Friday, September 09, 2005

Through a Howling Wilderness Preview

The excerpt of my rival Thomas A. Desjardin's book on the Arnold expedition is up at. St. Martin's

One of the patriots who lived along this route, a shipbuilder named Reuben Colburn, who was a member of the Committee of Safety up in the Province of Maine, happened to be in Cambridge in mid-August and met with General Washington. Having lived for more than a decade along the Kennebec, Colburn was in a position to provide highly useful intelligence about the region and its native inhabitants, some of whom he had introduced to Washington. Washington, who had decided that sending an additional force through Maine to act in concert with Schuyler was at least something to consider seriously, gave Colburn money to saw planks “for the purposes of building bateaus for the use of the Continental Army” and sent him to meet with Benedict Arnold.27

Colburn then traveled to Watertown, where he received more detailed instructions from Arnold, who now held a commission as colonel in the Continental Army. There Arnold instructed Colburn to find out how long it would take to build two hundred bateaux “capable of carrying six or seven men each, with their provisions and baggage (say 100wt. To each man) the boats to be furnished with four oars, two paddles, and two setting poles each.” Thorough as he was, Arnold wanted Colburn to be sure he could obtain enough nails for the building, and discover the amount of fresh beef he could purchase on the Kennebec. He asked that Colburn scout any British vessels in Newburyport on his way back to Maine, and then any that might be on or near the Kennebec. He wanted to know the length and number of portages on the route to Quebec, how deep the water was at this season, and any other intelligence that Colburn could gather.28

Returning to Maine at the end of August, Colburn sought the knowledge of Samuel Goodwin of the Kennebec region, who had been “traveling, surveying, and settling this part, ever since the year 1750.”29 With three weeks to prepare them, Goodwin supplied Arnold with a chart of the Maine coastline, including the passages into the Kennebec River, as well as a map and journal describing the route up the Kennebec and Dead Rivers to “Ammeguntick Pond” (Lake Megantic), including the falls and carrying places. He also dispatched a scouting party of local patriots and a native guide to travel this route up the Kennebec River to its western branch, called by the natives the “Dead River” because of its slow current, and then on to the lake that made up the headwaters of the Chaudière River. Once he had made preparations back home, Colburn returned to Cambridge one last time. After reporting the latest news to the general, Washington had made the decision to go ahead with the expedition. He sent Colburn back to Maine with orders to engage a company of twenty men to build bateaux for the trek and “to assist in such service as you and they may be called upon to execute.” In addition, he needed Colburn to acquire “five hundred Bushells of Indian Corn all the pork and flour you can from the inhabitants . . . sixty barrells of salted beef of 220lbs each Barrell. You are to receive Forty Shillings lawful money for each Batteaux, with the Oars, Paddles, and Setting Poles included. . . .”30


The intro of Simon Fobes' homecoming is a good David McCullough technique well-executed. I have one too with a different character. The "Fourteenth Colony" is straight from Justin Smith who has a book by that title. This title "Howling" is from Shakespeare, and titles aren't protectable legally anyway.

I can't look at the endnotes but I recognize the sources from the George Washington papers and the two letters written to my Great...x7... Grandfather Reuben Colburn that I have original copies of. What I see is a nice generic overview of the lead up to the expedition, but just a quick skimming of the Colburn role where mine is much more in depth and focused on the intricacies of Colburn's mission.

The money Colburn recieved was 26 pounds. That's all he recieved in his life and for several generations beyond. I've requested a review galley from the publisher and the rest will come from that if I get it. More to come.

2 Comments:

Blogger Peter L. Winkler said...

You should approach the editors of metropolitan newspapers' book review sections to review the book.

Point out that:

1. You are a descendant of the subject.

2. You are a scholar/expert on the subject's life and have written your own biography.

1 & 2 make you ideally suited to review this book.

3. The usual author's biography.

6:26 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

Good idea Peter. I have an infringment suit pending against him, but don't expect to find much that is actionable in his book. He did have access to mine at his job and stole the idea and opportunity, which is not a protectable concept.

I'm requesting a galley by mail tommorrow. We'll see if I get it or if I can sell the review freelance. I'm still struggling trying to get an entry-level reporting gig. They tend to be clueless in management. Thanks for the idea for the next step in this process.

6:31 PM  

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