Guest post by Lisa A. Margulies
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!
[…] Sunday brunch to be held with Diana as the guest of honor,” wrote Lisa A. Margulies in an in-depth report on the gathering for the Outlander NC […]
I was very moved as I read this account – what a surreal thrill it must have been to hear the “volleys” read by Elaine and Diana, bringing history alive where it actually happened! Thank you so much for posting this! Truly!