The Fudge Factor
Jonathan Carriel Confesses Instances of Authorial “Cheating” in Exquisite Folly
Chapter 1 – The presence of the historical John Tabor Kempe on a wharf, in desperate eagerness to acquire the latest news … is a stretch. Kempe doubtless felt under great pressure as an agent of the Crown, but he would likely have had subordinates, not to mention sufficient patience. While it’s not inconceivable that he would be confronted with Marinus Willett in our hero’s presence, the overt hostility they show to each other might be overdrawn.
Regarding Thomas Dordrecht’s financial situation, our premise is that his extraordinarily lucky winnings, dating back to the 1758 campaign and frugally husbanded ever since, augmented by his salary during his tenure with the shipping firm, have finally played out during the long sojourn in Europe. He has, however, essayed the last of his money on his own importations, a calculated risk. On his arrival back in New York, however, he is severely strapped for cash.
The historical Marinus Willett was one of thirteen children, neither the youngest nor the oldest. Although we have some record of the hero’s ancestry and his own marriages and children, there’s little information about his twelve siblings. So it’s not too great a reach to imagine that he would have had a younger brother ready for marriage in 1761. We imagine that Elisabeth Dordrecht and her mother accompanied Thomas to Marinus’ wedding in 1760 and met “Roderick Willett” on that occasion. Naturally, the lad was smitten!
Chapter 2 – The extraordinary inter-generational friendship of the Leaverings, the Glasbys, and the cousins Charles Cooper and Thomas Dordrecht—an on-going feature of the series—is indeed an oddity, but New York City is famed for its eccentric, unconventional friendships and coteries. All but Cooper have their business in common; the two couples attend the same church; the Leaverings’ daughter and grandchildren live in their native Philadelphia, which they only left in 1759; the Glasbys married late in life and have no children; but the chief fact is that all six have very lively and open minds and wide-ranging interests. Whether they would have addressed each other, even in private, by their given names—another apparent unconventionality—is dubious; however, formal address by titles and surnames strikes modern ears as unbearable pretentiousness among intimate friends, which is not a characteristic of the set!
Knowing the play’s title would intrigue his friends, Dordrecht boasts of having seen David Garrick in The Clandestine Marriage … which was first produced in 1766.
Chapter 3 – There was no such profession as “private investigator” back in 1765, and it’s a stretch to think that Theodora Colegrove would venture all her savings to locate a person to pursue the matter, or that the attorney-general would admit an inability to pursue the culprit or recommend Dordrecht for the task. We’ve justified the situation through her fraught relationship with her father; her extraordinary financial offering—far more than would actually have been needed to secure Dordrecht’s willingness—is evidence of her total economic ignorance.
The notion that masters would dream up names for their slaves is not actually as outlandish as Thomas Dordrecht intimates; it may even have been the rule. And a common name for a male slave was Caesar. (Colegrove’s slave Caesar would have been named prior to the execution of a prominent “Caesar” amid the “Great Negro Conspiracy” of 1741.) One can’t help wondering about this choice: perhaps a snide put-down of the obvious powerlessness of the slave?
Chapter 5 – There is no hard-and-fast date for the original formation of the New York Sons of Liberty. Some historians contend there was no such organization prior to 1766—after all the action of the novel. However, there was surely concerted activity among the local opponents of the Stamp Act, activity that led to carefully staged protests and confrontations. There are no surviving minutes taken at meetings, no records of attendance or votes. Some gatherings occurred out of doors, in “the fields” (now City Hall Park), in all weathers! Thus, the delineated specifics of the gatherings are entirely fictional.
Your author has no specific primary source for the currency price of a freemanship in New York. It was generally hailed as the most liberal voting franchise of the time—but also derided, given the province’s rejection of secret balloting. Possession of land or other property valued at £40 was deemed sufficient by itself. The putative price of £8 in cash (estimated $570 in today’s money) represents a not insubstantial amount, but one still conceivable for employed middle-class men.
Chapter 8 – Although Hempstead, Long Island, New York, has been known for horse raising and horse racing since colonial times—long before the creation of the Belmont Park racetrack there in 1905—the posited race in that locality on October 12, 1765, that distracted many city residents from the Stamp Act crisis … is a fiction.
Chapter 10 – Regarding Aaron Colegrove’s long-forgotten avowal of intention regarding the disposition of his estate, your author has fudged his ignorance of how seriously such a piece of paper was regarded in law then or would be regarded today.
Although there is some documentation—usually in the form of private correspondence—regarding the orchestrated protests of November 1, 1765, and the unbridled riot that followed it, fiction has required considerable fleshing out. We have some report of numbers of participants, parade routes, confrontations at City Hall and Fort George, a gallows float, a candlelight march, the pilfering and destruction of Colden’s private coach and sleigh; but all the rest is made up.
We do have one disgruntled observer’s caustic assertion that the effigy of Governor Colden was treated with “the grossest ribaldry”—surely a welcome open invitation for any author! This author’s response—the slapstick Punch and Judy show replete with lewd double entendres—is a fabrication.
Chapter 11 – The circumstances of the midnight attack on Thomas Dordrecht are far-fetched, in that the attacker would have to have been extremely lucky to discover his victim in a private and vulnerable situation in the midst of an on-going mêlée. The medical consequences of the attack—stitches, four days of delirium, followed by rapid recovery—were dictated more by plot necessity than any knowledge of plausible physiological effect.
Chapter 12 – The sharp-eyed and geographically-inclined New Yorker will have noticed that the 18th Century map provided has no Pearl Street on which to locate Mr. Fischl’s store. The street was there, in its current configuration (with slight alterations made over the centuries), but it was called Queen Street until the British evacuated New York City in 1783. Wherever possible, I’ve tried to locate scenes on streets whose 1765 names are still recognizable today; otherwise, I simply avoid naming them. Aaron Colegrove’s mansion at “144 Broadway,” for example, was in the block now bounded by Cedar and Liberty Streets. Would it help to know that in 1765 they were, respectively, Little Queen and Crown Streets? I thought not.
Another not-described item visible on the map is the Oswego Market, which is the anomalous rectangle that located in the middle of Broadway, right beside the Colegrove mansion. My guess is that it was a sort of regularly-scheduled (and regulated) farmer’s market, with no more structure than a roof against the rain. It was removed before 1773 and reconstituted on Maiden Lane for another couple decades. Rather than belabor my ignorance, I effectively erased it!
Chapter 13 – Tayvie’s relation of the one-day round-trip excursion that he had with James Colegrove and three horses, from Mamaroneck across Long Island Sound to Hempstead … is authorial license. Particularly as the day is described as the summer’s hottest—which might normally be associated with very little wind to fill the sails. Though the distance for a crow is only seventeen miles, the water barrier would have made such a single day trip virtually impossible.
Chapter 15 – The timing of the villain’s arraignment, indictment, trial, and execution, which seem quite swift by modern reckoning, are dictated more by the flow of the story than any knowledge of historical legal procedure. Similarly, the notion that Kempe would have encouraged a quick resolution in consequence of the personal affront to his family, is apocryphal.