Saturday, August 14, 2010
The Dangers of Research
If you're a writer, especially a nonfiction one, you're probably incredibly curious about everything. I'm always intrigued by odd snippets and facts that I stumble across as I research. Pretty soon I'm totally engrossed in something totally off topic, but thoroughly fascinating. Before I know it, I've blown all my writing time on a nonrelated subject.
At the moment I'm researching and writing on pirates. So when a tidbit about a woman pirate from Pennsylvania caught my eye, I had to follow up even though it had nothing to do with the Chinese woman pirate, Ching Shih, I was supposed to be writing about. Curiouser and curiouser...she lived nearby and met her husband one town away from where I'd lived. So how come I'd never heard of her?
Rachel Schmidt (1760-1789) was born on a farm near Carlisle, Pennsylvania. When she was 16, she met George Wall in the thriving metropolis of Harrisburg and married him against her parents' wishes. She and her husband departed for Boston and worked as a maid and fisherman, respectively. After partying with friends and using up their money, they hit upon a scheme to get rich quick.
Rachel and George sailed out just before a storm, pretended to be in distress, and then murdered those who stopped to help. They took the goods, then sank the ship. This worked well until a storm swept George overboard. From then on, Rachel worked alone, stealing what she could from docked ships.
In 1789 she was captured and tried for a murder she didn't commit. Although she confessed to her earlier crimes, she was hanged for the one she hadn't done. Talk about irony. . .