In Death and the Informant, Abbie and Joss unravel a mystery that’s 250 years old.
In the spring of 1763, an Indian uprising in the Great Lakes region resulted in the capture of all British posts west of Fort Pitt, save for one. Someone warned Fort Detroit’s commander, Major Henry Gladwin, of the planned attack and he prepared his defenses in time. Instead of capturing the fort and killing everyone inside, the Ottawa chief Pontiac was forced to lay a siege that he ultimately called off.
Whoever warned Gladwin not only saved the residents of Detroit from certain massacre but kept the British from utter loss. The identity of Gladwin’s informant remains a juicy mystery that historians have argued over for years.
As a teenager, I first read about Gladwin and his informant when a friend snuck me one of her mother’s steamy romance novels. In Love’s Wildest Fires, Christina Savage wrapped her romance around the story of the siege and pegged an Ottawa squaw named Catherine as the informant. Catherine and Henry were part of a romantic triangle that captured my youthful imagination.
Years later, while working on my masters in American History, I learned Savage hadn’t made up all of her story up. There was a plot, Gladwin was “luckily informed”, and he never revealed his informant’s identity. How enticing! The mystery was irresistible, and I made Gladwin’s informant the subject of my first graduate school paper.
My professor, Dr. Michael McConnell, was tickled by my interest in Gladwin but didn’t consider the episode to be historically significant. The important thing, Dr. McConnell said, was that Gladwin saved Detroit. Still, he indulged my neophyte enthusiasm and pointed me to the right materials.
I was excited to discover Savage’s primary source, Francis Parkman’s The Conspiracy of Pontiac, published in 1851. McConnell and I discussed this book at length – he’d written the introduction to the latest edition and was thus intimately familiar with the work. My professor urged me not to rely on Parkman too much, as subsequent historians debunked many of his theories. Still, Parkman tells a terrific story, and he painted Catherine as a beautiful Indian who Gladwin admired.
Historians considered Howard Peckman’s book, Pontiac and the Indian Uprising (1947), to be the definitive work on the siege. He listed several candidates in addition to Catherine, including an Ottawa named Mahiganne and a French girl named Angelique Cuillerier. Catherine, Mahiganne, and Angelique all figure prominently in Death and the Informant.
The most delicious source on Gladwin’s informant was Helen Humphrey, who published “The Identity of Gladwin’s Informant” in 1934. Humphrey explored every plausible theory and invalidated most of them. In the end, she concluded that the evidence couldn’t support definitively naming any single person as the informant.
The ambiguity was disappointing to the romantic teenager in me who wanted to know who tipped off Gladwin. But the mystery writer in me loved the delicious possibilities. I imagined my heroine, Abbie Adams, plowing through the source materials like Humphrey had, only Abbie discovered the identity of the informant. I combined Peckham and Parkman into my fictional historian Denham. Joss Freeman converts Abbie’s work into a television script, dramatizing the story of Pontiac versus Gladwin and the mystery informant.