The Fudge Factor
Jonathan Carriel Confesses Instances of Authorial “Cheating” in If Two Are Dead
Chapter 1 – The existence of a New York City morgue of any description in 1762 is hypothetical. The office of coroner—an ancient title—is more likely. That a public institution might “own” a slave is entirely plausible, though I've little idea how it would have been managed. The suggestion that sketches were made of unclaimed corpses is invented. Not fudged is the fact that, contrary to one’s modern assumption that an autopsy might logically have been performed on Mr. Sproul’s corpse, the possibility would have been very remote—not entirely due to religious proscriptions. The man known as the father of anatomical pathology, Giovanni Morgagni (1682–1771), published the first serious text on the subject … in 1769.
Chapter 2 – The locations, sizes, and schedules of river-crossing ferries are largely guesswork. Obviously, they’d have been located at narrow spots near towns in relatively deep and calm water; beyond that, only intensive research would reveal more. My assumptions are that all would be sail-powered (as opposed to rowed or somehow hauled), that they’d have some capacity for freight; and that they’d suspend operations overnight and when threatened by ice.
There was a foundry on the west side of Manhattan at the time, but it was only a few hundred yards beyond the built-up area, which ended around modern Chambers Street. I moved it a mile north.
Chapter 5 – Freed slaves—all free blacks—were actually not visually distinguished from slaves on Statia in 1762. The requirement of wearing a red ribbon was only instituted in 1785—an indication, perhaps, of a society degenerating from preoccupation with getting a job done to one primarily concerned with status. In 1762, both the free and enslaved black permanent residents of Statia would have moved about in a relaxed manner that would have startled our “sophisticated” New Yorker hero.
Johannes de Graaff has been invested with an agreeable disposition that has no particular foundation in historical record. Following the death of his father-in-law, de Graaff became governor of St. Eustatius in 1776, in which capacity he authorized “the first salute” to the American flag only months later.
The name of John Wilkes is associated in one conversation with those of the famed French radicals Rousseau and Voltaire … a tad prematurely. Wilkes only achieved international fame—or notoriety, rather—as a result of his arrest on April 30, 1763, for seditious libel. Wilkes had had the temerity to criticize King George III in Issue #45 of his The North Briton periodical, and the king felt personally insulted! (Yes, John Wilkes Booth was named after him—but so were Wilkes-Barre, PA, and several other American cities.)
Chapter 6 – Although the small harbor of Sheepshead Bay, on the southwest corner of Long Island, often served as a convenient dodge for smugglers—most notoriously in the American Prohibition era—whether it might have served the Dorothy C. in that capacity is likely but uncertain. The action of currents and especially hurricanes has rewritten the topography of the entire area several times in recorded history. Maps from the first half of the nineteenth century show the bay opening directly onto the ocean; the Rockaway peninsula ended miles to the east of its current location.
It’s probably a stretch to suggest that the entire congregation of the New Utrecht kerk would have so cheerfully agreed to be complicit in smuggling. Although the mercantile laws were widely disdained and ignored, and the fruits of the illegal commerce were widely welcomed, that he could count even on universal restraint with regard to publicity is, again, a stretch. And I’m not at all sure that his finesse of the sabbatarian issue would have gone over!
Chapter 7 – With the creation of “Roderick Willett,” your author descends to a new low of historical manipulation! Although the historical Marinus Willett was one of thirteen children, likely including several males besides himself, Roderick Willett is an entirely fictional character. He has been invented purely to create a family connection between Thomas Dordrecht and his eventually-to-be-prominent friend, through the marriage of “Roderick” and the fictional Elisabeth Dordrecht.
Jonathan Carriel on the Nyack (NY) Boat Club’s device, “Holy Cow.” (Photo by Carol Hagedorn.) In this shot, the cow is being used simply to stage the March 2012 deployment of 150 marker moorings (cement blocks attached to detergent bottles), which will lay out the field for the subsequent setting of seasonal moorings. The hoist apparatus is employed in the most difficult job, retrieving the heavy seasonal moorings, which usually takes place in November.
Chapter 9 – Another stretch is the notion that anybody, much less the impoverished denizens of the Bergen Neck’s shoreline, might have accumulated the collective wherewithal to construct a “cow” for the purpose of setting and retrieving moorings for their work-boats. In fact, they most probably did not even use seasonal moorings, they probably simply anchored after every sail. It would have been tedious, messy, and physically demanding to set, test, and haul a heavy anchor and its chain every day—but these folks were no strangers to hard work, and acquiring suitable moorings would likely have been beyond their means, if not simply beyond the industrial capacity of their day in the first place.
Chapter 13 – After some study of variations in second person pronouns, your author latched (with relief) onto an assertion that the Quakers of the period were also having difficulty with it, and were beginning to use “thee” in virtually all cases. There is not and never was an authoritatively correct grammatical line between “thee” and “thou.”
[This digression led to some recondite, but rather fascinated research on the tu-vos distinction. One signal failing of the English language, I’d always believed, was the absence of clear differentiation between second-person singular and plural pronouns. But it’s not only English, and it’s not even only Western languages, it’s virtually universal across the planet. Why, when first- and third-person pronouns can so clearly be distinguished as singulars or plurals? The source of the problem, I theorize, is politics—the source of so many of humanity’s other miseries. Languages apparently did originally have second-person singulars. But monarchs desired to conflate their royal egos with their nations as a collectivity, and therefore insisted on being addressed in the plural, creating grammatical havoc. The common distinction of second-person familiar and formal that survives in Romance languages is a somewhat lame attempt to get around this chaos. English had had that solution too, but was already losing it at the time the King James Version of the Bible was published in 1611. The compilers of the KJV (and the original Quakers) intended their use of thee and thou to emphasize the familiarity, the approachability of Jesus and the saints; the attempt completely backfired, as the words instead became even more archaic and associated with untouchable sanctity.]
Chapter 14 – New York province’s young attorney-general, John Tabor Kempe, probably provoked as much controversy in his day as Eliot Spitzer has in ours. Unlike his latter-day successor in the post, however, no taint of corruption was ever attached to Kempe. It is a curiosity, of course, that he “inherited” the position upon his father’s decease, and managed in the twenty years he held the office to go from near poverty to being one of New York’s wealthiest men. But the reason you’ve never heard of him—and I couldn’t even locate a likeness—is that his obsessive reverence for existing law committed him to becoming a Tory in the American Revolution. Nonetheless, please note that the statements and personality quirks attributed to him in If Two Are Dead … are fiction.