16 July 2021

Special Guest Post by R.A. Denny, Author of The Alchemy Thief


New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

A tale of hope, resilience, and the indomitable spirit of a woman, this sweeping epic spans the Atlantic from New England to Morocco during the Age of Exploration.

Thanks so much for inviting me to your blog, Tony.  I’m excited to talk about my journey writing The Alchemy Thief.

I began this journey surrounded by leather bound books in the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, when I was 11 years old.  My mother had brought me along to help with her genealogy, but we weren't just looking for names and dates, we were looking for stories.  

Years later, after retiring from my career as a criminal lawyer, the seeds that were sown in that library led me to the narrow, crowded streets of Tangier, Morocco, my nostrils filled with the familiar smell of leather and the exotic scents of cinnamon and cumin.  


Dar El Makhzen, Tangier, Morocco 
 seen from the Place de Mechouar

As a child, I was enamored with my Mayhew ancestors who settled on Martha’s Vineyard in the 1640’s.  My direct ancestor, Hannah Mayhew, managed her own extensive real property from the time she was 18, raised ten children, and was known as the “Deputy Governor” of the island.  The details of her life shatter the stereotype of the submissive Puritan woman.  My 11-year-old-self longed to travel back in time to meet her.

Hannah’s brother, Reverend Thomas Mayhew, Jr. was a missionary among the more than 3,000 Wampanoag who lived on the island.  He and the young schoolmaster, Peter Folger, (Benjamin Franklin’s grandfather,) taught the indigenous girls and boys on the island to read and write.  Two of the Wampanoag children later matriculated to Harvard University.  

In 1657, when Reverend Mayhew embarked on a voyage to London to gain support from the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in New England, he chose the son of the minor sachem Myoxeo to accompany him.  This young Wampanoag’s name has been lost to history, but in The Alchemy Thief, I call him Daniel.  A grand procession of Wampanoag bid them farewell.  But the ship, the Hopewell, never reached London.  Many sources jump to the conclusion that all the passengers drowned.  But did they?  One line haunted me for years.  Reverend Mayhew’s father hoped they were captured by “Algerines.” 

As an adult, I returned to the mystery of the lost ship.  In an effort to learn what happened to the Hopewell, I delved into 17th century New England and Moroccan history.  

Thanks to Disney, when most people think of pirates, they think of the pirates in the Caribbean.  But they weren't the only scourge of the seas in the 1600s.  The "Algerines" from Northern Africa were a very real danger.  

When ships captains crossed the Atlantic, they faced not only the forces of nature but the Salé Rovers, corsairs from Morocco who sought foreign loot and Christian slaves. The Salé Rovers didn’t just attack ships, they raided the coasts as far away as Iceland.  They owned the Island of Lundy in the Bristol Channel and they sacked Baltimore, Ireland.

Between 1600 and 1700, from 800,000 to a million Christians were captured by “Algerines” and sold as slaves in North Africa.  Numerous captivity narratives became popular during that time, both as fiction and nonfiction. 

The character of Robinson Crusoe in Daniel Defoe’s famous novel was captured by Salé Rovers but then escaped before being stranded on an island.  Anne Bradstreet, the first poet published in America, wrote about her son’s narrow escape from danger onboard the sister ship to the Hopewell.

Have you ever wondered why the British and Continental Europeans colonized the New World but the North Africans and Ottomans did not?  In the late 16th century, Ahmad al-Mansur of Morocco planned to colonize North America to create a Muslim caliphate that spanned the Atlantic.  

He approached Elizabeth I of England and proposed that they unite to conquer Spain’s American colonies.  Elizabeth I turned him down.  In 1603, both Elizabeth I and al-Mansur died.  After the plague ended his life, al-Mansur’s empire crumbled and his dream of an American caliphate was lost during in-fighting between his sons.  

In 1609, the Moriscos, Muslims who had converted to Christianity, were expelled from Spain.  Many Moriscos fled across the Strait of Gibraltar into North Africa where they settled in an abandoned fort along the Bou Regreg River and built the city of New Salé, which is modern Rabat.  


Kasbah wall with cannon in Tangier, Morocco

The Moriscos funded acts of piracy against Spain.  Sailors from all over flocked to New Salé.  Many European sailors “turned Turk,” by repeating the Shahada and submitting to circumcision.  The Salé Rovers formed the Independent Republic of Salé (Bou Regreg,) a pirate republic.  Employing advanced shipbuilding and navigation techniques, the Salé Rovers ranged far across the Atlantic, capturing Christians from multiple nations to sell in the slave markets.

By 1657, when Thomas Mayhew and his young Wampanoag set sail on the Hopewell, a Sufi group called the Dili-ites controlled New Salé, but the Salé Rovers were allowed to continue capturing ships and selling the slaves, as long as the Dili-ites received their 10%.  

Governor Mayhew believed his son and Myoxeo’s son may have been captured by “Algerines” in 1657 when The Hopewell went missing.  My research led me to believe this was entirely plausible and besides, it makes a great story.  I hope readers of The Alchemy Thief will agree.

During my research, I discovered that John Winthrop, Jr., the 17th century governor of Connecticut was an alchemist.  He believed investigations into natural philosophy along with the conversion of the American Indians to Christianity would lead to the Second Coming of Christ and a return to paradise. 

As part of his efforts to achieve these goals, Winthrop had invited Reverend Mayhew to bring his Wampanoag converts to Connecticut to help convert the other tribes.

Likewise, al-Mansur had sought to create a transatlantic caliphate to bring about paradise and the end times, fashioning himself as the Mahdi.  Apocalyptic prophecies still motivate many groups of people in modern times.  I couldn’t resist the parallels of people disparate in time and place, all seeking their version of paradise.  So I added the twist of time travel.

In creating historical fiction, half the fun is the research.  When I started writing The Alchemy Thief, I had spent years researching the Wampanoag and Puritans and their role in New England history, but I knew next to nothing about the history of Morocco.  I found Moroccan history to be fascinating!  I hope The Alchemy Thief inspires my readers to take their own journey into the enthralling history of cultures different from their own.  

R.A. Denny

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About the Author

R.A. Denny is the author of two historical fiction and five fantasy novels.  Readers have described her books as deep, spirited, and imaginative. After receiving her Juris Doctor from Duke University, she practiced criminal law for over twenty years.  During that time, R.A. developed creative methods to educate the public about the law, presenting dramatic programs to over 300,000 people across the United States.  She produced a full-length feature film that screened internationally.  R.A. left the law to pursue her passion for writing.  She had promised her mother she would finish the research they had begun in the Library of Congress when R.A. was 11 years old.  One mysterious line about her 9th-great-grandfather led to years of research and a trip to Morocco.  The result is R.A.’s latest novel, The Alchemy Thief. An adventurous traveller, R.A. enjoys swimming, kayaking, and horseback riding.  She delights in pursuing creative projects with her two adult sons and playing with her two young grandsons.  Find out more at her website https://www.radennyauthor.com/ and find her on Goodreads and Twitter @RADennyAuthor

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