Betrayal At Cross Creek


Betrayal At Cross Creek448w

When I was a kid, I read lots of novels set during the American Revolution.  Every one I recall portrayed Patriots as “good” and everyone else as “bad.”  As an American, I’m enormously proud of what our foremothers and forefathers did to establish our country.  But the truth is, many good people fought on both sides, trying to defend what they believed in.  And some wanted to stay out of the fighting all together, and simply keep their families and homes safe from the violence.

I was already thinking about writing a Revolutionary War novel when I was invited to write a third mystery for Pleasant Company’s “History Mystery” series.  I chose to write about the Scottish community in North Carolina for a couple of reasons.

I’d read a lot about these immigrants—many of whom had suffered terribly under English rule in Scotland.  To the best of my knowledge, there was not a book for young readers out there that explored the experience of Scottish immigrants struggling to create new homes and lives in the colony.  I have a wee bit of Scottish heritage myself.  And the Scottish community in North Carolina was politically divided during the Revolution, providing lots of conflict to explore.

Some Scots became Patriots. They had bad memories of British rule, and wanted to fight for American independence. Others decided to fight against the Patriots because they knew how harshly the British dealt with dissenters. How difficult it must have been, trying guess which side would prevail!

I began with a simple premise. My main character, Elspeth, would be a newly-arrived Scottish immigrant in North Carolina. Her family, which had struggled to survive conflicts in Scotland, would face new challenges. All they wanted was a peaceful new home where they could start again—but with the American Revolution underway, everyone was forced to pick sides. Before I could begin writing, I had lots more research to do.  So, off to North Carolina!

I started in Raleigh, the state capital.  First stop, the North Carolina Museum of History.  I had already spent a lot of time on their website, searching through their online exhibits and collections.  (Try it!  It’s lots of fun.)


The North Carolina Museum of History was a great place to begin exploring.

I also visited the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.  It’s no substitute for exploring outdoors!  But I knew that the landscape Elspeth would have known, the Longleaf Pine Forest, was almost gone.

NC- Museum Display448w

The museum gave me at least a sense of the plants and animals that greeted the Scottish immigrants.

Fortunately, there was still a place where I could see a remnant of the original Longleaf Pine Forest. Fort Bragg, a huge military base, is still home to some swatches of this rare ecosystem. Some kind people got me hooked up with the base’s Cultural Resources department, who arranged for me to visit.

The area was home to many early Scottish settlers, and I learned a lot from the people involved with archaeological work. I also got to visit Longstreet Presbyterian church, surrounded by longleaf pines. Walking here beneath the enormous pines, squinting at a couple of gravestones that had been inscribed in Gaelic…it was very, very special.


The church building itself doesn’t date back to the colonial period, but the cemetery does.

There was lots more to see in North Carolina.  I visited the Moores Creek National Battlefield  on a quiet, sunny day when I seemed to be the only visitor.  That was a special visit, also.


Here, the Highland Scots who’d chosen to fight with the British made a courageous charge.  “Shouting ‘King George and Broadswords!’ they advanced across a bridge, not knowing that nearly a thousand North Caroline patriots were hidden and waiting.  I wandered the field, reading the interpretive plaques, and trying to imagine how the Loyalist Scottish men fighting there must have felt.



I also visited the Scottish Tartans Museum. At the time of the American Revolution, particular tartans were not yet associated with individual clans, as they are today.  Still, it was helpful to learn more about the types of clothes worn by early Scots—and how they were made.


(By the way, I chose to make Elspeth a weaver in part because I learned to weave an on old loom while working at Old World Wisconsin.)


That’s me, back in 1982.  I loved to weave!

So much time has passed since Elspeth’s time that little material culture remains. I’m grateful to a number of historians who were willing to help me imagine life during those turbulent times. And I’m grateful to my husband, Scott, who suggested that we travel to Scotland so I could learn more about Elsepth’s life before she came to the American colonies. I hope to one day write a prequel to Betrayal at Cross Creek, set on the Isle of Skye.


That’s Scott at one of the open-air museums we visited in Scotland.


Elspeth’s original home might have looked something like this.


Blocks of peat waiting to be used as fuel.

Betrayal at Cross Creek is, I must admit, one of my favorites among the books I’ve written. I hope you enjoy it too!  The book is out of print, but a wonderful  audio version is available.

PS:   After publication the book garnered a lot of attention, for which I’m deeply grateful. One of the greatest honors I’ve ever had came when St. Andrews Presbyterian College presented me the Flora MacDonald Award. I had done some research at the Scottish History Center at the College, and it was an amazing experience to return for the awards banquet.

That's me at the banquet.

I’m in black, wearing the tartan sash of Clan Johnston, which was my maternal grandfather’s name.  To my right is the talented Flora MacDonald Gammon, who was honored for all she’s done to preserve and share traditional Scottish music.

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33 Responses to “Betrayal At Cross Creek”

  1. Ruth Says:

    Twice as many chances to win, maybe this is my week to win?! Ruth

  2. nancyloswald Says:

    Always love the history you tie in with you books and blogs about them. Great photos, too. If I win this one, I plan to read it and make sure it gets into our local 5th grade classroom. A fun give-away even if I haven’t kept up. Hope you’re well.

  3. Rose Milligan Says:

    Learning how to weave looks fun. Thanks for having the giveaway. I would love to read this book.


  4. Pam De Voe Says:

    Love the stories you write. Such a commitment to research while giving us a new group of people or a new perspective.

  5. Liz V. Says:

    I just read Suzanne Adair’s A Hostage to Heritage, set in Revolutionary War North Carolina and told her about your 1812 and Civil Wars books. I hadn’t realized you had written one set in that era.

  6. Eileen J Luedtke Says:

    In my 20’s I had a voracious appetite for stories related to the Revolutionary or Civil wars. Would love to while away summer hours with Elspeth and her family. Thank you for sharing!

  7. Binah Says:

    Please enter me!

  8. Flower Says:

    Please enter me! The book whistler in the night I won was wonderful and I read it all in a day!! I am looking forward to reading more of your books! This book is also in my favorite time in history! Thanks!

  9. Kathleen White Says:

    Another excellent background story. Sounds to me like they better get it back in print! I wish OWW would offer a class on weaving on their loom. I would love to try it! Consider me entered!

    • Kathleen Ernst Says:

      Kathleen, while it was special to learn to weave on old looms, it also is harder. They tend to shift as temp/humidity shifts, stretching some threads more than others. But I hope you do get a chance to try weaving, there or somewhere. I loved it so much I got a small (modern) floor loom.

  10. Joy Williams Says:

    My eleven year old daughter loves to read. She has read every American Girl book and she especially loves the historical mysteries. She would love to win this. Thank you.

  11. Stacie E Says:

    My daughter loves historical mysteries! She is plowing through books this summer faster than normal because our air conditioning is broken (and I lost my job, so we can’t get it fixed) and we are trying to do things which do not require power to keep the house cooler! She has read almost all of the American Girl mysteries that we can find. She would love to win this!

  12. Tricia Says:

    I just finished reading two of your American Girl mysteries (Josefina and Kit), and enjoyed both! Now I need to read the book I won (Highland Fling) – also has the Scottish connection. And to make one more connection to this post: my husband was born at Fort Bragg. 🙂

  13. tudorpearl Says:

    I love your works for American Girl! You bring history alive in your books. Keep up the good work!

  14. Suzanne Adair Says:

    Hi Kathleen! Liz V alerted me to this blog conversation, so I’ve popped in to check it out. Looks like I need to pick up a copy of Betrayal at Cross Creek. 🙂 There’s a sub-plot in my latest book (A Hostage to Heritage) that deals with the Battle of Moores Creek Bridge, the Scots in North Carolina, and Cross Creek. A number of the Scots who fought for King George at Moores Creek Bridge did so grudgingly. They’d fought against the King (and lost) as Jacobites, and to avoid the harshest penalties of the Crown, they’d sworn oaths to never fight against the King again.

    The Moores Creek Bridge battle site is way out in the middle of nowhere and kinda lonely, isn’t it? They have an annual event to commemorate the battle in late February. If you attend the event, you’ll see plenty of kilts and tartans.

    • Kathleen Ernst Says:

      Hi Suzanne – so nice to connect! We obviously are kindred souls. The whole story of the Scots’ participation in the Revolutionary War is just heartwrenching. I’ll look for your latest. I picked up a copy of Paper Woman quite some time ago, although I’m chagrined to admit that it’s still in my TBR pile. I hope our paths can cross in person one day.

  15. Mìcheal Beag (@RMichaelSmall) Says:

    A copy of this book was recently given to my mother, whose mother emigrated from Scotland, and she showed it to me knowing of my interest in Scotland. I am considerably older than the intended reader age group, and I am not female, but I am enjoying the story very much. Are you working on the prequel?

    • Kathleen Ernst Says:

      Hi Michael – I’m so glad you enjoyed the book! I must admit, it has a special place in my heart. I’ve always hoped to one day write both a prequel, set in Scotland, and a follow-up, set in Canada. So far other commitments have gotten in the way, but one day! Thanks so much for getting in touch.

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