From Samar to Derry: Balangiga’s Legacy

Front Page News

On May 15th my good friend Ellen H. Reed sent me this article from the Manchester Union-Leader. (By the way, Ellen is a terrific historical and paranormal fiction author for everyone from middle-grade readers to adults.) Now Ellen knew I would be interested in the story because she recognized the island and battle that these students were investigating from the raw passages of a novel that I had been reading to her since 2017 at our Weare Area Writers Guild meetings.

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For years I have been digging into the history that too few Americans understand: I teach about Balangiga in one of my classes, I have blogged about it, written some more, and even been interviewed on podcasts. What happened there, if properly understood, could have warned us off tragedies at My Lai and Fallujah—maybe. Forgotten history helps no one, so I made this event the backstory of my character Ben Potter in Sugar Moon. (For even more of the history behind the novel, check out this list of posts.)

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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.

I was so interested in investigating what happened at Balangiga that I dragged my husband down to Samar to see the town for ourselves. It was a quick trip, unfortunately, because torrential rains were causing mudslides, and we had to evacuate. (Note to self: Next time remember that different islands have different rainy seasons. Rookie mistake.) Because we could not get a flight out, we took a twenty-six-hour bus ride back on a urine-soaked back bench seat—the last two seats available, and with good reason. By the time we squeezed into a tric to get from the bus station to the airport parking lot, the eau de diesel of Manila bus traffic might as well have been the scent of daisies.

The image below is still one of my favorite pictures of the two of us from our life together in the Philippines. We moved back to the United States in 2011.

Artifacts closer to home

Imagine my surprise ten years later, when a few young historians uncovered new artifacts from Balangiga—in neighboring Derry, New Hampshire! These 8th- and 9th-grade students had become the caretakers of some letters, a leather strap, and a mysterious red sash—all artifacts that had been passed down from their original owner, Charles King, an American Marine from Amherst, Massachusetts. (The article said he was part of the Army, but his letter says otherwise.)

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Because King had no children, he left the belongings to a nephew, who in turn gifted them to a man with a passion for history, T.J. Cullinane of the Derry Heritage Commission. Cullinane offered them to teachers Erin Gagliardi and Sue Gauthier. And Erin and Sue showed them to their history enrichment group, a non-credit activity for volunteer students at St. Thomas Aquinas School.

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The full set of artifacts, including a late picture of Charles King with his wife.

The pandemic shut down their school, but they kept working on the project—all the more earnestly because they did not have the typical distractions of busy school life and classes. They transcribed the letters and started to learn about a campaign of retribution that troubled them.

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What happened at Balangiga

Charles King believed he was serving justice upon the people of Balangiga and southern Samar, punishing them for their uprising that killed 48 of 77 soldiers in Company C, Ninth Infantry. The story that King and everyone else was told was simple: the attack was unprovoked treachery on the part of ungrateful Filipinos led by General Vincente Lukban of the Philippine Revolutionary Army. It was not until Bob Couttie and Professor Rolando O. Borrinaga dug deeper that the truth was revealed.

Lukban’s lieutenants may have approved of the idea of the attack, but the real masterminds were the leaders of the town itself. They had just been pushed too far. Captain Connell, commanding officer of Company C, had upset the people with heavy-handed tactics, forced labor, and nightly imprisonment of the men in inhumane conditions.

One of many wonderful dioramas designed by the Ayala Museum and now viewable through the Google Cultural Institute.

The town struck back. They sent the women away and drew in extra men from the surrounding villages. On Saturday, September 28, 1901, while many in the garrison were nursing hangovers from the previous night’s festival, the town attacked them at breakfast. It was a gruesome scene. The battle lasted a few hours until a handful of American survivors fled the town, eventually making it to a neighboring garrison—barely.

The Howling Wilderness

The very next day, an American expedition set out to burn Balangiga to the ground and, later, much of the rest of southern Samar. Their commanding officer, General Jacob H. Smith of the Sixth Separate Brigade, told them: “I want no prisoners. I wish you to kill and burn, the more you kill and burn the better it will please me.” He wanted his men to make Samar a “howling wilderness.” It was a disproportionate response that caused extensive and unnecessary suffering throughout the island.

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 in the public domain and found on Wikipedia.

The Sixth Separate Brigade also went out looking for the priest of Balangiga, whom they believed had taken part in the planning and execution of the attack. It seems that Charles King was part of the team who found him.

Guimbaolibot’s stole

The most important artifact left to the Derry students was the “ribon [sic] taken from the robe” of a priest who “betrayed a whole company of American soldiers.” The students would later find out that the priest, Father Donato Guimbaolibot, did not betray the Americans. In fact, Padre Guimbaolibot left town in order to remove his sanction from the events that would take place. He did not warn the Americans, true, but since the Americans were imprisoning all of the town’s men, about 150 people, in two tents built for sixteen, maybe the priest just wanted to get the heck out of there and find help.

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Father Christopher Gaffrey, the Franciscan associate pastor at St. Thomas Aquinas, helped the students examine the ribbon—a stole, he informed them, which meant it was a sacred priestly vestment. When he looked at the loop, he noticed the original dye was likely a dark purple, the kind used for the sacrament of confession.

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The students wanted to know more, and they got in touch with author and historian Bob Couttie, author of Hang the Dogs: The True Tragic Story of the Balangiga Massacre. Bob’s book was one of the key sources that I used for Sugar Moon. Bob helped them understand what had really happened—especially to the maligned priest who later was captured, tortured, and traumatized. Charles King likely played a part in Guimbaolibot’s ordeal because it was he who brought the sash home as a war souvenir.

Bob asked the students what they planned to do with the stole. The students answered as one: “Send it back where it belongs.” Matching the recent return of the bells, a public gesture, this is an amazing private gesture. Young they may be, but these students knew the right thing to do, without adult guidance. Their teachers support them, but they did not suggest this course.

Small World syndrome
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Most of the Sugar Sun series takes place in the Visayan Islands in the central and southern Philippines.

I knew none of what was happening just forty minutes down the road from my home. When I read the article, I could not believe what I had missed. But this week I was able to meet the students myself, see the artifacts, and answer more of their questions. I even told them the bus trip story. They do not need me, but I was at least able to help them identify a few towns and tell them a bit more about the wider context of this battle and what happened afterward. They asked wonderful questions about religious conflicts in the islands, about the diseases that worsened the civilian toll of the war, as well as current US-Philippine relations. Their curiosity was a credit to them, as if the whole enterprise has not already been.

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Photo courtesy of Erin Gagliardi.

New Podcast on Balangiga!

The Balangiga incident/massacre/battle was a shocking twist in a war that seemed to be winding down. To many Americans and Filipinos, though, the conflict was just beginning…

Novelist Jennifer Hallock shares her research on Balangiga, and her experience teaching Philippines History in a US classroom. She explains how the surprise attack on US troops in Samar was the culmination of years of brutal warfare from 1898 to 1902. Local men disguised themselves covertly and snuck around town before striking Americans at breakfast. But while villagers may have repelled American soldiers temporarily, the aftermath of Balangiga would last for a very long time. On today’s episode we’re going to use events from a short battle to understand the effects of a much wider war…

Link to podcast: http://turnofthecentury.buzzsprout.com/1406677/6587164-balangiga-incident-w-jennifer-hallock

OR bit.ly/balangigapodcast

I chatted with Joe Hawthorne about the attack at Balangiga in the Philippine-American War and how the American counteroffensive and the 1902 Senate hearings on “marked severities” predicted future outcries over My Lai and Fallujah. We redid parts of the interview, and because of the way it was edited, I introduce General Smith twice. His orders are shocking enough to revisit, though, so it works.

Learn why this was the most important war no one told you about. (This attack is the thematic background to my novel Sugar Moon, which is set in Balangiga itself, through flashbacks, and then in Samar during the subsequent blowback.) I also give credit to a few of my key sources, including Dr. Rolando O. Borrinaga and Bob Couttie. Thanks to Joe for this opportunity to dig deeper into the history of the Philippine-American War and why I write what I write.

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One of the 10 Best Historical Romances with Sports!

I’m so thrilled that Sugar Moon made this list from Joanna Shupe and Frolic. There are some amazing books on that list, and it is an honor to be included. The ones I’ve not yet read are now tops of my TBR.

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Thrilled to keep this company on Frolic’s 10 Best Historical Romances with Sports.

The list celebrates Shupe’s latest release, The Heiress Hunt, featuring a tennis-playing heroine based on “Suzanne Lenglen, a Frenchwoman who dominated in the early 20th-century with her aggressive style of play,” as Shupe writes. “The unconventional Lenglen pioneered “sportswear” attire for women, drank cognac during her matches, and was unapologetic about her superior skills on the court. (Seriously, where is this woman’s biopic??!)” I’m game!

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Get your copy of The Heiress Hunt</> at your favorite vendor. Links here on Joanna Shupe’s website.

Shupe wrote why she had chosen each book for the list. Here’s what she said about Sugar Moon:

Set in the Philippines in the early 1900s, this richly layered romance is filled with vivid details of a location not often found in historical romance—including a historical baseball game! The hero, Ben, is suffering from what we now know as PTSD from the war, and he struggles with his self-worth. When he meets the fiercely independent schoolteacher Allegra, their chemistry turns this into a heart-tugging and wonderful journey of redemption.

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Yes, that’s a proposal scene! There are two baseball scenes, both related to courtship, in Sugar Moon because Ben is a dedicated player—and fortunately his sister has already brought the game to the hacienda. Everyone comes out to see if Ben can win his lady’s hand with runs. Read more excerpts from the novel here, or order it on Amazon today!

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Loosening Up in 1910

Though not the height of fashion, a white cotton shirtwaist was the unofficial uniform of schoolteachers in the Edwardian Philippines. Having used a chalkboard for a good part of my own teaching career, I can attest that having your sleeves already be white is extremely practical. Two of my previous heroines, Georgina and Allegra, thought so too.

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Miss Laura Reed, an American schoolteacher, or Thomasite, in her shirtwaist and skirt at Calasiao, Pangasinan, north of Manila. Photo courtesy of the Philippine Photographs Digital Archive, Special Collections Research Center, University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.

According to the Indianapolis Journal on January 1, 1900: “The shirtwaist will be with us more than ever this summer. Women are wearing shirtwaists because they are comfortable, because they can be made to fit any form, and because they are mannish.” Fashion historian Catherine Gourley explains that “it was similar to a man’s shirt. It had a stiff, high-necked collar and buttons down the front. Women often wore one with a floppy bow or tie. Some pinned a brooch to the collar.”

In contrast, high fashion in the first decade of the 1900s was a structured Gibson Girl silhouette that looked a lot like that of the previous century, particularly the painfully small waist. The badly named “health” corset “pushed the bust forward and the hips back in an attempt to avoid pressure on the abdomen,” according to the timeline of the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) of the State University of New York. The shape was top-heavy with dramatic sleeves, “enhanced with petticoats that had full backs and smooth fronts” (FIT).

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Sugar Communion’s heroine, Dr. Elizabeth “Liddy” Shepherd, as inspired by an 1896 fashion plate at the Met. (She will borrow the dress.)

Dresses did not loosen until around 1910 or so, but fortunately Sugar Communion is quite epic in scope so I can explore new fashion templates that look far more comfortable. I was surprised by how 1920s-esque they looked, and then I found that FIT agreed with me: “While changes in women’s fashion that manifested in the 1920s are often attributed to changes due to World War I, many of the popular styles of the twenties actually evolved from styles popular before the war and as early as the beginning of the decade.”

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Costume Institute Fashion Plate 105, 1910-1913, at the The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

I paged through only a few of the plates at the Costume Institute Collections at The Met to get an idea of what I would like to see Liddy wear, when she gets the chance—when she is not tending to patients in a practical shirtwaist, that is.

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Costume Institute Fashion Plate 118, 1910-1913, at the The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

I think the geometric patterns on the above skirt would appeal, though Liddy is not likely to be seen at entertainments like horse races, nor would she approve, probably.

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Costume Institute Fashion Plates 119 and 127, 1910-1913, at the The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

See what I mean by the roaring twenties vibe? Ignore the hat on the right, which seems to be an inspiration for Dr. Seuss’s cat. Both of these dresses seem so elegant. The one on the left I can see Miss Fisher wearing while she solves a murder mystery.

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Costume Institute Fashion Plate 113, 1910-1913, at the The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

I do not understand the knotted kerchief hanging off the belt on the right illustration above, but that blouse and skirt is otherwise very modern. Also, women began to dare to show some ankle—racy, I know!—though not bare skin. My heroine Liddy does not have the time nor inclination for hose, so socks and boots are her daily wear.

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Costume Institute Fashion Plate 137, 1910-1913, at the The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

I think that back in the 1980s I had a blouse like the one above on the left. No feathered hats for me or Liddy, though.

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Costume Institute Fashion Plate 133, 1910-1913, at the The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

These plates tell me that clothing was starting to become more comfortable, and even high fashion followers did not want to be dependent on a maid to dress them all the time.

Can you imagine having a ladies’ valet in 2020? “The yoga pants again, ma’am?”

Ripped Bodice’s Summer Reading Bingo with the Sugar Sun Series

Right now the world needs happily-ever-afters more than ever. The Ripped Bodice has brought back its 2020 summer reading bingo game, just in time.

ripped-bodice-2020-bingoThe rules are pretty straightforward: you read the books this summer (on your honor) and record them. Once you have won five-across BINGO—horizontally, vertically, or diagonally—you can go to their site to enter a drawing for a prize!

What to read, what to read…? It’s a world of choices, literally. For a whole slew of possibilities from the #RomanceClass authors, check out Mina V. Esguerra‘s tweet here.

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How does the Sugar Sun series help? Here’s some ideas, though keep in mind you can only use any given book once:

Under the Sugar Sun: I’m on a Boat / Their nose was broken once but it only makes them more handsome / Debut Novel / A Midsummer Ball / Set on an Island

Tempting HymnTitle is a Pun (I’m especially excited about this one!) / Healthcare Professional / Protagonist smells “uniquely like themselves” / Villain’s Love Story / Protagonist plays an instrument that’s not the guitar or piano (voice) / Set on an Island

Sugar Moon: I’m on a Boat / Accidentally in the Wilderness / Villain’s Love Story / Set on an Island

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Happy reading, everyone.