As a young teacher of American history, I read several books about England’s attempts to establish a colony on Roanoke Island, and related highlights of the attempts to my students, I was well familiar with what could be called the Roanoke story before I thought to write Alsoomse and Wanchese.
Most of what historians know about the story comes from reports written by eye-witness Englishmen. Missing from their reports is any detailed understanding of the native Algonquians, as human as any Englishman that stepped then on North American soil.
Historian Michael Leroy Oberg wrote: “Indians are pushed to the margins, at best playing bit parts in a story centered on the English. … Roanoke is as much a Native American story as an English one. … We should take a close look at the Indians who greeted and confronted Raleigh’s colonists. … Because Wingina’s people, and his allies and enemies, in the end, determined so much of the fate of the Roanoke ventures, it seems only fair that we concentrate upon them, and how they understood the arrival of the English.”
I thought, “Why repeat what other authors of fiction have written about the Roanoke story, almost all of which feature a romantic relationship between an English settler and a local native? Why not, instead, write a story about human conflict within a society that few readers know anything about, making certain that it is character driven, and drawing parallels between its characters and people, and societies today?”
Think for a moment of all the Native American people that inhabited America before the White Man crossed the ocean and began his conquest. These people had no alphabet to form written words to record their life experiences. Any human being – famous or anonymous – who has suffered hardships has a compelling story to tell. Who were these North Carolina flood plain/Outer Bank/Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds Algonquians? What was their culture? Their societal structure? Their rules, beliefs, aspirations, conflicts? How were they similar to Twenty-First Century man, or humankind of any time period?
Two years of research enabled me to weave cultural information into the plot of my story. For example, the first words of the first chapter of Alsoomse and Wanchese reference an important aspect of Algonquian ossuary burials: the preparation of disinterred tribal members originally buried or stored elsewhere for reburial in a single collective grave.
Using a moistened scrap of deerskin, Alsoomse removed dirt and decayed skin cells from the left humerus of her mother’s skeleton.
“I need to know so much,” she whispered. “What I never asked.”
Turning her head, she placed the deerskin on the rim of the clay pot that contained the hot water. She was, maybe, half finished.
She had not cried.
Alsoomse and Wanchese begins in late August 1583 and concludes a year later, several days after English explorers had come to Roanoke, and departed. Their brief presence is but a complication to ongoing Algonquian tribal conflict.
Within every society – advanced or not – exist independent-minded individuals, each compelled to march to the cadence of his own drum. I wanted my two protagonists to be exceptional characters, beings whom my readers would swiftly care about. Rejecting tribal conformity, deciding what is true, what is just, desiring independence, accomplishment, fulfillment, 17-year-old Alsoomse and her 19-year-old brother Wanchese experience tribal blowback. Alsoomse pushes continuously against societal convention, the imposed role of women, the dictatorial authority of men, rulers, and priests.
Wanchese’s short-temper, certain-mindedness, and quest to prove himself worthy of his deceased father’s expectations lead him into life and death situations and dangerous conflict with one of his tribal ruler’s essential subordinates.
Are their actions foolish? Courageous? Praiseworthy? You, the reader, and Alsoomse and Wanchese, separately, will decide.
About the Book
September 1583. Roanoke Island. 17-year-old Alsoomse and 19-year-old Wanchese, sister and brother – strong-willed, quick to oppose injustices – are about to endure a series of events that will test their commitment to realize ambitious goals that endanger their lives and the welfare of individuals close to them.
Wanchese’s short-temper and quest to prove himself worthy of his deceased father’s expectations lead him several times into mortal combat: twice on a trading mission and several times when his tribe attacks its worst enemy. Standing in his way to achieve high status as a warrior is the tribal war chief, Andacon, whose enmity Wanchese incites early in the novel.
Alsoomse pushes continuously against tribal convention, the imposed role of women, and the dictatorial authority of men, rulers and priests. Her outspokenness causes her great hardship during her weroansqua’s tribal visit to Croatoan, and much later when she unwittingly challenges religious belief.
Evil, personified by Askook, brother of the tribe’s weroansqua, disrupts continuously the well-being of the main characters and their friends.
English interest in colonization is narrated intermittently. Explorers and Algonquians interact at the story’s end.
Harold Titus graduated from UCLA with a bachelor’s degree in history. He taught intermediate school English, American history, and a drama elective many years in Orinda, California. He coached many of the school’s boys’ and girls’ sports teams. He is the author of Crossing the River, a historical novel about English and American participants in the first two battles of the American Revolution. He writes about American history and historical fiction on his blog site: http://authorharoldtitus.blogspot.com. He lives with his wife on the central Oregon coast.
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