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, 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:

1 comment:

  1. Looking forward to reading all about her! Find the controversy over her name intriguing... hmmmm... might have to look around myself! Thanks for sending me on another little mission :)


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