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  • Written by Sally Armstrong
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  • The Nine Lives of Charlotte Taylor
  • Written by Sally Armstrong
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On Sale: July 27, 2011
Pages: 0 | ISBN: 978-0-307-37588-9
Published by : Vintage Canada RH Canadian Publishing
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Charlotte Taylor lived in the front row of history. In 1775, at the young age of twenty, she fled her English country house and boarded a ship to Jamaica with her lover, the family’s black butler. Soon after reaching shore, Charlotte’s lover died of yellow fever, leaving her alone and pregnant in Jamaica. In the sixty-six years that followed, she would find refuge with the Mi’kmaq of what is present-day New Brunswick, have three husbands, nine more children and a lifelong relationship with an aboriginal man. Using a seamless blend of fact and fiction, Charlotte Taylor's great-great-great-granddaughter, Sally Armstrong, reclaims the life of a dauntless and unusual woman and delivers living history with all the drama and sweep of a novel.

Excerpt from from The Nine Lives of Charlotte Taylor:

“Every summer of my youth, we would travel from the family cottage at Youghall Beach to visit my mother’s extended clan in Tabusintac near the Miramichi River. And at every gathering, just as much as there would be chickens to chase and newly cut hay to leap in, so there would be an ample serving of stories about Charlotte Taylor. . .

She was a woman with a “past.” The potboilers about her ran like serials from summer to summer, at weddings and funerals and whenever the clan came together. She wasn’t exactly presented as a gentlewoman, although it was said that she came from an aristocratic family in England. Nor was there much that seemed genteel about the person they always referred to as “old Charlotte.” Words like “lover” and “land grabber” drifted down from the supper table to where we kids sat on the floor. There were whoops of laughter at her indiscretions, followed by sideways glances at us. But for all the stories passed around, it was clear the family still had a powerful respect for a woman long dead. We owed our very existence to her, and the anecdotes the older generation told suggested that their own fortitude and guile were family traits passed down from the ancestral matriarch. For as long as I can remember, I’ve tried to imagine the real life Charlotte Taylor lived and, more, how she ever survived.”

From the Trade Paperback edition.


Chapter 1

The Ocean

It’s just an hour after dawn on the first Monday in May 1775 when the Anton lurches its bulk away from the docks at Bristol and sets sail for the West Indies. Charlotte Taylor is at the rail, rivetted to the huge square sails puffing out like bullies in the wind and bucking the ship into the open sea. A tall woman with ­flame-­red hair tied in a knot at her neck, she keeps her eye to the bow as if setting her own course and her back to the land she has left behind. Standing beside her at the rail is Pad Willisams, her lover and ­co-­conspirator in the hurried exit from Charlotte’s family, Pad’s job as butler in the Taylor household and a truth they each had only a part ­of.

A hastily packed trunk is stowed with the cargo. The calico sack she’d prepared for the voyage, and now realizes is pathetically inadequate since the trunk cannot be opened again until they reach shore six to eight weeks from now, is slung over her ­back.

A scrofulous man of indiscriminate age eyes her repeatedly from his place by the forward capstan. He’s one of the woebegone collection of humanity she’s travelling ­with–­mostly men in their twenties and thirties and one young boy with freckles on his nose who seems to be in the employ of the haughty Captain Skinner. They all stare shamelessly at the white woman and the black man by her side. Pad has pulled together all the stiff dignity of the butler he had been just days earlier, but she can feel the anxiety that thrums through him. She is somewhat surprised to realize that she isn’t daunted by the stares, the days ahead or the consequences of leaving her family’s country home outside of London. Standing in the brisk wind on the deck of a sailing ship just a week after her twentieth birthday, Charlotte Taylor is ­unafraid–­maybe even ­elated.

She’s still leaning on the portside, watching the water, letting the wind blow on her face when she allows herself to cast her thoughts to what she has run away from. The terrible row with her father when he learned she’d been “consorting,” as he called it, with Pad. The endless rounds of tea, the suffocating rules and her mother’s predictable attacks of the vapours whenever there was a hint of excitement in the household. She smiles in anticipation of the life ahead. A marriage to the dashing Pad, a home in the tropics. She’s grinning at the prospects when Pad interrupts her reverie to suggest they go below and secure their living ­quarters.

The quarters are cramped; the ceiling is so low they have to duck their heads. The bunks are arranged in two rows, one on each side of the dreary lower deck with damp curtains hanging between them to lend an illusion of privacy. There are hooks on which to hang their possessions and a lopsided stove in the centre. The only light and fresh air is from the hatch to the upper deck; the quarters smell of mildew and rotten wood. Indeed, the black streaks of rot crawling up the legs of the cots speak of the months at sea, the flourishing business of carrying human and other cargo across the ocean as many times as the weather will allow between May and October, never stopping long enough to refit or ­repair.

They pick a bunk at the end of the row and tie their sacks to the hooks before exploring the rest of the lower deck. There are stalls toward the stern filled with ­animals–­two steers, four sheep, a ragged flock of chickens and three fat pigs. Charlotte looks at each and lingers on the soft, uncomprehending eyes of the steers that will become meals for the passengers and crew. Tucked under the bow in a ­wedge-­shaped hold are the ship’s ­stores–­burlap sacks of flour, sugar and grain, cases of biscuits, salt and limes. Charlotte and Pad walk back to midship, where a wide hatch is battened shut on the ­deck.

“What’s down there?” Charlotte asks a stocky sailor who is hurrying ­aft.

“Cargo, madam,” he says. “Plenty a’ cotton cloth and wool. That’s what makes ’em rich, madam, shippin’ the likes a’ that.”

My trunk is down there too, Charlotte thinks ­ruefully.

The young lad who’d caught her eye when they left the dock is friendly, puppyish and not too shy to tell her his name is Tommy Yates when she finds him exploring the lower ­deck.

“Me dad was the one who got me on board,” the boy confides gravely. “He brought me to the dock and hired me out to the captain. He told him I was sixteen, an’ I’m but thirteen.”

“Thirteen?” Charlotte looks at him closely. “Are you even that?”

“Oh yes, madam. Honest, I am.”

She had thought him no more than a scrawny ­eleven.

When he is not scrambling up the rigging at the captain’s orders or crawling through the hold below the sleeping quarters to fetch something the captain needs from the cargo, Tommy finds his way to Charlotte’s side. In the first week at sea, she heard about his fourteen brothers and sisters, the drink that made his father what he was and the mother who was so sickly she could hardly manage to stagger from her ­bed.

Charlotte shares her own story with ­him–­putting a more varnished spin on her departure than is the case. She tells Tommy that she and Pad are married and that her father, General Taylor, doesn’t approve of the relationship so they decided to leave home for the West Indies and start a new ­life.

She entertains the winsome boy with details of the world she left behind, imitating her nanny’s priggish etiquette. “She insisted I sit like this all day long,” says Charlotte, perching herself on a bench and exaggerating the ­pose–­her back ramrod straight, her legs bent at the knee and turned slightly sideways and her hands folded together in her lap. She makes him laugh when she describes her antics in the straitlaced ­household–­refusing to marry the man her mother had chosen for her, looking contrite when her father admonished her, galloping around the estate on her horse and lingering at the stable with Pad. Tommy thinks it’s a blissful life she’s left, but even this boy can see the rebel in the woman he has ­befriended

From the Hardcover edition.
Sally Armstrong|Author Q&A

About Sally Armstrong

Sally Armstrong - The Nine Lives of Charlotte Taylor

Photo © Peter Bregg - Macleans

SALLY ARMSTRONG is a 3-time Amnesty International Canada award winner, a member of the Order of Canada, the holder of 7 honourary degrees, a teacher, journalist and human rights activist. She was a member of the International Women's Commission, a UN body that consisted of 20 Palestinian women, 20 Israeli women and 12 internationals whose mandate was assisting with the path to peace in the Middle East. The bestselling author of Veiled Threat: The Hidden Power of the Women of Afghanistan (2002) and Bitter Roots, Tender Shoots: The Uncertain Fate of Afghanistan's Women (2008), she is also the author of a fact-based novel about her settler foremother, The Nine Lives of Charlotte Taylor (2007).

Author Q&A

1) Can you tell us how you became a writer and journalist?
It’s a long story–to make it brief, I started out as a physical education teacher (a job I loved) and was quite involved with two innovative projects at the time: fitness for women and perceptual motor development in children. A man was starting a new magazine in Canada at about the time I was pregnant with our third child and wondering what I would do while staying at home with the children. My friend Anna Hobbs gave the man my name as a potential contributor to the magazine. He hired me as a “special projects writer” which was a huge surprise to me and I started writing stories for the launch issue. The magazine was called Canadian Living!

2) Charlotte’s story must have percolated in your mind all your life. When did you know it was time to write this book?
In 1992, while I was editor-in-chief of Homemaker’s Magazine, I wrote an editorial about Charlotte Taylor to mark women’s history month. To my great delight I heard from relatives of Charlotte Taylor from all over the world–the U.K., Kenya, Saudi Arabia, the U.S. and all over Canada. I knew then that I would write this book and wrote back to all of them asking for any material they might have about our ancestor. I thought I would start soon after that but I kept being sent off to cover zones of conflict in Bosnia, Somalia, Rwanda, the Middle East, Afghanistan etc. So I kept gathering data and finally, in the summer of 2004 decided to take time off my journalism work and tackle the manuscript.

3) How did you conduct the research for this book? What was the most exciting piece of history you uncovered?
The initial research was through family archives. Since Charlotte had three husbands and ten children there is a rich supply of anecdotes. There is a lot of material in the New Brunswick archives and in history books about the area, including the work of explorer Nicolas Denys and historian William Ganong. But then the really tough slogging began. It felt like every time I wrote a sentence it led to a research question. For example–they left England by ship. What did the ship look like? How long would it take to sail from England to the West Indies? How did they live on the ship? What did they eat? What would a mid-Atlantic storm be like? I depended on the internet to find these details. I also consulted a sailor, a botanist and a food historian and others to make sure my assumptions were correct.

What surprised me? Nearly everything. But overall, the size of the challenge of surviving during that time.

4) Can you tell us about the process of taking the story of a real person and fictionalizing it?
I wrote the first draft in non-fiction because I wanted to contribute to the history of New Brunswick and add the lives of women to the accounts of the past. Once finished, I realized that the dialogue I’d written and the fictional bridges I needed to create to get from one known fact to another were too much for a work of non-fiction. So it was with some relief that my editor and I decided to switch to fiction and let the story tell itself without fear of controversy.

5) Aside from Charlotte, who is your favourite character in this book, and why?
Aside from Charlotte, Wioche was my favourite character (although I did thoroughly enjoy creating the wily Will MacCulloch.) I spent a great deal of time with Gilbert Sewell, the Mi’kmaq storyteller, in Northern New Brunswick, trying to bring verite to the life of Wioche. We tramped through the woods, plucked berries and leaves, sat by Pabineau Falls and immersed ourselves in what would have been the times and troubles of Wioche.

6) As a journalist, you’ve earned a reputation as an advocate for the rights of women. How did that perspective influence your work on this story of your famous family matriarch? And to reverse the question, did her life influence your career?
This is a good question. Many people I know have made comments like “the apple didn’t fall far from the tree.” Certainly as a girl growing up I was influenced by the stories told by my relatives about Charlotte. I liked having such a woman in my family tree and wore her like a badge. But to be fair, I don’t think I would have had the gumption to face what she had to deal with and wonder if I wouldn’t have been on the first ship back to England. Having said that, I am delighted that Charlotte’s story broadens the history of the strong courageous women who settled this land.

7) Are there any tips you would give a book club to better navigate their discussion of your book?
Follow the threads. That’s what I did when I tried to figure out what she did and how she managed. Check dates and events and come to your own conclusions about how she loved and lived. I purposefully left some mystery for the reader to discover.

8) What question are you never asked in interviews but wish you were?
After meeting with dozens of book clubs, I doubt there’s a question I haven’t been asked.

9) Which people have been most influential to you in your career, both as a journalist and a novelist?
I’ve been fortunate to have been influenced by many people. June Callwood and Doris Anderson were both mentors and dear friends. I remember, when starting out on this manuscript and worrying about the size of the task, June telling me that soon enough I would get up in the morning, turn on my computer and Charlotte would be waiting for me on the screen, just like an old friend. She was right of course. Doris Anderson was one of those marvelous women who could pump you up with equal parts confidence and challenge, and stick with you while you navigated the sometimes churning waters of your task.

13) If you weren't a writer or a journalist, what would you want to do for a living? What are some of your other passions in life?
I like fixing things–turning wrong to right. Whether writing about injustice or delivering a speech about it, I feel that’s what I’ll continue to do because it gives me a sense of worth and purpose, and heaven knows it’s a topic that presently seems an endless source of work.

14) If you could have written one book in history, what book would that be?
Stick around. I’ll write that book yet!



“The sweep is epic, a romantic narrative filled with passion, rebellion, adventure, heartbreak, triumph, legacy. It’s a heck of a story.”
Ottawa Citizen

“A fascinating tale told at a lively pace.”
Quill & Quire

“Sally Armstrong has done a brilliant job bringing her ancestor vividly to life in a compelling recreation of a settler’s life. . . . The list of well-written historical novels set in Canada are short, but The Nine Lives of Charlotte Taylor should be close to the top.”
The Globe and Mail

"Charlotte Taylor's story is what you might get if you crossed Susannah Moodie and Jack Aubrey - a delicious character and a great yarn. Sally Armstrong has imagined an ancestor who possesses all the passion and daring that she herself has in abundance, and by the time we had finished our journey together through the trials and  turbulence and the terrible beauty of the early days on the Miramichi,  I wanted to claim Charlotte as my ancestor, too."
–Mary Lou Finlay, broadcaster and former host of As It Happens

Praise for Veiled Threat:

“A brief but brilliant book about the hidden power of the women of Afghanistan . . . written in blazingly clear language, blessedly free of academic pretensions.”
Winnipeg Free Press

“Emotionally demanding reading . . . a passionate portrayal of recent events in Afghanistan from the perspective of a committed, feminist outsider.”
The Hamilton Spectator

“A powerful book that shows how women can change the world.”
Toronto Sun

Veiled Threat’s strength lies in its empirical portrayal of the injustices and inhumanities visited upon the Afghan people, especially woman and girls . . . [and] is to be applauded for its emotionally gripping disclosure of suffering and injustice.”
The Globe and Mail

“Sally Armstrong views Afghanistan through the eyes of its women. Her story [of Dr. Sima Samar] is one of hope and triumph, as are most of the tales in this straightforward, uplifting volume.”
The Washington Post
About the Book|Author Biography|Discussion Questions

About the Guide

She was a woman with a past. Not exactly a gentlewomen. It was said that she came from an aristocratic family in England, although there wasn’t much that seemed genteel about the settler my elders always referred to as “that old Charlotte.” Words like lover and land grabber drifted down from the table to where we kids sat on the floor, but the family also had a powerful respect for her, as if their own fortitude and guile were family traits passed down from the ancestral matriarch. For as long as I can remember, I’ve tried to imagine the real life she lived and how she ever survived it. (p. xi)
–excerpted from The Nine Lives of Charlotte Taylor

It is 1775 and the flame-haired Charlotte Taylor, an impetuous Sussex lass of twenty, has fled the conscripts of her genteel country life in the company of her lover, her family’s black butler Pad Willisams. On board a cargo ship headed for the West Indies, with only a hastily packed trunk and her indefatigable spirit to her name, Charlotte is unafraid, brazenly confident that she and Pad will carve out a bright future for themselves in the sunny paradise of Jamaica.

But after a dangerous voyage during which they become intimately acquainted with disease and death, and even survive a pirate attack, Charlotte and Pad arrive in Jamaica and meet the same interracial prejudices that plagued them in England. When Pad dies of yellow fever within days of their arrival, Charlotte is left unprotected in a perilous land with a plantation owner making lecherous designs on her. She quickly forges an alliance with the elderly Commodore Walker, who is set to sail with a load of sugar for the New World. She arrives on the shores of New Brunswick, no plan available to her now, carrying with her a secret that could undo her future altogether: she is unmarried, and pregnant.

Aware that her advancing pregnancy will soon jeopardize her status as a woman of good background, Charlotte, in her hard-won pragmatism, seeks help from the women who live at the Mi’kmaq camp nearby. She becomes fast friends with these wise and kind people, and through the kindness of the Mi’kmaq and Acadians she comes to learn the essential skills of survival that will save her many times over–all the while under the watchful gaze of Wioche, the Mi’kmaq man who will come to love her for a lifetime.

Moving fluidly between her adopted Mi’kmaq community and the British settlers with whom she shares her land of birth, Charlotte earns a reputation as a woman of smart and forthright–yet unpredictable–nature. Through the ensuing decades-long tumult of her three marriages and widowhoods, Charlotte deftly manages the feat of raising ten children to adulthood in an unrelenting wilderness, surviving the brutalities that are forever lurking at the margins of their existence in this New World.

Throughout it all, Charlotte’s relationship with Wioche remains an unbroken thread, a source of fidelity and passion in a life often hungry for such sustenance. Wioche stays true to his promise to look after her as a woman of the People, his call of the whippoorwill announces his visits to bless her children with the prayers of his People and to wrap them all in warm furs against the bitter cold. But their affair is largely unrequited, save for the stolen moments of bliss and passion that will have to hold them both through their difficult lifetimes.

The Nine Lives of Charlotte Taylor is a rich historical tapestry, woven from both the historical facts and the vivid imaginings of an award-winning journalist who is also a gifted storyteller. Defying history’s ellipsis, the scant recorded history of the domestic lives led by women in the background of history’s wars, this is the tale of a true indomitable spirit, Charlotte Taylor, “the mother of Tabusintac.”

About the Author

Sally Armstrong is a two-time Amnesty International award winner, a member of the Order of Canada, documentary filmmaker, teacher, human rights activist, author and a contributing editor at Chatelaine and Maclean’s. In 2002, Armstrong was appointed special UNICEF representative in Afghanistan.

As a journalist, Armstrong has covered stories in zones of conflict all over the world, reporting from the Middle East, Bosnia, Somalia, Rwanda and Afghanistan. Her work focuses on what she calls “human rights and human wrongs.” Her bestselling book, Veiled Threat: The Hidden Power of the Women of Afghanistan, was published in 2002. The Nine Lives of Charlotte Taylor is her third book.

When not traveling to war zones, Armstrong lives part of each year in the quiet community of Bathurst, her childhood summer home, near the spot where Charlotte Taylor first set foot in New Brunswick.

Discussion Guides

1. Sally Armstrong writes of Charlotte in the book’s introduction, “For as long as I can remember, I’ve tried to imagine the real life she lived and how she ever survived it.” (p. xi) How was your experience of reading this book affected by knowing that it was based on the story of a real person?

2. As Pad lays dying in Jamaica, the degenerate Lutz comments to Charlotte, “Many widows, alone and grieving, are grateful for the support of a proper man.” (p. 34) Does this opinion about the desperate condition of women in Jamaica also apply to the situation in which Charlotte finds herself in New Brunswick? Is her situation better or worse there?

3. Charlotte briefly rues her love affair with Pad, thinking that he may have survived if they had never left England–and that she would not be in her current predicament. Had it not been for her romance with Pad, do you think her life would have taken a more conventional path?

4. During her first Christmas in Nipisiguit, Charlotte is treated to a fireside ceremony with her new Acadian and Mi’kmaq friends. “There in the wilderness, by the light of the fire and surrounded by the spirituality of two peoples she has come to know, Charlotte covers the final distance between England and the New World.” (p. 143) What does this mean?

5. As they watch the burning ghost ship on the night of Charlotte’s wedding with Blake, Commodore Walker comments to the men jeering at Mi’kmaq legend, “Aye. But their Great Spirit is but God . . . it might become us on occasion to be humbled by his works, whatever they be and whatever He may be called. We’re a proud lot, we men. A day may come when we shall be glad of mysteries.” (p. 174) What does Walker mean by this? Do you agree?

6. Some of Charlotte’s marriages appear to have been made for quite pragmatic reasons, and with virtual strangers, yet she turns down the proposal made by Commodore Walker, with whom she has an affectionate relationship and who promises her a life of comfort. How would her life have been different had she accepted his proposal? Why do you think she made the choices in marriage that she did? Were they the right ones?

7. Charlotte and Wioche maintain a love affair that lasts many decades until her death. How do they manage this bond despite the damage done to his people by hers? Why do they never marry?

8. It is the men who “settled” New Brunswick who have dominated historical accounts of this period, stories involving war with the Acadians and the First Nations. Charlotte’s story reflects a different perspective. What is it about Charlotte’s character that allows her to move so skillfully between worlds and cultures? Why is this quality significant?

9. For those dwelling along the Miramichi, including Charlotte, nature is a fierce opponent in the struggle for survival. But Charlotte also carries with her the instinct to love the beauty of this untamed wilderness. Discuss this contradiction in Charlotte’s relationship to nature.

10. Charlotte has many opportunities to return home to England, why doesn’t she go?

11. Why do you think Charlotte leaves all her land to William Wishart?

12. Near the end of her life, Charlotte comes to believe herself complicit in the expulsion of the Acadians and Mi’kmaq from the Miramichi. “Her whole life here, it seems, has been lived in the knowledge that everything she wished to secure for her family helped to undo the security of her friends.” (p. 382) Discuss this perspective. Was she complicit?

Charlotte gives her children a glimpse into her once affluent past when she teaches Elizabeth to make Welsh Rabbit in the manner of her family’s cook. (p. 286) Look up a recipe for Welsh Rabbit (sometimes known as “Rarebit”) and consider making it for your book club meeting.

  • The Nine Lives of Charlotte Taylor by Sally Armstrong
  • February 12, 2008
  • Fiction
  • Vintage Canada
  • $18.00
  • 9780679314059

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