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, March 16, 2012

Small and Naughty Canoes

Rebel Puritan

It has been a couple of weeks since I have posted anything here, and I plead preoccupation.  I am editing the sequel to Rebel Puritan, my historical fiction novel.  Though I am nearly done with the first rewrite of The Reputed Wife, it has sucked up my time in the evenings, leaving me with little brain power for anything else.
Jo Ann Butler afloat

 During the day I have been absorbing one of my most favorite places – wild Florida.  My favorite part?  Canoeing in that state’s magnificent swamps. To that end, Richard and I borrowed a friend’s craft and paddled among the mangroves of Halfway Creek, on the western edge of the Everglades National Park.

Halfway Creek, FL
A few days later we rented a canoe in Silver River State Park, and paddled upstream to Silver Springs.   This two-hour jaunt provides views of the most incredible cypress knees we have seen anywhere.  It is thought that they provide stability for the lofty trees in their wet and mucky world, and perhaps are used for storing nutrients. 
Cypress knees

Other vegetation and wildlife provide more photo opportunities than you can shake a stick at, assuming that’s your idea of fun (thank you, Groucho Marx).
Spider Lilies

I have been canoeing for most of my life, and am very comfortable on the water in these sometimes-tippy craft.  At below left, this is not me trying to rock a stuck canoe off a stump.  I might even say that I feel comfortable on the water out of a canoe.  At below right I am actually standing on a stump in five feet of water in this trick photo.

hazards of canoeing
walking on water?

 Modern canoes, whether made of aluminum, fiberglass, or plastic, are much more stable than their 17th-century counterparts.  Their flat bottoms make them less prone to flip over, they have a modest keel to make steering easier, and are designed to float even when filled with water or upside down. 

Birchbark canoe
Early craft were chipped and burned out of  single logs, or made of birch bark stretched over a wooden frame.  Birchbark craft were fragile, but because they were lighter in weight, they are said to have been much easier to handle than dugout canoes.  Dugouts were heavy, harder to steer, and with their rounded bottoms, they must have been very tricky to handle without tipping.
Powhatan Indians making a dugout

In February 1660 Jeremiah Burroughs of Marshfield, Massachusetts set out on cold, rough water to get some items from a larger boat.  Burroughs used a canoe, but when he tried to catch hold of the larger vessel, he tipped into the icy water and drowned.  A coroner’s jury came to the conclusion that the canoe itself was to blame, and made the following recommendation:

That some course be thought on and ordered about small and naughty canoes, and in special about this canoe in the which Jeremiah Burroughs went to the boat in which he came by his death.
That canoe was not called ‘naughty’ for being disobedient.  In a day when the supernatural played a significant role in people’s lives, the craft itself was held responsible for Burroughs’ death.  The jury didn’t go so far as to blame a wizard for bewitching the craft and causing the accident, but if Burroughs had an enemy in town, that could well have happened.

All in all, I am grateful to have never been forced to cope with a 'naughty canoe.'   Perhaps I can't say the same for my canoe's occupants, but that is another tale.

My thanks to James and Patricia Deetz for their account of the naughty canoe in their 2000 The Times of their Lives

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