The Aurora Tree

A novel of early Washington, D. C.

by Guanetta Gordon

The Aurora Tree is a historical novel that takes place in the city of Washington D. C. between the years 1809 and 1836. The story revolves around a fictional character, Bonnie Maureen Royall. She is presented as the adopted daughter of historical figures Anne and William Royall. History tells us that Anne, many years younger than her husband, was widowed at the age of forty-four. To allieviate her grief, she began to travel and to write. In time she gernered a reputation as a noted novelist and journalist. She invaded politics, published public opinion, brought informality and candor to the press. As a result she became perhaps the most controversial woman of her day, at one point having been brought to "trial" by congress for being a "public scold."
In real life, Anne Royall sponsored many orphans. Thus it stands to reason that she could have adopted a daughter. The heroine of this novel, Bonnie Maureen Royall, is sent early in the novel to a finishing school in the city of Washington. There she befriends Peggy O'Neale, the historic innkeeper's daughter who flaunted her beauty and wit in the face of Washington society and ultimately became a pawn in the games of society and polotics.
The stories of these three women, Anne, Bonnie, and Peggy are told against the background of the nation's capitol, struggling to emerge as a city of power and greatness. The novel is filled with historical detail, from poltical issues to White House menus at gala events, all carefully research over a period of ten years by the author. Guanetta Gordon writes in the Foreward to the novel: "The aurora tree is symbolic. It represents the city of Washington, the Capital of the United States of America. The city's beginning can be compared to a twig stuck haphazardly into the earth by fate, to root or perish. A few men with vision started the experiment to produce a new genus."
The novel encompasses the period of the Madison White House with the colorful Dolley Madison as Frist Lady; the War of 1812 and the burning of the city; the bawdiness of the Jackson years; congressional issures that comsumed the nation such as land policies, financial challenges, and the rising tensions betwen the North and South. These dramatic events are intertwined with the personal lives of both historic and fictional characters: the loves, struggles, achievements, tragendies, and triumphs of those who lived in one of history's most colorful and fascinating eras.
The following is an excerpt from page 207-9 of The Aurora Tree:
Bonnie dressed with nervous impatience that night. Her clothes seemed naive, almost schoolgirlish. Twice she removed her selection and at last settled on a severly plain white silk with a coral velvet ribbon at the top of the empire skirt and a band of coral around the short, puffed sleves. She wore no jewelry except a long jet-encrusted comb at the side of her copper hair, which she wore coiled high on her head with two curls draped over one shoulder,
Scott's eyes glowed with admiration when she entered the room, and he uttered one word. "Magnificent!"
Bonnie's heart throbbed with delight. There was something about Scott that challenged a woman to look her very best, something that made her want to touch the hard core of him.
This evening Scott had brought his manservant, Bow, to act as driver. How like to him make a woman feel that he wanted no distraction from her presence. Bonnie sat very straight on the red plush upholstery. The glistening, jet-black horses with chalk-white hooves set off at a spirited pace, their silver-crested harness glistening in the dark.
The wind had died down, and the lavender dusk was comfortably cool, with a touch of autumn fragrence. Bonnie had already made mental notes for conversation. "You were in the Battle of Baltimore weren't you, Mr. Winston?"

"Must you be so formal? Why not call me Scott?"

She smiled in agreement. "Then tell me, Scott, about your and Mr. Key's contact with Admiral Cockburn. How did he receive you?"
"Frankly I didn't see the Admiral, but that is a long story."
"I'd love to hear about it."
"As you know, Francis Scott Key and I took off on horseback for Baltimore the night of the fourth. It was too dengerous to ride beyond Bladensburg that night, so we stopped at the inn and lawyer Key suggested we visit the emergency hospital where the British prisoners were held. Since our mission was to get a release of Dr. Beanes, we were looking for a possible exchenge presoner in the hospital. Sure enough we found a Lr. Hutchinson who was quite cooperative in writing down his praise of the treatment extended to him: the medical care, the food, and the courtesy. Now we had something to bargain with when we met with Admiral Cockburn."
"Do go on," insisted Bonnie when he paused.
"Well, we started at the crack of dawn the next day and reached Baltimore at dusk. What a night that was. The fog was blowing in as thick as the River Styx, but we found the Fountain Inn where we were to contact Colonel John Skinner. He is the United States Government agent who arranges the transfer of prisoners.
"Colonet Skinner directed that I go with them out on the peninsula to Ft. McHenry and that I remain there in case something went wrong with their negotiations and they weren't permitted to return. Somebody needed to be on land who knew about the deal and could arrange for additional help, if necessary. Of course, I hated to stay behind, but there wasn't anything else I could do.
"Out at the fort, Colonel Skinner and Mr. Key set out in a little bowboat to try to contact the truce vessel, the Minton, somewhere out there in the fog of the Patapsco River.
"The commander of the fort, a Major George Armistead, made me feel most welcome. I found him quite interesting. He was only about thrity-three years old, and he said he'd received his commission of lieutenant at the tender age of nineteen. He'd made quite a record for himself on the Canadian front a couple of years ago and was rewarded by being given the command of Ft.McHenry. He took great pride in the fort and particularly in the large flag flying on the staff. He said it was 42 x 30 feet. Its broad stripes and square of blue with its fifteen stars could be seen for miles around. The flag had taken 400 yeards of bunting and had cost, including the labor of sewing, $405."
"It sounds unbelievable," murmured Bonnie.

"Let's talk about you, now," he suggested, letting his eyes play over her face.


"Oh, no! This is much more exciting. You can't stop even before the battle starts."
Scott tipped his tall beaver hat to a passing carriage. "Then I'll hurry and get it over with. I knew it would take a few days for the Minton to locate the British fleet out in the bay, but by the fifth day I was getting edgy"....

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