Friday, January 28, 2011

A Little Bit of Progress

I have two main writing tasks at present:

  1. Complete as many chapters as possible in the first volume of Documenting America.
  2. Complete the article I'm under contract to write for Safe Highway Matters.
On the second one, I'm having trouble getting hold of various sources the editor suggested. I've done all the research I can without talking to some people. I could almost write the article from the research, but really it would read much better, and I'm sure be more valuable, if I could get some quotes and some practical information in it. I hope I hope I hope today I'll be able to reach some people. The article is due next Wednesday; only 400 words.

On Documenting America I'm making good progress. Last night I finished chapter 21. Unfortunately this took me a lot longer than I wanted, due to letting myself get caught up in the tentacles of research. This chapter is about the wilderness conditions the first settlers encountered on coming to America. The source is one I found in my 20 volume set of The Annals of America, an Encyclopedia Britannica product I picked up for $25 at a thrift store. Back before the Internet, that was my source for original documents. Now, of course, so much is on the Internet I don't have to rely on that for original documents. But I still use it to find things and make decisions on what document to base a chapter on.

The document in question is a 1711 letter written by Rev. John Urmstone, a missionary/pastor in North Carolina, to his sponsoring organization, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. The Annals have only an excerpt of the letter, and gave no biographical information about Urmstone. The excerpt was suitable for my purposes. Urmstone described the harsh conditions and the work he had to do just to survive, work that supposedly would prevent him from his work of propagating the gospel. However, the excerpt seemed to have a whiny tone, so I wanted to see the full letter if I could.

Through a simple Google search I found plenty. I didn't find the whole letter (thought Wheaten College has it on microfilm if I want to drive eleven hours each way), but I did find a longer extract of the part in the Annals and I found extracts of two other parts. What I found was a lot of information on Urmstone. Rather than take too much time to write it out, here's what one of his colleagues wrote about him to the same person in England: "Mr. Urmston is lame and says he cannot do now what he formerly has done, but this lazy distemper has seized him by what I hear ever since his coming to the country." Wow! Not exactly a glowing recommendation.

So, that, and the other biographical information I found, puts the entire body of writing by Urmstone in question. His letters to England over ten years were constant complaints about his situation: no servants; little meat; unproductive land; slaves too expensive; wicked parishioners; etc. His description of the North Carolina wilderness is probably accurate, and I can still use is at the document for a chapter. But how much more interesting it is given the knowledge about the original writer. I shall have to have a later chapter on Urmstone, maybe one about how not everyone came to America for religious liberty reasons. Some, like the good reverend, really came for economic gain.

In all of this, I spent way too much time on research. I managed to pound out the chapter last night, not yet in polished form. But what should have taken me four hours took seven. Maybe the extra three will form the basis of an other chapter, maybe not. But I've got to get more efficient in my work if I'm ever going to finish the book.

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