1812, a year probably best known for the war of 1812, was also the year of the most violent earthquake ever to hit the North American continent. Collectively known as the New Madrid Earthquake, this succession of tremors was so powerful that it rang church bells in Washington, destroyed five towns in three states, created lakes where there had been none before, and even reversed the flow of the Mississippi for a time. Our story takes place on the Mississippi river during this series of quakes.
Captain Young is a Kentucky native and a veteran of the Indian Wars. A former captain, he now makes his living as a commercial hunter and trapper. As a boy he was captured by the Shawnee, and lived with them for four years, during which time he befriended Tecumseh, the great Shawnee chief. Ironically, it was during the Indian conflicts in Ohio River Valley that he both distinguished himself as a soldier and fell in love with the beautiful Molly Livingston.
Molly is the daughter of Robert Livingston, a wealthy fur trader. During the American Revolution, the two were doing business in Grave Creek, Ohio, when the fort was suddenly attacked by Delaware loyal to the British Crown. Captain Young helped defend it from the Indians, once even saving Molly’s life. The two fell in love, but Molly’s father, still viewing Young as a half-Indian, backwoods peasant, refused to grant him his daughter’s hand in marriage. Despondent, Young disappeared into the wilderness. Molly, receiving no word from him for years and thinking him perhaps even dead, eventually became engaged to Edward, another young officer from higher birth. Her traveling to New Orleans to marry Edward begins our story.
Another former officer of the Revolutionary War, at Grave Creek he allowed his men to be drawn into an ambush in which 33 men lost their lives. He would have been killed as well if Captain Young hadn’t mounted a second charge to save them. In retaliation Mason massacred a defenseless village of Delaware, killing nearly 100 women and children. Captain Young tried to see him court marshaled for it, but he was acquitted when the defense argued bias on Young’s part due to the many years he had spent among the Shawnee. The incident stained Samuel’s career, however, and he became Young’s mortal enemy afterwards. A highly literate man from a good family, Samuel nevertheless has turned into a vicious river pirate in his later years.
ICAJAH AND WILEY HARPE
Although H.H. Holmes has often been cited as America’s first serial killer, it is the Harpe brothers who perhaps deserve that dubious honor. Unlike most outlaws of the time, their crimes seemed more motivated by bloodlust than financial gain. The Harpes, known throughout the frontier as Big Harpe and Little Harpe, showed no discrimination in their bloodthirsty antics, butchering men, women, and children alike, even babies. Big Harpe even once killed his own infant daughter because she wouldn’t stop crying.
An ancestor of Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt, Mr. Roosevelt was an impressive figure in his own right. He was the inventor of the first river steamboat, the New Orleans, whose maiden voyage down the Mississippi, while ushering in a new era of travel and trade on the Mississippi, also had the unfortunate timing of coinciding with the New Madrid Earthquakes. This is a real historical event, which will be fictionalized somewhat in order to weave it in and out of our story.
Tecumseh, the legendary Shawnee Chieftain, fought in the early 19th century to unite the diverse North American tribes into a vast confederacy strong enough to oppose the United States. He predicted the New Madrid Earthquakes a year in advance, hoping his prophecy would be seen as a sign among the tribes to rise in solidarity and drive the invading whites off the continent.