A Chat with Clarissa Kliest from Denise Weimer’s The Witness Tress

Past betrayal has turned John Kliest’s passion to his work as a builder and surveyor in the Moravian town of Salem, North Carolina. Now, to satisfy the elders’ edict and fulfill his mission in Cherokee Territory, he needs a bride. But the one woman qualified to record the Cherokee language longs for a future with his younger brother.

Clarissa Vogler’s dream of a life with Daniel Kliest is shattered when she is chosen by lot to marry his older brother and venture into the uncharted frontier. Can she learn to love this stoic man who is now her husband? Her survival hinges on being able to trust him—but they both harbor secrets.

Novel PASTimes: It’s autumn 1805, and the fields are lined with corn and dotted with pumpkins here at the Springplace Moravian mission in Cherokee Territory, located on the plantation of Chief James Vann. We’re sitting down to tea with Clarissa Vogler Kliest, heroine of The Witness Tree. We’re gratified for this moment to catch up with her, since so much has changed in her life since August. Do you feel comfortable to tell us about what happened in August, Sister Kliest?

Clarissa: Please, call me Clarissa. *nervous giggle* I’m afraid I’m not quite used to my new last name. I’m married, but, well, my husband and I … that is to say, we’re taking our time to get to know each other.

Novel PASTimes: That is because your marriage was an arranged marriage or a marriage of convenience, is that not correct?

Clarissa: We prefer to call it marriage by the lot, but yes. Would you like a ginger cookie? They are delicious with this autumn spice tea, made in the paper-thin Moravian style from the bakery back home in Salem, North Carolina.

Novel PASTimes: They sound wonderful, but I’m most interested in this marriage by the lot. What does that mean?

Clarissa: Well, we Moravians believe that for major church and life decisions, we can seek confirmation of God’s will through the lot. This is based on Scriptures in both Old and New Testaments of the Bible. After we pray for guidance, our church elders will draw a piece of paper out of a bowl or tube. The paper will read either “yes,” “no,” or “wait.”

Novel PASTimes: And that is what happened with your marriage?

Clarissa: Yes. John Kliest was the builder and surveyor for our town of Salem, but he always wanted to work at the Cherokee mission here at Springplace. Our church was founded and expanded from Germany to America with the focus on missions. But the elders said he must have a wife first.

Novel PASTimes: My, that seems unusual to those who are not familiar with Moravians. Did the elders pick you, or did John?

Clarissa: *blushing* John mentioned my name as a possibility. The elders agreed, and then the lot confirmed. You see, before the Revolutionary War, my father shared the Gospel with the Cherokees. He had told me what he knew of their language and customs.

Novel PASTimes: From what I understand, language is an important part of what you are to do here at the mission.

Clarissa: True. I am uniquely qualified because not only am I to help the other brothers and sisters here teach the children of the chiefs, but the church hopes I will be able to record their language. So far, there is no Cherokee alphabet. 

Novel PASTimes: Despite all that, did you have any say at all in marrying John?

Clarissa: Oh, women can refuse the lot, but to do so would be to refuse the will of God. Although, when my choir helper came to tell me of the proposal, I thought it was from John’s younger brother, Daniel.

Novel PASTimes: You had an understanding with Daniel?

Clarissa: *ducking her head* Please forget I mentioned it. We not to have understandings with members of the opposite sex.

Novel PASTimes: As you wish. Do you find that the lot was correct? You are a good match for John?

Clarissa: John and I are … very different. He is not the most expressive person, and he longs for adventure. In fact, I sometimes wonder how long he will be content here at Springplace. The Vann family is mixed-blood, wealthy, and has learned European ways.

Novel PASTimes: And you?

Clarissa: I loved my comfortable life as a teacher in the girls’ boarding school in Salem. I am not a good Moravian. I like beautiful things. Traveling. I must admit, I pictured traveling to Philadelphia, though, not to the frontier. 

Novel PASTimes: Why Philadelphia?

Clarissa: There is a Moravian painter there, a master, who was to have taught me and D—. *shakes her head* I am an artist, you see. I once thought that using my talent was part of God’s plan, but apparently, it was not. Instead, I am here. I must apply myself to my new purpose. And my marriage.

Novel PASTimes: What challenges do you see before you, Clarissa?

Clarissa: Besides Rosina?

Novel PASTimes: Who is Rosina?

Clarissa: *covers mouth* Did I say that aloud? A fellow missionary who came here with us. She is so very … perfect. I am afraid John would like me better if I were more like her. 

Novel PASTimes: I’m sure that isn’t true. You seem like a lovely woman.

Clarissa: Thank you. In all seriousness, we are not sure how the Cherokees will respond to our teaching. And to my assignment of setting down their language. Some are very progressive and embrace European ways, while others feel their society is being corrupted by outside influences. It was not very many years ago that their warriors scalped settlers in the Cherokee-American Wars.

Novel PASTimes: Well, Clarissa, we pray that God will bless your time here in Cherokee Territory and your new marriage as well. We look forward to a report of how it all turns out.

Denise Weimer writes historical and contemporary romance and romantic suspense set in her home state of Georgia. She’s authored over nine novels (including her contemporary story, Fall Flip, new with Candlelight Romance in September 2019!) and a number of novellas. As a managing editor at Smitten Romance, Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas, she also helps others reach their publishing dreams. A wife and mother of two daughters, Denise always pauses for coffee, chocolate, and old houses.

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