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

Monday, January 30, 2012

Long Miles and Big Days

Getting from upstate New York to southern Florida in January is no mean feat.  Our chosen route was I-81, where Richard and I faced potential nasty driving conditions in the Poconos, the Appalachian foothills of Virginia or Tennessee, and even the hills south of Syracuse.  So we chose a departure day when the skies were clear and the roads were dry.  Fourteen hours later, we pulled into our friends’ driveway in Jefferson City, Tennessee.

Richard and Miss Kitty
I’ve known Anne and Greg since 1976.  I took riding lessons from Anne, then boarded my half-Arabian hunters with them. They still have horses, cats, and dogs, and they surely have good karma in abundance, since they take in any animal with a sad story.  Miss Kitty is typical – she is at least 16 and has no teeth, but she is content, and just loves Richard!

We played with the Woodruffs’ animals, and they came with Richard and me to look for a super-rare hooded crane at Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge.  This Asian bird must have turned its mental migration map upside-down, for not only is this its first North American appearance, but it turned up a good 10,000 miles from its home range, in the company of 12,000 sandhill cranes.  We missed seeing the bird after a 3-hour wait on a bone-chilling day.

Hooded Crane
Two days later, Richard and I drove another 120 miles one-way for another try.  This time the crane obliged, but 15 minutes after our arrival rain began pounding down.  An hour later it changed to snow.  We had to wait until noon the next morning to leave our friends’ home, because the road crew waits for snow to melt on secondary routes, rather than salting them into submission like they do in NY.

Red Clay State Park
This made for another tough driving day.  We had a brief stop at Red Clay State Park, where Cherokees gathered after being ruthlessly ejected from their lands in Georgia, and prepared to take the Trail of Tears to Oklahoma.  Then we blasted south to Columbus, GA.

FDR's bedroom at Warm Springs SP
Richard and I played with my cousins for a few days, and I saw FDR’s home at Warm Springs, GA for the first time.  An amazingly humble place, it reminded me of my family’s childhood camp (though with better china).  FDR’s bedroom showed that even a president can sometimes get away from all of the pomp and formality.

Infantry museum - Ft. Benning, GA
We also took in the Army’s Infantry Museum at Ft. Benning.  I was disappointed because exhibits for the colonial, Revolutionary, and Civil wars were not finished, and I wanted to see what information they had on New England’s 1675-6 King Philip’s War for my Rebel Puritan sequel.  But it is a fascinating museum, and after spending extra time in the WWII barracks tour and talking with a Vietnam War veteran/docent we weren’t able to finish seeing the place.  Something to look forward to…

Jimmy Carter NHS
Another long drive southward to Plains, GA and the Jimmy Carter National Historical Site.  The high school which Jimmy and Rosalynn attended is now the visitor’s center.  We also toured Carter’s boyhood farm and even saw exhibits in Billy Carter’s gas station.

Eerie Apalachicola activities?
We ended our day after dark in a primitive campsite in the Apalachicola National Forest outside of Tallahassee, Florida.  This is our favorite sort of camping – nobody within miles (except for pre-dawn hunters and baying hounds). I wondered what sort of party had occurred in our campsite before we were there – the site was littered with fish bones and oyster shells, a pig’s skull, a flattened super-size, manly-type deodorant can, over a dozen snuff cans, and too many beer bottles to count.

Old Florida capitol building
Now Richard and I could explore Tallahassee (and I had my first chance to catch up on email at a library).  The old Florida state capitol building is now a museum.  The new capitol is a drab office building, but with a fabulous view on the 40th floor.

Apalachee Mission council hall
Apalachee council hall interior
It seems that school children and the odd tourist are the only visitors to the Apalachee Mission State Park. Too bad – the recreated log and palmetto-frond council building built by the Apalachee Indians is unique, and deserves to be more widely known.

St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge is on Florida’s northern Gulf Coast, and is a can’t-miss attraction.  After seeing my first Florida golden eagle and a very unusual wintering roseate spoonbill, I decided to have a Big Day, and count every bird species I could find.  This test of detection and identification skills had me listening to every peep and rustle in the bushes until 10:30 pm when I heard my final birds – a barred owl hootenanny.  Between pinewoods, marshes and coastal waters, I ended my big day with 96 species.  Not bad for winter birding (and no scope to identify those ducks diving offshore).
Roseate Spoonbill (Wikipedia)
lighthouse at St. Marks NWR

Rainbow Springs State Park

Manatee (
It took Richard and me another five days to get from Apalachicola to Fort Lauderdale.  The distance can be driven in one day, but we filled each day with natural wonders, and camped in state parks so it took longer.  Entire rivers flow from clear blue springs and live oaks draped with Spanish moss beg to be photographed.  People bending over a bridge railing alerted us to several manatee sightings, as the gigantic creatures warm up in the balmy spring water.
Gumbo Limbo tree
Ding Darling NWR at sunset
Sanibel Island is another of our favorite spots, and it would be nice to spend a few days there in another lifetime (perhaps when I start selling books like J.K. Rowling).  Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge occupies nearly half of the island, and we spent half of our day on the island in the refuge.  Egrets, spoonbills, white pelicans, and other waders abound; exotic tropical vegetation brings out the photographer in us, and it’s hard to take a bad picture at sunset.

Cypress & strangler fig
Image by Greg Lavaty at
Our last adventure before reaching Fort Lauderdale was at Audubon’s Corkscrew Preserve, one of the largest surviving virgin cypress forests.  We were greeted at the visitor’s center with three pair of painted buntings at the bird feeders, and we never stopped taking photos even when it began to rain. 

So, having pounded out nearly 2,000 miles and flattened our feet on miles of boardwalks, Richard and I are resting for a couple of days at Fort Lauderdale.  I managed to review 4 chapters of my Reputed Wife manuscript on the road, but more awaits. Our next stop?  The Everglades for more birding, photography, and mss review - Huzzah!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Why Puritans Scare Me

As readers of this blog may have figured by now, last year I published a historical novel based partially in 17th-century Massachusetts.  You might even have noticed that I am sometimes critical of the Puritans who controlled that colony in that time.  Why is that, and what do we know about Puritans?

They hated sex, right?  Hardly.  There was a proper time for sex; after marriage.  But premarital sex was not unknown, and up to 20% of some towns’ births came within 9 months of marriage.  You might be fined, or possibly jailed for extramarital sex, but that was about it.

They hated alcohol?  Not at all – weak beer or cider was what most people preferred.  Milk was for children.  Water was sometimes contaminated, so it was considered unhealthy.  However, drinking alcohol to excess was frowned upon, and drunkenness was a good way to get hauled off to jail.

Then … what do we remember the Puritans for, and why do they scare me?  This is why:

Salem Witch trial
Puritans ran the horror show we remember as the Salem Witch Trials, when scores of New Englanders lost their lives, liberty, and estates as witches.  Often, the evidence was nothing more concrete than a pre-teen crying out that an accused person’s “specter” had attacked her.  In the Puritans’ defense, the judges, magistrates, and ministers were all convinced that they were saving Massachusetts from Satan, pursued “witches” throughout the colony until the royal governor ended the witch hunt (after his wife was accused).

The witch hunts began in 1692, but the real-life heroine in my book, Herodias (Long) Hicks, was witness to a much earlier abuse of power by the Puritans.  In 1637, less than a decade after Boston was established, citizens who supported a fiery, controversial sermon critical of the Puritans had their weapons seized, and were then given a choice.  Recant or depart.  Many apologized and were allowed to stay.

Anne Hutchinson's trial
However, many of Herod Hicks’ friends chose to leave Massachusetts, and several were banished to ensure that they could never return.  Anne Hutchinson was also excommunicated for heresy.  These tough New Englanders went south to begin their own new colony at Rhode Island.  Herod’s family joined them not long after.

Why did the Puritans do this?  Because they so dearly wanted their own colony that they left their homes in England, sailed across the Atlantic, and built new homes in the Massachusetts wilderness.  The Puritans now had their “City upon a hill,” as John Winthrop put it; a Godly community which would provide an example to the rest of the world.  Far from easy interference by King Charles, Church of England moderates, or Parliament.  Free to choose – or eject – what sort of people were allowed to dwell among them.  When Anne Hutchinson’s supporters became numerous enough to vote Winthrop out as governor, they had to go.

They were also free to make their own laws, based directly on English law, but also upon the Bible, particularly from Deuteronomy.  The proscriptions and punishments spelled out there are often harsh, yet our Puritan ancestors tried out many of them.  They were hardly the first; people have been mutilated and slain for their beliefs for millenia.  But the Puritans brought Old Testament law to New England, justifying their actions by saying that God would punish New England's residents far more harshly than they did.

Gays and adulterers were hanged.  Thieves and heretics – those who held “dangerous” (non-Puritan) beliefs – were branded or whipped so their scars would prove them suspect in the future.  Quakers had their ears cut off.  Witches were burned – 

witch burning image from PhotoBucket
OH NO, THEY WEREN’T!  Not a single “witch” was burned in New England.  A few dozen were hanged over the years, but burning witches was a European thing.

The Puritans were also creative in their methods of persuasion.  A disobedient child might have his heels tied to his neck, and left in that excruciating position until the blood “started” from his nose.  Spare the Rod, Spoil the Child is a good old-fashioned Puritan concept.  Headstrong kids quickly learned to obey, and it’s just as well, because they could be executed.  Even an adult could be hanged for disobeying his or her parents.

image by Dave Doody from
Wayward adults could be punished in many ways.  Fasten a drunkard’s feet into the stocks, or lock his head and hands in the pillory, and let him stand in public for an hour or two.  Does a woman argue with her husband too much?  Pinch her tongue in a split stick and display her for public ridicule.  Women really did wear the Scarlet Letter for adultery.  And when one old man refused to enter a guilty or not-guilty plea during the Salem witchcraft outbreak, the Puritan magistrates piled rocks on his chest, trying to press the words out of him.  The man died before he gave them the satisfaction.

Those acts were based on biblical law, as interpreted by Massachusetts’ Puritan ministers.  Now, some people might say that we need more biblical law in our lives. However, there really can be too much of a good thing.

For Massachusetts’ first decades, the same handful of men oversaw everything: enacting and enforcing laws, deciding who was permitted to own land, and who could preach – Puritans only, thank you.  Once found acceptable, those clergymen interpreted the Bible for the magistrates when new laws were being written.  Puritan ministers also decided if a man’s beliefs were conventional enough to let him join the church.  Take note: if that man were not a church member, he could not vote.  Thus the church upheld the colony’s laws by barring the non-orthodox.  In turn, the colony supported the church and its ministers through taxes.

Single party rule from courthouse to meetinghouse can – and did – lead to spectacular abuse of power.  Convinced that God was on their side, and that achieving a “pure” New England justified whatever it took to keep outsiders from their midst, Puritan intolerance led to repeated purges of those found not acceptable – Catholics, Jews, Baptists.  Five Quakers, including Mary Dyer, were hanged when they refused to accept banishment from Massachusetts.

Such overwhelming abuse is less likely in this country these days … thanks to liberal courts, conservative judges, and progressive laws, moderates and hawks of all sorts.  Even Occupy Wall Street protestors and Tea Partiers have a part to play when they point out wrongs.  But the McCarthy hearings are not far in our past, when people suspected of “Communist” leanings saw their careers ruined. Internment camps in WWII …

When you come to it, it’s extremists of all sorts that scare me, not just Puritans, or Taliban, or the Spanish Inquisition.  While I wish that our representatives could get their heads together and solve our country’s problems, hopefully no single group can get enough advantage to do the Puritans’ sort of damage – not without being checked by the rest of us.  There really is strength in diversity.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Visible Woman

In my post of December 21st, I talked about invisible women during the 17th century, especially those wives whose unrecorded marriages left them unknown today.  So, if a woman’s name didn’t occur in vital records, or those records are lost, how did a woman become visible?

Anne Bradstreet.jpg
Some women left wills; others appeared in vital records.  A few who could write left their own records.  Anne (Dudley) Bradstreet’s book of poetry was published in 1650; the first work penned by a North American woman to be published.  Mistress Bradstreet’s work was notable, and perhaps she was protected by her position.  She was the daughter of Massachusetts’ governor, and no sensible man would criticize such a woman.

 The more typical attitude toward educated females is shown by Governor John Winthrop’s comment about a young woman who had “lost her reason” by “giving herself wholly to reading and writing.”  If she had not meddled in “such things as are proper for men, whose minds are stronger, she [would have] kept her wits, and might have improved them usefully and honorably in the place God had set her.”

Anne Hutchinson.jpg
Even such towering women as Anne (Marbury) Hutchinson and Mary (Barrett) Dyer left few recorded words.  The educated Mistress Hutchinson held her own meetings to discuss the sermons of Boston’s ministers.  Soon her followers nearly upended the Puritan’s government, leading to the banishment of Anne and her family, and the ouster of many other Massachusetts residents.

Mary Dyer helped bring the Quaker faith to New England.  For that she was also banished from Massachusetts, and was hanged in 1660 for defying that banishment.  But the only written works left by Mary are two letters written to the Puritan government before her hanging.  Nothing at all survives of Anne Hutchinson’s actual words, only a few brief phrases recorded during hearings preceding her banishment and excommunication.

Both Anne and Mary were remarked upon by Governor John Winthrop in his journal.  Anne and her supporters’ near-rebellion filled several pages, and Winthrop remarked upon her life in Rhode Island many times.  When Anne was cast out of the Boston church, Mary left the meeting house arm in arm with her friend, and Winthrop noted that event.  He also wrote about Mary’s miscarriage in gruesome detail – a monster borne by a woman with monstrous notions.

Thus we see that the most visible women in 17th century New England were those who got into trouble.  Even when they appear in the court records for lesser events we see their names, and sometimes we can learn quite a lot about them.

A significant portion of colonial records is filled with men and women in trouble.  Theft, adultery, social disorder, even murder were fairly frequent occurrences and women were often the criminals in question.  We might not learn a woman’s maiden name from these records, but sometimes they give her husband’s name along with information about her crime and punishment.

Herodias Long is a perfect example of how a woman can become visible.  If it weren’t for her numerous court appearances, we would know her only from a couple of land records.  In November 1664 George Gardner Jr. and his older brother Benoni were granted land in Rhode Island’s Pettaquamscutt Purchase.  That land was bounded on one side by Horad Long, but the deeds do not note that Horad was the mother of the young men, using a shortened form of her first name and her maiden surname.

 When John Porter, her third domestic partner, sold land between 1671-74, Horad Porter gave her consent.  Earlier land records for her first husband, John Hicks, and second partner, George Gardner, do not mention her at all.

So, how do we know that Herodias was married to those men?  She requested a divorce from both of them.  In 1644 Harwood Hicks was separated from her abusive husband, John Hicks.  We don’t learn much about her from those records apart from her name, but twenty years later, she petitioned the government for a divorce from her second “husband,” George Gardner, saying that they were not married, and that sin was weighing on her conscience.

Puritan wedding.jpg
Perhaps looking for sympathy and support for her youngest child, Herodias gave her life history.  Using her maiden name, Horod Long said that she was married at the age of thirteen at the church of St. Faith’s-under-Paul’s in London, that the Hicks family then came to Weymouth, Massachusetts for 2 ½ years, then relocated to Newport, Rhode Island.  She noted her separation from John Hicks, then said that she had not formally married George Gardner, and that omission was weighing on her conscience.

This sort of record is the sort that genealogists and historians dream about, and lets us trace this illiterate woman through most of her life.  If not for her troubled domestic life, Herodias would have remained nearly invisible, just another name written in fading ink on ancient parchment.

Friday, January 6, 2012

A Modern Look at 17th-Century Boston

Here is a link to a 1997 article from Archeology Magazine about the unearthing of some of Boston's most significant sites, including the home of John Winthrop, Boston's first governor:

Boston in 1649
Winthrop's home was located on the main east-west road, almost due north of Corn/Fort Hill, to the left of the word "Boston." 

Modern Boston with Big Dig

To the right is a modern map of Boston, with the Big Dig shown (image from  This image is rotated about 45 degrees from the 1649 map.  The leveling of Corn Hill and other Boston hills, and a great deal of wetland fill has substantially altered the outline of Boston's peninsula.  Winthrop's home was located near the lower end of the red Big Dig line which runs diagonally across the peninsula.

Paul Revere's home, built in 1680, is the oldest remaining building in downtown Boston.  (below, image from
Paul Revere's home

Boston's Old State House

The 1713 Old State House is the oldest surviving public building.     (image from

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Great Swamp Fight of 1675

King Phillip image by Paul Revere.jpg

We have recently passed the anniversary of the December 19, 1675 Great Swamp Fight.  Earlier that year the Wampanoag tribe, led by King Phillip, rose up against encroaching English settlers in Massachusetts.  By the end of the year the battle was spreading, and it was feared that the Rhode Island’s powerful Narragansett tribe would join the Wampanoags.  Most of the settlers on the west side of Narragansett Bay had already taken refuge on Rhode Island.

On December 16th a combined army from Massachusetts and Plymouth met at Wickford, Rhode Island.  They planned to use Jireh Bull's garrison house at Pettequamscutt to rendezvous with a force from Connnecticut, and their Mohegan and Pequot allies.  From there they would attack the Narragansetts’ principal fort in the Great Swamp.  Then word came that Bull's garrison had been destroyed by the Narragansetts, and about 18 English settlers were killed there.
King Phillip's War.jpg
It is said that James Eldred, about 15 years old, was one of two people who survived the massacre at Bull's Garrison.  After escaping from the house, Eldred was chased along the stream by an Indian who came so close as to throw his tomahawk, which missed.  The Indian grappled with James and drew his knife.  Eldred was unarmed, but got the knife and killed his attacker.  He heard another Indian approaching in the dark and fled, pursued closely.  Eldred hid among rocks by the stream until pursuit passed.  The stream is still called Indian Run.

Harking back to the Great Swamp Fight, which happened on December 19th, armies from Plymouth, Massachusetts, and Connecticut met at Pettequamscutt.  They marched 15 miles through deep snow into the Great Swamp, to the Narragansett nation's winter village.  It was surrounded by several yards of downed trees and brush.  The English army broke in, killed hundreds of the Narragansett defenders and burned the village to drive away the survivors.  20 Englishmen died in the battle, and perhaps another 60 succumbed later.  Some from their wounds, others from feet and hands frozen as the troopers retraced their tracks to the coast after the battle.

Great Swamp Fight.jpg
John Tefft was one of the few settlers who did not leave the western side of Narragansett Bay before the Great Swamp Fight.  A letter written by Capt. James Oliver on 1/26/1676 mentions John’s death.  He wrote that Tefft’s son Joshua had joined the Narragansetts and married a Wampanoag woman.  During the Great Swamp Fight, Joshua fought against the English settlers.

Joshua was captured on January 14th while trying to steal cattle for food.  He told his English captors that he had been seized by the Narragansetts 4 weeks before, and had promised to serve the sachem for the rest of his life if they would spare him.  Joshua was taken to the Narragansett fort in the Great Swamp as the sachem's slave.  The chief died of wounds received during the battle.

Great Swamp Fight memorial.jpg Image by Patti Cassidy
His English captors did not believe Joshua's story, and Capt. Oliver declared that Joshua was a “sad wretch, he never heard a sermon but once these 14 years.”  Though Joshua begged for his life, four days later he was executed.  Many of the tales later told about him were possibly inflated; it was said he had actually joined the Indians 14 years earlier, renounced his nation and religion, and killed a miller as a pledge of his loyalty.  It was true that he helped the Indians design the fort in the Great Swamp, and fought against his own people during the battle there.  Joshua died a traitor's death in Providence, Rhode Island: hanged and his body cut into quarters to be displayed as a warning to others who might join the Wampanoags' battle. 

In a sad coda to the loss of life on both sides of the Great Swamp Fight, John Tefft also died.  Oliver wrote, "[Joshua's] father going to recall him (reclaim his body) lost his head at the hands of the Indians, and lies unburied."
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