The Real Historical Characters of Great Mischief


In Great Mischief, your author eschewed the solecism he had committed in Die Fasting, of creating fictional dialog for real historical figures. He admits, however, that this restraint was only due to the plot line not requiring it, and impudently reserves the license to commit the outrage again in the future!

Here are capsule biographies of the individuals named in passing in Great Mischief, none of whom had any direct effect on the action. The names of those individuals who were living as the story begins are emphasized in yellow.

Six individuals are mentioned in both novels; their capsule biographies are located on another page of this website. Click here.

·       Lt. Col. John Bradstreet (1714-1774)

·       Lt. Gov. James DeLancey (1703-1760)

·       Col. Oliver DeLancey (1718-1785)

·       Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)

·       King George II (1683-1760)

·       Marinus Willett (1740-1830)

General Jeffery Amherst (1717-1797)

·         Made commander-in-chief of the British army in North America after Abercromby’s disastrous mishandling of the Ticonderoga expedition, Amherst succeeded in taking that fort in 1759, and in taking Montréal the following year, ending French presence in Canada. He later served as the royal governor of Canada and later Virginia, but avoided participation in the Revolutionary war.


Princess Augusta Frederika (1737-1813)

·         Elder sister of King George III (1738-1820), she is most remembered as the mother of Queen Caroline (1767-1821), whose scandalous marriage to her first cousin, later King George IV (1762-1830) rocked Great Britain’s monarchy.


Mary Burton (1725-??)

·         A servant girl, originally from Ireland, indentured to New York City tavern keeper John Hughson and his wife. Her hysterical accusations, siezed upon by the ambitious prosecutor, touched off the “Great Negro Conspiracy” of 1741.

Daniel Defoe (1659?-1731)

·         A prolific, and frequently controversial, English writer, journalist, and pamphleteer, Defoe is primarily remembered as the author of Robinson Crusoe (1719), one of the most popular novels ever written.


Grand Pensionary Johan de Witt (1625-1672)

·         A statesman and mathematician, de Witt fought the monarchical aspirations of the house of Orange in the interests of the Dutch republic. He was murdered by a mob generally believed to have been instigated by agents of Willem III (later the King of England).


Cornelis de Witt (1623-1672)

·         The elder brother of Johan de Witt, he became the burgomaster of Dordrecht, their native city. Supporting his sibling’s republican faction, he was falsely accused of treason, and murdered on his reprieve. The assassination of the de Witts (and the grotesque mutilation of their bodies) is often regarded as one of the most shameful events in Dutch history.

J and C De_Witt statue Dordrecht.jpg

Diocletian (244-311)

·         Emperor of Rome from 284 until his voluntary abdication in 305.  With the empire already staggering from three centuries of militarism and bureaucracy, his “reforms”—which included price controls and heavy taxation—heralded the end.


General John Forbes (1707-1759)

·         A reliably cautious Scotsman, he was ordered to redeem Braddock’s disastrous 1755 failure to capture Fort Duquesne, and succeeded on November 25, 1758, at the expense of his own health (and no doubt, that of many others). The route his forces cut through 150 miles of wilderness is that followed today by the Pennsylvania Turnpike.


Galileo Galilei (1564-1642)

·         The “Father of Modern Science,” who was notoriously forced by the Roman Inquisition to recant his heliocentrism and spend the last years of his life under house arrest. His fate became a symbol to all partisans of the Enlightenment of the evils of doctrinal literalism.


Edmond Halley (1656-1742)

·         British scientist, the Astronomer Royal from 1720 until his death. His 1705 prediction that the comet now named for him would return in 1758 was a milestone in the development of historical astronomy.


George Frederic Handel (1685-1759)

·         The German-born composer lived the bulk of his adult life in England. His most famous works are the oratorio Messiah; the Water Music; and Music for the Royal Fireworks. His reputation at the time of his death far eclipsed that of his contemporary Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750).


John Hughson (??-1741)

·         An illiterate tavernkeeper who shockingly catered to such low-lifes as mariners and bondsmen, he was first accused of fencing stolen property. In May 1741, his servant Mary Burton accused him and his wife of plotting with slaves to overthrow the provincial government. Given the hysteria of the moment (prompted by economic depression and several instances of arson), they were tried without counsel and hanged within a week, two of the four whites who suffered capital punishment amid the Great Negro Conspiracy.

John Locke (1632-1704)

·         English philosopher considered the first of the British Empiricists, but equally important to social contract theory. Widely regarded as one of the most influential Enlightenment thinkers, classical republicans, and contributors to liberal theory. His writings greatly influenced Voltaire, Rousseau, many Scottish Enlightenment thinkers, and the American revolutionaries.


Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527)

·         Florentine diplomat and political philosopher, whose works (including The Prince, Discourses on Livy, and The Art of War) remain controversial today. Were they prescriptive or descriptive? Was he describing power dispassionately in order to constrain it … or cynically, to advocate it?


Marcus Aurelius (121-180)

·         Roman emperor (from 161) and Stoic philosopher.


Queen Mary II (1662-1694)

·         The eldest surviving child of King James II of England’s first marriage, Mary was raised as a Protestant and married in 1677 to the Protestant Willem of Orange-Nassau, the Stadtholder of The Netherlands. When her father’s Catholic second wife produced a son in 1687, widespread dissatisfaction with the prospect of a Catholic dynasty in England prompted a coup—the Glorious Revolution of 1688—that deposed James and placed his daughter and her husband on the throne as joint monarchs.


Rev. Jonathan Mayhew (1720-1766)

·         A Massachusetts clergyman whose liberal theology prefigured Unitarianism, Mayhew was famous for challenging the court historians’ attempt to make the executed Charles I a not-so-bad king after all. He is said to have coined the phrase “no taxation without representation.”


Charles de Secondat, baron de Montesquieu (1689-1755)

·         French Enlightenment social commentator and political thinker, famous for his articulation of the theory of the separation of powers [a proposition in which the entire population of the United States could stand a refresher course –JTC]. His most famous works are the Considerations on the Causes of the Grandeur and Decadence of the Romans (1734), and The Spirit of the Laws (1748). Historians have calculated that he was the most frequently quoted authority on government and politics in colonial America.


Nero (37-68)

·         Last of the Julio-Claudians, Nero became emperor in 54, at the age of sixteen. His first years were not unreasonable, but he presently succumbed to insanity and threw the city of Rome into turmoil until his eventual suicide.


Sejanus (20BC–31AD)

·         Though not a member of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, Sejanus used his position as prefect of the Praetorian Guard (the brutal secret police) to consolidate power. Once the emperor Tiberius retired to Capri, he became emperor in all but name … until his extremely abrupt fall.

Tiberius (42BC–37AD)

·         Rome’s second emperor, a great general, Tiberius was adopted by Augustus Caesar but relatively indifferent to political leadership (which he inherited in 14AD). After a decade of rule he retired to Capri to enjoy his many perversions, leaving Rome disastrously in the hands of his Praetorian Guard.


John Ury (??–1741)

·         A white itinerant teacher who was accused of being a Catholic priest and a Spanish spy during New York City’s Great Negro Conspiracy hysteria of 1741. His ability to read Latin was cited as proof of this. His execution (August 29, 1741) marked the end of the panic.

King William III of Orange-Nassau (1650-1702)

·         The “stadtholder” positions to which William was heir were complex entities in the federated republic of The Netherlands. A grandson of Charles I of England, Willem juggled his way to quasi-royal power there, and spent a great deal of time fighting Louis XIV of France in the name of the Protestant religion. His refusal to prosecute the leaders of the assassins of the de Witt brothers led to the general assumption of his complicity. He married his first cousin, Princess Mary Stuart, in 1677 and, in 1688, at the invitation of the English Parliament, invaded Britain and overthrew his uncle and father-in-law, King James II. While celebrated by many as the preserver of English Protestant liberty against Catholic despotism, William also involved Britain (and America) in ceaseless warfare. His popularity plummeted after Queen Mary’s death in 1694. Incidental matters such as the massacre of 78 Scots at Glencoe (1692) did not improve his image.


The Denyse family … is a cross between history and your author’s fudging. Denyse’s (probably pronounced “Dennis-es”) Ferry is historically documented in the mid-eighteenth century, running between Long Island and Staten Island near where the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge now stands. The existence of a family that inherited a legal monopoly to operate the ferry is conjectural, but based on known trends of the time. So is—ahem!—the imputation that they would not be averse to tolerating prostitution in their midst.

The Van Renssalaer family … are famously historical. They have been figures of wealth and influence in the Albany, New York area, since 1630.





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