Sunday, December 5, 2010

A Living Legacy | Peter Francisco

Recently, I had the chance to visit some Peter Francisco landmarks and monuments with some friends and family. One of those landmarks was Locust Grove, Peter Francisco's post-war home in the area near Hopewell once known as Planterstown. It was my first time visiting Locust Grove. After roaming through the rooms and around the property, I thought it would be the perfect place to storyboard the second novel in the series! What do you think?

One of my friends who accompanied me on the trip posted a nice write-up about the trip on her blog. Here is a link to the original post, followed by a few highlights. Check out all the photos on Flickr.

originally posted by Heather Walls

Over Veterans Day, Adam and I had the fortunate opportunity to spend a couple of days with Travis Bowman, good friend and a 6th generation descendant of Revolutionary War hero Peter Francisco.

As someone who is passionate about preserving memories and heritage, Peter’s story is right up my alley.

Thanks to the hospitality of the Women’s Club of Hopewell, Adam and I were able to attend their monthly meeting at the Maude Langhorne Nelson Library, during which Travis -- who stands a looming six feet six inches just like Peter -- delivered his convincing interpretation of Peter’s life.

Travis Bowman performs his dramatic impersonation


Upon returning from war, Peter admits, with obvious emotion, “I just wanted to hear my father say, ‘Good job, son. I’m proud of you. Thank you for fighting for our freedom.’ But I didn’t have a father. I went back to the plantation, and, rather than laurels, I was met with Judge Winston telling me, ‘Get back to work.’

That part really hit home.

Peter who?

Prior to reconnecting with Travis, I didn’t know anything about Peter Francisco. Peter was like the Sully Sullenberger of his day! People everywhere knew his name and what he had done for them. He faced adversity and danger with aplomb and little regard for his own life. He protected his fellow soldiers from open fire and allowed them to retreat to safety by carrying and repositioning a fallen tree limb so snipers could get behind it. He was a commando at Stony Point, second over the wall, and first to capture the flag. He rescued a stranded, 1,100-pound cannon from its carriage, hoisting it with his arms onto a wagon. With his quick thinking and deft hand, he saved the same Colonel not once but twice during the same battle! He cut down eleven British in another battle with his formidable five-foot blade. He was instrumental in securing America’s freedom. My freedom.

It’s no wonder this guy is known as Hercules of the Revolution! Anyone remember that scene in Forrest Gump when Forrest carries all the men in his platoon off the front lines to safety, even brawny Bubba? That’s what I’m talking about! Booyah!

A Dutiful Tour

After signing some books and eating lunch with the sweet ladies of Hopewell, Travis took us personally on a tour of landmarks and monuments that now commemorate Peter’s life and legendary prowess. He even let me try on the hat! We stopped at City Point, the dock in Hopewell where Peter was deposited and deserted after spending weeks held captive on a ship by greedy swashbucklers.



We went onto see the monument in Hopewell in front of City Hall – one of five monuments in the nation. Now dusk, we drove into downtown Richmond and visited St. John’s Church, where Peter stood outside listening to Patrick Henry’s inspiring oration. Built in 1741, that church is truly a monument to its own history. Elizabeth Poe (Edgar’s mother) is also buried here.

Adam and Travis in front of St. John's Church in Richmond, Virginia


Peter Francisco is buried in Shockoe Hill Cemetery, among other notables such as US Chief Justice John Marshall and famed Union spy Elizabeth Van Lew. The thing about cemeteries for me – and I’ve said this before – it’s the last place on earth a person was. No speculation. No imagination. Peter was there. His soul had departed, but the vessel – his body – the one he so freely tendered for our freedom touched that cold, winter earth.

Adam and I brought two Betsy Ross flags to place at his grave. Travis and I did the honors.

Travis and I placing Betsy Ross flags at Peter Francisco's grave


The piece de resistance was seeing Locust Grove, the post-war home Peter and his family occupied for nearly two decades, which we visited the next day. It’s possible Peter inherited the property, but he did not build the house, as was evident from the standard-sized doorways. The property is privately owned, but the owners, who restored it to its former glory, graciously let us in for a look-see. The fireplaces were probably original, and I could imagine Peter warming himself there, perhaps contemplating the legislative matters of the day. I could have spent hours walking those rooms.

Locust Grove, post-war home of Peter Francisco, in Dillwyn, Virginia

Lastly, we visited the Buckingham County Museum, which is located in the Housewright House on James Anderson Highway. This museum contains the most documents and papers on Peter Francisco. They have a Civil-War-era sword that was recovered from Locust Grove and a tall cabinet that was hand-crafted by Peter Francisco.

What a fantastic way to spend Veterans Day, learning about one of America’s Founding Fathers! Thank you, Peter, for your service and for your willingness to sacrifice yourself. And thank you, Travis, for sharing your ancestor’s legacy with us.


What stories of memory preservation inspire you?

5 comments:

  1. That's really neat. I love visiting old houses. I still have yet to get up to Virginia again. The last time I was up there I didn't have a lot of time to see anything besides York Town and Jamestown, but I really want to see Mount Vernon the next time I go. George Washington is one of my favorite historical people ever.
    I'm on chapter three of your book right now but I haven't had much time to read lately! I like it so far though!

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  2. Thanks for posting, Travis! We had a wonderful time. And I definitely think you should storyboard the next novel in the series there!

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  3. Hey, I just finished your book today and I really enjoyed it! I could tell the love you put into it. It is really an indescribable feeling to be able to write about someone you care a lot about. To be able to write about your heros. That's one of the main reasons I really love writing historical fiction. Peter Francisco was a really amazing hero. There's something about men who wield broadswords I have always been attracted to. ;-) That may be because of William Wallace though.

    Good ending too! ;-) Did Peter really have a personal fight with Banaster Tarleton? He makes a very formidable villain. I read a lot about him when I was researching Francis Marion and I thought you portrayed him well. I cannot wait to write by book about the Rev War. I just have to wait until I am ready to write it. I will definitely find a place to at least introduce Peter, and if I have any questions, I will be sure to ask you.

    I can't wait for the sequel! Keep writing!

    -Hazel

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  4. Thank you, Hazel! I appreciate your kind words. Peter's sword does distinguish him from other military heroes. His story is very similar to that of William Wallace, which is one of the reasons why Hercules of the Revolution has been called the American Braveheart story. We do know that Peter encountered Tarleton during the Battle of Cowpens, but I took liberties with details such as the swords breaking at the hilts. Thank you for including Peter in your next book! I'll be happy to help any way I can. What are some of the other books you've written? Any on the RevWar?

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  5. Taking liberties is also part of writing historical fiction as well. :) I personally always considered Washington the American Braveheart, and that is going to be somewhat of a theme in my Rev War novel. My main character is a young Scotsman named Brandon Wallace who comes over to America after the 1745 Jacobite Rising and he sees the similarities of his ancestor and his new hero. Most of the other books I have written--still not published-- are on Scottish history. I wrote two on William Wallace actually, one about the life we know and the other one is about him as a teenager. Talk about taking liberties! There's almost nothing known about him until 1297 except what Blind Harry wrote in his epic. Scottish history is my passion, I have a blog about Scottish history and I have loved the American Revolution since I was in third grade. I really hope to write my Rev War one soon, perhaps this year, I have another one going at the moment. It's hard to juggle books when you have so many ideas!

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