My first knowledge of the Tuscarora War came from a simple outline of American history I had printed to find inspiration for the then fledgling idea of a children's series. You can imagine my excitement when one of the first entries on the timeline was an event I had never heard of. As a history major and history buff, the idea of writing about an event I had no previous knowledge of was enthralling! It was for that reason the Tuscarora War, and the massacre that marked its beginning, was picked as the first volume in the I'm American book series.
Gisella, as a character, came into being after I had begun my initial research into the massacre and ran across a reference stating a group of children had survived the attack and were found in the woods several days later.
As an author, there is an immediate intrigue that pulls you into this situation. Questions quickly arise: Why were the kids spared? Was it intentional, or did they escape by their own cunning? How did they survive several days in the woods alone? Who became the leader? How would they have felt running for their lives away from the place they had come to call home?
Research played a role in discerning the answers to these questions, as it always should when writing a story based on true events. I chose to have the group survive by escaping because the descriptions of the massacre in the primary account did not lend to the idea of anyone being spared, no matter the age. As for their survival, I relied on what kids at that point in history would have been able to do on their own. Kids at that time were far more self sufficient than most generations since as they worked alongside their parents in order to survive in the colonies. By this reasoning, Gisella would understand how to forage for berries, including which were safe to eat. In that same thread of though Matthew would understand the need for stealth and efficiency in the woods from hunting and trapping.
Dealing with an event that took place in what would be considered the backwater of the colonies at the time, and one that is over 300 years old, was difficult. The primary difficulty arose from not having definite answers on what exactly places looked like or even where exactly they were located. This is the reason I do not mention a settlement by name for Gisella and her friends to live in. Besides New Berne, where they are eventually fostered, it is difficult to track down a specific settlement name involved in the attack.
I have come to realize with issues such as this, I would rather be vague and allow my readers to do their own follow up research then have a hard answer that proves incorrect or inaccurate. My hope for these books is to inspire an interest in history. I add the references and historical note at the end of every story as a way to springboard each reader's own research. You will never know all of history, there is always something more to learn.