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Retired Architect Tackles Colonial-Era Mystery

By Brian Morgan

Recently retired architect Charlie Miller is set to take up a new occupation: author.

Miller, secretary of the Norfolk Historical Society, has spent the last several months researching material for his historically based who-done-it. His fictional tale incorporates actual events and is set in wintertime Colonial Williamsburg.

The book has emerged as a by-product of Miller's interest in history.

"I found out by kicking around in the back streets of history that the capitol in Williamsburg burned down January 30, 1747, and everybody was ticked off," Miller said. "The governor said it was intentionally set. I was trying to find out if that was so, who did it."

As his curiosity grew, Miller dug deeper. He ran into a roadblock when he was unable to find key historical documents: the appropriate copies of the Virginia Gazette, a newspaper published at the time in Williamsburg.

On a hunch, Miller contacted several entities in England to see if they might have the missing copies. He even snooped around on a recent trip to England. In his studies at the Kirn Library, Miller found an account of an attempt in the 1950s to locate missing issues. That effort turned up several copies of the Gazette, so Miller contacted several states and sources overlooked in the 1950s. It's all been for naught.

Paper was a coveted commodity in colonial times, Miller said, surmising the probable fate of many issues of the Gazette. "You could make tapers to light fires out of it. You could also put powder in it, fold it up and make cartridges for muskets."

"Because the papers are missing, it turns out the book has to be cast into historical fiction, like a novel," Miller said. "Because I can't get all the details, I have to make suppositions. I'm trying to include every fact that is relevant and then whatever is written has to fit those facts."

Miller has reviewed the plans of the capitol building. Because the fire started in a locked, unoccupied room on the third floor, Miller is convinced the fire was arson. There were several groups with a possible motive for setting fire to the building, he said.

Miller is set to explore those motives in his as-yet-untitled work. He expects the writing to be an adventure.

"I'm a man of few words," he jokes, "which makes it tough to be a writer."


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Norfolk, VA 23508-0367

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