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

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Meet My Main Character

1705 Gardner and Watson home lots at Pettaquamscutt

It’s been a while since I last added a post to my Rebel Puritan blog. However, my neglect has been for the right reason: I’m deep into the manuscript for The Golden Shore, the final book in my trilogy about Herodias Long and her family. Currently, I’m recreating Pettaquamscutt, the town where Herodias and her children settled on the west side of Narragansett Bay. Pettaquamscutt was burned out in King Philip’s War, a sad event which will be featured in Golden Shore.
Anyhow, I’m back here as part of a fun historical fiction blog hop, and here’s my thank you to Paula Lofting for tagging me.
Rebel Puritan and The Reputed Wife
We participants are introducing readers to our main characters. I’ve written before about Herodias, in connection with her heroic protest against abuse of the Quakers by Puritans, as depicted in The Reputed Wife, and also in her struggle for personal freedom in Rebel Puritan. Now that I’m writing about Herod’s efforts to ensure her family’s bright future in The Golden Shore, it’s time to bring readers up to date.
1) What is the name of your character? Is he/she fictional or a historic person?

Herodias (Long) Hicks Gardner Porter really did scandalize her contemporaries with her outspoken ways, and also mothered a dynasty. I am proud to be her 8th-great granddaughter.

2) When and where is the story set?

King Charles II
Seventeenth- century Rhode Island battled for existence for twenty-five years before King Charles II guaranteed its existence with a royal charter in 1663, and commanded the Puritan colonies to stop interfering with Rhode Island’s affairs. Rhode Islanders’ freedom of conscience was also included in the royal charter. Herodias was whipped and Mary (Barrett) Dyer
was hanged in Massachusetts for civil disobedience in defense of religious freedom. With the new charter, Puritan colonies could no longer punish Rhode Islanders for their religious beliefs.

However, the charter did not put an end to Rhode Islanders’ struggles. In the 1660s, New Englanders are expanding into Indian lands, and tension between Englishmen and Native Americans is building toward open warfare in 1675.

3) What should we know about Herodias?

Herod has rebuilt her life after youthful impulse led her to marry the abusive John Hicks in Rebel Puritan. In The Reputed Wife, Herod reconciled with her oldest daughter, Hannah (Hicks) Haviland, and has borne seven children with George Gardner. Herod walked sixty miles to Boston to protest the abuse of Quakers, only to be whipped and jailed herself. With that abuse ended by royal mandate, and Rhode Island’s future ensured, Herod’s life should be equally secure.

4) What is the main conflict? What messes up her life?

Herod is still hiding a secret – twenty years ago, she refused to wed George Gardner because she feared being bound to him. When the opportunity arises to turn her children’s future golden, but George Gardner holds back, what should Herod do?

5) What is the personal goal of the character?

Ever since Herod’s father died when she was twelve and she was unwillingly sent to London by her mother, Herod has craved security. And, though most seventeenth-century women were essentially their husbands’ property, Herod seeks to control her own life.

6) Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it?

The title is The Golden Shore, and you can read the first chapter below.

7) When can we expect the book to be published?

I wish that I could say this year, but the scope of Golden Shore requires extra time. It will be printed in 2015.

Now it’s Peni Renner’s turn. Her post will be up in a few days, and you can find it at:

And finally, here’s the first chapter of The Golden Shore. Let’s see how much it changes in the print version!

Chapter 1
June 1, 1660

HERODIAS GARDNER’S SHOULDERS straightened, and she turned toward the gallows where Mary Dyer’s trussed corpse swayed in the breeze coming off Massachusetts Bay. To get to the docks, where Herod and John Porter could board the first ship headed south from Boston’s Harbor, they had to pass by her dear friend’s body.
 John warned, “Don’t look,” but Herod wanted to prepare herself. Not only must she cross under the gallows’ shadow; she also had to ride by the governor who had condemned Mary to die.
The executioner had tied Mary’s gray skirt around her ankles before turning her off the ladder. It wouldn’t do to have the woman exposed as she was dying, would it? But Mary’s garment had come loose and was billowing in the wind.
“We must pass by ….” John nodded toward the gallows. “This horse is too tired to make a fuss, but Endecott is still there. Pull up your hood, keep your eyes on me, and say nothing. If he remembers you, all hell will be loosed. Hang on.”
Herod tugged her cloak’s hood over her head, tilting it to hide her face, and then laced her fingers in the horse’s straw-colored mane. Her heart was racing despite her exhaustion. Two days ago she and John had set out from Newport, Rhode Island, headed for Boston as quickly as the inexperienced Herod could ride. They had hoped to talk Mary into accepting Puritan clemency. Instead, slowed by their lamed horse, they reached Boston’s gate just in time to watch Mary hang.
John clicked his tongue at the horse and tugged it through the dispersing crowd. Herod thought, ‘John must be as sore-footed as this beast. He walked most of the way from Dedham.’ As they neared the gallows, Herod kept her gaze on John’s back. His sleeves and green woolen doublet were powdered with dust, and so was his gray-streaked hair.
Then, twenty feet to their right, a man called, “John Porter, is that you?”
Herod’s neck creaked as her unwilling head swiveled. There, clad in somber black, were three men who still haunted her dreams.
Only two years ago, Herod put her newborn daughter in a sling and walked fifty wilderness miles from her home in Newport to Weymouth, Massachusetts. She and her first husband, John Hicks, had dwelt there for a time, and perhaps some of Herod’s old friends still did. A pair of Quaker women was sentenced to be whipped in Boston, and maybe Herod could persuade her friends to help stop it.
Herod made an impromptu protest in the marketplace, but was then arrested by the militia and hauled to the governor’s home in Boston. Then, stripped to her waist, Herod was lashed in Boston’s public square. Now the men responsible for her ordeal stood just a few feet before her.
Reverend John Wilson. After she was flogged, that black-cloaked hypocrite had come to Herod’s dank cell. Under the guise of saving her soul, the preacher sought words from Herod that he could twist into heresy, or witchery done by Mary Dyer. A half hour ago Herod had watched him endorse Mary’s hanging.
The tall man with a plumed hat at Wilson’s side was General Humphrey Atherton. The militia commander’s eyes were as hard as his polished iron breastplate. Atherton had tried to tear her infant from Herod’s arms at the whipping post. Certain that she’d never see Rebecca again, Herod had desperately clung to her. When the executioner turned his lash on Herod, only her arms protected Rebecca from the three-corded whip. Herod still lived that battle in her dreams.
The third man, stout and black-cloaked, was the one who had called to Porter. Governor John Endecott’s puffy cheeks were flushed with triumph. He said, “Mr. Porter, what brings you to Boston?”
The white tuft of hair on the governor’s chin twitched as he talked. Herod couldn’t tear her eyes away, thinking, ‘Papa’s old billy goat, out at pasture with the sheep. His beard waggled just like that when he cudded.’
John answered Endecott’s question, “Business with Mr. Hull.” He led Herod’s mount forward, but Atherton caught the animal’s bridle. “You needn’t hurry. The excitement is past.” The general’s full lips twitched at the corners.
Herod’s bleak mood blazed into fury. How dare Atherton find amusement in Mary’s tragic death? John gripped her ankle again, but his warning wasn’t necessary. She choked down her wrath and her eyes dropped to the horse’s neck.
John said to Atherton, “I was supposed to meet Hull an hour ago, but was delayed by this sad affair.”
“Sad?” scoffed Wilson. “Satan’s hand is snatched away from our Godly people, and you call it sad?”
“It’s sad to murder a fine woman guilty only of defying your laws, Reverend Wilson.”
Endecott coughed, and Herod stole another look at him. His mouth worked silently, and then he asked John, “After you see Mr. Hull, then you return to Rhode Island?”
The elderly governor jerked his head toward the masked body hanging from the gallows. “Know you who that is?”
“William Dyer’s wife,” John said, each word emphasized coldly. “Do you not fear his response? Mr. Dyer is not without influence in Parliament, and ’twas they who appointed him to act against the Dutch. Sir Henry Vane was friends with the Dyers, and he won’t look kindly on your foul act either.”
“Vane is out of favor in Parliament,” scoffed Endecott. “Dyer knew well what would happen if he didn’t keep his wife at home. We even reprieved the woman last year. She took her own life today, surely as if she hurled herself on Atherton’s sword.”
Endecott’s pouched eyes narrowed. “Carry a warning to your Quakers to keep themselves and their witchery in Rhode Island. This is what heretics face in Massachusetts.”
John passed the horse’s reins from one hand to the other. His voice was silky when he asked Endecott, “What of the king?”
“Charles? He’s not king yet. It will never come to pass.”
“The royalists have risen, and they’ve invited Charles back onto the throne,” John told the governor. “It’s naught but a matter of time now. Your Puritan brethren sliced off his father’s head.” John pointed at the gallows. “Will Charles look kindly on such handiwork when he rules you?” Endecott’s mouth opened, but John told him, “What if our new king sends a royal commissioner to oversee your affairs?”
“Bear the governor’s warning to the Quakers, Porter, and mind that we don’t search your baggage for their pamphlets,” Atherton sneered. “Is your woman one of them?”
Herod’s head jerked up, but Atherton and Governor Endecott were looking at John, not her. “She’s got naught to do with Quakers, and neither do I, gentlemen,” John said, the cold edge back in his voice again. “I’m off to see Hull. Portsmouth’s court is in a few days, and if I hope to be there I must sail on the first ship.”
Endecott was speaking, but Herod was too distracted by a barely-glimpsed movement to hear. There, just behind Endecott’s shoulder, Mary’s bound feet dangled. The sea breeze lifted her skirt again, flaring out like laundry on a line. Herod’s mount snorted and flinched away as Mary’s feet began to move, her toes rotating left, then right, then left again.
For just a moment, Herod’s hope flared too. Somehow her friend had survived! Then she realized that it was no more than the wind, turning Mary like a weathercock.
A man passing by commented to Endecott, “She hangs like a flag.”
“Indeed,” sneered Atherton. “A flag to warn all Quakers.”
Somehow Herod clenched her teeth on her furious reply. Atherton peered more closely at her, and said to John, “Are you bringing doxies with you now? I haven’t known you to seek them here, but –”
John’s eyes narrowed. “Have a care, General. This is my wife’s servant, come to visit her sister. She’s a widow, and a little slow.”
“Miz Porter sent me,” Herod agreed, but she dared not look at Endecott. What would he make of this flimsy story?
“Kind of you to hire such an unfortunate,” Endecott told John. Then to Herod he said, “Good day,” in dismissal. She glanced at him under the edge of her hood. Judging by his dark ringed eyes, the governor was feeling every one of his sixty-odd years. ‘I hope the plague takes you,’ Herod thought viciously, picturing the gruesome death suffered by her father when she was twelve. ‘I hope you rot!’
She would have cheered to see the governor stagger and fall at her horse’s hooves, but Endecott merely turned back to the passing crowd, assessing their approval of the morning’s work.
John jerked the tired horse forward, and Herod clenched her teeth on bitter words as she ducked her head to stare at her sunburned hands. Even so, she could see Mary’s corpse out of the corner of her eye as they passed.
Mary’s face was still shrouded by Rev. John Wilson’s white neckcloth. As they rode by, the wind turned Mary’s body as though her eyes were fixed on Herod. Her scalp prickled as Herod murmured, “Goodbye, Mary. I pray you are with God now.”
Safely through the gate into Boston, John let the horse stumble to a halt in the grassy common. The animal eagerly dropped its head to graze. John wiped his sweaty face on his sleeve, then asked Herod, “Are you well? Can you walk?”
She nodded. “How far to Mr. Hull’s home?”
“Fifteen minutes at the most, but I want to let this nag rest while the streets clear. I hope the soreness will pass before I take it to the hostler, because they will charge me more if I bring it in lame.”
Herod swung down from the saddle with John’s help, groaning as her trembling legs protested. She dared not speak of Mary yet, so she said, “Those men – I scarce believe we spoke to them. I thought that they would send us straight to jail.”
“They didn’t recognize you, and a good thing that was. Those are the blackest-hearted bastards I’ve ever known. Wilson and Endecott claim they are doing God’s work – Gah! As for that arrogant popinjay Atherton, he is naught but Endecott’s minion.
“Remember when I took you up the Pettaquamscutt River?” John’s abrupt change of topic drew a sigh of relief from Herod, and she nodded. “My partners and I own the west side. The east bank is a lovely neck of land, and we sought to buy it from Kachanaquant –”
 “Kachana … who?”
“Bless you.” Herod eyed John in bewilderment. He winked, and said, “Kach-oo. Bless you.” Despite the grim events of the day and Herod’s weariness, she chuckled.
“Kachanaquant. He is one of the chief Narragansett sachems, but he’s not the leader that his grandfather Canonicus was. Humphrey Atherton spirited Kachanaquant up to Boston, got him falling-down drunk, then sweet-talked him into ‘giving’ Atherton the whole neck in trade for baubles and another keg of liquor. Atherton and his friends are dividing the land, and calling it Boston Neck, and Massachusetts is using it to lay claim to the whole Narragansett region. Connecticut claims everything from their line to Narragansett Bay, including the land Hull and I bought two years back.
“My partners and I are buying land from Kachanaquant fair and square, and I need John Hull’s signature on the deed, but I also came here up to consult with him. If anyone has influence with the Puritans, it’s John Hull.
“That’s Rhode Island’s land, Herod, chartered to us near twenty years ago by the king! I don’t know how we’ll ever get those claims settled, and Parliament refuses to help. All I can tell you is that if Humphrey Atherton ever comes on my land, I’ll set my dogs on him.”
“Can I watch?” Herod asked. “That man helped the hangman whip me two years ago, and he tried to take Rebecca from me. I bit him.”
“You bit Atherton?” John grinned broadly for the first time that day.
“To the bone. Can I watch your dogs bite him too?”
“I changed my mind,” John laughed, pleased that Herod’s thoughts were diverted away from Mary’s hanging. “No dogs. Instead, I’ll catch him in an ambuscade and you can take the first shot. Even if we only see him skulking on the other side of the river on his own land, Humphrey Atherton is a doomed man.”
“I just pray that Endecott is with him,” Herod said grimly.
John left Herod at a dockside inn to dine and rest. He told her he would go to the docks to see about a ship, then meet with John Hull. “My partners and I are buying the rest of that river valley I showed you, and much more land. I need presents for Kachanaquant and his wives, and money from Hull.”
“How much?” Herod knew that John wouldn’t mind her asking. He often told the Gardners of his cheap Narragansett land, inviting George to buy some at a bargain price. When John brought her home to Newport after her whipping two years ago, he detoured to show her a beautiful riverbank and ridgeline he had bought for the price of a milking cow. Ever since, Herod had begged George to buy acreage; if not for himself, then for his sons. Maybe this time George would agree.
“The rest of the western riverbank, and much more. Bottom land, miles of prime pasture, oaks fit enough for a ship’s keel and pines tall enough for her mast. Twelve square miles for one hundred thirty-five pounds.”
When John left Herod at the inn, she was wondering how she could persuade George to buy that land. Then the inn’s serving girl placed a steaming bowl of chicken stew with Indian meal dumplings before her, and Herod forgot everything but her hunger.
It wasn’t long before John returned. He hustled her out through the inn’s door, telling Herod that he’d sped through his business with John Hull. “A ship came from England two days past, and is bound for ports south of Boston this afternoon. The captain has room to spare since he left most of his passengers here.”
John had already paid for beds in recently vacated cabins, and Herod promised him a firkin of goat cheese in return. He thanked her, adding, “We’re in luck! I’d been hoping to be back in Portsmouth for town meeting a few days hence. If the wind stays fair, I’ll get there with a day to spare. We will dock at Newport first, but it’s an easy walk to Portsmouth.”
Herod stood at the rail beside John to watch Boston’s docks and warehouses recede. Last time she’d done this was two years ago, with John Porter at her side that time as well. However, Rebecca had been in Herod’s arms, and twelve-year old Mary Stanton was on her other side. The poor girl only went to Massachusetts to help Herod carry her baby from Newport, but they were both whipped as Quakers. Herod reached up to rub a knotted scar on her collarbone – a reminder of the three-corded lash the Puritans used to whip Quakers.
John was talking with a well-dressed passenger, and exclaimed his delight when the man said he’d just come from London. Herod listened to their conversation, too weary to contribute.
She learned that Prince Charles had agreed to return to England from exile in the Netherlands, and there would soon be a king on the British throne again. That news didn’t excite Herod as much as it did John. He turned to say, “Herod, soon we Rhode Islanders will have a friend in charge, not the stiff-necked Puritans in Parliament.”
“Parliament demands a stronger hand for letting the prince return. Charles may not have much of a say,” replied the man in the expensive leather doublet. It might be hot inland, but the ocean winds were still cool, and Herod clutched her own cloak to her for warmth, envying that man his warm clothing.
John began to reply, and Herod touched his arm. “I’m tired, John. I’m going to lie down.”
After two days on horseback, fraught with anxiety and sleeping poorly in inns, Herod thought she would fall asleep in moments. No other woman shared her cabin, so why did Herod lie awake, even though her eyes were aflame for lack of sleep.
Mary. Mary kept returning to Herod’s churning mind, no matter how hard she tried not to think of her friend. She hadn’t spoken with Mary since last fall. What drove her friend to return to Boston, knowing she would hang? What had gone through Mary’s mind before her climb to the gallows?
Herod thought back to their last conversation. Mary said she would lay down her life to shame the Puritans into changing their own laws. When confronted with the prospect of hanging a woman, maybe the general court would vote down the bloody laws. If not, when the Quakers caught Parliament – or the new king’s eye – with news of a peaceful woman’s hanging, they might step in.
Lastly, the Puritans were damned by their evil acts, and only repudiating their evil laws would save them. Mary told Herod, “My life is torture so long as I hear those damned souls crying out. Jesus redeemed the damned by his death, my Friends sacrifice themselves for our Lord, and so will I.”
“Perhaps they deserve it,” is what Herod shouted at Mary. “Those people laughed and lusted when I was whipped. They should burn!” The same rush of frustration which had gripped Herod then caused her heart to pound now. Why shouldn’t the Puritans be damned for hanging Mary, whipping old women, and scarring Herod’s naked back with their lash?
Anger threatened the mental dam Herod had placed around her grief, so she commanded herself, ‘Stop! Think of something else.’ Boston receding in the ship’s wake, finally vanishing behind Dorchester hill. Escaping recognition by Endecott and the sharp-eyed Atherton. The jail where she had lain with her tiny daughter for two weeks no longer threatened, and she no longer risked banishment. Now Herod had left behind the gallows where –
Mary’s body. Alarm prickled the hairs on Herod’s arms and nape. Murderers and pirates’ bodies would be left to hang for years as a warning, but John assured her that Mary would be buried by her friends that night. Herod pictured somber-clad men climbing a torch-lit ladder to cut the rope, tenderly handing Mary down, swathing her in a sheet before laying her in a secret resting place. And what then?
Herod remembered Mary’s last words to her: “I will go to eternal joy with God upon that day.”
‘Dear Mary, I pray you were right,’ Herod thought, and then she finally wept.
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