IN HIS OWN WORDS:
I was born in the year 1720 to recent Dutch immigrant parents, in the palisaded town of frontier Albany, New York Colony.
At the instigation of Mother, who wanted better for her only child, I began a series of sketches about my experiences. That is how it started. Slowly, over the years, the writing has grown from those sketches into an attempt at describing those years of immense struggle we have undergone. I tell of the men, both big and small, and recount, as accurately as I can, the trails, the gaps in the mountains, the flow of the rivers and lakes, (for those lakes flow like rivers.) I offer too my observations on topography and climate and the habits and character of the animals and fish that inhabit the land in such wonderful abundance.
I grew up around fur trappers, smugglers, Indian chiefs, ship captains, British army officers. An endless assortment. I listened eagerly to all the stories. The men who interested me most were the smugglers who gathered furtively at the back, corner tables, the men with the heavy change purses. Engaged in a lucrative, though quite deadly, trade. England and Holland beg for beaver skins. None of hat or blanket quality remains to be trapped in the English colonies. It is all gone, wiped out in the 1600s.
As a colonial frontier boy, I learned early on how to hunt the nearby forests and to fish the rivers and lakes. The Hudson River runs past the walls of our town, supplying abundant game and adventure. And for some, a curiosity about that land where the waters rise, St. Sacrament, Corlaer. The Drowned Lands. Wild rivers and high mountains. We lads yearned to go “a smuggling” with those men, to see the wild country they talked of so easily.
I was the lucky one. I got to go. But what sort of luck was it?
This is my story.
Ken Kuyler is a frontier boy, a young man, and, ultimately, a seasoned woodsman, ensconced in his beloved hidden valley, a place surrounded and yet strangely, nay, magically removed, from the violence around it.
In 1740 comes the War of the Austrian Succession. Colonial folks might not have known or cared who sat on the throne of Austria, most couldn’t have found Austria on a map, but with England and France on opposite sides of what was a major European conflict, the war quickly spills into the North American colonies.
Facing a fierce onslaught of French and Indians from the north, the Dutch and the British are uneasy allies. The Dutch resent their British conquerors, the Brits are disdainful of the Dutch. Kuyler, a proud Dutchman and experienced woodsman, shares his people’s antipathy toward the Brits, but understands the allies must stand together against the common foe.
Cover Art and Photography by Micah Labatore
In Book 2 of the Skywater Series, (due out 2019,) the War of the Austrian Succession has ended. In the colonies, nothing has been settled. The savagery and tempo of Indian raids is unabated. No peace treaty between European nations can quell the violence in North America and there is a weary fatalism. If the wars must continue until one side or the other is expelled from the continent, if only war can bring a lasting peace, it’s best to get on with it.
Ken, older now and with a family, tries to settle down, but the next, bigger war arrives, a world war, and Ken is once again scouting, “spooking” the wilderness foe. Ken’s disdain for the British, his contempt for their ineptitude is confirmed by British General Abercrombie’s shameful defeat at Ticonderoga in 1758.
For Ken, struggling with personal tragedy, the price of war is bitter.
BOOK ONE, THE GREAT CARRY
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Francis J. “Smitty” Smith (1945-1992) grew up in historic Ticonderoga, NY, in the 1950s, a time and place where the ghosts of old Indians and scouts were more alive than they are today. He was a graduate of the Fort Schuyler Maritime College, the Bronx, NY, and was a career merchant mariner, a lifetime spent travelling the world, but with his heart firmly attached to his birthplace, the Adirondack Mountains. He was a hunter and a fisherman, and despite the long months at sea, he usually managed to get home for trout and deer seasons. The ocean “cruises,” while seemingly adventurous to those who stayed home, were lonely and dull, and to fight the boredom, Francis began writing what was to become the Sky Waters Series.
Francis had completed outlines and first drafts of each of the three books and was well along toward completing them at the time of his passing. Following his death, the manuscripts sat untouched for more than twenty years, until two of his siblings undertook completing the revision and publishing processes.
There were plenty of players in the early struggle for dominance of North America – Spain, France, England, and mostly forgotten today, although with a legacy in the place names of towns and creeks, Holland. The Dutch purchased Manhattan from the Indians in 1626 (that famous twenty-four dollar price tag,) and gave it up to the Brits in 1664. In between, the Dutch settled the Hudson Valley from New Amsterdam (today's Lower Manhattan) to Albany. North of Albany were some few scattered outposts, most notably Saratoga and Schenectady, but mostly it was wilderness, a vast no-man’s land separating the dominant North America empires, the English and the French.
Those two European powers would engage in a hundred year struggle for control of the continent.
With unimaginable courage, some few men dared venture into the forests where the dangers were abundant – wolves, snakes, and most terrifyingly, the Stone Age Indians, fighting with a savage cruelty to keep what had been theirs since the beginning of Time. Men went into the wilds for a myriad of reasons. For some, it was an escape from stultifying civilization (crude as it was,) for others it was a chance to get rich, smuggling or trapping. Others went to forget, or to escape, and few had any notion of what it was they were actually accomplishing – the opening of a continent.
One of those men, going for all of the aforementioned reasons, is our indomitable eighteenth-century protagonist, Ken Kuyler, the Albany-born son of Dutch immigrants, a fearless scout in the mold of Natty Bumppo.
In Book 3 (due out 2022,) it’s victory and peace, at last. Ken’s Adirondack valley is no longer threatened by the tomahawk and the scalping knife, but the successful conclusion of the wars, the expulsion of the French from the continent, the subjugation of the (Eastern) Indians, has brought changes Ken could not have foreseen. Settlers swarm into the North Country, and with the erstwhile allies, the colonials and the British, no longer held together by the external threat of annihilation, old loyalties are discarded, old hurts recalled. The beautiful Champlain Valley, adjacent to Ken’s peaceful home and always at the center of the earlier struggles, once again sees conflict, and this time, the reasons for fighting are not so clearly evident as before.