Writers often mention how, once begun, a story takes over and goes off in its own direction. It exercises a power leading the writer in the way it wants to be told. This is so true in reference to the book Major Fraser’s. The spirit of those who lived at 201 Prince Street was emerging as if from the woodwork and overpowers my thoughts and my fingers as I type their histories. They stay with me throughout the day, becoming my constant companions even when I’m not at the computer. The bond between houses and people lay in the back of my mind and smolder there.
The writing of the story began when the present owner of the house, John, asked me if I would put his massive collection of information on the house in order. I misunderstood and thought he wanted me to research the house from its earliest inhabitants and put them in book form. I believe there are no accidents in life only events that happen for a reason.
When I completed the work and presented it to John, he was surprised. He had no idea that I was writing a book for him, yet was pleased with the end result. I was finished, or so I thought.
The story would not let go of me. It stayed with me, nagging at me. I dreamed of the inhabitants who lived at that address as if they are my ancestors waiting to be brought to the drawing room to be introduced to company. The Major’s wife and family came to me, waking me at 3 a.m. pleading with me to tell their story, too.
So I asked John if I may publish his story. As the frame of a house wants filling in, adding to it; so the histories of some people want to be brought forth. With his permission, my research expanded.
Facts kept falling into place like a child’s puzzle. Information that I couldn’t find before, popped up in front of me. Material that came to me from the Internet was searched and researched in print form for accuracy. Of course errors are made in print also, especially when transcribing forms from the 1600s and 1700s.
Alas, in this day of the Information Highway, new facts are always coming to the surface. I expended hour after hour to prove what I wrote was the truth…….at least as someone had seen it and I believed it.
The Farnsworth family first grabbed onto me. There were a few different lines of Farnsworths that came to the Colonies early. It was devilish trying to keep them separate.
A few stories were extended because they were just too good to let lay in a drawer somewhere. A chuckle told me that not all our ancestors were serious and respectable was definitely welcome after hours of dry, dusty words.
Another particular family story, that of the Fraser’s, held me tight. It was as if Major Fraser wanted his honor and respect for his military record to stand on its own merit. His wife, Mrs. Anne Loughton Smith Fraser came to me at night, (they were visits, not dreams) told me where to seek her background; the family she came from with their honorable saga of settling in the Charleston, South Carolina area. Every place she guided me to, had the information I needed. With her maiden name of Smith, the search could have been difficult, if not downright impossible, without going to Charleston. Wow, what a way to research!
Not to be put aside, the Fraser children tugged at my shirttails, letting me know that they, too, became a part of history in our still young country. It was a wonder that I got any sleep at all with all this company coming to me at night.
Their stories left Bordentown to extend outside the United States borders, but were too good not to include. Caroline Georgina attached hers, through the love of a prince, to France. Caroline Georgina’s twin, William eventually settled in Washington D.C. I think about his selling horses to the Union Army during the American War Between The States. He must have been torn by this war between the north and the south and the two homes he was raised in.
On a visit to the Wilson Library in Chapel Hill, North Carolina I held in my hands, Jane Winter Fraser’s hand-written books, written for her nieces and nephews, from her days in Bordentown. Rampant emotions ran through me as I struggled to decipher her hand writing. I heard her whispers in my ear. She was whispering in my ear while I was reading her book! I kept looking around to see if anyone was noticing. Becoming too unsettled, I finally copied page after page of her book to take home to decipher.
Her sister Maria Fraser blazed trails in the west. Because she was coming to me at night and woouldn’t let me go either, I continued to search and to record what I found.
The Major fought valiantly on the side of the British during the Revolutionary War. Bordentown was a majority of Patriots but forgiving after the War of some Loyalists, certainly where the Major and his family were concerned. By the time he came to Bordentown peace had returned to a nation still building itself.
After the War he settled into plantation life of South Carolina. In summer he brought his family north, first to Philadelphia then by invitation from his friend Dr. William Burns to Bordentown. He was leaving behind the fatal diseases of the heat that invaded their own southern home and often the city of Philadelphia.
Out of his eleven children several of them later made Bordentown their primary home, even buying property of their own after the Major died in 1820.
His daughter Caroline Georgina’s marrying Prince Lucien Murat, nephew of Joseph and Napoleon Bonaparte, probably influenced folks to continue calling the house by a name given to it two hundred years ago. It is still referred to as “Major Fraser’s” house.
It is their visits to me in the middle of the night that encouraged me to continue writing their family stories and publishing them, so this part of history will not be left in some dusty storeroom and forgotten.
Category Archives: Bordentown
Some time after writing Major Fraser’s I read Outlander the fictional story of Jamie Fraser by Diana Gabaldon. (I fell in love with Jamie, too.) There were so many similarities in the facts of my Thomas Fraser and Gabaldon’s Jamie that I wondered if she had used the same research that I did as a basis for Jamie. Of course Jamie and Thomas Fraser were very common names in Scotland back in the 1700s, probably still are today.
In Major Fraser’s, Thomas’ life is so much more than recording his role in the American Revolutionary War history. Writing is exhausting. Writing non-fiction is even more tedious because the facts must be checked and double checked. When I lay down in bed at night I fell quickly into a deep sleep, needing to be restored for the next day’s battle. I thought I was finished when I typed The End. But no, I was not.
Thomas and Anne Fraser’s children came to me during the night. These young adults woke from my deepest sleep to talk to me. They pleaded with me to continue on and tell their stories, too. So, I did and found more fascinating facts about part of the family emigrating from New Jersey to Europe in the 1800s. Caroline Georgina had married Prince Napoleon Lucien Charles Murat in Bordentown New Jersey. He was the son of Joachim Murat-King of Naples and Sicily, and nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte. This made him royalty and royalty entitled the family to so much more.
Other siblings of Caroline Georgina including her twin, led exciting lives in their own country. This family made a mark in history that I have not read anywhere else. It includes a grand love affair between Major Thomas Fraser and the southern belle, Anne Loughton Smith, of the noted Smith family of South Carolina.
Major Fraser’s is also a complete history of a house on Prince Street that includes a history of the people who owned it, didn’t own it but lived there, and about the men who owned the property before a dwelling was built on it. Major Fraser is one of those who did not own it, yet it is still referred to as Major Fraser’s.
ANNOUNCING…Giving Life and Taking It, my personal story, has been published in Writing Menopause, editors Jane Cawthorne and E. D. Morin. It is now available on Amazon at $22.89 (I think in Canadian money.) I’m honored to be published among such notable writers and groundbreaking editors.
From Amazon: The Writing Menopause literary anthology is a diverse and robust collection about menopause: a highly charged and often undervalued transformation. It includes over fifty works of fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, interviews and cross-genre pieces from contributors across Canada and the United States that break new ground in portraying menopause in literature. The collection includes literary work from award-winning writers such as Roberta Rees, Margaret Macpherson, Lisa Couturier and Rona Altrows. Emerging voices such as Rea Tarvydas, Leanna McLennan, Steve Passey and Gemma Meharchand, and an original interview with trans educator and pioneering filmmaker Buck Angel, are also featured. This anthology fills a sizable gap, finding the ground between punchline and pathology, between saccharine inspiration and existential gloom. The authors neither celebrate nor demonize menopause. These are diverse depictions, sometimes lighthearted, but just as often dark and scary. Some voices embrace the prospect of change, others dread it. Together, this unique offering reflects the varied experience of menopause and shatters common stereotypes.
Waiting so long to write about the strange things that happened to me was a natural decision. I first spoke about seeing a ghost while I was working in my bookshop in Bordentown, New Jersey. This came freely because I was conducting an annual ghost walk as a fund raiser for my business group. There were other houses on the tour that also had true stories of hauntings. There is a comfort and freedom when you are among your own kind. And people who lived with ghosts in their houses were my kind.
Once word got out that I lived with a little girl ghost in my house, others came to me with their stories. They, too, had not spoken of their experiences for the same reasons. One, who would believe them? Two, how many people would ridicule and make fun of them? Three, would the value of their homes drop? And more reasons followed.
Once houses were placed on the tour, they became, if any change at all, higher in value. People sought haunted houses to live in because they wanted that experience. It became cool.
Remember, Bordentown was settled in 1682, adding much Revolutionary War history to its stories. The earlier residents were practically still living to the present-day residents. We kept their personalities alive and familiar through the Historical Society and through fund raisers. One of which was a Friday evening garden party at the DeSantis house. Several of us dressed in our chosen Bordentown “hero/shero.” We had many to choose from.
The first year I wore all white as was the custom of Quaker Patience Lovell Wright. She was America’s first woman sculptor (mostly in wax) who spied in the court of King George in England, sending all the information she discovered to Benjamin Franklin. He was living in France at the time.
Once we entered the garden in costume, we became that person, staying in character, answering questions as that person would have done. It was great fun and imbedded history into our bones. I’m not quite sure about Ms. Wright drinking wine, tho she could have. No wonder ghosts came out of the woodwork!
LIVING WITH GHOSTS
History often plays such a big part in a haunting. It seems some folks felt such passion about the place they once lived and the events that took place while they lived there, that they just don’t want to leave it. Remember that time in the afterlife is not like we count time here on earth.
It’s not unusual for a Revolutionary War soldier to show up in a Bordentown house, as it has in a couple (Living with Ghosts) where so much intense passion was felt during that period. In the Anderson Street and the White House stories, both places went under some major remodeling. This really brings the spirits out of the woodwork, and it takes a lot of time for them to settle back down again.
Of course, I don’t know why they should care, they just walk through walls (where the doorway used to be) anyway. Wow. What a talent to have!
Moving into my new home requires a good smudging even though the house bursts with the best spirit ever. I start at my front door, give thanks to the four directions as I turn to face each one. The spirit above and the spirit below are added to those thanks for my blessings. Especially for being right here where I am meant to be for my best living right now.
As soon as I step inside (I don’t even look to see if the neighbors are watching. Perhaps I’m unknowingly teaching them something.) I light the sage sitting in my large conch shell, with a wooden match. It’s important to use a wooden match. As the smoke rises, I wave it outward with the eagle feather that I found in the forest one day. Walking clock-wise, I go from room to room, chasing negative spirits away, if there are any around, and inviting good spirits to come join me, watch over me (and cat Lizzie) to share in my joy of being here. Lizzie follows in my footsteps. She’s done this before, too.
There. Done. The house carries the aroma of burnt sage, a cleansing odor that comforts.
When I was still living in Bordentown, a lady stopped in my bookshop to ask a question. She wanted to buy a particular house in town and wanted to know if it was haunted. I didn’t know of any haunts hanging around the house, yet encouraged her to smudge, anyway. She was new to the concept. . . . I like spreading the word that helps others.
Cats are so tuned in to us real, live people as well as spirits who have stayed behind or drop in for a visit now and then. While going over my notes for my upcoming memoir, I came across a notation about an interview done in Bordentown a few years ago. Lora was telling me about the three cats that lived in her apartment at the time; her cat, her daughter’s Maine Coon cat, Draven von Lichtenstein, and a shadow cat. The shadow cat came with the apartment. He was just a shadow that ran from one room to another, leaped up onto the kitchen table, or jumped down from the sunny windowsill with a loud “b-r-r-p” just like the ‘live’ cats did.
As I sat at the kitchen table to record Lora’s story, I lay my folder in front of me. Lora’s cat leapt up, snuggled onto that folder and looked up at me, as if to say, “Get this all down right. I’m here to be sure you don’t miss a thing.” And that is where the cat stayed, throughout the entire interview, never moving, eyes watching me, interested in all that was said.” Cats are amazing!
From Living with Ghosts