The Elkton Connection

The launch of The Shifting Winds happens in Elkton because it’s my hometown—at least the closest town to the farm where I live. So on this last day of my countdown to launch with historic factoids, I want to bring the history home.

The story of The Shifting Winds does not come this far south, but there is a connection. Chief Factor Dr. John McLoughlin, who we know from the story, sent men to the Umpqua to find a place for a Hudson’s Bay Company post, and Fort Umpqua was built in 1836, a few years prior to our story timeline. The fort became the southernmost outpost of the HBC, and a fine replica, shown below, was built a few years ago a short way downriver from the original site. That replica is on the ECEC grounds, just down the hill from the library where my book launch will take place tomorrow afternoon.


In more recent years Elkton has been designated an American Viticultural Area, and wine and book signings often go together. So we’ll be serving wine at the launch, compliments of Jim Wood, formerly of Napa Valley and now an Elkton resident. Jim will provide selections from the local Brandborg Winery and Hundredth Valley Winery, as well as from a Napa Valley winery that used grapes from his own Wood family vineyards in Napa Valley. The local Wood family is actively working with vineyards now in the Elkton area. Members of Jim’s immediate family will be on hand along with Jim to help out at the book launch, his son Nathan, Nathan’s friend Casey Zarnes, and Jim’s daughter-in-law Sarah Wood, wife of son Chad. My sincerest thanks for their generosity.

History doesn’t tell us if grapes were grown at the Fort Umpqua outpost, but the first grapes in Oregon were planted back at headquarters in Fort Vancouver in 1825. There’s a fun story about how that happened. At a party in London a lady tucked a few grape seeds and apple seeds in the vest pocket of a gentleman planning to visit the Oregon country, and she suggested he take them to Oregon on his upcoming trip. Depending on which version of the story you read, the gentleman was either HBC Governor George Simpson or his cousin Lieutenant Emilius Simpson. Histories often challenge the researcher with these uncertainties. At any rate, when one of these Mr. Simpsons arrived in Oregon in 1825 he gave Dr. McLoughlin the somewhat dried seeds. Dr. McLoughlin happily planted them, and they grew, becoming the start of Fort Vancouver’s first vineyard, as well as the first apple tree in the region.

Music seems to follow wherever people go, and the American settlers and the British of Fort Vancouver were no exceptions. Violins and guitars and other instruments came over the Oregon Trail, and at Fort Vancouver back in the day you might have heard Scottish melodies mingling with French-Canadian songs, or one of those new waltzes which were still scandalizing some folks in the States—though the dance was popular in Britain and France long before our story and was starting to be accepted in some of the more forward-looking eastern cities in the States. At the book launch party we’ll be privileged to hear Andrew Arriaga, Elkton school music teacher, offering background guitar music. Thanks to Andrew for sharing his wonderful talent with us.

ECECSo, tomorrow it is. The launch of The Shifting Winds, my debut historical novel. That’s Sunday afternoon, March 6, from 2 to 4 in the ECEC Library just west of Elkton, by the butterfly pavilion. Welcome to my celebration!