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.

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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.
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