did manage to add some humor to an otherwise serious season. However, I urge those who haven’t read the books to take a good look at his character in Drums of Autumn.
Pictures are courtesy and copyright of my Twitter friend, Susan Vaughan. Susan has amassed a wealth of Barbies, Kens, small dolls, and miniatures over the years. She uses them to recreate scenes from the television series.
Quotes credited to Diana Gabaldon and her book Drums of Autumn
We love JQM, Nancy–thanks for reminding us how funny hernia surgery can be ! (Only in Outlander, right?!)
In past blog posts, we’ve looked at the circumstances that led to many Highland Scots emigrating from Scotland. Our next question is, why did they immigrate to North Carolina?
A major impetus appears to be Gabriel Johnston, a Lowland Scot who served as Governor of North Carolina from 1734 to 1752. “He felt it would be good for the future of the Cape Fear Valley for it to be settled by large numbers of Protestant Highland Scots, so he began writing enthusiastic letters to friends in Scotland, inviting them to come to a land where there were two crops each year…land grants and possible exemption from taxation for time.” [Douglas F. Kelly, Carolina Scots (Dillon, SC: 1739 Publications, 1998), p.82-83.]
Not everyone was enthusiastic about Governor Johnston’s partiality, however. “Among other charges brought against the Governor [in 1748] was his inordinate fondness for his brother Scotchmen, even Scotch rebels. His partiality for this latter class of Scotchmen, it was said, was so great, and his lack of joy at the king’s ‘glorious victory at Culloden’ was so conspicuous, that he was accused of a want of fealty to the House of Hanover…” Nevertheless, “…like other Scotchmen, he was fond of the people of his native country, and sought to better their condition by inducing them to emigrate to North Carolina…” [William L. Saunders, ed., The Colonial Records of North Carolina, Volume IV, 1734-1752 (Raleigh, NC: P.M. Hale, 1886), prefatory notes, p. ix-x.]
There were some Scots living in the colony earlier; before 1700, several Lowland Scots were present, and it is believed that Highlanders were living in the Cape Fear area as early as 1725. After Governor Johnston began to promote immigration into the colony, the first large group of Highlanders disembarked in September 1739. A party of 350 from Argyllshire, they made their way up the Cape Fear to settle in the Cross Creek area; the Cape Fear was convenient due to the ports of Brunswick and Wilmington, and the river for transportation farther upstream. In February 1740, two of the leaders of the Argyllshire colony appeared before the Colonial Legislature asking for special consideration for ”themselves and several other Scotch Gentlemen and several poor people brought into this province” and for “substantial encouragement, that they might be able to induce the rest of their friends and acquaintances to come over.” The Upper House responded favorably with tax exemptions and land grants, and the immigration to North Carolina continued. [Saunders, p. viii-ix; Duane Meyer, The Highland Scots of North Carolina (Raleigh, NC: Carolina Charter Tercentenary Commission, 1963), chapter III, “Settlement”; R.D.W. Connor, History of North Carolina, Vol. I (Chicago, IL: Lewis Publishing Co., 1919); digital transcription, http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Gazetteer/Places/America/United_States/North_Carolina/_Tex ts/CBHHNC/1/10*.html : accessed 2018.]
Names associated with the 1739 party include McNeil, Forbes, Hamilton, Jones, and Campbel. “At a meeting of the council held at Wilmington, June 4, 1740, there were presented petitions for patents of lands, by the following persons, giving acres and location, as granted.” Note the prevalence of Highland names – do you recognize any from Outlander?
Name. Acres. County. Thos Clarks 320 N. Hanover James McLachlan 160 Bladen Hector McNeil 300 Duncan Campbell 150 James McAlister 640 James McDugald 640 Duncan Campbell 75 Hugh McCraine 500 Duncan Campbell 320 Gilbert Pattison 640 Rich Lovett 855 Tyrrel Rd Earl 108 N. Hanover Jno McFerson 320 Bladen Duncan Campbell 300 Neil McNeil 150 Duncan Campbell 140 Jno Clark 320 Malcolm McNeil 320 Neil McNeil 400 Arch Bug 320 Duncan Campbel 640 Bladen Jas McLachlen 320 Murdock McBraine 320 Jas Campbel 640 Patric Stewart 320 Arch Campley 320 Dan McNeil 105; 400 Neil McNeil 400 Duncan Campbel 320 Jno Martileer 160 Daniel McNeil 320 Wm Stevens 300 Dan McNeil 400 Jas McLachlen 320 Wm Speir ? Edgecombe Jno Clayton 100 Bladen Sam Portevint 640 N. Hanover Charles Harrison 320 Robt Walker 640 Jas Smalwood 640 Wm Faris 400; 640 Richd Canton 180 Craven Duncan Campbel 150 Bladen Neil McNeil 321 Alex McKey 320 Henry Skibley 320 Jno Owen 200 Duncan Campbel 400 Dougal Stewart 640 Arch Douglass 200 N. Hanover James Murray 320 Robt Clark 200 Duncan Campbel 148 Bladen James McLachlen 320 Arch McGill 500 Jno Speir 100 Edgecombe James Fergus 640 Rufus Marsden 640 Hugh Blaning 320 (surplus land) Bladen Robt Hardy 400 Beaufort Wm Jones 354; 350
“Occasionally, a list of emigrants has been preserved in the minutes of the official proceedings. Hence it may be read that on November 4, 1767, there landed at Brunswick, from the Isle of Jura, Argyle-shire, Scotland, the following names of families and persons, to whom were allotted vacant lands, clear of all fees, to be taken up in Cumberland or Mecklenburgh counties, at their option:
These names show they were from Argyleshire, and probably from the Isle of Mull, and the immediate vicinity of the present city of Oban.”
Those who came to Carolina and prospered wrote letters home, and thus word of mouth became a catalyst for emigration. “There was in fact a Carolina mania which was not broken until the beginning of the Revolution. The flame of enthusiasm passed like wildfire through the Highland glens and Western Isles.” [J.P. MacLean, An Historical Account of the Settlements of Scotch Highlanders in America… (Glasgow, Scotland: John McKay, 1900), Chapter 5, “Highlanders in North Carolina”; digital transcription, Electric Scotland (https://www.electricscotland.com/history/highlands/chapter5.htm : accessed 2018].
As a result, “Shipload after shipload of sturdy Highland settlers sailed for the shores of America, and most of them landing at Charleston and Wilmington found their way to their kinsmen on the Cape Fear. In a few years their settlements were thickly scattered throughout the territory now embraced in the counties of Anson, Bladen, Cumberland, Harnett, Moore, Richmond, Robeson, Sampson, Hoke, and Scotland…The Scot’s Magazine, in September, 1769, records that the ship Molly had recently sailed from Islay filled with passengers for North Carolina, and that this was the third emigration from that county within six years. The same journal in a later issue tells us that between April and July, 1770, fifty-four vessels sailed from the Western Isles laden with 1,200 Highlanders all bound for North Carolina. In 1771, the Scot’s Magazine stated that 500 emigrants from Islay and the adjacent islands were preparing to sail for America, and later in the same year Governor Tryon wrote that ‘several ship loads of Scotch families’ had ‘landed in this province within three years past from the Isles of Arran, Durah, Islay, and Gigah, but chief of them from Argyle Shire and are mostly settled in Cumberland County.’ Their number he estimated ‘at 1,600 men, women, and children.’ A year later the ship Adventure brought a cargo of 200 emigrants from the Highlands to the Cape Fear, and in March of the same year Governor Martin wrote to Lord Hillsborough, secretary of state for the colonies: ‘Near a thousand people have arrived in Cape Fear River from the Scottish Isles since the month of November with a view to settling in this province whose prosperity and strength will receive great augmentation by the accession of such a number of hardy, laborious and thrifty people.’” [Connor, http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Gazetteer/Places/America/United_States/North_Carolina/_Tex ts/CBHHNC/1/10*.html: accessed 2018].
Such massive immigration to North Carolina has led to claims that the state now has more descendants of Scots than has present-day Scotland. In summary, favorable reports, support of the crown and governor, and financial incentives all conspired to make the ship route of Scotland to the Cape Fear a major migration pattern. As MacLean poetically described the aftermath of Culloden,
“Left without chief, or protector, clanship broken up, homes destroyed and kindred murdered, dispirited, outlawed, insulted and without hope of palliation or redress, the only ray of light pointed across the Atlantic where peace and rest were to be found in the unbroken forests of North Carolina.”
The world of Outlander can be sourced as the inspiration for a number of newly-acquired Scottish-related interests, especially amongst fans. In my family’s case, most particularly, it would be our recent interest in learning more about our Scottish ancestry. We are most notably Munroes. Originally Munro, the “e” was added some time before my husband’s great-grandfather arrived in the US. His Scottish lineage has strong ties in that our first born son had to take the name Angus (either first or middle) to keep with family tradition that goes back hundreds of years. No pressure right? But how does one help their son who carries such a strong Scottish name understand why it was important that we give him that name?
Being an avid Outlander reader and show viewer, I have not only started taking note of all the locations mentioned that are related to actual historical sites, but also the Scottish families that are woven into Diana’s world. Her storylines detail the true migration that some of these families made before and after Culloden and found their way to North Carolina.
These emigrated families are directly responsible for shaping our home state of North Carolina, and their influence can still be felt today. One of the most notable ways is the yearly gathering of Scottish-descended clans at the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games (GMHG) in Linville, North Carolina. Every year, for over 60 years, on the second full weekend in July, people travel from all over to attend this four-day event that has everything from music concerts to cultural lectures, demonstrations like piping and Highland dancing to sporting competitions, specialty food vendors to Highland crafters. Attending this amazing event is on many people’s bucket lists, and last year it was time that I finally see for myself what all the buzz was about and hope that my sons learn a bit about their ancestry.
The first decision that needed to be made was whether or not we wanted to camp on the grounds. This, I have heard, is a major attraction for a number of returning attendees. The camaraderie that forms in the campgrounds during the games is what brings people back year after year. It’s like a mini festival within the Games itself! Seeing as we had teenage boys attending with us and none are accustomed to being without creature comforts for more than a day, we decided to stay in one of the many cabins available for rent all around the mountain and also just a short drive from the Games. Some of the nearby towns, Linville, Banner Elk, Seven Devils, Valle Crucis, Boone and Blowing Rock having ample accommodations available, and we decided on a cabin in Valle Crucis. Not only are the GMHG a huge draw to this area, but also the many other sites that are a must-see if you find yourself in the area. We wanted to drop in at the original and famous Mast General Store that is located in Valle Crucis. Not to mention one of our favorite wineries, Grandfather Vineyard & Winery, was just a short drive from our cabin, either going to or driving back from the Games, but it is the Games that are the true draw for us.
The first day (Thursday) was opening day with a few highlights: Highland dance performances, sheepdog demonstrations, a leisurely picnic and the beginning of the 5K Bear Foot Race that has runners start at the base of Grandfather Mountain and end at the top! I had hopes of running this race as one of my My Peak Challenge goals, but soon found that this race was a bit “unbearable” for me at the time, so contented myself with cheering on those amazing athletes as they funneled through MacRae Meadows before continuing up the mountain.
The definitive highlight, though, is the Opening Ceremony and Calling of the Clans. Come twilight, a representative of each of the attending Clans muster together in preparation for the Torch Lighting Ceremony. It’s at this time too that a reverie of pipers take the track and starts the mountain singing. There’s nothing quite like hearing the sound of the pipes announcing the opening of these Games!
Friday is the first full day of the Games. The mountain comes alive with Highland dance competitions, piping competitions, musical performances in the groves, cultural lectures and exhibitions like the Scottish Cultural Village and much more.
photo credits: GMHG: Rob Randall, James Shaffer, Mike Lacey
Though droves of people come to the Games for the event itself, we were excited about taking a stroll through Clan Row and getting acquainted with our new-found friends at the Munro tent. I had become acquainted with a few of our US chapter representatives via email and was excited to not only pop in to say hi, but to learn what it is to be a member of a sponsoring clan or society. Those that find they have connections to a particular Scottish clan can visit that clan’s tent and learn about membership opportunities, make genealogical connections, learn about their own events, or simply find interesting information.
While hanging with our fellow Munros, we learned that Clan Munro is one of a handful of clans that still provide scholarships to young men and women who want to learn and perpetuate the Scottish arts of Highland dancing and piping. Recent scholarship winners were stopping by the tent to accept their certificates and took the opportunity to thank the organization for the award. Another interesting fun fact about Clan Munro is that the family seat of Foulis Castle in the parish of Kiltearn, Ross and Cromarty, Scotland is still a working estate that grows barley that just happens to be used for making whisky by Glenmorangie distilleries. Needless to say, we came away with a new appreciation for that particular brand of whisky and I am proud that the Munros have that affiliation!
Competitions and demonstrations draw to a close by late afternoon in preparation for the highly anticipated Celtic rock concert on the grounds that evening. Our day ended with a bit of exploration of the surrounding areas and just kicking back and relaxing at our cabin.
Saturday is typically the busiest and most popular day of the Games. Attendance reaches max capacity and unless you have a coveted patron pass that allows you to park on the Mountain, you will have an adventure taking one of the area shuttles that winds its way up the mountain to MacRae Meadow. We started our day early, for there was still so much to see and hear. With the majority of the piping competitions concluded (and I can attest that my ears were still ringing with piping music come morning!) the highlights were the field competitions, concerts in the grove, and I was anxious for a special guest to arrive; being an avid fan of the Outlander television series, I was very excited to have had the opportunity to meet David Berry, who was a guest at the Clan Outlander tent!
But of course my day’s excitement didn’t stop there (though how do you top meeting David Berry?!). I had the opportunity to be fitted for authentic Highland attire at one of the vendor tents. I had long desired having an outfit that I can wear during one of my many planned events where period clothing is not only welcomed, but expected. I found myself at the Wolfstone Kilt Company tent and fell in love with all of the beautifully-made garments on display for both men and women. One of the wonderful ladies that creates these amazing pieces actually did the fitting, and I can’t recommend enough the importance of having this done. Starting from scratch, I was on the market for not only the basics, but for universal items as well. When I finally pulled myself out of there, (wallet lighter and me heavier), I was donning my new shift, lovely stays, bumroll, stomacher (I chose one with bees in anticipation for Diana’s next book Go Tell The Bees That I Am Gone), full skirt in the Wolfstone tartan, jacket and a fishu. I spent the remainder of my day wearing my new Highland attire with pride, but boy, it was it a joy taking it all off when I got back to the cabin! I have such a new-found admiration for the women of the time who not only wore these items all day but while also performing their daily work.
Sunday is the day Grandfather Mountain gives a long sigh as the Games draw to a close, but not before a few more field competitions are completed, the kids races commence and the Parade of Tartans. Any attendees that wish to walk with their representing clans gather around the outer ring of the track to take a stroll around the inner track, arrive in front of the announcer’s stage and have their clan announced to the crowd.
Myself and my family dressed out in our Munro tartan for this occasion and I have to admit I found myself carrying a new sense of pride in being able to truly call myself a Munro while walking with my new “family” and friends!
As our week at the 2018 GMHG came to a close, we said our goodbyes to our friends and to the Mountain, and we decided then that we would come back again, and I have been eagerly counting down the months, weeks, and now days, until the 2019 event.
A year has gone by and in that time we have had another season of Outlander. It was in this season that we got to see Roger and Bree attend these very games set in 1970 in an episode entitled “The False Bride.” While the writers took certain liberties when creating their version of the games, many scenes did have a factual foundation. Bree and Roger traveled to North Carolina for a Scottish festival in the vicinity of Fraser’s Ridge which does coincide with the GMHG’s long standing location. Their festival was full of dancing, music and games; just like our games. Even the calling of the clans and burning of the stag fits right in with our modern games (substitute a the tower of torches for the show’s wicker stag). I have delusions of hoping to find Roger at this year’s Games singing his version of “I Once Loved a Lass.”
Not only do we have this comparison, but we also had Diana’s version of a Highland Gathering in The Fiery Cross. I will have to leave it to the history books to confirm any of the comparisons of this 1770 gathering to what may have transpired in the past, but a little birdie did tell me that in the coming season of Outlander we will see the Frasers attending The Gathering at Mount Helicon (aka Grandfather Mountain).
This year’s Games will no doubt be another memorable event for me and my family. We have decided to explore a new area around Grandfather and rented a cabin in Seven Devils this year. We also decided to purchase the Highlander Patron package to better experience this year’s Games with being able to attend the reception banquet, whisky tasting, secured parking and a few other perks. I’m also looking forward to possibly seeing another Outlander cast member, Gary Lewis, who played the role of Colum MacKenzie. While he leads Clan Outlander around the track, I hope I have the opportunity to hear him shout “Tùlach Àrd”!
The mountains are calling and I must go–I hope to see you all there!
Thank you, Mitzie, for sharing your first GMHG experience with us!
I first met my favorite author in Winston-Salem last year. Never in a million years did I think I’d be able to meet her again! However, I was fortunate enough to attend two of the events held in Burlington, NC, on April 27 & 28, 2019, thanks to our dear friend, Kimberly Kandros, manager of Development & Special Projects at the NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. She was instrumental in getting Diana back to NC.
Saturday evening, we met at the Paramount Theater in Burlington. First, there was a speech from “Herself” with Q&A, followed by a book signing. I was front row, center, for this fascinating event and was in awe with every word. I visited with friends I’ve made through the Outlander effect. I even met Diana’s husband, Doug. He is just as kind and friendly as Diana. However, I spent more time with him than her. LOL After the event, several of us walked across the street to grab a bite to eat and drink and visit with each other. Such a lovely evening.
On Sunday morning I was so excited about the brunch with Diana at the Alamance Battleground, that I arrived a little early. I visited with Kimberly, look around the gift shop, and got first dibs on seating. It wasn’t long before another attendee, Marybeth Krichilsky, arrived and we chatted and started taking pictures. The tables were beautifully set under a tent on the grounds. One of the first things we saw was a dragonfly which kept landing on Diana’s place setting. How ironic. I was going to let Diana know, but when I finally could talk with her, I totally forgot.
Diana mentioned how she’d had to take allergy medicine since being here. (North Carolina was in high pollination that weekend!) She included a little background of herself, her process, how she researches her material for her books. While writing, she sometimes will stop and pick something else up when she needs a break. She can be working on several projects at one time and does this frequently.
The main topic of the day was, of course, the Regulators and events that led to the Alamance Battle. This was a taxpayer rebellion. Governor Tryon raised taxes to pay for his palace. The people didn’t want this since they could barely could pay for food, supplies, etc. When the Governor sent out tax collectors, they started raising taxes on their own and keeping the extra money. The Governor didn’t like this and told them to stop, but he couldn’t enforce it. This ended up with the Hillsborough Riot and the Alamance Battle. The backcountry people didn’t stand a chance against the cannons. Diana then read from “The Fiery Cross.”
We had the most delicious brunch which included fresh strawberries and fruit, quiches, muffins, dainty squares, salmon, and salad. It was interesting to know that some of the attendees drove or flew hours to get here! The furthest an attendee traveled was from California. One attendee which I had met at another Outlander event, Thru the Stones, in Iowa, was Lisa Margulies. It was so good to see her again.
After brunch, we walked to various parts of the Alamance Battlefield where Diana read to us from “The Fiery Cross” at each location. We even saw the wild strawberries all over the ground. I was totally fascinated with this whole experience. I also really loved this being such a small group and being able to spend longer in her presence. The book signing was last, and I didn’t want it to end. Diana is such an educated, talented, beautiful lady, inside & out. She never ages, never meets a stranger, always has a smile on her face, always accommodating, and so loving and generous! All the proceeds from the events go directly to the Battleground. (The land surrounding the historic Battlefield is at risk for development, and purchase of the land by the Save Alamance campaign will keep it in its natural state.)
There are so many wonderfully kind people in this Outlander Fandom. I’m amazed on how many new friends I have made due to this Outlandish journey.
Connie, thanks so much for sharing your photos and summary of your amazing weekend!
Blog editor note: Sorry for being so long in between part II and this last part of Lisa’s trip to North Carolina, outlandish readers! Between life and then the Memorial Day holiday weekend, well, it’s taken a while to get back to blogging. We appreciate each one of you who visit ONC, and especially for sticking with us when things get in the way of posting, especially our guest posts! Now, let’s hear from Lisa!–SHJ
Early tales of colonial unrest can be traced to many locations and times in American history. Seeds of rebellion have significant roots in the colony of North Carolina in the years before the Revolutionary War. The War of Regulation is one such seed woven in the fabric of Diana Gabaldon’s The Fiery Cross, the fifth book in her epic Outlander series. In April 2019, the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources (NCDNCR) hosted Diana at historical sites that correlate with her Outlander story. As Diana Gabaldon is my all time favorite author and storyteller, I just had to travel from my home state of Iowa to make this historical trek with her (unfortunately not as a member of her entourage but as an attendee at these events). Here is my third and final recount of the journey.
~I have tried to minimize spoilers for the fifth book and fifth season of Outlander. Please note that I do refer to actual history and do reference Diana’s storytelling from this point forward. The event recap is impossible to share without suggesting the Battle at Alamance and the story within are included in The Fiery Cross.~
From my first two stops in coastal New Bern, I traveled to the Piedmont region of North Carolina and the Alamance Battleground, just south of Burlington, to attend a morning of history sharing appropriately entitled, “Experience Outlander at Alamance with Diana Gabaldon.” Alamance Battleground lies off country highways forested in lush green hardwoods and conifers and is situated unassumingly along the banks of the Great Alamance Creek. I drove to the entrance of this historical site where I was greeted by a man in a kilt passing out lanyards to the attendees of the small and private Sunday brunch to be held with Diana as the guest of honor. The 40 in attendance were mostly Diana Gabaldon fans of her books and/or TV series but also patrons of this historical site. We gathered at the history center to await Herself before moving to a tent set up to offer intimacy during brunch and spoken words. Not a bad seat in this house! The beauty and excitement of the day were held in check by the ever present nature of the field and history’s solemn surround.
The Site Manager at Alamance Battleground, Jeremiah DeGennaro, welcomed us all to the preservation site and passed the introduction of Diana over to the Deputy Secretary of North Carolina’s Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, Dr. Kevin Cherry. He spoke of the “Outlander Effect” on North Carolina’s historical sites. I had the privilege of sitting with Dr. Cherry at a previous weekend event where he asked me if I had ever heard of Tryon Palace before reading a DG book. My honest answer was “No.” This is a perfect example of the “Outlander Effect.” Just happy that my ignorance has been a good thing for tourism.
Diana was welcomed to the podium and shared the question she is often asked, “Why are you here?“ Her answer is that North Carolina history is very much Scottish history. Ever the historian, Diana reviewed Scottish immigration to the Carolinas and its relevance to her story. She has traveled the state many times to gain knowledge and understanding of the Scottish immigrant’s place in the history here. Because so many Scots settled in the coastal and the backcountry regions, Diana was able to continue the saga of her Outlander characters in this place and time with her gusto of storytelling.
Scots in conflict with the governing powers was not a new concept and the N.C. backcountry climate was a great set up for the author. The Alamance Battle of May 1771 was, in a way, the first battle of the Revolutionary War, a sort of “kick off” revolt, a taxpayer grievance to the Royal Governor William Tryon and his palace. Diana paused and looked around the field, noting a simple log cabin in the distance. She referenced the TV series Fraser cabin from season 4. The “Big House” to come in season 5 is a “glamping” equivalent of the cabin here – just wait and see. The set designer does not skimp! New settlers in the Carolina colony would have had spade and ax beginnings. Another aside: Carolina has mosquitoes and Scotland has midges.
Back to 1771… The farmers and backcountry settlers of N.C. did not want an elegant palace bought and built with taxpayer money. They felt alienated from the laws and established society of the Eastern governing region. Their economy was based on very little cash, a barter system of trade due to geographic isolation. If citizens were unable to pay taxes, their property was confiscated. Although tax collectors were directed not to do this by Tryon and the Assembly, they couldn’t be stopped. Not enough militia existed to oversee the corrupt sheriffs and other officials so far into the backcountry. The opposition to this extortion became the War of Regulation. Riots and revolts took place in Hillsborough and discontent reached New Bern. Governor Tryon appointed colonels of militia from wealthy and prominent social man in order to help combat the dissent. Men like (the fictional) Jamie Fraser were charged to outfit others in the community while men like Quaker Herman Husband were chosen by the disgruntled citizens as leaders sent to Tryon looking for peaceful resolution. The conflict and violence ensued despite all efforts.
On that note, the brunch buffet was opened. Much appreciation goes to Kimberly Kandros here as she was the chief organizer of the entire Diana/historic site/lineup/schedule. She and others from the NCDNCR offered a full weekend of educational nourishment for the mind and body! (Shout out to Michelle‘s Kitchen & Table from Burlington for the actual feeding of our bodies – totally delicious!)
After our lovely meal, Elaine O’Kal, an Alamance Battleground volunteer and all around Outlander enthusiast, became our tour guide. She began by setting the stage for us with the history of the area coming into 1771. The Loyalist-appointed militia consisted of 16-to-60-year-old free white men from each county. Prominent men were made Colonels and Captains. They were responsible for road and bridge maintenance as well as keeping the peace. When the fictional Jamie and Claire Fraser arrived to North Carolina in 1767 much discontent was already was brewing. By 1768, the Regulator Movement had officially formed. The men wanted to regulate their own affairs. The previously mentioned Quaker Herman Husband and Scots-Irish citizen James Hunter were leaders of the movement expressing grievances about fees, corrupt sheriffs, and Anglican-only officials. Under representation existed in government in regards to population dispersion in the counties (see photo of county map for reference). Diana’s fourth Outlander book, Drums of Autumn, points out the geographic population disparities and corrupt court officials and dishonest sheriffs. To illustrate the mounting tension, Diana read a passage from The Fiery Cross. The actual history directly compared to Diana’s fictional story only reinforces the reader’s understanding of the immense and finely detailed research Diana puts into her work.
Our group of 40 plus “students” followed Ms. O’Kal to a spot on the historic site. Here she pointed out that forces from both sides had gathered in Orange County some 5 miles apart. Despite the large number of Regulators assembled, Tryon sought to confront the uprising and moved his camp of men and ammunitions just a half mile away from the disorganized Regulator camp. Ms. O’Kal directed our attention to the physical space upon which we stood and nearness in proximity to what would have been the Regulator camp just across the creek bed. (See map photos.) It was here a most special treat ensued. The mic was passed between the two women storytellers. The historian would detail the Alamance gathering, and the author would read a passage from The Fiery Cross. This began a volley in time and space between the actual event and the fictional story. We were experiencing the timeline of history in real time with narration in real space. What an extraordinary shift of mind and body!
Ms. O’Kal had placed us on the battlefield where just 300 feet separated the forces. These were men that knew one another, lived in the same communities–and were, perhaps, related–looking across the creek at each other! Our guide spoke of Loyalist figures like David Fanning and Richard Caswell on the Militia side. These men are featured in Diana‘s books, Fanning being a pretty all-around bad guy and Caswell being a notorious pipe smoker. This last fact was advantageous in a medical procedure performed by our heroine Claire. Our guide shared details of the provisions and camp layouts of each side as well. The Militia forces were organized, armed and outfitted where as the Regulators lacked leadership, were in a state of disarray and had little in the way of arms. The 2000 men gathered on that side believed the sheer number of their forces would sway the Governor to listen to grievances. But the time for negotiations had long past in his eyes, and Tryon’s 1000 men were charged to end this uprising once and for all.
Diana read a passage from The Fiery Cross that elaborated upon the conditions of the backcountry farmers and disgruntled citizens. Quaker Herman Husband voiced these concerns in an intimate setting to his friends, Jamie and Claire. The book passage includes an actual letter from Governor Tryon who was known for his incessant letter writing. This emphasis once again serves as a reminder to me of the careful and accurate inclusion of history that Diana Gabaldon, the meticulous researcher, has included in her fictitious novels.
Back to Elaine O’Kal. She pointed out that many men involved in this battle went on to be government leaders after the Revolutionary War. Several are noted in Diana’s books because they are in direct contact with the Frasers or have an impact in American history during the span of the Outlander story. We already know that Royal Governor Tryon granted land to Jamie and made him a colonel of militia, thus setting up a relationship for future interactions between the two men. Diana has skillfully interjected Jamie Fraser into the Alamance conflict at the height of tense negotiations.
Elaine O’Kal recounted this strain on the morning of May 16, 1771 by citing the proclamation Governor Tryon sent across the creek to “those who style themselves Regulators.” In it, he gives the lawbreakers a chance to surrender peacefully or face consequences in one hour’s time. DG then read a passage from The Fiery Cross illustrating this history. In it, Militia Colonel James Fraser pleads with Governor Tryon to speak to Regulator and Quaker Herman Husband so a peaceful resolution may be found and blood be not shed. If Husband can be convinced to cross the creek and talk, will he, Tryon, not save the lives of these, his citizens? Both our guide and our novelist have orchestrated a sense of urgency on this morning just as it must have been on that May morning. And as we step nearer the creek bed, Ms. O’Kal points under our feet to a “slope covered with teeny yellow-flowered plants” – a detail observed by a major character in The Fiery Cross as he, too, crossed this path! Flowers, Quakers, and creeks – oh my! We are in the pages of history!
~A most emotionally charged, beautifully written passage from chapter 62 in The Fiery Cross was read by Diana at this time. I have chosen not to share details because I fear too much of her chilling storyline would be given away by my doing so. Suffice to say, in my notes I have written, “WOW,” and I remember that jaw dropping, moving feeling at the end of her recitation vividly.~
The hour had expired at midday. Documented accounts of the war cry given by Governor Tryon atop his horse were shared by both women, “Fire, Goddamn you! Fire on them or on me!” Diana’s last shared passage came from Jamie‘s point of view during the battle. It dramatically described the pitting of neighbor upon neighbor, and even family upon family. True to her style, Diana transports the reader, and in this case, the listeners, to the place and time of her characters. My heart was racing and I know how the story ends – both of them!
The Battle of Alamance effectively ended the Regulator Movement in North Carolina. Ms. O’Kal shared details of the short battle. The ill-outfitted and ill-prepared Regulators were no match for the Militia men with a battle plan, guns and cannons. A large boulder remains in the field today, its solemn significance noted for the little cover it provided the defeated Regulators. In less than two hours, nine Militia soldiers and up to 100 Regulators died, many were injured on both sides, 15 Regulators were taken prisoner, one was hung on the field of battle without trial, six were executed later. Two months later, Governor Tryan left to become Governor of the colony of New York, taking Edmond Fanning as his personal secretary. As he told James Fraser, he had done his duty. He did not leave the colony in a state of disorder and rebellion for his successor.
The volley of history and historical fiction ended on this somber note. Event guests were free to roam the grounds as we waited for Diana to be available for pictures and autographs. I took this time to wander, and read posted signs and visit that restored log cabin. This is the actual cabin built by Herman Husband’s brother-in-law, John Allen. A battlefield scene from The Fiery Cross takes place in a log cabin. Could this be where Diana’s inspiration was kindled? In her brunch speech, the author did note that this cabin example would be typical of a backcountry log cabin during the Fraser’s North Carolina time. My self-guided tour definitely did not indicate a glamping scenario. (See pictures!)
I was one of the last to get autographs and pictures from the weekend’s star attraction. I suppose I didn’t want to be transported back to my time and place. I have been fortunate to meet Diana Gabaldon and a few others associated with the Outlander series at prior events. This being the case, I did not bring a “big book” for autographing, but instead brought a personal photo and my own “wee medicine box.” I’d like to think Diana remembered my box as she perused the accumulated familiar signatures. She graciously signed “best regards” in Gaelic to (me) and posed for a few quick pictures. So hard to believe my journey through Diana Gabaldon’s North Carolina has come to an end. Thank you readers for trekking along my three part history trail!
Many, many thanks go to Outlander North Carolina, Beth Pittman and Susan Jackson, for inviting me to share this journey – a wonderful opportunity made possible by these two lovely ladies. I’d like to recognize all the people working at Alamance Battleground for their contributions to the success of this event. Elaine O’Kal did an extraordinary job sharing history and coordinating the presentation with Diana. Thanks to Jeremiah DeGennaro, Ann Hunnicutt and all the crew at this special site. The North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources deserves an entire weekend of ovations. Dr. Kevin Cherry, Kimberly Kantros and Jennifer Farley get special recognition for their efforts. And, as always, my deepest appreciation goes to Diana Gabaldon for the sharing of her life, her time, her incredible talents, her humor…and her husband (Doug Watkins) with us all! Where would we be without DG?!?!
Lisa, we cannot thank you enough for your wonderful memories of your weekend in North Carolina! Come back soon!
If you’re ever on a DIY Outlander tour of North Carolina, don’t forget to stop at the Alamance Battleground historic site, as well as the many other real places that are host to the Frasers and their family and friends! Speaking of an Outlander tour–have you ever traveled to Outlander destinations? Tell us about it!