Maybe you’ve read the story “Sinseerly A Friend & Yr. Obed’t” and maybe you wondered how much was fiction, how much was fact, and how much was some messy mixture — also known as conjecture.
I wanted to append a short note on sources to the story, but the editor persuaded me not to. Here, then, is the long version of the dreaded Author’s Note:
Little Hope, Pennsylvania, was a real place, although it hardly exists today, and in Greenfield Cemetery you can find the gravestone of Stutley Northup (died 10 April 1860). He did find his way to Erie County from Rhode Island via central New York, but it is very unlikely that either he or his father were followers of Jemima Wilkinson — who was nevertheless also quite real, as was her New Jerusalem settlement. I do not know if he attended Brown College (I doubt it). Nor do I have any documentation that he was accessory in the flight of fugitive slaves (I doubt that too). Many of his descendants were dairy farmers, so it seemed reasonable to suppose that he may have been too. Of course the Dark Day really did happen, and Stukely’s war service was as outlined (drawn from War Department records), and the names of his children are recorded in census records, and there was a mysterious giant wave on Lake Erie in July 1881, and J.E. Chambers was Justice of the Peace in Harbor Creek Township in 1838 (although his commission was not recorded until December).
The Dusseau brothers did encounter a giant sea-snake in Lake Erie, or so they claimed, but I have moved the event fifty years earlier and fifty miles east. The newspaper accounts are only slightly modified from those of the Stark County (Ohio) Democrat and the New York Times. (The Phoenix-Mirror is a real newspaper that was publishing in Erie at the time of the story.)
Nebuchadnezzar/Amos Walker/Jonah Northup is based — very loosely — on Joseph Taper. Taper did pass through this region of Pennsylvania on his route to Canada, but the resemblance ends there. Jonah’s internal monolog is partly made out of scraps and quotes of a letter of Taper’s preserved in the papers of Joseph Long at Duke University.
Jemima Wilkinson’s ideas about the Dark Day are adapted from Samuel Williams’s account in The analytical review, or history of literature, domestic and foreign, on an enlarged plan, volume II (1788).
The description of watercourses at the beginning of III is adapted from History of Erie County, Pennsylvania, containing a history of the county; its townships, towns, villages, schools, churches, industries, etc., as is the report of the singleton wave in XI.
I have also benefited from:
Martin Billingsley, The pens excellencie: or, the secretaries delighte for descriptions of the manufacture of quill pens.
Tom Calarco, et al., Places of the underground railroad: A geographical guide for information about fugitives in Erie and vicinity.
Charles Cassady, Paranormal Great Lakes for tales of sea monsters in the lake.
Stafford Cleveland, History and directory of Yates County, containing a sketch of its original settlement by the Publick Universal Friend for a history of Jemima Wilkinson’s New Jerusalem.
Nelson’s biographical directory and historical reference book of Erie County, Pennsylvania for all that I know about J.E. Chambers.
Antoon Oudemans, The great sea-serpent. An historical and critical treatise for inspiration and of course the epigraph at the head of VI.
Herbert Wisbey Jr., Pioneer prophetess for biographical details of Jemima Wilkinson.