Friday, August 13, 2004

Criminal Upheaval
That's the chapter title for the latest part of the upcoming Old Slave House I've just completed. I just needed to add one thing, and a few days later two whole chapters have been rewritten.

I feel like a weaver rather than a writer as I attempt to thread one element of the story with another element and then another to try to reach some coherent and recognizable pattern.

The chapter deals with the 1830s, which is the "dead" period for records on John Hart Crenshaw and just about everything else in Gallatin County. The county commissioner court records, as well as the circuit court records are missing and most of the newspaper issues from that decade were never microfilmed. Thank goodness for deeds. Counties might throw out other records, but not those dealing with property.

The problem with writing about this decade - the same one in which Crenshaw built, or started building, his plantation manor atop Hickory Hill - is that it's been difficult keeping a regular narrative for this period, rather than jumping from one disjointed fact to another.

However, I think I've finally reached that goal with the recent rewriting.

Besides Crenshaw's doings for those years the decade of the 1830s is also interesting for the assassination James Ford and what others have written about the apparent implosion of the Ford's Ferry Gang. The disappearance of James Lynch and the murder of Benjamin Hardin are two cases that suggests the criminal activity in southeastern Illinois didn't end overnight.

I wanted to include both cases because Lynch's involved an attempt to prevent the emancipation a slave and the Hardin case was a prominent murder that was often brought up in accounts with Crenshaw, though we've only recently found out that another man had been indicted for the crime.

Likewise, the 1830s also saw the arrest and subsequent explosion of publicity for John A. Murrell, the "Great Western Land Pirate" whose "Mystic Clan" was set to stage a large-scale slave insurrection set for 1835. While the hype may or may not have had any real basis in fact, the fear and reaction it generated proved contagious so that even Shawneetown residents worried about the scheduled uprising set for Christmas Day.

I'm now working on another major rewrite for two or three chapters in the mid 1850s. Again, I hadn't expected trying to add one or two new tidbits would require so much re-arranging, but I think it will be worth it.

The title of the book will be Slaves, Salt, Sex & Mr. Crenshaw. Last night, it pushed past the 500-page mark for the first time, though I'm planning to whittle it down some before it's published.