Readers will quickly discover that Caroline Abbott, the 1812 character I created for American Girl, loves sailing. Caroline’s family lives on the shore of mighty Lake Ontario, and Papa is a shipbuilder. The beautiful cover of Meet Caroline shows her on board her father’s newest sloop.
And chapter one opens this way:
Caroline Abbott leaned over the rail and laughed with delight. “Isn’t this wonderful?” she asked her cousin Lydia. Sailing on Lake Ontario was fun any time, but being permitted to come aboard the sloop White Gull on its very first voyage was an extra-special treat.
Later Caroline confides a secret to Lydia:
“One day I’m going to ask Papa to build me a sloop. I’ll be captain.” It was her most precious wish, one she usually kept tucked away in her heart.
I loved creating this aspect of Caroline. But I also knew that I had a lot to learn about sailing a sloop two hundred years ago! I read accounts written by people in 1812. I studied paintings of ships. That was a beginning, but it wasn’t enough to let me bring Caroline’s sailing scenes to life.
Then I learned something amazing: The Michigan Maritime Museum in South Haven, MI, owns a sloop built to replicate a real ship from Caroline’s time. Even better? Visitors can go for a sail!
So while I was writing the first draft of Meet Caroline, my husband and I made arrangements to do just that. The sloop is named Friends Good Will, which was the name of the original ship.
Sailing on Friends Good Will was tremendous fun. It was educational. Most of all, that sail fired up my imagination. I pictured Caroline on a sloop just like this one. I used all of my senses so I could describe the experience vividly for readers.
In Meet Caroline, Caroline’s happiest moment comes when the wind fades and Papa allows her to help him at the tiller.
In the first chapter of Meet Caroline, British soldiers board the Abbotts’ sloop. I walked through the action while on board, imagining where Caroline would be, taking lots and lots of photographs. When I got home, I quickly wrote that scene while everything was fresh in my mind.
The real history of the original Friends Good Will gave me a lot to think about, too. It was built as a merchant vessel, but in 1812 the United States government took the sloop into military service. While Friends Good Will was returning from a supply trip, the British tricked the American crew by flying the US flag over a fort they’d captured. The British seized Friends Good Will, renamed the sloop, and put it into service for their own navy.
In 1813 the sloop was recaptured by Americans, but that December it ran aground during a storm. In 1814 the British burned the still-stranded ship during a raid.
I’m very grateful to the people who had the vision to replicate the original sloop—no small undertaking!—and the wonderful crew. Because of their work, visitors today can have a rare and special experience.
To learn more about the Michigan Maritime Museum and Friends Good Will, visit their website: http://www.michiganmaritimemuseum.org/