Stories that stick in your mind

Over at the Wet Noodle Posse this month we’re winding up a series on inspiration but I haven’t participated (sorry!). The reason is I don’t know what inspires me or gets the writing juices flowing, and I regard it as such a delicate process I don’t want to mess around with it.

Truly, for me it’s like walking a tightrope.

But occasionally I hear about something fascinating that sticks in my mind and I think about it and wonder how I could work it into a story. Even if I can’t, I believe that this sort of speculation breeds other stories, other ideas.

One story that sticks in my mind is from a 2004 episode of PBS’ History Detectives. Archaeologists working on the Lost Towns Project (Anne Arundel County, Maryland)–that is, the seventeenth century settlements before Annapolis became the capital–discovered a skeleton in the basement of the house. It wasn’t a burial, in fact the corpse seems to have been thrown in with the rubbish. At first they thought it might have been a casualty, or an executed prisoner from the only Civil War (English) battle fought on American soil, the Battle of Severn (1655).

But the skeleton didn’t have battle wounds. Examination of the bones revealed that he was a young male who had done hard physical labor all his life. His horrific dental decay alone would have made him very sick, and he also suffered from tuberculosis. He was regarded with such indifference that his body was thrown away like garbage when he died at around the age of sixteen.

The conclusion the History Detectives reached was that he was an indentured servant, one of the many who came to the New World hoping that after a specified number of years working for someone else they would be able to make a living. Some came as punishment, some because options at home were so few. By the Regency/federal period slavery was a more viable financial option for landowners.

The History Detectives found that abuse and neglect of indentured servants was very common. In addition, the Commonwealth of Virgina was obliged to pass legislation around this time requiring that indentured servants be given proper burial, which implies that throwing bodies into basements or ditches was all too common.

The story of this poor kid whose name we don’t even know has haunted me. After several years of dithering around I’ve started writing a story, not about him, but about the lost settlements of Maryland.

What stories have stuck with you?

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