Posts Tagged ‘Sackets Harbor’

Special Events for American Girl Fans

April 28, 2014

I’ve got some great events scheduled for American Girl fans in June, and I’d love to see you!


June 6, American Girl Place, New York City

I’ll be meeting readers and signing books from 11 AM – 1 PM.




June 7-8,  Sackets Harbor Battlefield Historic Site, Sackets Harbor, New York
I’ll be participating in a Lawn Party on June 7th, and leading a workshop for young writers on June 8. Come see Caroline’s home town!

Pre-registration is required. To register for either of these events: 315-646-3634;

Kathleen Ernst Sackets Harbor


June 14, Fort McHenry National Monument, Baltimore, Maryland 
I’ll be participating in a special program, and signing books, from 10 AM – 12 PM. There will be other festivities as well. Come celebrate Flag Day at the site that inspired our national anthem!

Tickets are required. Visit the Friends of Fort McHenry site for more information.

Fort McHenry NPS


June 15, Riversdale House Museum, Riverdale Park, Maryland
I’ll be joining readers for a party at 1:30. Riversdale, a National Historic Landmark, was built between 1801-1807, and guided tours are available. I’m excited about visiting a beautiful home that was standing during Caroline’s time!

Registration by June 2 is required for the tea party. Call 301-864-0420.



I’ll be visiting a handful of other American Girl stores this summer, so watch my calendar page for more information.  I hope to see you soon!



An 1812 Gunboat

January 20, 2014

When I began planning the Caroline Abbott books for American Girl, I quickly decided to make Caroline’s father a shipbuilder. The war in the Great Lakes was largely a naval war, and I wanted Caroline and her family to be part of it.

There was a large and well documented naval shipyard in Sackets Harbor, New York. Builders there worked on huge ships like the Oneida.

Although this photo was taken many years after Caroline's time, it clearly shows the natural harbor.  Caroline's Papa knew the harbor would make the perfect spot for a shipyard---and once the War of 1812 began, US Navy officers  knew that too.

This photo was taken many years after Caroline’s time.  The US Navy’s shipyard produced ships that towered over the village.

I squeezed the fictional Abbott’s Shipyard just down the shore from the naval yard in Sackets Harbor. It wouldn’t have made sense to have the men at Abbott’s also building enormous vessels. Instead, I decided that Caroline’s family shipyard would produce gunboats.

While writing the series, I studied pictures of gunboats. Recently, however, I got to see a real one! Part of one, anyway.

Fort Wellington Gunboat

That’s me looking at the remains. You can get a sense of the boat’s size.

A sunken British gunboat was discovered decades ago in a small inlet on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River. Only the bottom, or hull, remained. Over the years, shifting ice likely tore the upper wood away.

The location is about 30 miles from the eastern end of Lake Ontario. (Sackets Harbor, where Caroline lives, is very close to that eastern end of the lake.) Naval historians believe this boat was built during the War of 1812.

Parks Canada Underwater Archaeology Service raised the remains of the shipwreck in 1967. As you can imagine, it was tricky work!

gunboat.1966 fort wellington

The shipwreck being raised in the 1960s. Parks Canada photo.

The remains are now safely exhibited at Fort Wellington National Historic Site of Canada, which is a wonderful place to learn more about the War of 1812 in the area were the Caroline books are set.

Fort Wellington gunboat

Parks Canada Conservator Flora Davidson secures loose parts of the gunboat wreck at St Lawrence Islands National Park in Mallorytown in preparation for its move to Fort Wellington in Prescott, Ontario. Parks Canada photograph.

Gunboats were of vital importance on Lake Ontario during the War of 1812. They were shallow boats designed to carry one or more guns that could fire on other ships or on targets along the shoreline. They were also used to carry supplies or troops. Gunboats had sails, but they also carried long oars called sweeps, which required six or eight men to row.

The gunboat at Fort Wellington is displayed in an exhibit that includes this marvelous painting, making it easy to imagine how it was originally used.

gunboat Fort Wellington

Exhibit artwork by David Kanietakeron and Peter Rindlisbacher.

gunboat fort wellington

And here’s a model of what this gunboat probably looked like.

You can compare the model and the painting with what’s left of the vessel.

fort wellington gunboat

fort wellington gunboat

Other exhibits tell different parts of the War of 1812 story, and helped me imagine life during Caroline Abbott’s time.

Fort Wellington

Jarvis Hanks was a young drummer boy from Vermont. Lavinia York was the wife of the sheriff of a border town in New York. Letters and other writings left by people who lived during the War of 1812 provide wonderful glimpses of the past.

Fort Wellington

Original nails, tools, and a man’s boot—just as Caroline might have seen them.

Fort Wellington

This exhibit painting suggests what a home in Prescott, Ontario (Upper Canada) might have looked like. (It reminded me of Caroline’s cousin Lydia’s farm in Upper Canada!) Prescott is right across the St. Lawrence River from Ogdensburg, New York.

After reading about and thinking about and imagining gunboats, it was exciting to see the bones of a real one on display! If you have a chance to explore Sackets Harbor, New York, I highly recommend a sidetrip to Fort Wellington National Historic Site in Prescott, Ontario.

Caroline’s Battle

July 14, 2013



People often ask why Sackets Harbor, NY, was chosen as Caroline Abbott’s home town. When I was invited to create an 1812 character for American Girl, I explored several possibilities. In the end, though, I recommended that we locate the new character on the shore of Lake Ontario. Once my editors had agreed, I considered options and decided to focus on the village of Sackets Harbor.

First, it seemed that few people outside the region knew how important the Great Lakes were during the War of 1812. I certainly hadn’t understood that.

Second, a number of 1812-era buildings are still standing in Sackets Harbor. New York has also preserved important ground in the village as an historic site. I knew that readers would be able to visit Sackets Harbor and easily imagine Caroline there.

Although no single house was used as the basis for the Abbott home in the Caroline books, a number of period homes---like this one---provided inspiration.

Although no single house was used as the basis for the Abbott home in the Caroline books, a number of period homes—like this one—provided inspiration.

Finally, a lot of exciting things happened there during the war, giving me fantastic plot possibilities. American military leaders chose Sackets Harbor as its base for the Great Lakes, and established a navy shipyard there. The British, just 30 miles away, wanted badly to take the town and seize or destroy  supplies and ships.

The hardest part was picking and choosing from all the wonderful plot possibilities. I couldn’t fit everything into six books!

The British sailed across Lake Ontario soon after the war began in 1812, and a brief bombardment took place.


That bombardment became part of the first book in the series, Meet Caroline.

The Second Battle of Sackets Harbor took place on May 29th, 1813. This time a British force landed and tried to capture the town.


This map shows the protected harbor, where the shipyards were located. The ship shown at the mouth of the harbor, General Pike, had not yet been launched. The British wanted to destroy the Pike.  (Lossing’s Pictorial Field Book of the War of 1812)

The 1813 attack forms the heart of Caroline’s Battle.

Sackets Harbor reenactment

Farmers and craftsmen hurried from their homes to help defend Sackets Harbor.

American naval officers decided that they would burn their shipyard if the British broke through the ring of defenses.

Sackets Harbor reenactment

Sackets Harbor reenactment

Caroline and Mama, left alone to defend Abbott’s Shipyard, get the same order.  Caroline isn’t sure it’s an order she can obey.

Sackets Harbor reenactment

When the battle begins, the shipyard workers are ordered to join the defensive lines. This fellow reminded me of Mr. Tate.

I always try to incorporate real historical events into my fiction. In this case, I couldn’t have made up anything more dramatic or poignant than what really happened in Sackets Harbor that day.

When I first visited Sackets Harbor to explore and do research, I timed my visit to coincide with a reenactment. Watching, and talking with the participants, helped me imagine the chaos Caroline faced.

Sackets Harbor reenactment

Sackets Harbor reenactment

Sackets Harbor reenactment

Sackets Harbor reenactment

Sackets Harbor reenactment

Sackets Harbor Battlefield State Historic Site is a wonderful place to explore.  The reenactment takes place every year, and during summer months interpreters can help visitors imagine what happened on that very ground in 1813.

I hope that Caroline’s Battle is an exciting and satisfying read.  I also hope it helps remind us all that war affects not just soldiers and sailors, but civilians too.

Traitor in the Shipyard!

January 6, 2013

Writing the six-book Caroline Abbott series for American Girl gave me lots of opportunities to develop fascinating aspects of history into plots. Even so, the story of Sackets Harbor during the War of 1812 is so rich that I had to leave lots of things out.

All along, I hoped that I’d be invited to write a mystery for Caroline. And I was! Traitor in the Shipyard will be available in February, 2013.

Looks spooky, doesn’t it?

As I did research and developed ideas for the original Caroline books, I found many references to historical events that seemed perfect for a mystery plot. After all, Caroline Abbott lived right on the border between the United States and British territory. Before war was declared, people on both sides of Lake Ontario frequently traveled back and forth.

Once the war started, no one was sure if they could trust former friends and neighbors. Who had decided to be loyal to the United States?  Who chose to work for the British?

Sackets Harbor, NY

The British colony of Upper Canada was only a short sail away from Sackets Harbor, NY. (Google Maps)

British spies were particularly interested in American shipbuilding efforts. When Traitor in the Shipyard begins, Caroline, her family, and workers at Abbott’s shipyard are racing to build ships the American Navy desperately needs to defend Sackets Harbor from British attack.

Meanwhile, workers at the Navy shipyard are finishing the USS General Pike. At the time of its launch in 1813, Pike was the largest warship on Lake Ontario.


A period drawing of  USS General Pike.  (Wikipedia)

Caroline knows very well what’s at stake. In chapter one, she talks with her friend Hosea, a sailmaker:

“Have you heard when General Pike will be ready?” she asked. Once complete, the frigate would be the mightiest vessel ever to sail Lake Ontario.

“The sails aren’t finished.” Hosea glanced over his shoulder, as if making sure that no one else could hear. “The navy is also waiting for a shipment of gunpowder. With twenty-eight cannons aboard, General Pike needs ten thousand pounds.”

“Gracious!” Caroline was startled.

“And until Pike launches, the British rule the lake.” Hosea looked frustrated. “It’s maddening to see our fleet bottled up here to protect General Pike while British ships cruise about Lake Ontario at will.”

“Papa says the navy’s most important job right now is protecting General Pike,” she said.

Hosea nodded. “Our enemies want desperately to seize or destroy Pike before it ever sets sail. If that happens, the war on the Great Lakes will be lost.”

Caroline looked back over the harbor. If the Americans didn’t get General Pike into service soon, they might not be able to defend themselves.

Caroline is worried when she learns that spies may be lurking in Sackets Harbor. Then, a long lost friend of Papa’s shows up. Papa is delighted to give him at job at Abbott’s, but soon, strange things start going wrong. Caroline is sure a spy is making trouble at the yard—but it is one of Abbott’s trusted workers, whom she has known all her life, or could it be Papa’s dear friend?

I hope you enjoy Traitor in the Shipyard as a good adventure story… and I also hope it helps you imagine what the people of Sackets Harbor faced every day during the War of 1812.

Meet Caroline – And Her Home Town

September 4, 2012

Are you ready to meet Caroline Abbott? At long last, the 1812 character I created for American Girl is launching into the world! All six books are now available.

Caroline Abbott lives in Sackets Harbor, New York. The village is on the southern shore of Lake Ontario.

The Abbott family owns a small shipyard, situated to take advantage of a protected harbor. Readers will quickly discover that Caroline wouldn’t want to live anywhere else! She loves her family home, which is not huge, but quite a step up from the log cabin she was born in. She loves visiting the family shipyard. She loves to look over Lake Ontario and imagine sailing her own ship one day.

Native Americans had long lived in this area, which was rich with fish and game and surrounded by forests. In 1801 those same natural resources attracted a businessman from New York hoping to establish trade in the region.  He wrote, “There a harbor is found which is sheltered from the winds and surges of the Lake. A peninsula of limestone rock perfectly protects a sheet of water covering about ten acres.”

Although this photo was taken many years after Caroline’s time, it clearly shows the natural harbor.  Can you imagine Abbott’s Shipyard on the shoreline near the bottom of the photo?

When Caroline’s story starts, Papa’s small shipyard is already successful. The deep woods provide timber for the ships needed to transport people and goods around the Great Lakes. And that sheltered harbor provides protection as he builds his merchant ships.

Meet Caroline begins in June, 1812, just as the United States declares war on Great Britain. Sackets Harbor becomes the center of American naval and military operations. Caroline watches as her tiny village grows into a bustling town jammed with troops and shipbuilders. The British colony of Upper Canada was right across the lake—just thirty miles away!

Today, two hundred years later, it is very easy to stroll through Sackets Harbor and imagine Caroline there.

The view from Caroline’s bedroom window would have looked much like this.

A handful of buildings dating back to her era still exist.

Today this beautiful building overlooking the harbor houses the village Visitor Center.

Although no single house was used as the basis for the Abbott home in the Caroline books, a number of period homes—like this one—provided inspiration.

This shoreline must have looked very similar in Caroline’s day.

A lot of exciting things happened in this area during the War of 1812. Setting Caroline’s stories in Sackets Harbor gave me a wonderful environment and lots of exciting historical events to work with. I’ll share more about those in future blog posts, so stop back again soon!

Caroline Abbott’s Setting Revealed!

August 1, 2012

You know her name. You know her year. Now discover more about American Girl’s newest historical character!  The company has revealed the Caroline doll and where her story takes place — Sackets Harbor, New York, on the shores of Lake Ontario as the War of 1812 begins.

While writing the six books about Caroline, I learned a lot about Sackets Harbor and it’s fascinating history.  Stayed tuned for more about Caroline as we all count down to her debut…