The Hippo


Jul 5, 2020








Meet Dorothea Jensen

Where: Barnes & Noble, 1741 S. Willow St., Manchester
When: Saturday, June 18, at 3 p.m.

History alive
Lafayette’s 1825 tour illustrated in new novel

By Kelly Sennott

 Contoocook writer Dorothea Jensen got the idea for A Buss from Lafayette while on a Jane Austen tour in England with her mother in 1997. There was lots of downtime on the bus, so the group told stories to pass the hours. Jensen offered the tale of her eighth-grade teacher shaking hands with Geronimo, the last Native American warrior to formally surrender to the United States.

“I’ve shaken hands with somebody who shook the hand of Geronimo,’” Jensen told the crowd.
But then she got one-upped.
“I’ve been kissed by someone who was kissed by someone who was kissed by Lafayette,” Rita Nash Paine called from the front of the bus.
In response, Jensen leaped into the aisle, ran up to Paine, pointed to her own cheek and said, “Right here, Rita!”
Paine kept in touch after the trip and explained how her great-grandmother had been 7 and living in Northampton, Mass., when President James Monroe invited General Lafayette to come back to the States and tour around the country 50 years after the American Revolution. 
Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette — known today simply as Lafayette, or General Lafayette — was a French aristocrat and military officer who traveled to the United States at age 19 to join the American cause. He was crucial in lobbying French support mid-war, and in 1825, he was the only general still alive. 
Paine’s great-grandmother presented him with a bouquet during his visit to her hometown, and, as the story goes, he returned the favor with a kiss (buss).
Jensen was intrigued. The history nerd hadn’t known about Lafayette’s 24-state, 6,000-mile tour via horse-drawn carriage, but it was big news at the time, all over the old New Hampshire newspapers. He traveled to Boston, where 300,000 came to watch his dedication of the Bunker Hill Monument, and then he took on New Hampshire, passing through Derry, Pembroke, Concord, Northwood, Dover, Concord, Hopkinton, Henniker and Bradford en route to Vermont.
“He was mobbed, just like a rock star,” Jensen said during an interview at Panera Bread in Manchester, sporting a silver “Lafayette” necklace. “It’s estimated a fourth of the American population came to see him at some point when he was traveling around.”
When Jensen learned Lafayette passed through Route 103, near where she lives now, she was hooked. She spent the next 18 years researching and writing a historical fiction novel for kids, A Buss from Lafayette, which was released in April.
The book centers around spunky, rebellious, 14-year-old Clara Summer Hargraves, whose mother died of tuberculosis and father remarried his sister-in-law immediately afterward. (“Which was actually rather common in those days,” Jensen said. “I actually found that happened in my own family tree, years back, about the same time.”) Hargraves lives in Hopkinton, New Hampshire, in 1825, during a buzz of excitement due to an upcoming visit by world-famous Lafayette.
“I read a lot of historical novels when I was a kid. … It was just so thrilling because it made [history] come alive. When I started writing, I wanted to do the same thing. … It’s not like writing a textbook at all. You have to learn everything, but then you have to be able to move around in that world,” she said. “The whole thing about the Revolution … only one third of Americans supported the war. One third of them were against it. And one third of them were neutral, just waiting to see who was going to win. … Most of the time, we were losing. And if the French had not come in … we probably would not have been able to win.”
Jensen’s been working hard on book promotion. To her launch party crowd of 60, she wore a long, navy blue dress with green trim traditional to the period, courtesy of costume maker Gay Bean. Online, she’s become a promotional guru.
“I’m 70 years old. I’ve got two websites, two Twitters, two blogs, two Pinterests, and I have 114,000 hits,” Jensen said. 
Jensen, a Contoocook resident of 25 years, is a cheerleader for all things American history. She thinks it began after she and her husband started their Peace Corps service in 1969, the year after Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King were assassinated and at the height of the Vietnam War.
“We were feeling very negative toward America until we went and lived in a country that was a dictatorship, where everybody was afraid to talk about politics. … America’s really a pretty wonderful place, and unless you’ve lived somewhere where your liberties are very curtailed, it’s harder to appreciate that,” she said. 

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