The Doctors Daughter: Local author pens historical novel set in the early years of the Civil War
By Carole Robinson, Senior Staff Writer
Margaret Mitchell’s epic novel “Gone With the Wind” depicted life in rural Georgia and Atlanta before, during and after the Civil War.
In her book “The Doctor’s Daughter – Journey to Justice,” which recently reached number one on Amazon’s historical fiction list, Belle Blackburn brings historical insight into the life and culture of urban Nashville and surrounding rural areas prior to and during the early years of the Civil War.
The story, often witty, is a work of historical novel depicting a young girl named Kate coming of age in a rural community at a time when the world is beginning to turn upside down.
As the citizens of Nashville await the inevitable arrival of the Union Army, the people of Peony work their land, milk their cows and rely on Kate’s mother, Finola Grace Kinnard Seaver and her medicine bag of herbs, poultices and secrets passed down through generations to cure ailments. A product of the mountain people of East Tennessee, Finola is physically and emotionally strong with a wisdom that comes from years of hard work and dealing with people when they are most vulnerable, however she can’t bridge the gap between herself and Kate, an issue still common in today’s families.
Young Kate Seaver moved with her parents from Knoxville to rural Peony, a fictional community located off Granny White Pike just a few miles south of the thriving city of Nashville.
“The history guided my story,” Blackburn said. “History was the main character. It was why I started writing this book. I found the local history so interesting, I needed to tell it – as a story.”
On a pretty late spring day, Kate accompanies her father, Brian Seaver, to Nashville. After a lovely day together, they drop by the home of James Rayburn, her father’s former business partner.
The book references a report from the May 1860 edition of The Nashville Republican Banner, which describes the suicide of Brian Seaver as a “horrible scene of great calamity.”
The newspaper reported the details of how Seaver entered the home of James Rayburn and then fired a fatal shot into his chest.
Before Seaver died, he managed to walk outside the Rayburn home in an attempt to reach his 18-year-old daughter Kate.
Seaver died in his daugther’s arms.
At that time it was customary for the investigating authorities to require the last individuals in contact with the deceased to come forward and “touch the body” as a means of determining if, in fact, there had been a murder rather than a suicide.
Though Rayburn and his wife were not charged with murder, young Kate was not convinced.
Brian Seaver was a loving, deeply sensitive man, a romantic filled with dreams about his future.
Kate was certain her father would never kill himself, but she had to prove it.
She spent the next 18 months seeking justice and vengeance.
Kate proceeds to travel every Sunday more than seven miles by horse and buggy to attend First Presbyterian Church in Nashville, accompanied by her neighbor and friend, Danny—not because she is so devoted to her faith.
The Rayburns attend this weekly service, and she is determined to prove their guilt in her father’s death, “I used to be like all these people—attending church to worship God in hopes of avoiding hell. But hell no longer scares me,” Kate confesses, before adding a caveat to her bold profession.
“….roasting in hell actually terrified me, but I plan to live long enough to repent.”
During that time, on June 8, 1861, Tennessee became the last state to secede from the Union. Eight months later, on Feb. 25, 1862, the City of Nashville came under Federal occupation—without a single shot fired.
As Kate seeks justice or revenge, she is also discovering love and life when she encounters the brash, young medical student and “a man of means,” Brice Rockwell.
Using “little nuggets” of information she uncovered in her research, Blackburn develops a human backdrop to the historical events occurring, all the while giving the reader unique insight into the practice of medicine.
Again, the use of herbs, poultices and tonics, rooted in backwoods, country methods, were coming of age in the urban areas, and becoming useful though they were still considered “new-age” practices to those delivering medicine.
Blackburn brings home to the reader how the myriad of remedies used in each type of medicine define why it’s called “practicing medicine.”
Blackburn spent hours in the Nashville’s Downtown Public Library researching the antebellum-era.
Archival photographs and descriptions enabled her to paint a vivid picture for her reader, using a setting that includes actual businesses, stores, streets, churches, buildings and locations throughout the book.
“I had no idea what to name the town. Then I looked out the window and my peonies were in bloom,” Blackburn said.
“Johnson Candy Store is real. I saw a picture of it. The bookstore where Kate went with her dad—all that is true—the streets, buildings, churches. I found a lot of pictures of banks, of the Cumberland River, the steamboats and wooden sidewalks. Anything I found I tried to find a place for it.”
Even the slave exporting is true. “Ruby being shipped into a box is based on a real guy’s journey,” Blackburn said.
Not long after Kate and Brice are married, she discovers that her brother-in-law Stuart—the husband of Brice’s sister Carolina—was involved in helping the family’s longtime house slave, Ruby, escape.
He managed to use his employment working for the owner of a shipping yard to pull off an elaborate getaway for Ruby.
He helped her hide in a crate being shipped to an address in Bowing Green, Ky.
The family’s reaction was complete surprise and the entire incident demonstrated how totally dependent they were on Ruby.
“I feel so betrayed,” Mrs. Rockwell said. “After all I’ve done for you and you choose to run away. … You have lived a charmed life, Ruby. …What could possibly entice you to run away? …You were my best friend.”
Kate, who, until her marriage to Brice, had not spent time with slaves, overheard the conversation and reflected her own assessment.
“What Mrs. Rockwell thought of as bonding Ruby viewed as bondage”.
Blackburn uses Kate’s character to portray how some Southerners struggled with the realities of slavery.
In preparing for this work, Blackburn was thorough in her research.
“I also read a lot about the women of the Civil War. They were offended when slaves didn’t come back to them after being freed.”
That reality became Kate’s awakening, Blackburn said.
The Doctor’s Daughter
can be purchased at Amazon.com
and locally at Yeoman’s in the Fork on Old Hillsboro Road in Leiper’s Fork. It is also available as an e-book for Kindle.
Posted on: 12/5/2013