OXFORD – Despite Chenango County’s lush forests and picturesque landscape, it’s rarely utilized by authors as settings for their stories. On Nov. 2 though, a novel was published featuring the Town of Oxford as the main backdrop for its story. My Dear Emma, written by JoAnn Meaker, takes place in both the present as well as the past. My Dear Emma is the tale of Civil War soldier Addison James Beardsley of Oxford and his ancestor, the novel’s protagonist, Rachel Benton.
Rachel and her daughter move from California to Oxford to take care of her sickly grandmother after Rachel’s husband commits suicide, leaving her with nothing. When Rachel’s grandmother passes, she inherits the old woman’s belongings and discovers letters written by her ancestor, the real life Addison James Beardsley, who enlisted in the 10th N.Y. Volunteer Cavalry during the Civil War. As Rachel attempts to sort though her grandmother’s estate, she must contend her right to inheritance with an Oxford resident who claims to be the rightful heir.
“It is a story within a story,” said Meaker. About a third of the novel is devoted to the harrowing tale of Addison’s bid to survive the bloodiest American war, while the rest of the book unfolds in the present to the scenic backdrop of Oxford. Meaker describes Oxford in her novel by focusing largely on descriptions of the old bank building, the library, and the village center in general. Meaker also delves into the history of the township, using the Annals of Oxford as her main source of information. “For instance, a key component of the story is Addison and his father Asa Beardsley’s time spent worked side by side in Oxford’s bluestone quarry,” she said.
Meaker began to conceptualize the story of My Dear Emma sometime ago when she discovered Addison Beardsley’s Civil War ID tag in her father-in-law’s things. Meaker was intrigued by the ID tag with A.J. Beardsley, N.Y. 10th reg. engraved on one side and Union Against Rebellion, 1861 on the other. She set out to discover the story behind the ID tag and soon Meaker found herself irreversibly drawn into the history of her husband’s ancestor. As she visited the historical sites Beardsley had fought at, Meaker felt an overwhelming urge to somehow tell his story.
“The ID tag led me to the sites of Addison’s experiences and as I gathered information on him, I felt a connection to him which made me want to tell his story in an interesting way,” said Meaker.
She chose the form of a novel to tell Addison’s story. When she noticed, in an Oxford census of Asa Beardsley’s household, there was an unidentified domestic servant around Addison’s age living with the family, Meaker decided to name the domestic Emma, and include her in Addison’s story as the young soldier’s love interest.
Meaker conducted extensive research in preparation for her book and consigned the book’s afterward to identifying which sections of the novel are historically accurate and what portions are fictional. Meaker’s descriptions of Oxford through the eyes of her protagonist Rachel are all drawn from her personal experiences touring the town.
My Dear Emma is available for purchase on Amazon or createspace.com/3899285. For an autographed copy of the book, contact the author at joannmeaker.com.