Shadow of the Rock springs from a story often cited in Florida history books about a young woman captured by Barbary pirates and forced into marriage with the vizier of Morocco. Her grandson, David Levy Yulee, became the first senator from Florida.
I began at the library since I started this project before the Internet became a household word. I easily found references to David Yulee, but was surprised to find the name Moses Elias Levy in a book of notable American Jews. Could this be David Yulee’s father? Was he an important figure too? Turns out he was an abolitionist, fiery speaker, and a large plantation owner in northern Florida. And this was David Levy Yulee’s father. He was the child born of the woman captured by pirates and sold to the vizier.
I checked the bibliographies of the various sources and then searched for the references listed.
I also wrote the History Department at the University of Florida asking for comments on the story and Chris Romano kindly replied. He asserted that the story was a myth and that actually, she most likely was the daughter of a merchant in Tangier who married the vizier in a normal arrangement. But Romano cited two books for further information: Travails in an Arab Land, by Samuel Romanelli, an Italian Jew, and A Tour from Gibraltar to Tangier, etc., by William Lempriere . Both books were published circa 1792, the period of my story. Both furnished excellent, eyewitness accounts of Morocco in that time, including a description of the king’s harem. Romanelli even mentions meeting the shy third wife of the vizier, who was the woman of my story.
Of course I had to visit Morocco, especially Mogadore, the setting for my story. Our tour included a two-hour camel trek across dunes into the Sahara to spend a night in a Berber camp. On another trip, we visited Gibraltar, and I took a cab ride to the ancient Jewish cemetery halfway up the Rock. I took copious notes so my description of this cemetery would be accurate.
And on a Caribbean cruise, I made arrangements with the chair of the Cemetery Committee to visit the two ancient Jewish cemeteries in St. Thomas, just as Sara does. The chair gave me census and cemetery records to help in my research. Of course, my descriptions of the people are totally fictional, but we did meet a student in the cemetery who called up Moses Elias Levy on his laptop to give me information he’s collected.
Writing this book was an exciting journey.