Sugar Sun extras: Georgina’s search for Ben

When I started my research for Under the Sugar Sun, I spent a lot of time in the microfiche room at Ateneo de Manila looking through the Manila Times. At first, I did not know what I was looking for. Inspiration, I suppose—and I found it in a real article entitled, “Sister Hunting for Brother: His Name Is E.L. Evans and He Is Supposed to Be in the Philippines.” The sister’s letter had been mis-delivered, and the recipient sent it on to the newspaper as a last-ditch effort to find the missing brother. And thus the Ben Potter and Balangiga story line was born. (And I know you don’t like him yet. You are not supposed to. But just wait. Sugar Moon is coming, and I think Ben will change your mind.)

Back in 2011, I rewrote the original article for Georgina and Ben. Yes, I was writing the book that long.

Georgina search Ben Potter in Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series by author Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.

Now, you cannot totally blame Georgie for being worried. These were the real headlines from the Boston Daily Globe about what happened to his unit:

Disaster in Samar. American Troops Surprised at Balangiga. Forty Officers and Men Killed by Insurgents. Company C 9th Attacked While at Breakfast.

Death List. Names of Those Lost at Balangiga, Samar. Five of the Number Went from Boston to Philippines. Thirty-Five Killed and Died of Wounds. Eight Missing.

Nine Boston Men. Seven of Them Were Enlisted Men, and It Is Feared They were All Among the Lost at Balangiga.

Wounded at Balangiga: Boston Loses One More.

Enlisted men’s families were not sent a telegram when their loved ones died. Only officers’ next of kin were offered that peace of mind. Georgie would have combed these articles and found all sorts of discrepancies, as you can read above. This is based on the truth. When I compared the newspaper lists against the Company C roster, there were lots and lots of errors. Even the early Army reports had errors—no surprise, since they were the ones who gave names to the reporters. It was enough to drive a confused family crazy.

And it did not help to read letters like the one below. This is a real letter by a private at Balangiga who, before he died, wrote to his family in Boston about the worsening conditions of his unit. His family let the newspaper print the letter in full, and I can just imagine what Georgina and her mother thought. I recreated the article so that I could edit it down to its most salient points, but it is taken from a real article on this date and in this newspaper.

Sister-Seeking-Brother-Manila-Times-Revised

This letter really defines Georgina’s obsession with finding and, ultimately, returning her brother to Boston. She didn’t know she was a romance heroine, after all. She thought her life more Gothic-style mystery, I suppose. But she will figure out the truth—after a calesa ride or two!

Extras for Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series by author Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.

The Sugar Sun series locations

Want to learn more about the setting of the Sugar Sun series? Click on any of the graphics below. To find these places on maps of the Philippines & Manila, click here to go straight to the bottom of this post. Enjoy your visit!

Bais Negros Oriental Philippines Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series Jennifer Hallock author. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
Sugar country founded by Spanish & Chinese mestizos in the 19th century. Come for whale sharks, stay for the pretty.
Dumaguete Negros Oriental Philippines Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series Jennifer Hallock author. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
Beaches, mountains, sugar, missionaries, & sinners. This town is still one of my favorite cities in the Philippines.
Escolta Manila Philippines Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series Jennifer Hallock author. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
The Fifth Avenue of old Manila, a place to buy harness and hardware, dry goods and diamonds, and more.
Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series locations Clarkes. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after. By Jennifer Wallace
While you’re on the Escolta, don’t forget to get some ice cream, fresh bread, or delicious coffee at Clarke’s.
Hotel Oriente Binondo Manila Philippines Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series Jennifer Hallock author. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
Learn about the real Moss & Della: manager West Smith & wife Stella of the troubled, faded glory Hotel Oriente.
Luneta Manila Philippines setting of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series by author Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
The place to see and be seen in old Manila. Mosquito free! Then the Americans went and ruined it.
Balangiga location for Sugar Moon in Sugar Sun meaty historical romance series
This town is a case study in occupation & a name that every American should know. Essential reading for the upcoming novel, Sugar Moon.
Malecon Manila Luneta Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series by author Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
Where you might play, race, or even fall in love: the beautiful shoreline of Old Manila before the Americans got a hold of it.
Intramuros Manila location in steamy historical romance Sugar Sun series by author Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
A medieval walled city plopped into the tropics: complete with moat, cathedral, and cannons. What more do you need?
Fort Santiago Manila location in steamy historical romance Sugar Sun series by author Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
Named after Saint James the Moorslayer, but the most famous man to be slayed from this prison was a smart young doctor (and bestselling author) named José Rizal.
Manila port expansion photo for Jennifer Hallock author of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
See how the shoreline of Manila was changed in the first massive infrastructure project of the American Philippines.
Benguet Road Baguio location post for Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series by author Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
The Americans found a perfect place to wait out the steamy Philippine summers. But how to get there—alive?


In case you want to know where these places are:

Philippines map for Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series by author Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.

Visayas Bisayas map for Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series by author Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.

sugar-series-map-manila-with-port

Go back to the top.

Guide to the history behind Sugar Sun

At the start of Under the Sugar Sun, Georgina Potter travels to the Philippines to search for her brother, Ben—a soldier missing since the Philippine-American War. The night she arrives, she walks into a fire set by the cholera police to “cleanse” a neighborhood. Right away we are rooted into the history of the American colonial period.

But why were Americans in the Philippines in the first place? How did war with Spain in the Caribbean turn into an empire in Asia?

Here on my blog, I have written a lot of history—no surprise since it is my day job. Here are links to the most relevant posts, complete with illustrations.

1896 election history for the Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series by Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
The bid for empire started with an election about making America great (again?), with jobs, industrialism, and trade. Sounds familiar. Find out more.
Spanish American War history for the Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series by Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
American imperialism was a cause and effect of the Spanish-American War. Why fight at all? It’s the economy, stupid! Find out more.
Spanish American War history for the Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series by Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
Navy accidents, fake news, and a New Yorker bent on war. I mean the Spanish-American War of 1898. What were you thinking? Find out more.
Spanish American War history for the Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series by Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
Mission creep was a thing before we had the phrase. How the war in the Caribbean turned into an empire in Asia. Also, imperial euphemisms. Find out more.
Imperialism and war history for the Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series by Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
What was so “new” about American imperialism in the Philippines? Also, how Mark Twain is still relevant today. Find out more.
Philippine American War history for the Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series by Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
The good, bad, and ugly of your great-great-great grandparents’ Vietnam War: the Philippine-American War. Also, why it matters to you now more than ever. Find out more.
Pulahan war for Jennifer Hallock author of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
The Pulahan War was a millennialist insurrection, like ISIS. Why don’t we study it more? Find out more in Part One, Part Two, and Part Three.
Pershing Roosevelt Philippine American War post Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series by author Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
The #PhilippineAmericanWar and #GildedAge were in the news this August: who got it right? (TLDR: not the Prez or VP.) Find out more.
Glossary insular for Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series by author Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
Euphemisms for imperialism but not immigration reform. They called that what it was: Chinese exclusion. Find out more.
American colonial cholera history for the Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series by Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
Cholera has long been a sideshow of war. To Americans it was challenge to modernity & “benevolent assimilation.” Also, silly naval surgeons. Find out more.
baseball colonial sport by Jennifer Hallock author of the Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
Baseball was a perfect metaphor for American colonial rule. Find out more.
history football for coach author Jennifer Hallock of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
How the #GildedAge shaped the rules of American #football to “soften” the game. (Yes, it is actually less violent than before.) Find out more.
Benguet Road Baguio location post for Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series by author Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
For the Americans sweating it out in Manila, all roads led to Baguio—once they built them, that is. Find out more.
American colonial missionary history for the Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series by Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
Learn about the real missionaries of Dumaguete, the backdrop for Tempting Hymn, and their best legacy: Silliman University. Find out more.
Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series with story of Balangiga by Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
A case study in occupation, and a town that every American should know. Essential reading for the upcoming Sugar Moon. Find out more.
Della heroine Hotel Oriente deaf education Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series by author Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
Take a peek inside deaf education in the Gilded Age with heroine Della Berget, modeled on real-life adventuress, Annabelle Kent. Find out more.
Gilded age ganja marijuana history for the Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series by Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
Who won the 2016 election? Marijuana, of course. But beware! Gilded Age America preferred cocaine tooth drops. Find out more.
Gibson girls history for the Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series by Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
Three intrepid Gilded Age women take on illiteracy, disease, and the perils of international travel. Find out more.
Gilded Age romance houses history for the Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series by Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
The wealth of the Gilded Age reached both sides of the Pacific, but nowhere was it gaudier than at Newport. Find out more.
Gilded Age sexuality for Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series by author Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
What did Gilded Age authorities teach about sex, virginity, and pleasure? The results may surprise you. Find out more. Warning: graphic images.
1900 New Years day history for the Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series by Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
War, natural disaster, terrorism, technology, and health care: all concerns of New Years Day 1900. Find out more.

I hope you have enjoyed my snarky view of history, and I hope it enriches your reading of the Sugar Sun series. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.

Sugar Sun series location #7: Balangiga

My upcoming book, Sugar Moon, will be firmly rooted in history that I believe every American should know: the ambush of a company of American soldiers on September 28, 1901, in Balangiga, Philippines. Most people have never heard of it. What happened that day in Balangiga—and in the months of American counterattacks afterward—has been overshadowed by other towns that Americans do know, ones with names like My Lai and Fallujah. Had we learned the lesson of Balangiga, though, these two towns in Vietnam and Iraq might never have hit the headlines. In fact, they might not be noteworthy at all.

Fishermen in Balangiga Samar where Army Ninth Infantry was attacked during war between Philippines and America in Gilded Age
My photo of fishermen in Balangiga, at the junction of the Balangiga River and the Leyte Gulf. From there, it is not far until you are in the Pacific Ocean.

How did I stumble upon Balangiga? When I started plotting my story about an American schoolteacher and a Filipino sugar baron—the story that became Under the Sugar Sun—I did a lot of research at Ateneo de Manila University, where I read through old issues of the Manila Times on microfiche. (By the way, if you want to entertain me, give me two rolls of that microfiche and leave me there all day. It’s like giving a child an iPad. History is my babysitter.) One of the articles I stumbled across was entitled: “Sister Hunting for Brother: His Name is E.L. Evans and He is Supposed to Be in the Philippines.” From there, I conjured up the idea of a missing brother to bring Georgina Potter to the Philippines. Yes, she was hired by the American colonial government to start a school in the Visayas, but her real motive in coming—and for letting herself get entangled with a jerk named Archie—was finding her brother, Ben Potter.

Sugar Moon character board from steamy Sugar Sun historical romance series by Jennifer Hallock
A character board for Sugar Moon. From left: a Filipina in 1900 who inspired Allegra Alazas; a free stock photo imagining Ben and Allie together; a local house; and Mount Suiro on Biliran Island, location of some adventures. Sorry, no more spoilers!

Why was Ben missing? Maybe because he was in a significant battle? Or, at least, a very confusing one? In Under the Sugar Sun, Georgina goes to Army Headquarters in Fort Santiago in Manila to find out, and she lays out all the news articles from a battle in Balangiga. A clerk tries to help her, to no avail:

“Your brother should be in here one way or another.” The clerk put his finger on the article with the list. “Name and rank?”

If it were that easy, she thought, she would not have bothered crossing the Pacific. “Sergeant Benjamin Potter.”

“I see a Ben Cutter,” the clerk said. “That’s probably him.” He sounded sure, as if the Army made such mistakes all the time. Maybe they did. He would know.

Georgie pulled another article to compare side by side. “Half the names are spelled differently from one day to another,” she explained. “Cutter one day, then Carter, then Palmer. And here all of the Boston soldiers are described as dead. All of them! My mother and I bought every paper, every edition, for a month, trying to find a new official list that made any sense. And you know what the Army told us? Nothing! No telegram, no letter, nothing.” She was not normally one to create a scene, but she had come a long way for the truth, and she was going to get it.

The confusion of names and numbers really did happen, which is one of the reasons why I chose this setting for my character. It makes sense that if he survived, he still might not want to be found. Several survivors stayed in the Philippines afterward, much to the chagrin of their families.

So, it was decided: Ben served in Company C, Ninth Infantry, which saw action in China during the Boxer War, and then returned to the Philippines to be stationed in Balangiga. Poor Ben. Poor Balangiga.

Company C occupied this town, and occupation is ugly. It doesn’t matter how you justify it—in this case, blockading the southern coast of Samar so that the guerrillas in the mountains could not be resupplied, a legitimate military purpose. It also doesn’t matter if the occupation starts off peacefully, which it did in Balangiga. It is not going to stay that way. The lesson of occupation throughout world history—no matter whether we are talking about ancient Greek occupation of Jerusalem, Israeli occupation of Lebanon, the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, or the American occupation of the Philippines—things will go downhill.

The Americans called the Filipino guerrillas insurrectionists, and they labeled what happened in Balangiga a massacre, implying that the perpetrators had no just cause. On the other side, Filipinos call their soldiers revolutionaries, and they see the event itself as a just uprising. If you want to avoid all judgment, it was an incident, or more specifically an ambush. I am greatly indebted to Philippine historian Rolando O. Borrinaga and British writer Bob Couttie for their first-hand research and outstanding work on Balangiga. In my version of the story, I have taken some liberties—merging characters to simplify things for the reader, renaming a few people—but I hope that my unwitting mentors will find that I got the big brush strokes right. All errors are my own, of course.

Recommended reading is Borrinaga and Couttie on Balangiga Samar Ninth Infantry attack during war between Philippines and America in Gilded Age
Two outstanding scholars on the Balangiga Incident, Rolando O. Borrinaga and Bob Couttie. Bottom right is my photo of the monument to the attackers in Balangiga town.

As we will see in Sugar Moon, at first things went okay. Uneasily, but okay. An American officer played chess with the parish priest. The man Sergeant Benjamin Potter is based on studied martial arts with the police chief. Individuals got along. But here’s the rub: if the townspeople became too friendly with the Americans, they would face retribution from the revolutionaries up in the mountains. So the town tried to play it cool, stay neutral.

Southern Samar coast in the Philippines is jungle and good cover for guerrillas during war between Philippines and America in Gilded Age
The southern coast of Samar is not the easiest place to patrol. This is the Cadacan River near Basey. Image courtesy of Iloilo Wanderer on Wikimedia Commons.

But the Americans noticed some strange things happening—like sweet potatoes planted in the jungle for the guerrilla soldiers, or townspeople not cutting down banana trees that could provide the guerrillas cover—and the Yanks thought they had been betrayed. They ordered the town to cut down essential food sources, to “clean up” the town. If the town complied, not only would they need to destroy their own property, they would also endanger the understanding they had with guerrillas. I think you probably see where this is going. The reality of a town like this during occupation is that it will be caught in between two armies, and if neither army can truly protect the civilians against the other, the people must try to play one off the other. That is a dangerous game.

Company C doubled down. They imprisoned the town’s men in conical tents that looked like Native American teepees. These Sibley tents were supposed to sleep 16, but were each jammed full with over 70 men and boys, who had to sit on their haunches all night. They were not fed dinner, and in the morning they were forced to cut down the food their families depended on. This went on for several days.

Sibley tents pictured by Winslow Homer used by Ninth Infantry American army in war against Philippines in Gilded Age
Several African-American Union Army Teamsters rest on a Sibley tent in 1865, giving some sense of their size (and age). It is a crowded sleep for 16 inside, let alone 70 or more. Winslow Homer’s The Bright Side, is in the public domain. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Americans did not see the town turning against them. They only saw their own frustration: they felt alone, vulnerable, on the edge of a hostile island, a day’s travel away from the nearest garrison. My character Ben will narrate the whole debacle through his flashbacks, which starts with him trying to court a local woman. He’s a proper gentleman, don’t worry, but he’s smitten. This, by the way, is based on a real possible romance between an American sergeant and the local prayer leader of the town.

On Sunday, September 28, 1901, the morning after the town fiesta, a church bell rang. Nothing unusual about that—until men dressed as women streamed out of the church with machetes. The American soldiers were eating breakfast. Dozens would die immediately and gruesomely. A little more than half would manage to escape, but several of them would die along the way of their wounds or from subsequent attacks. In total, 48 of 74 Americans would die.

Google Cultural Institute shows Ayala Museum Balangiga attack in war between Philippines and America in Gilded Age
One of many wonderful dioramas designed by the Ayala Museum and now viewable through the Google Cultural Institute.

Americans blamed the Filipino revolutionaries for streaming out of the jungle to attack the town, but the truth Borrinaga and Couttie uncovered is that the town planned the attack themselves, for the most part. They may have borrowed some men from villages outside Balangiga proper, and they may have coordinated with the revolutionaries, but this was a town fighting back against the soldiers who had imprisoned them.

After that, all hell broke loose. If there is something more violent than the rising up of an occupied people, it is the revenge exacted by a conventional military force armed to the teeth. General Jacob “Hell Roaring Jake” Smith ordered his men to turn the entire island into “a howling wilderness” by striking down all men and boys capable of carrying arms, which he defined as all those over ten years old. According to the men under his command, they ignored that part of the order. But they did make a special trip back to Balangiga to burn down the town and exact revenge. They embargoed the entire island, burned more villages, and torched rice stores. (Remember that rice was currency for all sides in this conflict.) Months of revenge resulted in the deaths of thousands on Samar, maybe as many as 15,000, according to Borrinaga. (Most common estimates are between two to three thousand.)

Google Cultural Institute shows Ayala Museum Howling Wilderness American attack on Samar during Philippine-American War in Gilded Age
Another of the many wonderful dioramas designed by the Ayala Museum and now viewable through the Google Cultural Institute. Also included are a photo of General “Hell-Roaring Jake” Smith and the New York Journal editorial cartoon of his order. Both are in the public domain and are found on Wikipedia.

This was the My Lai moment of the Philippine-American War, and it was just as explosive to the American public as that incident in Vietnam was. For the first time, with the advent of the trans-Pacific telegraph cable, the American public could follow events with an immediacy that had been previously impossible. The excesses of the Army now blanketed newspapers and magazines Stateside. Though military authorities tried to censor the press by controlling the telegraph lines out of Manila, reporters got around this by traveling to Hong Kong to wire their stories. The courts-martial of several American officers made daily headlines, and Senate hearings began on the issue of American atrocities in the Philippines.

Picture of Ninth Infantry Army soldiers survived Balangiga attack war between Philippines and America in Gilded Age
The survivors of Balangiga in April 1902. Photo in the public domain, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

General Smith received a slap on the wrist from the court-martial that followed, but popular outcry in the US forced President Roosevelt to demand Smith’s retirement. Smith retired with a full pension. The American lieutenant in command at My Lai, convicted of murdering 22 Vietnamese civilians, served only seven months of house arrest and then was pardoned. In both cases, if you look up the chain of command, you’ll notice complicity. Smith’s commander, Brigadier General Hughes, was the one who first ordered the men to make a “desert of that corner of Samar.”

PTSD Post Traumatic Stress Disorder suffered by American soldiers during war in Philippines in Gilded Age
A military hospital in Manila. Photo in the public domain.

My character Ben tried hard to be better than the rest, but what happened in Balangiga tortures him. You are not supposed to have liked him in Under the Sugar Sun, and he does not like himself much, either. He suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, something that two of my very best friends share with him. Soldiers with PTSD can struggle with guilt, depression, substance abuse, anger management, insomnia, and other health problems. I am greatly indebted to these friends for letting me put some of their worst fears on the page. I hope they will also appreciate the redemptive journey Ben goes through and the healing power of love that he finds. They would tell me this is far too simplistic a cure, but I think they want Ben to have a happily-ever-after, so it’s okay.

George Santayana wrote in 1905: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” It is fitting that he said so at the outset of the American Century. The vigorous debate about the use of military force abroad is familiar to people today, but it wasn’t a regular part of American discourse until the Philippine-American War. America’s professional army was born out of this war. Before 1898, the entire US Army was smaller than today’s New York City Police Department. Most of the Spanish-American War had to be fought with state volunteers whose enlistments lasted only a year. When hostilities broke out in Philippines, Congress promptly doubled the size of the regular army once, and then doubled it again. For the first time in its history, America had a significant standing army stationed far from its borders.

Maybe it is not good enough to just remember the past. You should experience it yourself. That’s the garden where empathy grows. That’s where you get all the feels. I hope Sugar Moon helps.

Photograph of an American concentration camp in war in Philippines during Gilded Age
Photograph of an American reconcentrado camp, the exact tactic we blamed Spain for in Cuba.