1836: Escape to America a message to the Sauer Family
It may be fiction, but it's based on reality. The story in 1836: Year of Escape is based on the real immigration journey made by Rudolph George Sauer, Dorothea Becker Sauer, and their family in 1836. Rudolph and Dorothea were my great-great-grandparents. I have always been interested in them and who wouldn't be? Rudolph was in Napoleon's cavalry, the cheveaux legers who made up the most prestigious part of the French Grande Armée, amazing horsemen who were called "The Unstoppables."
The 1815 military leave I have confirms it. It's a fragile half-sheet, a German form filled out in French, and stamped with a red wax seal. Six months after Waterloo, Rudolph Sauer was released, at least temporarily, from the army.
I also have the family's 1836 passport (one document for the whole family), which gives names and ages. Actually, I have two passports. One was issued in 1834, but not used. Before they could leave, an 8-year-old son died. This tragedy delayed them. It also gave me a reason to track the pattern of childhood diseases of the time, which turns out to be one of the most important indicators of pre-industrial-revolution life. Their two passports mean that the speed with which my fictional characters are driven out is entirely my own invention. The reason for that speed, however, is not. If you are a Vietnam War veteran, you know how the public's attitude has flipped over the years. Something similar happened to Napoleonic War veterans, but in the opposite direction, from initial approval to suspicion and persecution. If you were French, you escaped this turn, but if you had been drafted out of an occupied territory, as half the army was, you were increasingly targeted. This attitude may explain why the Sauers did not join a German community in America.
I have been doing genealogical research for decades, am in possession of remarkable family documents, and knew this story by heart before I began writing. But no matter how well we know a story, we never really know how people felt or thought or spoke. Thus, we seize the advantage of historical fiction which gives fictional characters ideas, personalities and speeches that have nothing to do with the actual, historic persons. However, the basic outlines of the story are all Sauer -- Rudolph/Niklas's history in the cheveaux legers of Napoleon's army, a family of almost the same ages and genders as Rudolph's, an unusually long trip across the ocean (which happened, though why we don't know), landing in New Orleans along with men returning from the new Republic of Texas, traveling up the Mississippi by steamboat, exploring and rejecting Chicago, and settling in Hennepin, Illinois. Many details are taken from the Sauer family story, including the silver-handled sword, the gold they traveled with, and the father a violinist whose favorite tune was Napoleon Crossing the Alps. The family documents I have include an 1945 memoir written by Rudolph's granddaughter, Dorothea Ruthann Sauer. If you have a copy of it, we are related, and I would love to hear from you. By the way, a ship's manifest found online after the book was written shows that the Sauers actually went from Bremenhaven to Baltimore before going coastwise to New Orleans. Also, they were not alone but with another Sauer family, slightly younger, a brother? I decided not to change the book to reflect this late-arriving information.