Many of the events in Walker's Key were inspired by actual events, though names of characters were changed, relationships were rearranged, and new characters from my imagination were added. The character of Captain Kenelm Walker is very loosely based on facts I discovered about my great-great-grandfather, Captain Henry M. Walker. Henry's father's cousin, Jonathan Walker, really was known as "the man with the branded hand" after he was caught trying to rescue slaves from a Pensacola plantation in the 1830s. Henry's own cousin, Alonzo Tripp, really did get into some trouble for fabricating a part of a letter to prove that a schooner owned by their grandfather, Jeremiah Walker, was captured and destroyed by a French privateer in 1798. Their grandfather, Jeremiah, was seriously chastised by a judge for his reprehensible behavior when the case of the recapture of the Dove, an American ship captured by the British in 1814, went to trial. Later, around 1829, he and some other property owners really did get together to try to convert Salt Water Pond into a harbor. That venture fell apart in 1832, when Theophilus Burgess, a cousin of Henry's mother, harpooned a small whale on a trip to Russia and was pulled overboard to his death. Following are some of the items I discovered while doing the research for the book.
Darby Field (1610 - 1651) was my 9th-great grandfather. He was born in Boston, England, but was said to be from an Irish family. He operated a ferry service near Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and he is said to be the first European to climb Mt. Washington, possibly in an effort to locate Lake Champlain. This is the origin of the name of the lead character in Walker's Key.
Part of the 1829 agreement between Jeremiah Walker (Captain Walker's grandfather) and others, including Captain Theophilus Burgess, to convert Salt Water Pond in Harwich Port into a harbor. The project died after Captain Burgess harpooned a small whale, got caught in the line, and was pulled overboard to his death during an 1832 voyage to Russia.
This plaque is outside of the Harwich Historical Society in Harwich Center. Jonathan Walker was a cousin of my Walker ancestors.
An illustration from Jonathan Walker's 1845 book recounting his adventures in Florida. Here, Jonathan Walker is being branded "SS" for "slave stealer".
An advertisement in the Times-Picayune (New Orleans), 1879
Part of an 1879 newspaper article about the Valley City, which was put into service in Florida that year.
From the Harwich Independent, January 20, 1891
From the Barnstable Patriot, January 17, 1891.
July 18, 1897 advertisement
An account of Captain Walker capsizing his sailboat on a return trip to Egmont Key from Tampa.
An article from the Harwich Independent about Jeremiah Walker, Captain Walker's grandfather. I believe that the article was written by Alonzo Tripp, a cousin of Captain Walker. See next article.
This is an article from the Barnstable Patriot (11/17/1891) about the indictment of Alonzo Tripp, who was a cousin of Captain Walker and a grandson of Jeremiah Walker. I felt that he would have been much more likely to succeed in his attempted fraud if he had simply reproduced the 1838 (not 1835) letter in its entirety, adding whatever he wanted. See part of the 1838 letter, below, a copy of which I secured from the Court of Claims in Washington, DC.
This is the last page of the 1838 letter to Alonzo Tripp. He added the postcript. Clearly the handwriting does not match. In Alonzo's defense, my guess is that when he attempted this fraud, he was not of sound mind. He died shortly after being indicted in 1891.
The deed of Indian Hill (a/k/a Cockroach Key), which I call Walker's Key in the novel, to my great-grandfather. This deed is one of the more interesting items given to me by my grandmother.