Q&A with author William Alan Larsh
Name: William Alan Larsh
City in which you reside: Waynesboro, Pa.
Day job: I retired from the FBI as a Supervisory Special Agent on April 29, 2012. I worked for the FBI from 1984 to 2012. I was a Support Employee working at FBI Headquarters in Washington, D.C,. from 1984 to 1987. In 1987, I became a Special Agent. Throughout my career as an agent, I was assigned to Orlando, Fla.; Washington, D.C.; Shreveport, La.; State College, Pa.; Washington, D.C. again, and Oklahoma City, Okla., my last office where I retired.
Book title: “L’Archevêque”
Genre: Biographical fiction
Synopsis: This book is based on the true story of my direct ancestor, my five-times great-grandfather, Paul L’Archevêque, a French fur trader in the 1700s. He was a true frontiersman relying on his rugged individualism and his own daring to survive.
Price: $11.95, paperback; $3.99, Kindle
Website: www.createspace.com (Contains Book Preview)
This novel is based on true events from the life of fur trader Paul L’Archevêque. When did you first hear stories of Paul?
I first read stories of Paul L’Archevêque in different family histories. Around the year 2001 after communicating with a woman on a message board on Ancestry.com, I read the first story regarding Paul L’Archevêque. These stories were corroborated through other family histories, historical documents and newspaper articles.
We find out later in the book, Paul changes his last name to Larsh (not sure if that’s giving away the story). How long did you want to write a story about your relative?
Paul Larsh, formerly Paul L’Archevêque, was listed in the first 1790 U.S. Census in Springhill Township, Fayette County, Pa. I have a copy of his will from 1792 listing his name as Paul Larsh. Pennsylvania tax records list him as Paul Larsh back to 1785. He was also listed in a 1786 Pennsylvania State Census as Paul Larsh. He was married in the French settlement of Kaskaskia, Ill., in 1759 under his French name. He left Kaskaskia in 1760 after his son was born. These are facts that are documented. He eventually settled on a farm in Fayette County, Pa., in a British colony where he changed his name to Larsh.
Since 2001 when I began learning the details through family histories of Paul’s exciting life, I thought his story would make an entertaining movie. I had given thought to writing a nonfiction account of his life, but the documented facts of his life, I believed, would make for a very short book.
I wrote a screenplay of his life in late 2015, but I felt that nobody would ever make it into a movie. I further was not satisfied that I could adequately detail his story explaining the full historical background of the times in which he lived. I then decided to write a novel based on his story. I wanted people to hear this story and believed a book would be the best vehicle to share it.
Tell me about your research process to prepare to write this book?
My family genealogy research started when I was in high school. In 1984, my research progressed while working at the FBI in Washington, D.C., following college. During my lunch hour, I visited the National Archives across the street from FBI Headquarters reviewing miles of U.S. Census records on microfiche film tracing the Larsh name. With the advent of the internet, I expanded my research reviewing other family histories, official documents, historical records, old newspaper articles and various other reliable sources, including Paul’s Last Will and Testament, and a lawsuit between his children.
I wanted to understand the history and times during which Paul L’Archevêque lived. I knew several facts. I knew he was born in Montreal, in 1734 or 1735. I knew he left Montreal as a young man to become a French fur trader. He settled in the French settlement of Kaskakia on the Mississippi River. He traded with the Shawnee Indians in the Ohio Valley.
His future wife was taken prisoner by the Shawnee Indians in September 1756. He married her in Kaskaskia in June 1759. They had a son born in Kaskaskia in 1760. He was forced to make a hasty departure from Kaskaskia after an incident occurred shortly after his son was born. He settled in Fayette County, Pa., on a 370-acre farm called Apple Orchard. He had a second wife and a child with her when he was 56. He paid taxes in Pennsylvania in the 1780s. He paid a whiskey tax in Pennsylvania in 1790. He made a will in 1792. He died in 1794 and was buried in the Mount Moriah Presbyterian Cemetery in Springhill Township, Fayette County.
To better understand his life, I studied extensively about the French and Indian War, the French settlement in Kaskaskia, the French fur trade, the Shawnee Indians and other tribes in the Ohio Valley, and life overall in America in the 1700s.
After discovering the many facts concerning Paul L’Archevêque’s life, and learning the history of the times and the background of the places in which he lived, I tried to imagine how his life evolved. It played like a video in my head how and why he left Montreal as a young man, became a fur trader with the Shawnee Indians, lived in a French settlement in Kaskaskia, traveled the Ohio River, and settled on a farm in Pennsylvania. I had thought about it so much, in fact, that I had a full-length movie running in my head. I came to believe that the story of his life and exploits on the frontier in early America would make an exciting movie.
In late 2015, I decided to write a screenplay. After completing it, however, I didn’t feel as though I had done his story justice, nor did I believe that anyone would ever make it into a movie. I came to the conclusion that the only way in which anyone would ever hear this story was if I wrote a book. I had briefly thought of writing it as nonfiction, but then I realized it would have only ended up being about 25 pages long. So I decided to write it as a novel, using my imagination to expand the story and fill in the gaps. I believe the book is very entertaining as well as informative.
The book is historically accurate and provides the reader insight into life on the frontier, demonstrates the courage of the pioneers in early America, offers a historical background of the French and Indian War, and reveals the plight of the Shawnee Indians in the Ohio Valley. Decades of research culminated in this exciting novel, depicting my ancestor in an important and relatively unknown story of a true American frontiersman. It tells the story dramatically and imaginatively, maintaining historical accuracy of events and life in America in the 1700s.
What was your favorite thing you discovered about Paul?
My favorite thing about Paul was his display of courage and his individualism. This was the reason I wrote the book and the story I wanted to tell. Paul made life-changing decisions in doing what he believed was the right thing to do and in defending his family.
Do you believe you would have had the courage to take on such an adventure at such a young age, too?
I believe I did have the courage to take on adventure at a young age. I was fearless and confident when I became an FBI agent at the age of 25. I believe, however, that my job was not nearly on the same level as Paul L’Archevêque venturing into the wilderness on his own and trading with the Shawnee Indians. As I stated in the book in the Larsh Family Genealogy section at the end (referring to myself), “In a small way, he felt a kinship to his heroic ancestor, Paul L’Archevêque, believing that Paul’s courage and perseverance combatting the perils of the early American frontier were somehow in his blood and an integral part of him too.”
What did writing this book teach yourself about your family history?
I could write a whole other book on what this book taught me about my family history. I found out that everything has to be researched carefully and what has been written in the past cannot be taken at face value. Mistakes are made in family histories, recollections, names, birth dates, death dates, and even in U.S. Census records. I also learned that no matter how thorough your research, you can always dig deeper to uncover more fascinating information.
What kind of history lesson do you hope your book will teach readers?
I think it will give a history lesson on the French and Indian War, the Shawnee Indians in the Ohio Valley, French fur traders and perhaps more importantly, it highlights the cyclical nature of history. The parallel of incidents and events in Paul L’Archevêque’s life to present-day society was not something I discussed in the book or even gave any thought to while writing it, but many people have suggested the similarities after reading the book. For instance, the Indian raids were not unlike today’s terrorism attacks. Paul’s travels from Montreal to Kaskaskia and then back to the English colony in Pennsylvania, could be compared to today’s illegal immigration issues. Religious intolerance, bigotry, prejudice, war and supply and demand economics are highlighted as well.
What are you working on next?
I finished a second book titled, “The FBI — They Eat Their Young,” which should be ready for publication release this spring. I actually wrote this book before writing “L’Archevêque,” but shelved it. This book is not only a memoir of my FBI career, but it provides fascinating details into the inner workings of the FBI, an insight into how I investigated a multitude of various cases, including drugs, fugitives, white collar crime, foreign counterintelligence, police corruption, civil rights and internal affairs matters. This book reveals a dark side of FBI management illustrating their pettiness, vindictiveness, unfairness, massive egos, and retaliatory nature.
Where can readers purchase your novel?
The book is available on Amazon.com in paperback and on Kindle. Books are also for sale at the Gallery 50 at 50 N. Main St. in Waynesboro, Pa. You can also check-out my book at Alexander Hamilton Memorial Library in Waynesboro; the Family Grove Library in Chambersburg, Pa; and in the Baltimore County Public Libraries.