We are excited to welcome Pam Hillman to the blog to share some of her process for imaging her new historical romance, The Promise of Breeze Hill. Often times, authors stumble upon a fact or moment in history that sticks with them and will not let go. The rich history of the Natchez Trace would become the inspiration for Pam’s latest novels. Keep reading to discover why the Natchez Trace is the perfect location for a historical hero and heroine.
The Promise of Breeze Hill is the first of my Natchez Trace novels. Setting my books in the 1790s is a bit of a departure for me, as most of my research has been in the late 1800s. However, this story was one I wanted to write, and for it to be historically accurate, it needed to be set before 1812 when the first steamboats started plying the Mississippi River.
Why, you ask?
The backdrop for this series is the old Natchez Trace, also known as the Devil’s Backbone. The old Natchez Trace is a centuries-old footpath that runs from Nashville to Natchez, over four hundred miles long.
Back in the 1700s and even before that, the Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Natchez tribes hunted along trails all over these hills and hollows. Eventually, the easiest routes became the most common, and what we know as the old Natchez Trace was wrestled from the wilderness.
By 1733, the French mapped the trail from Natchez heading northeast. In the late 1700s, Ohio River Valley farmers began floating their crops down the rivers to Natchez and New Orleans. It was easy, and quite pleasant, to float down the river on flatboats, but going back up the river was nearly impossible given the current and ferocity of the river. Instead, travelers abandoned or sold their flatboats for lumber, returning home by way of the Natchez Trace, on foot or on horseback.
It did not take long for the trail to become a clearly marked road. By 1810, many years of travel had made the trace the most heavily traveled road in the South. Inns, also called “stands,” sprang into existence due to the needs of the weary travelers. By 1820, over twenty stands were in operation. Some provided basic food and shelter, with owners who might not be the most honest, and upstanding citizens. Other inns, like Mount Locust, were well known and owned by respectable, God-fearing folks who welcomed and treated visitors with hospitality, providing a safe place to stay overnight.
Pictured above: Mount Locust
Travel along the trace was not without its hazards, the least of which were swamps, floods, disease-carrying insects, and mosquitos. But worse than that were the bands of highwaymen who haunted the trace, attacking travelers who might be flush with cash from their recent transactions downriver.
The trail, surrounded by swamps and dark forests, attracted a seedy element leading the old Natchez Trace to gain its nickname: the Devil’s Backbone.
The Natchez District was a lawless frontier in the 1700s, and many a man lost his life traveling along the dark trail. It was not until the invention of the steamboat that wealthy planters, merchants, and their families could make the return trip up the river instead of along the trail. In January 1812, the steamer New Orleans arrived in Natchez. Soon steamboats from New Orleans and Natchez were calling regularly at St. Louis, Nashville, Louisville, and all points in between.
Travelers who could afford passage on the steamboats preferred the relative safety, comfort, and speed to the slow pace of trekking overland. Before long, the busy trace became a peaceful forest lane. The travelers with lots of money in their pockets were now on the riverboats, and the highwaymen soon sought greener pastures to line their pockets.
I chose this very stretch of road for my characters to travel upon, a road that struck fear into the hearts of many, because as I walked these banks the rustling in the forest inspired me to imagine what all had transpired on this long, lonely road more than two centuries ago. My curiosity and research breathed to life the idea for my new novel, The Promise of Breeze Hill.
The Promise of Breeze Hill
Natchez, MS; 1791
Anxious for his brothers to join him on the rugged frontier along the Mississippi River, Connor O’Shea has no choice but to indenture himself as a carpenter in exchange for their passage from Ireland. But when he’s sold to Isabella Bartholomew of Breeze Hill Plantation, Connor fears he’ll repeat past mistakes and vows not to be tempted by the lovely lady.
The responsibilities of running Breeze Hill have fallen on Isabella’s shoulders after her brother was found dead in the swamps along the Natchez Trace and a suspicious fire devastated their crops, almost destroyed their home, and left her father seriously injured. Even with Connor’s help, Isabella fears she’ll lose her family’s plantation. Despite her growing feelings for the handsome Irish carpenter, she seriously considers accepting her wealthy and influential neighbor’s proposal of marriage.
Soon, though, Connor realizes someone is out to eliminate the Bartholomew family. Can he set aside his own feelings to keep Isabella safe?
Thanks, Pam, for sharing a little behind the scenes on your writing process. It is always fascinating to know what germ of an idea lead to the novels we see on the shelves.
Visit Pam online for updates on her latest novels and to hear more about her research and writing.
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Thanks and happy reading!