The discovery of a trove of Civil War letters has opened the door to an adaptation of my debut novel, Jenkins: Confederate Blockade Runner. Retitled, the work-in-original form is available as ‘The Jenkins of Baltimore‘. It is available on Barnes & Noble’s Nook, the Kindle, and through the distributor, Smashwords.
I suppose I’m just not done with the story of the Jenkins’ family – and obviously the story is not done with me. Last summer I was contacted by researcher and historian, Douglas Parsons, whose ancestral uncle, Major John Parsons of Florida had fought Union forces alongside Colonel C.T. Jenkins, the protagonist of my debut novel.
Parsons, a New Hampshire resident, had discovered the collection of Civil War correspondence, which is now catalogued in the Special Collections of University of New Hampshire.
A Letter within a Letter
Among the letters Parsons turned over to the University of New Hampshire was one written by his ancestral aunts, the Decatur sisters, and mentions in length correspondence written by “Mrs. L.C. Jenkins” of Bay Port, Florida.
Curious about Mrs. L.C. Jenkins, who couriered information from Florida to New York during the last days of the Civil War, Douglas Parsons set out to discover her identity. To my delight he came across my novel about C.T. Jenkins, the prodigal son of the Baltimore Jenkins family, and husband of Mrs. L.C. Jenkins. Mr. Parsons contacted me immediately.
Parsons’ revelation of an 1865 letter received by Abby Decatur from her sister, Anna Decatur regarding the disposition of a third sister, Susan Decatur Parsons, is the first direct link to the ingénue wife of C.T. Jenkins that I have discovered in my fifteen year research project of Baltimore’s Jenkins family.
My novel, in its original format, gives readers a perspective of the looming war from a Southerner’s perspective, which I believe will be helpful for young readers interested in how The South felt about Lincoln’s policies and states’ rights issues.
Based on a true story Jenkins: Confederate Blockade Runner features a young woman from Fair Haven, Vermont, Eliza Colburn, who vacations in Florida in 1858 and makes the acquaintance of Colonel C. T. Jenkins. Colonel Jenkins, the product of a prosperous Baltimore family, has made his home in Florida, far from northern winters. A marriage of convenience between the Baltimorean and the ingénue is arranged by Miss Colburn’s strong-willed mother. Just as the couple settles down to pineapple farming on the Homosassa River, Lincoln is elected President. Florida secedes from the Union; thus challenging Colonel Jenkins to choose between loyalty to the newly formed Confederacy and concentrating on his December-May marriage. Colonel Jenkins chooses the Confederate Cause as his first calling and participates in getting Confederate goods and supplies through the Union’s blockade of the Southern States. His decision sets a precarious course for his Vermont-reared wife life after his capture by Lincoln’s forces
The 1865 correspondence discovered by Douglas Parsons contains an inset letter from Mrs. L.C. (Eliza) Jenkins in which she describes an ocean voyage from Bay Port, Florida to New York she takes with her Mother and two small children in the waning days of the Civil War. The implied purpose of her trip is to convince her husband to sign the Oath of Allegiance that will secure his release from Fort Warren Prison, Boston, Massachusetts.
When I wrote the original ending to Jenkins: Confederate Blockade Runner it was without the benefit of the rich paper trail that C.T. Jenkins had left historians explaining his life leading up to his capture.
In my years of research on the Jenkins family of Baltimore I never was able to find personal reference to the events of Col. Jenkins’ life leading up to his capture in 1863 and his autumnal trip in 1893 to Baltimore, other than land sale papers. He wrote many light-hearted letters to the Baltimore Sun in the 1890s, but never mentioned his Civil War prison experience, or the circumstances of his release. And, I certainly was never able to locate documents penned from a Jenkins-woman’s perspective regarding the Civil War years in Florida.
The discovery of the correspondence from Mrs. L.C. (Eliza) Jenkins that is transcribed into the April 1865 letter between the Decatur sisters sheds light on the influence and resources of Civil War era women; to wit:
From: Lucy Colburn Jenkins
Fair Haven, Vermont
New York City, New York
My Dear Miss Decatur
When I parted from your sister (Susan’s) company last,
I promised, if possible, to call on you when we arrived in New York
Or; if I could not see you, to write to you at my earliest convenience.
We left Bay Port Feb 4th and after a detention of five
weeks on the way and a wearing experience of perplexity & sea
sickness we arrived at New York on the 21st of March as I had
with me my Mother and my two little children, Annie and John.
I found it impossible to make my visits in New York and took the
earliest train for Fray on our way to Vermont.
I regret very much I did not see you both. Mrs. Parsons account
and my own and should have written to you some days since
but have been prevented by illness.
I found it very hard to part with Mrs. Parsons as I have become
most warmly and gratefully attached to both the Major and herself.
My thoughts go after them very frequently with a longing anxiety to
know how they are situated, and how they are in these days so
fraught with sorrow to our southern Land. . .(the letter goes on for five pages.)
I feel that to do justice to the Jenkins family I must now adapt Jenkins: Confederate Blockade Runner to reflect the discoveries contained in the 1865 letters that mentions the Jenkins’ family. In my original novel Mrs. L.C. (Eliza) Jenkins is left in Florida to fend for herself and her two children. And, in the fictionalized version, Col. Jenkins secures his own release and makes his way to a Jenkins family benefactor in Baltimore before returning to his wife and children who wait for him in Florida.
I’m setting aside other projects through Spring to complete the re-edit and adaptation of my debut novel. The new work will be titled The Jenkins of Baltimore. An updated book cover for The Jenkins of Baltimore (out now) reflects a more feminine style in keeping with my readership and the direction of this fresh project.
I hope that you will check this space again to read about my research and progress on The Jenkins of Baltimore.