(June 25, 2009)
Last week, I made the "sacrifice" to chauffeur my son to a camp for students who play brass instruments. That meant I was "stuck" from 9-3:30 everyday in the genealogy room of the city's library with nothing to do but work on my writing. It was a productive week - I finished two chapters. But I might have done more if I hadn't become obsessed with a new project - finding Edward DuVal.
If you've read this blog at all, you've learned two things about me: first, that my WiP is about the struggle between the Cherokee and the white settlers for the land that became the state of Arkansas, and second, that I am rather a stickler for accuracy ("done but for the toe," not "done but for the cuff.") Edward DuVal was the U.S. government's agent to the western Cherokee during the time my book takes place. In order to work in some of the important events that were part of the Cherokee/white struggle, I'm going to have my protagonist (John David) luck into a job as a transcriptionist for DuVal. That will put John David in a position to observe the inner workings of those events.
DuVal will, therefore, be a rather important character in this book. So over the past months, I've been trying to find out as much as I can about him, so as to be as accurate as possible in my protrayal of him. I know that probably doesn't matter to anyone but me, but it does matter to me. I had learned quite a bit about DuVal by reading the correspondence between him and his bosses at the War department in Washington in the Arkansas Territorial papers. The impression I got was that of a man who was ambitious, but eager to do his job well and to be fair to the Cherokee, even if it meant bypassing the territorial government (which I think DuVal saw as inept and biased). I read in Josiah Shinn's Pioneers and Makers of Arkansas that DuVal was a "young" man when he came to Arkansas Territory, and that he was eage to "magnify" the office of Indian agent, and therefore made some mistakes, like not respecting the territorial governor.
A couple of months ago, I hit a little vein of rich information by asking "The Google" (as my sister calls it, ha ha). I found in the footnote of an old book that DuVal had served as a clerk in the Department of the Navy, and although he was only a lowly clerk, sort of became the "go-to" guy for anyone who wanted access to William Jones, the Secretary of the Navy. However, when Jones was replaced as secretary, DuVal lost his position of favor and ended up as a storekeeper at the Navy Yard in Baltimore. I discovered by perusing a list of President Monroe's papers that DuVal had tried after that point to get a number of political appointments, including several out West. He tried, unsuccessfully, to be named Secretary of Mississippi Territory and, later, Secretary of Arkansas Territory. Finally, in 1823, he got his wish: in what was probably one of the last acts of President Monroe, DuVal became the Cherokee agent.
An interesting little side note: I found testimony from William Jones regarding the burning of the Naval Yard when the British were invading Washington, DC, during the War of 1812. Apparently DuVal was with him when Jones gave the order to burn the Yard. DuVal may have even been part of the crew that carried out that order. Quite exciting, I thought!
That brings me back to my week in the Fort Smith library. I had a set of questions about DuVal that I hadn't been able to answer with The Google alone. Most relevant to my story was the question of DuVal's age. But I also needed to know something about his family, and I wanted to know something about his military background. I haven't done much genealogical research; that is my sister's specialty (and she has certainly pulled some magnificant rabbits out of the hat for me from time to time!). Looking up family trees and at lists of men who were mustered during the War of 1812 and at historical lists of officers in the U.S. Army and Navy was a new experience -- and I sort of became addicted. I found out from old newspaper accounts when and vaguely how DuVal died (in 1830 of a "violent illness that lasted two or three days"), and (I think) how old he was (one account said he was 40 at the time of his death, so I'm taking their word for it). I found out from census records that DuVal probably had at least three young sons when he moved to Arkansas, and from an old letter that his wife had a "fine daughter" shortly before he died. I thought I had found a marriage record which turned out to be the wrong Edward DuVal, but I did eventually find out his wife's name (Ellen Jones).
That's all I need for my book, right? What is important is NOT Edward DuVal, it is the history that he was part of making. However, as I got involved in this research, Edward became sort of a friend, and I found myself wanting to know more and more about him. Was this Ellen Jones he married the daughter of his boss at the Navy Department, William Jones? Just what WAS Edward's military record? I couldn't find him in any of the lists of the War of 1812. Was he a political appointee who gave himself airs by referring to himself as "Major" DuVal, or was he really a major? How many children did Edward and Ellen have? What happened to Ellen and those children after Edward died from that "violent illness"?
Last night, I finally decided (at nearly midnight) that this obsession with DuVal had gone far enough and that I must quit (or at least suspend) the research on him because it's getting in the way of other pursuits (like sleeping!). So I'm not allowing myself to search for those answers any more right now. Maybe later I will do that. Maybe sometime I will put it all together and write an article about DuVal to submit to the state historical journal. (hmmmm.....on second thought, I wonder if there is any kind of state prize for historical articles? I seem to recall something about that....hmmmmmm.........)