Maybe more so than any other novelist below the Mason-Dixon line, including the 19th-century William Gilmore Simms of South Carolina, Inglis Fletcher of North Carolina painted the most comprehensive, historical portrait of the land on which she lived.
Her novels also possibly did more than histories to introduce readers to the colonial and Revolutionary-Era history of North Carolina.
Although an Illinois native, Inglis Fletcher (1879–1969) had deep ancestral roots in northeastern North Carolina, and in particular the Albemarle region. Fletcher later moved with her husband to the Tar Heel State, near Edenton at the Bandon Plantation by the Chowan River.
As a child, young Inglis’ interest in North Carolina history was sparked by her grandfather, who described the Tar Heel State as “that valley of Humiliation, between two mountains of Conceit.” Eventually, she would write extensively about North Carolina, but first she traveled widely and wrote about those journeys.
As a young woman she married John Fletcher, a mining engineer who traveled a lot in the northwestern United States. In five years, they moved 21 times. She also traveled to Africa in 1929, and like Ernest Hemingway and fellow North Carolinian Robert Ruark, she wrote novels — White Leopard and Red Jasmine — that were informed by her African travels and experiences.
She mostly is known for her North Carolina historical novels, though. During the mid-20th century, millions purchased her Carolina Series novels that also were translated into seven languages.
From 1942 to 1964, during what normally would have been her retirement years, Fletcher wrote the Carolina Series — a compilation of novels with stories spanning 200 years of North Carolina history from Sir Walter Raleigh in 1585 to the ratification debates on the Constitution in 1789.
Her Carolina Series may be fiction, but fact informed her fiction. In her acknowledgment sections, Fletcher always listed the archives in which she did research and preparation for her work. Her work sometimes romanticized the past. Nevertheless, in the words of Philip McFee and Ted Mitchell, she “believed that research needed to precede composition. …”
Although her first novel in the Carolina Series, Raleigh’s Eden, required six years of research, her common and subsequent practice — with the exception of two novels — was to do research for a year and spend the next year writing.
Fletcher realized that her goal was to entertain. So her novels were filled with romance and adventure. As she wrote in the acknowledgment section of Raleigh’s Eden: “In writing a historical novel the problem is not to turn fiction into fact but to make a fact appear to be fiction.” But the author tried, as much as is possible in the historical fiction genre, to be true to the historical record when offering readers a sense of the past.
So that readers would not be misled, she stated in her prefatory remarks if any characters were entirely fictitious, as she admitted in The Scotswoman: “I invented a family of fictitious MacQueens. …” Later she explains why she did not present the Scots speaking in a Scot dialect as they did in the 1700s. She was afraid that she would make historical errors as she presented a “delightful dialect.”
If you are interested in Inglis Fletcher’s Carolina Series, here is a list of her historical novels: Raleigh’s Eden (1940); Men of Albemarle (1942); Lusty Wind for Carolina (1944); Toil of the Brave (1946); Roanoke Hundred (1948); Bennett’s Welcome (1950); Queen’s Gift (1952); The Scotswoman (1955); The Wind and the Forest (1957); Cormorant’s Brood (1959); Wicked Lady (1962); and Rogue’s Harbor (1964).
They are an entertaining introduction to North Carolina’s early history.
Dr. Troy Kickler is director of the North Carolina History Project.