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Revisiting the Revolution

Local woman busy writing local historical fiction and non-fiction stories

January 25, 2009
By RICHARD NILSEN, The Leader-Herald

With 10 books published since she started writing in 2005, "retired" A.J. Berry of St. Johnsville is busier in retirement than when she ran her insurance agency.

"I retired from the insurance business and found I couldn't stand retirement," Berry said. "Besides I needed money to support the rising cost of a bad habit - living."

Berry said her version of purgatory would be sitting around with nothing to do.

Article Photos

The Leader-Herald/Richard Nilsen
Author A.J. Berry looks through historical records in Fonda at the Montgomery County Department of History and Archives Wednesday.

"So I began driving a school bus," she said. "My youngest daughter drives and I simply followed her. Now I drive for the new transit [Brown Transportation] bus St. Johnsville to Fonda, starting at 4:45 a.m. for 6 hours, Monday through Friday. In the afternoon, I drive a school bus for Little Falls. In all, I drive about 40 hours a week, and I put about 40 hours a week into Web work and writing. The latter two are a side business for me."

Her "side business" has produced "about 50 Web sites" which she regularly maintains and 10 books of local history and historical fiction "that average about 250,000 words each."

Berry said she gives talks about her research and writing at history fairs and historical societies.

She said her www.threerivers. com Web site alone contains 4,000 pages of Revolutionary War "pensions applied for" in conjunction with the work of Gloversville Historian James Morrison.

"I couldn't have done any of that without [Morrison]," she said.

Berry said she transcribes the often difficult to read, hand-written letters and notes by pensioners of the Revolutionary War era. Morrison makes footnotes and corrections when pensioners veer into fiction.

"I remember one man who said he fought at the battle of Johnstown and the battle of Yorktown," Berry said with a laugh. "That would be a physical impossibility back then."

The battle of Yorktown ended Oct. 19, 1781 and the battle of Johnstown took place six days later. Since the two battles took place about 250 miles apart, no one could have been at both.

Berry said many of those applying for government pensions were semi-illiterate and were often remembering things that had happened 50 years previous.

"Their biggest mistakes were bragging to their neighbors they got a pension for five years of fighting when they fought only a few months," she said.

She said she finds the history of the area fascinating, even though she is originally from Michigan.

"I've lived here 50 years and raised five children here," she said.

Berry said many don't realize how devastating the Revolutionary War was in the Mohawk Valley.

"There were 10,000 residents before the war," she said. "After the war there were only 3,000."

Not all those left feet-first as casualties. Many were loyalists who fled to Canada, she said.

Berry said the work on the pensioners documents is a passion she and Morrison share, and she is determined to transcribe all those available - all 70,000 documents.

"It may take the rest of my life," she said.

The documents are in the national archives, but many were lost in fires. She said in order to prove their service to the country, pension applicants had to make written application. The three types of pensioners included state troops or "levies," county militia and continental troops. She said within the pension applications are fascinating stories.

"One application contains an eye-witness account of a soldier who saw Sir John Johnson's horse shot out from under him and hanging on a fence," she said.

Berry said the pension requests give eye-witness insights and flavorful stories of the period.

For her fiction, Berry chose time travel as a vehicle to see history.

"As far as time travel, if you read the synopsis on the Web site about the novels, you will see that through time travel, 'the granny' visits many interesting places and battles as well as getting into some situations of her own," Berry said. "Once she learned how to control time travel and altered her age, a whole new world opened for her. Many a history buff has wished it was possible to see parts of history for themselves, this is just a way to carry out that wish."

Berry said she enjoys writing both non-fiction and fiction.

"So far I have an equal number of each published - five and five," Berry said. "I've also helped some other authors with their books; formatting them and getting them camera-ready for publishing."

Fulton County Historian Peter Betz said he thinks highly of Berry's work because her histories are both interesting and accurate. He said he is amazed at her output.

"I don't know how she does it," Betz said. "She has a very accurate grasp of Colonial and Revolutionary life."

In combining history with narrative, Betz said Berry "tells good stories and they are instructive."

Berry said her writing began in 2005 and "spilled out" of her.

"I began writing in 2005," she said. "Where this all comes from, I haven't a clue. I work on the pensions until I can't look at another one, then I write in the fiction series until the characters stop talking to me. So far, no writers block. One project feeds the other."

Her descriptions of the books in the series include:

The Terror Series

Non-fiction

"A Time of Terror," is the story of Colonel Jacob Klock's Regiment and the people they protected. In this book there is a timeline, stories about the women who were left behind and some who went to war, the fighting men, the Loyalists, the battles which took place in this area, according to the Web site.

"So It Was Written," is the story of the Palatines. "There is so much misinformation circulating about this group of people. I got some of the original documents and correspondence to support the real story of what happened, the real reasons why they came, how they came, the tar business, the sad story of Schoharie," she said.

3. "Brothers in Arms," This is the story of the other people who came to the area, starting with the Native Americans.

These books can be found at threerivershms.com/terrorbooks.htm

The Out of Time Series

Fiction

1. "Out of Time"

2. "In Her Time"

3. "Time for Healing"

4. "The Time Traveler's Children"

5. "The Time Traveler's Husband" (This should appear in March.) threerivershms.com/outoftime.htm.

Berry said much more is to come.

"There are five in this series published now, with more in the process," she said. "My proof readers have fallen far behind. I wrote 15 books in this series.

This is the story of a time traveling granny who dropped out of time and into another time. The books give the story of the real life the people lived, what it was like on a personal level. These are details that are left out of history books and are not usually written down. Those log cabins were anything but cute and warm, the people had very little and suffered greatly."

For a look at the story lines, go to the Web site.

Don't Shoot Series

Non-Fiction

"Don't Shoot Until You See The Whites of Their Eyes ," supposedly said by General Israel Putnam at the Battle of Bunker Hill. at the Web site morrisonspensions.org/dontshootpt1.html.

"This series is written in collaboration with James F. Morrison," she said. "The pension applications for the Revolutionary War soldiers are original documents, but they are far from accurate. The pensions came along about 50 years after the war ended. By then the men were old and forgetful. The original muster rolls and payrolls were checked against the depositions. This is an attempt to document the depositions, to explain and clarify. In the pensions are many marvelous stories about the war, told in the words of the soldiers themselves. These records are anything but dull. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll be amazed at the information that was given by the men."

She said some men obviously lied to try to get a pension.

"One soldier had two widows apply for his pension," she said. "Another fought for the other side and got a pension but a neighbor tattled on him, another fudged the date of his mother's death and collected a huge sum but a neighbor tattled on him, too. Some told detailed stories about the war and what they saw, others were very brief. There are stories about the horrors of war, the privations, the boredom, the excitement, the battles, all told in their own words."

Berry said she gets the records from the National Archives and transcribes them. Morrison proof reads and puts in the end notes which document the depositions and the service.

"I format the pensions and put them in book form," she said. "It's a good working relationship. [Morrison] is doing what no one else has the knowledge to do, and no one else has tried to do in the past. It's a wonderful gift to the history lover and to posterity."

She said she and Morrison are working steadily on the pensions and hope to have one book a year ready for publication.

For more information on the books go to www.threerivershms.com/ and find the links to the books on the left side of the web page.

The links will lead to the publishers Web site and the viewer can read some pages from the books.

Richard Nilsen is a general assignment reporter and can be reached at ga@leaderherald.com.

 
 

 

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