Cannons for the Cause, is an historical novel about the struggle to bring heavy cannons from Fort Ticonderoga, NY to Cambridge, Massachusetts, a distance of more than 300 miles, in the brutal winter of 1775-1776. It is the first in a series of novels that Marty is planning to write about the American Revolution. Cannons for the Cause has recently been published by Peace Corps Writers.
Marty, what is your background? Where did you to go college?
I am a graduate of C.C.N.Y, (B.A., 1961) and Harvard Law School, (LL.B, 1964).
And your Peace Corps history?
I served in Somalia from 1966-1968 (Somali IV), as legal adviser to the Somali National Police Force. I taught the penal and criminal procedure codes at the Police Academy, provided general advice to the Police Commandant, specific advice to Police Officers who prosecuted criminal cases, drafted some legislation, and wrote a casebook on the Somali Penal Code. I also traveled around the country meeting with District and Regional Police Commanders and giving brief courses to senior officers.
You were stationed in Mogadishu?
Yes, for the entire two years. Every morning at 6:30 I walked from our house up to Police Headquarters overlooking the harbor. Mog, at the time, was a sleepy port city, with a heavy Italian influence. The center was dominated by a huge Cathedral (even though Somalis were 99.9% Sunni Muslim) and a Victor Emmanuel Arch. The buildings along the sea front were a mix of Italian and Arab architecture, the port having served as a stop over along the trade route from Zanzibar to Arabia, before the Italians colonized the area in the late 1800s.
Mogadishu was the capital of the newly independent nation. In the mid 1960s there was a mini-building boom. The Chinese were constructing a new national theater and if I recall correctly, the Europeans, a Parliament building. Amidst all this bustle, nomads herding their camels would wander down sand covered streets, the noise of the traditional wooden camel bells drowned out by the hammering and banging of workers busy building the accoutrements of the new nation state.
When you came home from the Peace Corps what did you do?
I joined a firm and mainly practiced labor law and some international law on the side. I did legal work for Indonesia, and represented the Eritrean Peoples Liberation Front and then Eritrea when it became independent. I was counsel to the Somali Ministry of Mineral and Water Resources in negotiations with foreign oil companies for exploration agreements and advised Somali Airlines with respect to leasing and purchasing contracts. More importantly, once the Siad Barre regime collapsed and some of my friends in the Somali Police fled to the US, I was able to see them on a regular basis and our families became particularly close over the next twenty years. The relationships Evelyn and I began in Somalia in 1966 by teaching English to a Police Officer and his wife, five days a week for two years, by 2014 had expanded to include the next generation- our children and theirs and more recently, the grandchildren as well.
How did you start writing novels?
I retired about five years ago and began writing fiction, with time out for gardening and breeding Golden Retrievers. My first books were the novel, “The Orange Tree” about the friendship between a Somali nursing assistant and an elderly Jewish woman in a nursing home, and “Somalia-Short Fiction,” both of which were published by Peace Corps Writers.
Okay, what about your new novel?
Cannons for the Cause, is an historical novel about the struggle to bring heavy cannons from Fort Ticonderoga, NY to Cambridge, Massachusetts, a distance of more than 300 miles, in the brutal winter of 1775-1776. It is the first in a series of novels I am writing about the American Revolution. The second, Tories and Patriots, is being edited. I am researching and working on the third, Blood Upon the Snow.
I am passionate about history and convinced that thoroughly researched, well-written historical fiction will attract readers who otherwise would not read straight history books. While it is unusual for a novel, I have included End Notes with additional information about the events described and cited original sources, such as diaries, correspondence, newspapers and broadsheets. I hope these Notes will enable readers to better understand the historical context and provide the authentic flavor of the thoughts and language of those who lived through the Revolutionary War.
The proverbial “elevator pitch,” or the “hook,” is Emmanuel Leutze’s famous painting of Washington crossing the Delaware. There is an African American in uniform, just below Washington’s right knee, pushing chunks of ice away from the boat. Who is he? What is his regiment? There is a story to be told of such a soldier. He was a member of the Marblehead Mariners, a racially integrated regiment, Washington’s own Headquarters troops which were involved in a race riot outside Washington’s Cambridge Headquarters. “Cannons for the Cause” tells the story of that incident and describes the Mariners’ crucial role in saving the Army from capture or defeat in 1776. Thus, the novel is about two paintings- “Washington Crossing the Delaware” and the cover, “The Noble Train of Artillery,” the more than fifty day journey of incredible hardships to bring the cannons to Cambridge.
Why are you drawn to write about the Revolutionary War? What appeals to you in terms of history?
I have always been interested in American history. The American Revolution intrigues me because it is the event which has given rise to many of our myths about ourselves. For example, the Minutemen as individuals standing up to British oppression, banding together spontaneously after Paul Revere’s alarm. In fact, they were members of a militia required to serve and who had trained together weekly on the village common. Or that the “Spirit of 76” was a universal expression of patriotism rather than the reality that the colonialists were deeply divided in their loyalties. Writing a factual novel, with End Notes indicating sources and placing the events in their historical context, may help readers to question these myths, especially when they are used by the Tea Party or the NRA to justify their political agendas.
As for the specific event of hauling cannons from Ft. Ticonderoga to Cambridge, I read a biography of Henry Knox and that piqued my curiosity. I then read a memoir by one of the teamsters who had been part of that journey as a 12 year old boy. Today, no one would believe a 12 year old could be responsible for driving a team of horses pulling a heavy cannon. That boy, John Becker, became the 16 year old main character, Willem Stoner, in “Cannons for the Cause.”
How did the Revolutionary Army get possession of the ‘cannons’ what is the back story? How was the deal brokered?
The cannons at Ft. Ticonderoga originally were installed by the British during the French and Indian War in the 1750s. The fort remained under British control after Lexington and Concord. In May 1775, it was captured by Ethan Allan and the Green Mountain Boys. It is unclear whether the idea of transporting the cannons to Cambridge originated with George Washington, another member of his staff, Ethan Allan or Henry Knox but it was Knox, his brother William and “a man servant,” who traveled from Cambridge to Lake George, hired teamsters and brought 59 cannons, gunpowder, flint and shot down through New York, across the Hudson at Albany and through the Berkshires to Cambridge.
Aren’t there ‘reenactments today of the movement of the cannons taking place in New York State by local historical clubs?
I don’t know of any reenactments in New York State. The Knox Trail is marked in both New York and Massachusetts, and I am aware of reenactments in a few towns in Massachusetts.
Have you taken a drive the length of the 300 miles for research purposes or just because of your interest in the subject?
I have not driven the entire 300 + miles of the Knox trail. A few years ago, in January, I drove up to Great Barrington, Massachusetts and traced the route from there up through the Berkshires to Blandford Summit and then down to Westfield, a distance of about 40 miles. I had hoped the weather would be bitter cold so I could get a sense of the depth of snow and the strength of the winds. Unfortunately, there was a warm spell and I walked part of the route in just my shirtsleeves. However, I did get a sense of the steepness of this part of the trail, assuming it followed the Massachusetts state highway. There are no switchbacks. It is straight up and straight down, a very difficult and hazardous route for hauling cannons, some weighing more than one ton, on frozen surfaces. I have tried to convey some of the difficulties in “Cannons.” A friend who read the novel, while basking on a beach in Puerto Rico, said my prose made him feel cold. So I guess I succeeded despite the unusual warm weather in Great Barrington.
How do you ‘connect’ in the novel the moving of the cannons from Fort Ticonderoga with the African-American in the painting of Washington crossing the Delaware?
The connection, between the event of moving the cannons to Cambridge and the African American in the famous painting of Washington Crossing the Delaware, is the Marblehead Mariners were Washington’s headquarters troops in Cambridge. Will Stoner, the main character, befriends Ensign Nathaniel Holmes of the Marblehead Mariners on the trek from Ft. Ticonderoga to Cambridge and stays in the Mariners barracks when the cannons are delivered to General Washington. There, he is introduced to Adam Cooper, an African American freeman in the Mariners and gets embroiled in a race riot when the Mariners are attacked by a Virginian rifle militia (an actual, documented historical event).
The jacket cover of the novel is a painting by Tom Lovell. It is owned by Dixon Ticonderoga and is used with their permission. It is on loan to the Fort Ticonderoga Museum. To my mind, the story turns on these two paintings.
What are the narratives of your other two books?
As for the narratives of the next two novels, they will follow the main characters of “Cannons,” and introduce some new ones: Will’s older brother John, an officer in a colonial loyalist militia; Bant, a simple rifleman from Morristown, New Jersey, and three Hessian soldiers. The second in the series Tories and Patriots,” begins with the arrival of the British fleet of more than 300 ships and 32,000 troops in New York Harbor in July 1776. The equivalent of the American invasion of Iraq- the “shock and awe” of the 18th century, the largest expeditionary force the world had seen up to that time. The narrative follows the characters through the British landing on Long Island, the battle of Brooklyn, the American army’s escape across the East River, the battle of Harlem Heights and the loss of Fort Washington, the retreat down the length of New Jersey and the lead up to the attack on the Hessians at Trenton in December 1776. I am in the process of having “Tories and Patriots,” edited and it probably will be published by the end of 2014 or January 2015.
The third in the series, “Blood Upon the Snow,” commences with the Americans victorious at Trenton, the two Hessian characters captured, imprisoned and sent as laborers to farms in Pennsylvania. Will Stoner, the lead character is promoted for battlefield bravery, the army successfully captures Princeton after eluding Cornwallis’ trap at Trenton and Will and his brother John engage in a battlefield encounter. Then, both armies go into winter camp, the Americans at Morristown and the British in Brunswick and New York from January to May 1777. “Blood Upon the Snow” will conclude with the battle of Brandywine and the British capture of Philadelphia, Will’s love Elisabeth, being left behind in that city as an American spy, and the army retreating to Valley Forge and the terrible winter to be endured. I am about half way through writing this novel.
I have some ideas for the fourth in the series, tentatively entitled “Spies and Deserters,” involving the historical figure of Colonel Tye, an African American who led a pro-British guerrilla band in New Jersey and planned a raid to kidnap George Washington. Adam Cooper, the African American Marblehead Mariner from the first two novels will reappear and I will introduce a new character, Martha Washington’s black personal maid who was with her mistress at the Army’s winter quarters. Beyond that, I’ll have to see how the characters play out and interact.
I foresee perhaps a fifth and sixth novel to complete the series and one friend has even suggested I carry Will Stoner beyond the end of the War and into Shays’ Rebellion (which also involved Henry Knox.) Perhaps, but I have enough writing and research to hold me for a few years.
Thanks, for your time, Marty, and good luck on this book.