My historical novels Rebel Puritan and The Reputed Wife, Herodias (Long) Hicks Gardner Porter, colonial New England, travels, and whatever else seizes my fancy...

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas - a Sacrilege?

1660 Puritan anti-Christmas notice.jpg
It is fairly well known that the Puritans of England and of New England were not in favor of celebrating Christmas.  The notice to the right clearly states just what the Puritans thought of exchanging gifts and greetings, dressing in fine clothing, and feasting: It was a Sacrilege, and Satanic to boot!

I had intended to compose a timely summary of how the Puritans and their non-Puritan contemporaries in Rhode Island observed Christmas - or not - but Christy Robinson beat me to it!  I highly recommend that you check out her excellent post:

Jon Stewart.jpg
Instead, I researched the above notice.  It's been around on the Internet for a while, and Jon Stewart featured it on the Daily Show last week.  I wondered just when and where the document came from, or if it was authentic.

Some clicks and Googles later, I find the document ascribed to both Pilgrims and Puritans, somewhere in New England in the 1700s.  The most specific citation, and the one which is the most believable said that it was printed in Massachusetts in 1660.

The reason that I believe that citation was because I found the Massachusetts law forbidding Christmas celebrations on pain of a five-shilling fine.  It was enacted in October 1658.  So while a quick search didn't turn up exactly when and where the above document was printed, I did find the law that it cited, enacted two years earlier.  Below is a printout, which also demonstrates the Puritans' dislike of gaming with cards and dice, which were apparently popular activities during Christmas "feastivals."

1658 Puritan anti-Christmas law.jpg

The Massachusetts Puritans' law indeed ordered a five-shilling fine for observing Christmas.  So, be grateful that times have changed.  We can now legally take Christmas day off, feast and exchange gifts, and wear fancy clothes without being considered Satanic.  In that case, let me wish a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year to all of you!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Invisible Woman

Visible woman.jpg
No, not the Visible Woman, which was one of my favorite educational toys in the 60s.  Though she is most revealing, I am talking about Invisible Women.

Pilgrim compact.jpg
Do you see any women in this painting?  Just that lady hovering off to one side.  In real life, she wouldn't even have been in the room,  because women played no part in colonial New England governments.  Information about individual women in those days can be hard to find.  Anyone who has researched their genealogy knows what I’m talking about.

New England Marriages.jpg
Let’s look at a page of Clarence A. Torrey’s “New England Marriages Prior to 1700.”  This genealogists’ reference lists names and marriage dates for men and women who wed in New England, or before they crossed the Atlantic.  These couples fill 848 closely-spaced pages.

I conducted an experiment, using page 443 for a (hopefully) typical example.  On that page we find 56 New England men who were wed to 46 women between 1620 and 1700.  If you wonder why there were 56 men and 46 women, I counted  second and third marriages.  Of those 56 men, only one first name is questioned.

As for those 46 women, 33 were identified by their first and surnames (3 surnames are questionable).  9 are known by their first name only.  The final 4 women’s names are completely unknown.  So, on that page of his master work, Torrey could fully identify 98% of the men, but only 77% of their wives.  About 17% of the women are known by their given names only, and nearly 9% are completely unidentified.  Why such a difference?

Puritan worship.jpg
Women and men led different lives.  Both worked hard every day of their lives, to be sure, but it was men’s names which filled the record books.  They paid the taxes, served in the military and government, voted, and owned the land.  In most places women could not own land if they were married; their husbands did.

Wives might be found in church records - if those books survived four centuries to be read by genealogists.  Women were mentioned in wills, but few left wills of their own.  Their names might be entered on their babies’ birth records, but often it was just the father’s.  If the family was affluent enough, you might find a gravestone.

Vital records were kept in many New England towns from the start.  Combined with church and probate records, they provide genealogists and historians with names and dates for births, marriages, and deaths of most of the women on page 443 of Torrey.  Many of New England’s precious records have survived.

Some towns weren’t so lucky.  Newport, Rhode Island, watched its vital records, deeds to land, and probate records sail away in British hands during the Revolutionary War.  Those records were returned to Newport years later, soaked and illegible after they were accidentally sunk in New York City’s harbor.

Consequently, many of Newport’s pre-Revolutionary women simply disappeared.  In the Rhode Island Genealogical Dictionary by John O. Austin, I examined 56 Newport men who were known to have married 63 women.  (I have no doubt that many of them made second and third marriages which were lost along with Newport’s records)

52 of those women’s first names have been found, but surnames of only 17 are known.  Therefore, only 27% of those 63 women can be traced to their parents by today’s genealogists.  Sadly, 11 of those 63 wives are completely unknown.  Nearly 20% of our pre-Revolutionary ancestresses from Newport are lost.

Puritan woman at work.jpg
Birth records everywhere once have linked a girl child with her father – and perhaps - her mother.  The entry of a marriage in the church or town books may have recorded the union of husband and wife.  Men left legacies to their beloved wives, but if those records are lost we may never know the identities of these women.

That is how some women become invisible in colonial New England.  How do they become visible beyond mere vital statistics?  That is another story, and will be my one of my next topics.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Trouble Comes in Threes, Right?

In Stephen King’s Misery, Annie Wilkes says, “Sometimes when it rains, I get the blues.”  It’s more than the blues for her – Annie is morose to the point of homicide, and has to get away from the writer she is holding captive before she blows him away with the gun she’s carrying in her pocket.  In August 2001 my partner and I saw 9” of rain in 5 days on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula.  I know just how Annie felt.  By the time Slim Day arrived, I was ready to do myself in.

San Juan de Fuca Strait.jpg
 Monday:  The rain begins while Richard and I are camped by the Strait of San Juan de Fuca.  The campsite no longer exists, but it was a beautiful spot either 50’ or 2 miles from the ocean, depending on the tide.  At high tide there’s a narrow cobble beach tucked up against steep cliffs and massive douglas firs.  When the tide is out, seawater is barely visible beyond rocky reefs covered with weeds.  Harbor seals basking on the rocks howl mournfully to each other.  I fantasize that they are mermen, luring me to their homes under the water.  At night,  drizzle keeps us awake with the sound of “popcorn” on the roof as fat drops plunk down from overhead branches.  Pinecones smacking onto the aluminum wouldn’t be much noisier.

Jo Ann Butler & Edward Cullen.jpg

Tuesday:  We are chased into the library in Forks by a downpour.  By the way, this is the Forks haunted by Twilight’s vampires because the sun rarely shines.  I check the weather report, and learn that a couple of wet days lie ahead.  We head for the Hoh Rainforest anyway, and find a campsite sited under open sky instead of 200’ fir trees.  No popcorn on the roof tonight, but rain comes down steadily.

Hall of the Mosses.jpg
Wednesday:  Hard rain as we drive into the Hoh rainforest in Olympic National Park.  The ranger tells us to get out for a hike anyway “because it’s drier on the trails than the parking lot.”  Debatable, as the trails are underwater.  Prepared hikers squelch through  mud near the visitor center; the unprepared don’t leave the building.The Hall of the Mosses is an alley of ghostly vine maples with spreading arms – I mean branches – draped with blankets and streamers of curly green moss.  Nourished by over 150" of annual rainfall, epiphytes, ferns, and lichens flourish.  Everything is covered with green.  Even the phone booth roof is buried by 6” of moss, and a nearby privy is crowned by a 10’ hemlock sapling.
Hoh Rainforest.jpg

I wear a poncho, but also carry an umbrella so my glasses stay dry on the soggy, boggy trail.  The forest is charming even in the wet, and the park’s 8” yellow banana slugs adore it, taking the opportunity to lower themselves from one branch to another on strings of slime.

Banana slug.jpg
We meet a pair of hikers coming out from the back country.  The woman has hit bottom.  When the couple reaches a huge pond that fills the trail rim to rim, she refuses to cross in spite of our assurance that they are nearly back to the parking lot and that this is the last puddle.  She still hasn’t crossed when we leave them.

Richard and I eat lunch in the camper.  I find dampness on my side, but tell myself that it’s just condensation.  But after our hike, the insulation by my pillow is drenched.  Richard’s side is wet too, but not as bad.  Caulk between the camper shell and the truck bed is loose, and the downpour found its way in.  For a few minutes I understand exactly how that wet hiker felt.  I don’t want to cope with this.  Then a miracle happens - the rain stops and the sun appears for over an hour.  I cover the hood of the truck with wet umbrellas, towels, shoes, and poncho, while Richard wrings water out of the insulation.  We slap giant silver duct tape bandaids over the most suspicious-looking seams.  When the sun disappears we ram our damp stuff into bags.  Dinner comes from cans, rain restarts, and continues most of the night.  We later learn that that more than 7” of rain have hit the region through today, and it’s not done.

Lake Quinault.jpg
Thurs:  Olympic National Park is a narrow rind of beaches and headlands on the peninsula’s western edge, and we follow it southward, driving slowly to dry clothes on the defroster and floor vents, and to maximize the charge on our battery with headlights, wipers and blowers going.

We turn inland at Quinault Lake, and on into a tree-clad glacial river valley.  Heading up the north fork, we stop for a ¼ mile nature trail among magnificent vine maples and sitka spruces.  The sky darkens and we hear a quickly-approaching roar.  Anguished howls erupt from a family ahead of us on the trail.  Up go our umbrellas just as nickel-sized raindrops come pouring down, and the kids sprint past us back to the parking lot.

Steady, hard downpour accompanies us into the only free drive-in campground in Olympic National Park. We drive at 15 mph as the last of our clothing dries.  Hopefully we have enough charge in the battery to use the camper light this evening, and start the truck in the morning.  We settle into a campsite to wait the rain out, and about 5:00 it lightens to drizzle.  Richard grabs his umbrella and goes out for a walk.
A hot meal would boost our morale, and I am just getting the Coleman stove out when Richard returns.  I glance at the rear tire – it is flat as a tortilla.  Ugh.  I stow the stove, and we debate our options.  We can use the Fix-a-Flat can, but then we have to drive and hope the goop plugs the leak.  We can crawl through mud to detach the spare from its mount under the truck and change it now.  We can ignore it until tomorrow and hope the rain stops.

Easy choice.  Richard goes out for another walk, I decide we really do need a hot meal, and make spaghetti and tea.  We dine in our snug little bed.  My great-aunt Carrie always said bad luck comes in threes, and we figure we’ve had a dousing, leaks, and a flat.  That’s 3, so we’re home free, right?

About 7:00 pm a man and woman come up to our truck.  They are parked ¼ mile away at the trailhead and their car battery is dead.  Do we have cables, and can we jump-start them?  They gape as we laugh as this new ludicrosity.  Sure we have cables, but we can’t drive with the flat tire.  The guy thinks it over, then reluctantly volunteers to help us with the tire.  We’ll get them started.  A win/win situation for sure.

He says he can’t get any wetter, and crawls through the slop to get the spare tire from its mount under the truck.  We get our jack out from under the hood and I untangle the jumper cables from our McGee’s closet under the seat, while the woman tells me that she and a female friend had been on a trek with a group of journalists.  They wanted to recreate the early explorers’ crossing of the Olympic peninsula in 5 days.  It was a poorly organized nightmare even before the rain.  Last night they camped near another group of hikers, which included the fellow wallowing in the mud under our truck.  The newcomers were on their final night of a 17-day trip.  When offered a chance to accompany that party to the trailhead and hitch a ride, the women jumped at the chance.
The female hiker goes off to tell her companions that help is on the way - eventually.  As the first blessing on our ordeal, the rain stops, though watery blobs are still plopping down from trees and it’s getting dark.  We nearly have the flat tire removed when I hear laughter coming toward our campsite.

Four hikers, 1 male, 3 female, are pushing their little car to our campsite.  The road is level, but it is still quite a feat.  They started pushing to get warm, and it turned into fun.  I help them shove the car over a bump into our campsite, then hand my coat to a shivering hiker wearing only a T-shirt and shorts – she has no dry clothes left.

flat tire in the Olympic National Park.jpg
We all crack up when we get the tire off.  A semi-circular section of tread has buckled inward, and it looks like Barney took a bite out of a huge black donut.  In the center of that bite mark is a rock 2” in diameter, so deeply jammed that I can’t pry it out with a pliers and a screwdriver.  The rest of the job goes quickly, we get the hikers started, and they drive away in search of pizza and beer.
Richard and I celebrate, for nothing else can possibly go wrong.  But a few minutes after we turn out the light, we hear rustling under the plastic liner protecting us from condensation.  We pull things out and look, but can’t see anything.  Turn out the light, it happens again, but I still can’t see anything.  The 3rd time, we get out the flashlight and see a muddy little mouse under the plastic, staring at me with beady, fearful eyes.

I want to get out heavy leather gloves, catch it and set it free.  Richard won’t risk letting it loose in the camper, and says he can kill it.  After considering mouse pee in the corners and holes chewed in our bread, I reluctantly agree, and he makes a quick job of it with the flashlight.  I bag up poor “Slim” (so-called as he must have been pretty slim to crawl through a thumb-sized drainage hole) and Richard throws him outside for a lucky fox or raven.

Fri:  We see highly welcome sun today!  At a tiny service station we learn that our tire is a goner.  The rock which punctured it is shaped like a railroad spike, and not much shorter.  We buy a new tire, I install aluminum-foil Slim plugs in the drainage holes, and we camp in a clearcut to finish drying out.  A helicopter circles overhead, but we don’t wave, and aren’t pot farmers, so they finally drift away.

I learn that we endured 9” inches of rain in 5 days, over half of it on the day of the flat.  And a few days later we also learn that we hadn’t really solved our Slim problem when another mouse gets in, and gets bonked with the same flashlight.  This time we really tear my side of the camper apart to find that last access point. Only someone who can read the minds of mice would know why one would bother to shinny up a metal tube 3” wide and over 18” tall to crawl through a 1” hole in the back of our truck.

The rainfall may have felt near-Biblical, but we weren’t admitting wildlife into our Ark that day.  Bitsy, the spider who rode in our rear-view mirror for 8 months this year might tell you differently, but that’s another story.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

What's In a Name: Part 2

Thanksgiving is over, and we’ve remembered our beloved Pilgrims’ first feast.  Like us, they called it Thanksgiving Day, but wait – did they call themselves Pilgrims?  As it turns out, many of our most familiar names are not what people actually called themselves.

The Pilgrims called themselves Saints.  In practice they were Separatists, because they wished to separate themselves from the Church of England.  Were all of the Plymouth Thanksgiving celebrants Pilgrims?  Not at all.  The Saints were joined on their voyage by Strangers and Adventurers, as William Bradford called them.  A few came to invest in the New World, hoping to find gold or stores of furs.  Others were valued tradesmen – John Alden was a cooper, hired to tend the Mayflower’s cargo.  Myles Standish was a professional soldier, and valued for his military experience.

The Puritans did not want to entirely separate themselves from the Church of England – they wanted to purify it of Catholic-style trappings.  Ornate robes, music, and plaster saints distracted the eye and the mind from worship, and they thought that the Anglican hierarchy was corrupt.  That desire to “purify” the church led to the derisive term “Puritan,” but that is not what they called themselves either.  As early as the 1560s, Puritan writings described themselves as “God’s elect.”

The Puritans applied an insulting name to the Religious Society of Friends that we remember today – Quakers.  Friends, as they called themselves, said that they “quaked before the spirit of the Lord,” so the Puritans called them Quakers, and the name stuck.  The Shakers gained their nickname in a similar manner, because members of the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing were said to “shake” when touched by the Holy Spirit.  The Mormons got their derisive name from the Book of Mormon used by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  They prefer to be called “Latter Day Saints” but find Mormon tolerable.

Religious societies are not the only groups to be remembered by a name they did not choose.  When explorers and settlers met indigenous groups, those peoples were often supplied a name for them by their neighbors.  Those neighbors were not always friendly, and neither were the names they supplied to Europeans, but those are the names we remember.  I am most familiar with North American tribal people and names, so here are a few American examples:

“Iroquois” was used by French fur dealers, who obtained the term from Wyandot enemies who called the New York tribes “black snakes.”  The Iroquois prefer Haudenosaunee – “They are building a Longhouse.”

“Sioux” is another Algonkian name for the more westerly Lakota or Dakota tribes, and means “foreign speaking.”  Not necessarily insulting, but true – the Lakota spoke a different language than the Algonkians.

That trend continued across the United States, with one group naming another.  “Navajo” was used by the Spanish settlers in the southwest to describe the Dine, or Children of God, and comes from a Hopi word for “corn stealer.”  It is amazing that the Navajo tolerate that name; the Papago, or “tepary bean eaters” (as the Pima Indians named them) have officially changed the tribe’s name back to the one they prefer: Tohono O’odham.

When asked by the Spaniards who had built the beautiful pueblo ruins which still grace the Four Corners states, the Navajo said it was the “Anasazi” or “Ancient enemies.”  The term Anasazi is now being replaced by “ancestral Puebloans,” because those peoples were the ancestors of today’s Hopi and Zuni tribes.  They don’t wish to have their ancestors described as enemies, and neither would we.

As for personal names, who among us hasn’t been given a nickname they despised?  I will close with a woman near to my heart saddled with an undesirable name – Herodias Long.  Her baptismal record has not been found, and she was called Herodias only on a transcript of her marriage license.  Harwood, Horod, or Horred is the form used on her marriage license allegation, and in contemporary New England records until her children and grandchildren began using the full name Herodias again.

Given the distressing nature of Herodias’ biblical namesake, who instigated the execution of John the Baptist, it is not surprising that Herodias Long contracted her name to a less-recognizable variant.  Did she dislike the name Herodias, and would she have wanted her descendants to call her Horred?  If so, Herodias Long is not the first person – or peoples – to be remembered by a name they did not choose.


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Feast or Fast?

The “First Thanksgiving” in 1621 was nothing new.  Days of thanksgiving were regularly held in Europe long before Plymouth’s Pilgrims had their famous feast.

However, it was the first day of thanksgiving held in New England, and the Pilgrims – or Saints, as they called themselves – certainly had cause to celebrate.  They had survived a perilous crossing, famine and disease which halved their numbers, forged good relationships with their Wampanoag neighbors, and harvested enough food to keep them alive for another winter.

On what date did the Pilgrims and Wampanoags begin their three days of feasting?  It is not known.  Some time between September 18th and November 11th, William Bradford wrote in his journal about the “First Thanksgiving,” held after the Pilgrims had gathered their “small harvest” and prepared their homes for winter.  Neither Bradford nor Edward Winslow, who also described the event, recorded the exact date, but this is Winslow’s account:

Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, among other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed upon our governor, and upon the captain, and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.

Days of Thanksgiving were regularly held in New England after 1621 to thank God for good harvests, victories in battle, the safe arrival of ships, and even Puritan victories in England.  The index of Governor John Winthrop’s journal mentions eight of them held in Massachusetts between 1630 and 1649.

Winthrop’s journal index does not list the somber twins of Thanksgiving - days of fasting, prayer and humiliation.  They may have been too frequent to enumerate.  New England's General Courts regularly ordered days of prayer to beg for God’s help with sickness, foul weather, earthquakes, Indian threats, and poor crops.

Days of humiliation sent the colonists from the fields to the meeting house to discover their personal sins, to praise God, and to beg His help with their woes.  Oddly, sometimes the Puritans held days of thanksgiving even when their crops were poor, as though they dared not alienate God by mourning the disappointing harvest that He had seen fit to provide.

Days of Humiliation continued long after the colonies became the United States of America.  In April 1863 Abraham Lincoln declared a day of national humiliation, fasting, and prayer to beg delivery from “the awful calamity of civil war, which now desolates the land, [which] may be but a punishment, inflicted upon us, for our presumptuous sins … [and ask that God restore] our now divided and suffering Country, to its former happy condition of unity and peace."

Later that year, Lincoln set our familiar annual Thanksgiving Day as the last Thursday of November.  Nearly a century later, on April 17, 1952, President Harry S. Truman formalized a National Day of Prayer on the first Thursday of May, an updated version of the good old-fashioned day of humiliation and fasting.

What of Christmas?  Since that celebration is not found in the Bible, the Puritans associated it with idol-worship and paganism, but that is a tale for another day.

Friday, November 18, 2011

What's in a Name?

What’s in a Name?

While I was writing my historical fiction novel, Rebel Puritan about Herodias (Long) Hicks Gardner Porter, the last thing I expected was that I would be called upon to defend my famous ancestor’s name.  After all, what other genealogical datum point is as constant as a person’s name?  As it turns out, even a name can be disputed.

 John O. Austin called my ancestor Herodias in his 1887 Genealogical Dictionary of Rhode Island Families.  Most genealogists - Caroline Robinson, Frederick A. Virkus, Clarence A. Torrey, and G. Andrews Moriarty – agree: our woman was named Herodias.

True, there is no “Herodias” in Rhode Island’s records.  She was called Horod, Horred, Harwood, and several other variants.  The only contemporary reference to “Herodias” was in an extract of her London marriage license, which was destroyed in World War II.  All that survives is that extract, which reads, “Mar. 14, 1637 Herodias Long married to John Hicks by license at St. Faith’s-Under-Paul’s.

A few months after Rebel Puritan was printed in 2011, I got an email from Gene Zubrinsky, FASG.  He said that it was very doubtful that Herodias was our woman’s actual name, citing a 2003 article by John Anderson Brayton.  The article argued that “[T]he name ‘Herodias,’ which as the result of modern finger-painting has become the name by which she is now known, does not appear in the literature until the nineteenth century, and there is no official reason to think that she was named other than Harwood.”
I had not seen Brayton’s article before.  It was in the journal of the North Carolina Genealogical Society in 2003.  While it is a respected publication, it is not where one ordinarily looks when researching New England.

I am grateful to Mr. Zubrinsky for bringing it to my attention, for it contained a vital document that I had missed.  Before he married Herodias Long in 1637, John Hicks made an allegation to a representative of the Bishop of London, swearing that he and the future Mrs. Hicks were of age and that the bride’s father gave his permission.  The record still exists:

Mar. 14, 1636  [1637 new style] “Wch daie, appeared p[er]sonally John Hicke of ye parish of St. Olaves in Southwark Salter and a batchelour aged about 23 yeares and alledged that he intendeth to marrie with Harwood Long spinster aged about 21 yeares ye daughter of William Long Husbandman who giveth his Consent to this intended marriage And of ye truth of the pr[e]mises as also that he knows of no Lawfull let or impediment by reason of anie pr[ior] contract Consanguinity affinitie or otherwise to hinder this intended marriage he made faith and desires license to be married in ye parish Church of St ffaith London [signed] John Hickes”

I will not address John Hicks’ fraudulent affirmation of Herodias’ age and parental consent in this note, although it is consistent with my portrayal of him in Rebel Puritan.  The vital point is that John called his bride “Harwood,” and that is what Zubrinsky says is our woman’s proper name.  He also feels that even if her birth name actually was Herodias, she used a shortened form, so it is “inappropriate” for any of us to call her Herodias.

It was apparently Joseph Warren Gardner, a 6th-generation descendant of Herodias, who supplied her name to John. O. Austin for his 1887 book.  Regarding the family’s memory of our woman’s actual name, Mr. Zubrinsky represents an exclusionist school of thought which assumes that “a fundamental principle of genealogical and historical analysis [renders such] unsupported pronouncements … untrustworthy.”  Though my heroine’s granddaughter (and two great-granddaughters) was also named Herodias, Mr. Zubrinsky believes that it was her daughter who created the name from Harwood as a more elegant version of her mother’s name. I disagree.

Herodias, through her fortunate alliance with John Porter and his huge tracts of land, made her children wealthy.  Her Gardner children were Porter’s heirs.  Her Hicks children also benefitted when William Haviland, who married Herodias’ first child, Hannah Hicks, was granted a substantial chunk of Porter’s land.  In 1705 Herodias’ Gardner children sold 400 acres of prime real estate, and sent the money to Thomas Hicks, Herodias’ first son.

It is my belief that Herodias’ descendants knew well what their notorious mother’s real name was.  She may not have divulged it to her family until late in her life.  But when the name Herodias was published in the 1880s, not one of her descendants complained in print that her name was actually Harwood or Horred, even those who were repelled by Herodias’ scandalous acts.  That, along with the extracted remnant of Herodias Long’s marriage license, gives me cause to believe that our woman was, indeed, named Herodias.

It is no wonder that she contracted her name to Horred.  In a highly religious society, the association with the biblical Herodias, who had instigated the death of John the Baptist, would have been very hard to endure.  The Herodias in the Bible controlled her own life in ways that horrified her contemporaries.  She broke biblical law when she abandoned her husband to marry his brother, and she obtained bloody revenge against a man who disparaged her in public.

Pretty shocking, but perhaps the biblical Herodias’ first husband gave her very good reasons for leaving him, left unrecorded by male scribes.  Most women in Biblical times were forced to remain with their first husband, no matter how unsuitable, and that attitude was still at work in the 17th century.

Herodias of Rhode Island and her biblical namesake both chose to leave their spouses.  And while we can’t condone the slaying of John the Baptist for his criticism, today we celebrate women who refuse to accept the status quo.  Think of Lady Godiva and her naked protest against her husband’s punitive taxes, Rosa Parks, and even Hillary Clinton, who was reviled for her prominent role during her husband’s presidency.

Like her notorious namesake, the Herodias of 17th century Rhode Island steered her life, separating from unsuitable husbands and speaking out against Puritan abuse of the Quakers.  I believe that if Herodias was alive now, she would celebrate her controversial name.  I can do no less.

Curious readers and Herodias descendants can find much more information about Herodias Long, including my sources and transcripts of articles about her family at:

Friday, November 11, 2011

Herodias/Harwood (Long) Hicks vs John Hicks: A New Transcription

Herodias/Horod/Harwood Long is the protagonist of my historical fiction novel, A Scandalous Life: Rebel Puritan.  One of the most notorious women in 17th century New England due to her stormy domestic life, Herodias was separated from John Hicks after requesting Rhode Island's first divorce because of his abuse.

On December 3, 1643    Herodias complained to Rhode Island’s governor that her husband was beating her.  Probably she intended to have her petition heard by the General Court sitting in Newport at that time, but the Hickses' case was apparently not aired until the next spring.

Though Herodias and John Hicks were separated in some time after March 1644, Herodias’ accusation was not entered into the Rhode Island colonial records until 1655, when George Gardner was charged with keeping John Hicks’ wife as his own.

The following document from the Rhode Island colonial records was transcribed by Josephine C. Frost for her article, "John and Harwood Hicks," which was printed in 1939 in the New York Genealogical & Biographical Record, Volume 70, pg. 116.  The article was missing a few words and phrases, but with the help of a 100-year old dictionary, I was able to supply them.  Words differing from Josephine Frost's transcription are in boldface:

This witnesseth tht in the yeare 1643, decemb. the 3d/ Harrwood Hicks, wife to John Hicks, made her Complaint to us of Many greevances, & Exstreeme violence, that her Husband used towards her, uppon which she desired ye peace of him uppon ye Examination whereof we found such due grounds of her Complaints by his Inhumane & barbarous Carriages such Crewell blows on Divers parts of her body, with many other like Cruelties, that we fearing the ordenarie & desperate afects of such barbarous Cruelties, murthering, poysioning, drowning, hanging, wounds & Losse of Limbes, Could not but bind him to ye peace, Moreover we found him soe bitterly to be Inraged, & soe desparate in his Expreshions, uppon which the poore woman fraught with feares, Chose Rather to subject herselfe to any Miserie than to Live with him; He also as desirous thereof as She, Solicited us to part them, with much Impretunyty we therefore diligently observing & waighing, ye prmeses Conceived & Concluded, that it were better, yea farr better for them to be separated, or devorced than to Live in such bondage being in such parfect hatred of  one another, & to avoayde & prevent the said desperate hazards premised, yet observing & knowing how Odious this act was amongst men, Refused to order theire separation, but tould them theire act should be theires wherein if they agreede we would be witnesses thereof uppon which they Came to an accord, & declared it to us which Accordingly we doe testifie the same, being perswade that god had separated them soe Inmeewtablie, that they were free from that marriage bond before god, Now we being Majestrates in this place, & in Commission for ye peace, & by order we are to walke accordinge to ye Lawes of England, under grace of our Soveraigne, had no direct Rule to walke by to devorce them did therefore under grace by our Authoritie declare them duly separate in wittness where of we therfor sett to our hands this is a True Coppie Pr me

Wm. Lytherland

[witnessed by]
William Coddington
John Coggeshall
Nicho. Easton
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