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

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Too Busy to Blog

Too Busy to Blog ...

It's been some time since I've found time to write new material for my poor neglected Rebel Puritan blog. I can only plead "too much to do, too little time."

At the end of 2017 I published The Golden Shore, and in 2018 I took two trips to Smith's Castle in Wickford, Rhode Island for book-related events. On a third trip I had the great honor of addressing the Rhode Island Genealogical Society about the 17th century conflicts between Rhode Island adherents in Pettaquamscutt and Wickford's Connecticut loyalists. I will post the Frenemies of Narragansett here in the not-far-off future.

I found time during all three Rhode Island trips to stop at the R.I. Archives, R.I. Historical Society, Pettaquamscutt Historical Society, and Wickford's public library to research what I anticipate will be the final volume in The Scandalous Life series: Rebel Seed. In 1675 King Philip's War comes to Rhode Island's western mainland with devastating results, and far-reaching consequences for the Gardner family and Pettaquamscutt's residents. It's a story for second-generation Americans, and will be told by Rebecca Gardner, daughter of George Gardner and Herodias Long.

Unfortunately, I've been much slowed in writing Rebel Seed. Richard, my life partner, has struggled for a long time with feeling tired and unwell, and his illness got the better of him last fall. He was hospitalized and tested for everything under the sun. At last he was diagnosed with autoimmune disease which attacked his thyroid, and is now struggling with side effects from prednisone used to knock down the offending antibodies.

Nevertheless, I am moving ahead with Rebel Seed, helping Richard and my mother with their needs, playing in far too many community bands, and looking forward to spring's bounty. And now, I'm going to go rake leaves out of my jonquil bed. I promise to do better at keeping up here too, and thank you for your patience!

Book Review: "Occupied," a novel based on a true story by Kurt Blorstad

I'VE ALWAYS SAID that every family has a great story to tell. I've done it in my genealogy-inspired series, and Kurt Blorstad has a real winner in Occupied.

Crossing the ocean for better times becomes a familiar story to the Blorstad family. Trygve Blorstad’s parents may hail from southern Norway, but they met in Brooklyn, N.Y. Their first son is born there in 1929, and the Blorstads have three sons by the time they return to their Norwegian home during the Great Depression. 

N.Y.'s factories begin reopening in the mid-1930s, so Trygve’s father returns to Brooklyn in 1936. This time he means to stay, and will send for his family as soon as he earns enough money for their fares.

Trygve is only 7 when his mother takes him, brothers Thoralf and Odd (Odin), and sister Thelma, to live with their Bestemor (grandmother) in a tiny coastal town. Much of Kurt Blorstad's Occupied is a charming tale of city boys learning to farm, cut peat, and catch fish under the guidance of elder relatives. They all come to love Norway’s boreal forests and rocky seacoast.

Then, things turn more serious in 1940 when World War II arrives in Vanse, and the village is occupied by German soldiers. Resistance movements spring up across Norway, including Vanse. The village's residents can’t stop the Germans from taking whatever they wish, but they soak up sightings, careless speech, and what goes on in the naval base across the fjord, and pass on what they learn. 

It's not long before Trygve is asked to keep watch during a Resistance meeting. Then, in 1944, the 15-year old is lent a telescope to keep watch over the German naval traffic from a rocky knoll on the family's farm. You never know what might prove vital ….

Author Kurt Blorstad is Trygve’s son, and does an amazing job of bringing his father’s war journal to life in Occupied. Mr. Blorstad takes care to maintain the viewpoint of a boy too young to understand everything that is happening, then maturing beyond his years with the knowledge that Nazis exact terrible vengeance on informers and their families. World War II buffs shouldn't miss Occupied , and if you love family sagas like I do, it's for you too. It’s a terrific read for young readers as well.

Occupied, Kurt Blorstad, Odin Publishing, 2019, $14.95, pb, 255 pp, 9781732632400 

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Vagabond Quakers

Vagabond Quakers
Most Americans don’t like to contemplate their own history, not even in fiction. Tudor or Plantagenet tales are usually the best-sellers. American historical fiction tends to be about the Revolutionary or Civil War, or more recent times readers can easily relate to.

What about 17th century New England, when the first colonies were carved from raw wilderness? The region’s history is ripe with conflict and compromise between Puritan and non-Puritan colonies, a pair of Indian genocides, and the tragic heroism of Quakers using civil disobedience to combat Puritan intolerance. Fertile plotlines begging to be developed, right?

The classic novels, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter and Anya Seton’s The Winthrop Woman stem from those years, but apart from witchcraft stories, there aren’t many like them (until recently). What’s a reader hungry for fiction about early America to do?

I decided to write my own. In 2011, I published Rebel Puritan, outlining the struggle between conservative Puritans and Anne Hutchinson’s liberal outcasts who settled in Rhode Island, as witnessed by my most notorious ancestor, Herodias Long. Poor Herodias had her own struggle, discovering that it is far easier to marry an abusive man in a patriarchal society than it is to be separated from him.

I continued with The Reputed Wife in 2013, delving into Puritan colonies’ horrific anti-Quaker laws, and the determined Quakers who challenged them. Herodias was one of dozens whipped and jailed for speaking out against the brutal sentences, but her friend Mary Dyer was one of four Quakers hanged for defying orders of banishment. The executions and brutal whippings, especially of women, caught the eye of King Charles II, who ordered the hangings to cease. More importantly, Charles upheld Rhode Island’s freedom of religion, which is now enshrined in the United States Constitution.

In 2017 I completed Herodias’ saga in The Golden Shore, in which Rhode Island unites its own restless factions, while Herodias must decide how much independence she is willing to sacrifice for love. I am now working on Rebel Seed, exploring Joshua Tefft’s execution for treason during King Philip’s War, the last-ditch effort of New England’s Indian tribes to regain land they had lost to English settlers’ encroachment.

Best of all, since Rebel Puritan came out, other authors have used fiction to explore the Quaker-Puritan conflict! Christy K. Robinson’s sensitive and penetrating treatment of Mary Dyer’s life and martyrdom in Mary Dyer Illuminated and For Such a Time as This are must-reads in colonial fiction.

The Whip and Cart Act
In 2017, Olga Morrill’s riveting Vagabond Quakers took up shortly after my Reputed Wife and Christy Robinson’s Mary Dyer series ended at the gallows. Hanging Quakers was forbidden, so New England’s Puritans revive an old English barbarity in its place – the Whip and Cart Act.

The law calls for Quakers who refuse to stay out of Massachusetts to be tied to the tail of a cart, stripped to the waist, and whipped out of the colony – given 10 lashes in three towns as they walk, or are dragged, to the wilderness beyond Massachusetts’ border.

In 1662 Mary Tomkins and Alice Ambrose, English Quaker missionaries, arrive in Dover (Massachusetts’ northernmost town). They are banished, and yet they return. In court, they meet an ambitious, steel-willed magistrate, Richard Walderne, who is determined to make an example of them. Along with the fragile Anne Coleman, the three missionaries are sentenced to be lashed not just in three towns, but in every town between Dover and Dedham – 11 towns spread over 80 miles. If the women can survive 110 stripes from a three-lashed whip, being dragged through December snows when they can no longer walk will surely prove fatal.

A sympathetic official discharges them after ‘only’ two whippings, but Mary and Alice return to Dover as soon as they can travel. Now, Walderne and his cronies are bent on ensuring that this defiance will be their last act.

I just love this story! Ms. Morrill has long experience as a storyteller and columnist, her smooth prose paints a vivid picture with the best of ‘em, and her research is impeccable.

Readers need to pay heed to the chapter headings, for Vagabond Quakers traces both Richard Walderne’s, and Mary and Alice’s lives. Her scenes switch in time as much as 25 years, but lead inexorably to the fateful meeting of these strong-willed foes.

 Vagabond Quakers ends with its characters in in flux, but this is the first volume in The Vagabond Trilogy. Ms. Morrill is taking a long view, and her next work will shift the scene to Rhode Island, where my own works take place. I look very much forward to what comes next.

Friday, December 8, 2017

The Golden Shore Has Been Born!

The Golden Shore
Dear Readers,

It has been far too long since I have added to this blog.
There are many reasons for that (most of them good) especially my love for music which keeps me active in several area bands.

What's the best reason of all? My successful push to finish The Golden Shore and to get it published. This is the third book in my Scandalous Life series, and it is also the final volume in the Herodias Long trilogy.

Once more, Herod faces the loss of her children and the home she helped build, but this time her beloved George Gardner is also drifting away. Herod has more than enough courage to meet her future head-on, but what is she willing to surrender for love?

Place Herod's struggle against  Rhode Island's quest for independence from its stronger Puritan neighbors, and the colony's battle to unite its own stubbornly independent factions, and there you have The Golden Shore.

All three volumes in the Scandalous Life series are now available on Amazon, both in print and as ebooks.
To celebrate GS's birth, I have slashed the price of Rebel Puritan and The Reputed Wife's ebooks to $3.99 for the rest of 2017, and enrolled them in Kindle's Matchbook program. If you buy the print version of Rebel Puritan or The Reputed Wife from Amazon, you can now buy the ebook for $1.99, and the ebook of The Golden Shore will be $3.99 for buyers of the print version.

If you would like signed copies, please contact me at, and we can play Let's Make A Deal.

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and a Joyous Winter Solstice to you all!

Friday, December 16, 2016

The Cochecho Massacre: More Forgotten American History

Columbus and Taino Indians
Let’s get it straight: Columbus did not discover the New World. When his little fleet arrived in 1492, the Americas were already occupied by as many as 100,000,000 Indians. Within 500 years, European diseases had wiped out some 90% of them. Resettlement, enslavement, and what could easily be taken for genocide took a very heavy toll on the survivors.

Looking at that progression, it’s easy to think Native Americans were doomed as soon as the first Europeans stepped onshore. Not quite. Around 1000 A.D., when Greenland’s Vikings tried to colonize Vinland (coastal New England), an arrow shot into their leader’s heart by a one-footed Indian discouraged them for good.

Vikings at Iceland
620 years passed before Englishmen created a permanent toehold at Plymouth, Massachusetts. They succeeded primarily because the native occupants were wiped out two years before by disease introduced by transient fishermen. The Pilgrims were severely weakened by their own illnesses, but Massasoit, chief of the Wampanoag tribe let them stay, and sent the English-speaking Squanto to help the starving Pilgrims raise crops. An American legend was born. 

Squanto and Pilgrims
A half-century later New England’s tribes regretted their tolerance. Their croplands were purchased or seized, their game shot or driven away, and they could no longer support themselves by trapping fur or making wampum to sell. In 1675 Massasoit’s grandson, King Philip, led a concerted effort to push the invaders back, but New England’s tribes were defeated by the settlers’ superior firepower. Most Wampanoags and Narragansetts were slaughtered or enslaved, but some took shelter with other tribes.
I am in the preliminary stages of a novel about King Philip’s War. Peni Jo Renner’s forthcoming historical novel, Cochecho, covers the aftermath of that conflict. Like my historical novels Rebel Puritan, The Reputed Wife, and The Golden Shore (coming in spring 2017), Peni is exploring her ancestry in fiction, beginning with Puritan Witch and Letters From Kezia, and continuing with the doomed settlers of Cochecho in her latest work, appropriately titled Cochecho.

Wampanoag attack
That was the Indian name for Dover, site of the first English settlement in New Hampshire. In 1676 the Christianized Pennacook Indians were friendly with their English neighbors, but also gave refuge to several hundred fugitive Wampanoags. Alarmed by that threat, Major Richard Waldron asks Massachusetts for help, and two companies of militia are dispatched to Cochecho.

Grace Hampton was only six when her parents were killed by Indians. She and her sister are sent to live with an uncle in Cocheho. Now nine, Grace overhears Major Waldron plotting with the militia captains, but it means little to her.
1689 attack on Dover, NH
Nine-year-old Menane wants nothing more than comfort for his sick grandmother when he steals a blanket at Cochecho. Grace helps him hide from its vengeful owner. Thus begins an improbable bond which persists despite the slaughter of Wampanoags and Pennacooks by Waldron and the militia, and through the years until 1689, when the Pennacooks take their revenge on Major Waldron and the other English settlers at Cochecho.

Peni Jo Renner
Peni does a terrific job of bringing Cochecho and its people to life, both English and Native American. Both sides commit questionable acts, but both were also capable of heroism and tenderness. Peni’s story is an even-handed and enjoyable read, and offers a rare look into America’s forgotten history.


Sunday, November 30, 2014

Fulton's Erie Street School: The View From a Baby Boomette

This summer I briefly stepped away from writing my conclusion to Rebel Puritan and The Reputed Wife to write the following story. This is my offering for the 2014 Fulton Memoir Project, sponsored by the Fulton Public Library. The full memoir is available at Fulton's public library and the CNY Arts store.

Fulton's Erie Street School
Fulton’s Erie Street School looks like a great rectangular cake of yellow brick, but it doesn’t bear much frosting. The building’s decorations consist of modest brick panels reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie period, and a concrete egg-and-dart band bordering the flat roof. The school’s broad side parallels Erie Street, and is pierced in the center by the teachers’ entrance. 

I don’t believe that I ever walked through the Teachers Door to climb the steep wooden steps to the main floor. There are three sets of stairs in the building – one on either side by the Girls and Boys Doors, and the teachers’ stairs. The treads on all three flights are narrow, but wide, and stained a deep walnut hue, along with the rest of the school’s wood floors and trim.

Down we go to Kindergarten
Erie Street School’s lowest story is nearly subterranean. During the first years I attended the school (1959-1966), kindergarten was the only class down there. As baby boomers swelled the school’s population, another class room was created down in the basement, but I can’t remember whether the room was formerly a cafeteria, or had another use. Shortly after I left for Jr. High, most fifth and sixth graders were transferred to the larger Fairgrieve School to make even more rooms for younger kids.

The sunken kindergarten room has several windows facing the street, placed so high on the wall that I had to stand on a chair to see the street. A lone window is sited level with the sidewalk on the girls’ side of the building. I remember concrete plates over each side door labeled Girls and Boys, but that seems to be a false memory. Maybe they were replaced, but in 2014, there are windows over the side doors.

We didn’t need no stinking plaques to tell us which was the girls, and which was the boys’ side of the school. Teachers enforced that separation rigorously. However, distaff kindergarteners might have been allowed to enter the Girls Door, where a quick right down a short flight of steps took the student to Mrs. Close’s room. Either that, or boys took a passageway by the dimly lit janitor’s domain, tucked in between the boys’ and girls’ bathrooms. The huffing boiler and its sprawling ductwork looked like a giant octopus stood on its head. Despite the ominous atmosphere, the janitor was a friendly guy.

Also down in the basement were the restrooms. However, as instructed by the teachers, we all asked to go to the basement. After all, it sounds more polite than a trip to the toilet, or admitting to the world that one had to go Number Two. However, in Jr. High I marked myself as an ‘Erie Streeter’ by asking about the basement instead of the bathroom. 

It was in the girls’ bathroom that I learned that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated. I thought the girl who told me was wrong – it was Lincoln who was shot. Yellow tile walls, and a white sink set a little too low to the floor for a fifth-grader (but reachable by a five-year old). I looked in the mirror, but at an angle, so it reflected more yellow tile instead of my face. The disjointed tile walls and the roar of rushing water are what I recall as I assimilated the shocking news.

A favorite toy
I very much enjoyed my kindergarten year, though I must have seemed reluctant to go. I was late for school more often than not because I’d get absorbed in a book at home, or dawdled on the one-block walk to Erie St. As I walked past the kindergarten room windows – the last kid through the door by several minutes – I could see that the best toys were already taken by my classmates. Never mind; I’d pick up a book and play later.

Kay Close had dark, curly hair, just like one of my aunts. To me she was the most cheerful, motherly teacher imaginable. The first thing we learned was that when Mrs. Close played a distinctive little two-step on her piano, it was time to pay attention. Four notes rose and fell, over and over, until everyone had gathered at her feet. My sister learned to play it, and confused her classmates no end.

Kindergarten was pretty easy. The biggest turmoil (apart than failing nap time) came when Mrs. Close stood me in front of an easel. I enjoyed painting, but I’ve always preferred work on a small scale. Today, most of my photos are close-ups. In kindergarten I drew small figures, but Mrs. Close wouldn’t let me quit until that huge swath of paper was filled. I got frustrated and covered the paper with brown paint.

“What is that?”

“A sand storm.” I got away with a quickly-produced sand storm a couple of times before it was forbidden. So, I painted a grass storm, and then a blood storm. That raised some eyebrows until someone realized that I’d rather read or play than paint. I promised to be more creative, and Mrs. Close was more liberal about declaring me done.

In first grade, I graduated to the main floor. Four classrooms sit on either side of what seemed like a vast open space. The floor plan is the same on the second floor, with the addition of the principal’s office perched over the main door.

Air raid drill
Adjoining each class was a cloak room; a narrow slot extending the width of the class room. It had a row of coat hooks, and opened into the class room on either end. During much of the Cold War, especially during the Cuban Missile crisis, we had air-raid drills. The teacher shouted ‘air raid,’ we ran into the cloak rooms, and hid our heads under our coats. Our little bottoms protruded unprotected, so I guess we could kiss them goodbye.

I didn’t understand why the Russians wanted to incinerate us, but we all had to be prepared, so Fulton tested their air-raid sirens weekly. They made me nervous, for I figured that if the Russians wanted to catch us unaware, they would drop their bombs during the tests, when nobody would pay attention to the sirens. Preferring to face death to being blindsided, I walked around our house and yard while the sirens blared, and the world seemed brighter when the sound died away, but I was still alive.

My first grade teacher was Mrs. Helen Wilson. She was young and blond, and a nice lady. My biggest friction with her came over that same big piece of paper. Write: 1 + 4 = 5   4 + 1 = 5   5 – 1 = 4   5 – 4 = 1. Repeat them in columns until the sheet is full. My handwriting is small. The other kids filled their sheet fast and went out to recess while I was still writing. I could have made big, sprawling numbers, but that felt dishonest. One day I got frustrated, stuffed it in my desk, and told Mrs. Wilson I couldn’t find it. She did, and told me to go home and tell my mother. So, I did.

My sister’s first grade teacher, Mrs. McCaffrey, was the starchy old lady schoolmarm of stereotype. She was  competent, but also told my sister’s class that each time they watched a program like Bonanza , a little poison slid through their veins, and a little more, and …. That was strong stuff for first graders.

In second grade Mrs. Helen Murphy got library privileges for me two years early. At Fulton’s lovely Carnegie library I had already learned the joy of picking out books to take home. Erie Street had a whole different collection. Dodie Smith’s book, The 101 Dalmations, which inspired Disney. Children’s versions of the Iliad and Odyssey. D’aulaires Greek Mythology. Throughout grade school, I kept an open book in my desk and slid it into my lap during slow moments. I can’t tell you how many times I was busted for that over the years, or for penciling horses and dinosaurs on my desk. My mom got me an extra-big eraser.

Ruth Kitney
Third grade: Ah, that was the year of Mrs. Kitney. Ruth Kitney is a superstar of my thirteen years in Fulton’s school system. A year earlier, I butted heads with Mrs. Murphy over multiplying and dividing with zero. As far as I was concerned, nothing was happening to that number, so it should remain the same. Mrs. Murphy said, “No, it’s zero,” and that was that. It took my first 0 on a test to convince me to knuckle under, and make my result that same big round 0.

Mrs. Kitney never presented us with that blank wall of Because I Say So. She had good explanations for everything, she was patient, and she was fun. Plus, she presented us with great class room projects. Nobody else baked bread and whipped up homemade butter in class – and taught us fractions in the process.

For third grade and above, I climbed to the second floor. The principal’s office was also up here, in a tiny room wedged between the fifth and sixth grade classrooms. Miss Ada Aylesworth was Erie Street’s principal, and she had another iron maiden’s reputation.

The principal has a spanking machine in her office! That was one of the first rumors I heard in kindergarten. As it turns out, it’s not uncommon. My partner says that his Kansas City, Missouri grade school principal also had one. Nobody had actually seen it, but we all knew that it was there. My mother, Carrie Butler, also went to Erie Street, but her principal was rumored to have a rubber hose. Literal child that she was, Mom couldn’t understand why the other kids worried about getting squirted.

If there really was a spanking machine, I was confident that it would never be used on me. I knew Miss Aylesworth from church, and she was a sweet old lady. I relished my secret knowledge, and never let on that our principal was a pussy cat behind her fierce reputation.

The school nurse shared an office with Miss Aylesworth, and once or twice a year, the school doctor made a house visit. Dr. McGovern sat at a table in the nurse’s office, and checked us over for what problems could be uncovered in a two-minute appraisal. We were separated by sex, then we girls stripped to our undies in one of the cloakrooms and paraded across the great hall to the nurse’s office. Boys were confined to class, but at least one could be relied on to slip out and catcall at us red-faced girls. Given a chance, most girls would return the favor when it was the boys’ turn to visit Dr. “Coldfinger,” as he was known after 1964 (Think James Bond).

Miss Mangeot was my next teacher – or was it Mrs. Mangeot? I had one of them for fourth grade, and one for fifth. I confused them then, and fifty years later, my confusion is far worse.
A pivotal life moment arrived in fourth grade, though it took me a while to recognize it. Fulton had an amazing music department. Jose Azcue came once a week to lead us in song and teach us a little Spanish. Those classes were even better than reading a book sneaked into my lap. Another traveling teacher, Miss Mary Towse, also led songs. She equipped her students with wood blocks, jingle bells, and the like. We all loved her, and were delighted to find her teaching music in Jr. High.

Richard Swierczek
Richard Swierczek, former head of Fulton’s music department, says that he began bringing musical instruments into elementary schools in the 50s (I don’t remember seeing them, but they would have impressed me). Mr. Swierczek and Mr. Azcue built an amazing musical education machine in Fulton. Fine teachers at the Elementary, Jr. High, and Sr. High level turned out scads of skilled instrumental and vocal musicians, and reached an apex when the G. Ray Bodley band competed in a 1972 music festival in Vienna, Austria.

I don’t remember who asked me if I wanted to get tested for band in fourth grade. From my sister’s description, it was Mr. Bales, the Beginner Band teacher, who did the test. He put earphones on me, played two notes, asked which was higher or lower, then another two, and another. It was ridiculously easy. Then I was informed that I could join the Beginner Band and asked, What do you want to play?

My parents loved classical music and so did I, but without knowing a thing about band instruments, I had no answer. I was assigned to the clarinet section. A friend of mine refers to the instrument as “the Devil’s toenails,” and Lord, is that true for the instrument in the hands of a beginner. However, learning to finger the notes – and to control them – intrigued me. As the year passed and Mr. Bales taught us our craft, the band sounded better and better. Plus, we musicians got out of school for a couple of hours. Once a week we were bused over to Lanigan School to practice with Mr. Bales. We played year-round, but I didn’t mind because I loved band.

I don’t remember anyone excused from Erie Street for team sports, but during the winter our classes were bused to Fairgrieve to play in the gym. Fall, winter, and spring we had recess outside, unless our oft-challenging winter weather cranked up. An asphalt pad was laid around three sides of the building. On the girls’ side, only girls were allowed; the same went for the boys’ side, and the segregation was enforced by teachers.

Mad Rush's field of dreams
The back of the school was for everyone; both the level asphalt next to the building, and the ‘playground.’ That was a field about sixty feet long and thirty wide, surfaced with crushed cinders. It sat in a depression behind the school, fenced off from the outside world by chain link, and with steep hills on two sides. The lot looked more like an industrial disaster site than a playground. In 2014, it’s a paved parking lot, but this is where we played Mad Rush.

One of the older kids is picked to be It. Everyone else piles up at the high end, squished against the chain link atop a steep grassy slope (8’ high, 10’ tops). It yells, “Mad Rush!” and we all race downhill and across the cinders to the chain link at the far end. Whoever It touches en route also becomes It. We pile up at the hill, and do it again. Whoever is left untouched at the end is the winner. I was little, but quick, and though I was absolutely forbidden by my mother to play Mad Rush, I won a few times (and nursed many cinder burns).

The other Mangeot was my fifth grade teacher. I’m not sure whether it was in fifth or sixth grade, but a few of us were assigned projects for the Science Fair. We divided into groups of three, and made anatomical studies of painted clay. One group did the heart, lungs, and circulatory system. Cool. Another made a brain and nervous system. Really cool!

My group was told to make kidneys and a bladder. No, we couldn’t do something else. My urinary tract team cringed in embarrassment, but did as we were told, and stood miserably by our pathetic product at the science fair.

The best thing about fifth grade was still band. I moved up to Elementary Band this year, also played at Lanigan with Mr. Bales. We fifth graders had been playing our instruments for a year, and the sixth graders in the group were old hands. New instruments were in our midst as well. There were trombones and French horns, saxophones and oboes, and best of all, bass clarinets.

I was an uninspired clarinetist, mired in the third section and playing perpetual harmony to the melody-rich first clarinets and flutes. But, at the end of the row, there was the luscious deep-throated bass clarinet, played by a sixth grader. I spent all year with my head turned sideways, grooving on that lovely bass clarinet. I had my fingers crossed for sixth grade.

Jo Ann and Blayne Webb
I looked forward to my final year at Erie Street for another reason. The sixth grade teacher was Blayne Webb. He was funny and well-liked by the students, but he was a no-nonsense man. He’d lost fingers and part of one thumb in an industrial accident, but that hand was still nimble, and oh, was it strong! I wouldn’t want to be the misbehaving kid with an ear grabbed by Mr. Webb. However, I was sure that wouldn’t happen to me. My family had known the Webbs for years. They lived a couple of houses away from us, we played with their sons, and all shared picnics and went on short trips together.

Sixth grade arrived, and I excitedly took a chair in Mr. Webb’s class. He and I made an understanding, just as he did with her. No favorites, and no nonsense. No favorites indeed! Remember SRAs? I think their title was Serialized Reading Assignments. The stories were color coded from red and yellow, up to silver and gold. You had to read the first booklet, answer far too many questions, and finish all the stories on one level before you could go to the next. Those red and yellow stories were boring compared to the stuff I brought to school with me, and they weren’t required reading.

I really wanted to see the fabulous stories those gold and silver envelopes surely held, but couldn’t force myself through the first levels, and the teachers wouldn’t let me skip ahead. Mr. Webb was my best, and final hope, but he wouldn’t let me skip either. Were those golden stories the Harry Potter of my day? I’ll never know.

Jo Ann and Morticia
I didn’t need a gold SRA to make this my best year so far. During the first week of school band, the director Mr. Bales told me, “You’ll get your bass clarinet on Monday.” So, he had noticed his 3rd seat, 3rd clarinetist playing with one eye on the bass. The instrument was almost as tall as me, and it was a year before I didn’t need to perch on a telephone book to reach the mouthpiece. I told my brother that “you have to blow your guts out” to play the bass clarinet, but it was a labor of love, and still is today.

Halfway through my sixth grade year, Miss Aylesworth retired and Erie Street School got a new principal. I still wasn’t scared of him, for he was Blayne Webb.

In retrospect, this isn’t so much a story about Erie Street School, as about a single student’s passage through it. I began by hurrying through the Girls Door as a tardy kindergartner. Seven years later I carried my beloved bass clarinet through the same door for the last time, and bid goodbye to familiar teachers. Junior High lay ahead, with all-new types of book-learning, its social pitfalls, and the moments of joy.

Did I ever sneak in through the Boys Door?

Of course.

Photos by author 

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Resurrecting Pettaquamscutt

Rebel Puritan

As I work on The Golden Shore, the final volume in my Rebel Puritan trilogy, my focus is shifting from Herodias (Long) Gardner’s home in Newport, Rhode Island to the western shore of Narragansett Bay. That was New England’s frontier in the 1650’s. The Narragansetts, Niantics, and Nipmucs still controlled western Rhode Island. Beyond them lay Mohegan and Abenaki territory. Still further off were the Mohawks, both respected and feared for their warlike nature.

The view from Pettaquamscutt Rock
Pettaquamscutt Rock was a notable landmark on the western side of Narragansett Bay for Native Americans. The name is loosely translated as ‘the round rock,’ and is well deserved. A bald knob of gray granite, studded with quartz and feldspar crystals, crowns a ridge which towers nearly 200’ above the Narrow River.

Narragansett country
That waterway was known as the Pettaquamscutt River in 1638, when William Coddington and Roger Williams met below the Rock with Canonicus and Miantonomi. The chief Narragansett sachems signed a deed giving Aquidneck Island to the Englishmen, in trade for forty-five fathoms of white wampum, twenty hoes, and ten coats. Considering that Aquidneck Island is now known as Rhode Island, and the finest mansions in Newport are found there, the English settlers got a bargain.

At that time, there were few Englishmen south of Richard Smith’s trading post in Cocumcussoc (now Wickford). Nearly all the land on the west side of Narragansett Bay, including Pettaquamscutt Rock, remained in Narragansett hands until January 20, 1657-8. On that date, the Pettaquamscutt Partners – John Porter, Samuel Wilson, Thomas Mumford, Samuel Wilbore (from Portsmouth, RI) and John Hull (of Boston, and the mint master of Massachusetts) – received a deed from Quassuchquansh, Kachanaquant, and Quequaquenuet, chief sachems of Narragansetts.

In exchange for £16 and “other considerations,” the partnership now owned all the land and the whole hill called Pettaquamscutt bounded on the south and southwest side of the rock with Ninigret’s land, on the east with a river northerly bounded two miles beyond the great rock in Pettaquamscutt westerly bounded by a running brook or river beyond the meadow, together with all manner of mines, etc., they to have free ingress and egress on the sachems’ lands.
Pettaquamscutt Purchase map
This was the initial Pettaquamscutt Purchase. Eventually, they owned 12 square miles, but on subsequent deeds they paid larger sums of money – £135, and on another deed, £13 15s. For 13 coats a pair of briches. At least they paid the Narragansett sachems for their land, unlike their neighbors in the Atherton Purchase.

 The Atherton Purchase – all of Boston Neck – was described as a ‘deed of gift.’ There were claims that Humphrey Atherton and John Winthrop Jr., governor of Connecticut, had taken Kachanaquant, one of the sachems in the 1658 deed, to Boston, and that they kept Kachanaquant drunk for three days until he agreed to grant Boston Neck to them. 

Back to the 1658 sale of the Pettaquamscutt Rock: what were the other considerations in that deed? It might be a promise, or work performed. It might be a present that the donor didn’t want recorded in a legal document. It was against the law to sell guns or liquor to the Narragansett Indians, but both were highly desired.

The sachem Kachanaquant signed all but one of the Purchaser’s deeds, and several deeds bore only his name. We can’t know exactly what Kachanaquant and the other sachems accepted in trade for their lands, but Roger Williams described Kachanaquant a poor beast (always drunk). The chief was called before Rhode Island authorities on numerous occasions to confirm that he hadn’t been plied with alcohol: Coganaquant came before me and owned his hand and seale to the deed of gift herein specified, and declares that he was not in drink, but sober at the affecting of it (John Sanford May 18, 1668). 

Whether that was true or not, land buyers flocked to Kachanaquant between 1658 and 1662, including the past and present governors, William Coddington and Benedict Arnold. In 1663 the Pettaquamscutt Purchasers began writing the first deeds for house lots and acreage to the first known landowners: Jireh Bull, William Bundy, William Haviland, and George Gardner Jr., who was only 14-15 years old.

A house was fortified to withstand attack was called a garrison house. A four-room, two story building, 84’ long and 20’ wide, and with its first story made of stone, was built by William Bundy on a ridge above the lower Pettaquamscutt River. It had a good view of traffic entering the river from the bay, and was also conveniently sited by the Pequot Trail. Travelers between Connecticut and Boston now had a place to trade or to rest for the night. Bundy moved to North Carolina in 1664 and sold his garrison house to Jireh Bull.

Lower Pettaquamscutt River
A settlement called – naturally – Pettaquamscutt sprang up on Tower Hill, and along the river flats below Jireh Bull’s trading post. They built ocean-going ships, and raised livestock traded throughout New England and to the Indies. On May 14th 1664 Richard Smith, a Connecticut sympathizer, complained that they had constituted officers at Petacomscott, and the Purchasers Thomas Mumford and Samuel Wilson, who now dwelt at Pettaquamscutt, served as constables.

By 1671 Pettaquamscutt was thriving. Rhode Island’s general court met there, and Mr. Jireh Bull, Mr. Samuell Wilson, Mr. John Porter, Thomas Mumford, John Tift, William Hefernan, Rouse Holmes, James Eldridge, Samuell Albro, Benoni, Henry, George & Nicholas Gardner, George Palmer, Stephen Northup, William Aires, George Crofts, Enoch Plaice, and Christopher Holmes did give their engagements for their allegiance to his majestie and fidelity to this colony. William Gardner owned land adjacent to his brothers, but was not at the meeting.

John Porter, also one of the Purchasers, dwelt on the shore of Pettaquamscutt Pond, a couple miles north of Bull’s garrison house. So did the woman who became his second known wife: Herodias Long. On March 20, 1664-5 the king’s commissioners held a court at Pettaquamscutt, and Herodias petitioned them for a final separation from George Gardner. Rhode Island knew George as Herodias’ second husband, but she now revealed that they had never married. After a stiff fine and a firm scolding, the colony granted Herodias her separation on June 5th.

Gardner home sites on Pettaquamscutt Pond
When Herodias Long brought her seven children fathered by George Gardner to live along Pettaquamscutt Pond, they became a village unto themselves. The family of Hannah (Hicks) Haviland, Herodias’s eldest child and the daughter of John Hicks, also lived nearby. William Haviland, was given a grant in Pettaquamscutt by the Purchasers in 1663, but the Havilands didn’t stay long. William sold their house on July 5, 1667 and the rest of his land on April 1, 1675, and they returned to Flushing, NY.

The five Gardner boys lived side by side with John Watson, their brother-in-law, who arrived by 1672. He married Dorcas Gardner, and his second wife, Rebecca, was probably the sister of Dorcas. John Porter granted the men home lots adjacent to his, made over deeds of Pettaquamscutt land to them, presumably in return for labor, and made them his heirs in the Pettaquamscutt Purchase.

Herodias Long’s extended clan prospered for a while, but the Narragansetts who once owned their land did not. Perhaps Kachanaquant didn’t understand the English concept of ownership when he sold that land to the Pettaquamscutt Purchasers. However, his ignorance – and the greed of English land buyers taking advantage of Kachanaquant’s naiveté – harmed the Narragansetts deeply. They were forced off broad swaths of prime hunting and farmland. Rhode Island put a stop to Indian land sales without the colony’s approval, but settlers had who bought that land from the now-protesting Narragansetts and Niantics were backed by Rhode Island’s government, and by King Charles II. The Narragansetts retreated to dry land around the Great Swamp. Discontent abounded, but Rhode Island kept the peace with the Narragansetts.

King Philip/Metacomet
However, in June, 1675 war broke out just to the east. In 1620 the Wampanoags had aided the Pilgrims of Plymouth. Now, they were even more severely squeezed than the Narragansetts. Raids and skirmishes escalated into Wampanoag raids on outlying villages, and King Philip’s War ensued, so-named for the Wampanoag chief. His name was Metacomet, but the Englishmen knew him as King Philip.

When fighting broke out only forty miles away, most of Pettaquamscutt was evacuated. On June 27, Roger Williams was at Richard Smith’s trading post in Wickford, RI. He wrote to Governor John Winthrop of CT, Mrs. Smith and most of the women and children left on the 26th, and just now Sam Dyer came from Newport to fetch Jireh Bull’s wife & children, and others of Pettaquamscutt.

Though the Narragansetts pledged their neutrality, Puritan leaders doubted their sincerity. To prevent the Narragansetts from bringing their 2000 warriors into the fight, the United Colonies dispatched an army to the Narragansetts’ winter home in Rhode Island’s Great Swamp. With luck, they would catch the Indians unaware.

Massachusetts and Plymouth sent troops under the command of General Josiah Winslow. They would rendezvous with Connecticut’s forces at Jireh Bull’s garrison house on December 18. From there the combined army would attack the Narragansetts’ winter quarters in the Great Swamp. Rhode Island protested, but couldn’t prevent the Puritan army’s invasion.

Garrison house attack
The Connecticut army found Bull’s Garrison burned and its defenders slain. James and Daniel Eldred are said to have survived the Indians’ attack on Bull’s Garrison, but fifteen unknown Englishmen, women and children were dead. A Narragansett envoy from the sachem Pessicus said that the garrison was destroyed in retaliation for an English raid near Providence four days before Jeri Bull’s house was burnt and those people killed there.  

The army didn’t need Bull’s Garrison to fulfill their mission. They marched inland and destroyed the Narragansett fort and village. 150-300 Indians were killed and 450 captured at a cost of more than 200 Englishmen killed or wounded. The rest of the tribe dispersed, and many joined King Philip in his war.

On December 25, 1675, six days after the Great Swamp Fight, it was affirmed that every house in Narragansett was destroyed, and the all inhabitants entirely driven out. Richard Smith’s trading house at Wickford survived until the army left in January, 1676, then it, too went up in smoke. Providence suffered raids; men and homes were lost, but the town survived. Roger Williams was one of those who staid and went not away during the war, and was given part of money paid for Indian captives sold as servants.

The population of Narragansett rebounded, but Pettaquamscutt was no longer the center of activity. A few residents lived as before, with their homes along the river and farms on inland fields. In the 18th century the Narragansett Proprietors arose, making fortunes on land which had belonged to the Indians, and raising livestock with slave labor. Stone walls still mark the old properties and family cemeteries still survive, but nobody remembers who lies in the oldest graves, and their field stone markers are sinking below the sod and leaf litter.

1705 plat of Gardner home sites
The Gardners and Watsons returned to build new homes along the western shore of Pettaquamscutt Pond. They inherited John Porter’s Pettaquamscutt lands, and their descendants grew wealthy along with the rest of the Narragansett Proprietors. My favorite piece of Gardner evidence is this fire-scarred plat drawn on October 5, 1705. From north to south the lots line up: Nicholas, William, Henry, John Watson (wed to Dorcas and Rebecca Gardner), George Jr., and a sixth lot divided into six strips. It’s possible that the sixth lot was retained as common grazing for the Gardner, Porter, and Watson livestock, since the house lots by the Pond are steep and rocky, but perhaps it was set aside for another person close to Herodias Long or John Porter – one who never came to Pettaquamscutt.
George Jr. was the first to receive a grant of Purchasers’ land on May 22, 1663, when John Porter wrote a deed indicating that George gardeners howse lott is Thirty rod wide and Eight scoore Rods long and at the lower end next mine. In November 1664 George and Benoni were granted land, but the location of Benoni’s house lot was not given. Their brothers Henry, William, and Nicholas also were granted land in 1670, 1671, and 1675 respectively, but there may have been grants which weren’t recorded.

In 1667 and ‘68 Herodias and Porter received a series of summons to court for that they are suspected to Cohabitt and Soe to live in way of incontinency. He was cleared on May 11, 1668, and she was finally found not guilty on October 21, 1668. They did marry, or at least Herodias was surnamed Porter instead of Long on subsequent deeds.

I believe that the house lot John Porter shared with Herodias Long lay between George and Benoni Gardner’s. John Watson owns it on the 1705 plat. Perhaps Herodias shared that lot with the Watsons after King Philip’s War, and it devolved to them after Herodias’ death. Herodias Long’s children began returning to Pettaquamscutt Pond by July 22, 1676, when Dorcas (Gardner) Watson’s son John was the first English child born in Narragansett after the war.
Interestingly, it seems that John Porter intended to give Herodias land back in November 1664, six months before she was separated from George Gardner. No deed was recorded for Horod Long – the name she apparently preferred – but her son’s deed was: Bounded as followeth: Sowth on Benony Gardners land, and Westerly on Sacgatoket River, and northwest going over the River bounded with a [slash] and the north East bounded with Mr. Arnold’s Land and that Line running East bounded with a great [Rocke] and the East side of the said Land Lying next Horrod Long’s Land. And wee whose names are above written for ourselves and the rest of our partners (viz) William Brenton, John Hull and Samuell Willson give up and surrender all our Rights to the foresaid land, having [Received] valuable Consideration …

John Porter disappears from the record after writing a deed on May 27, 1675, the eve of King Philip’s War. It is not known when or where he died. Robert Anderson estimates that Porter was born before 1608, but his English background before Porter married Margaret Odding ca. 1630 in Braintree, County Essex, is unknown. It’s not known when Porter died either. Was he evacuated to Portsmouth, and died there? 

It appears that Herodias (Long) Hicks Gardner Porter died in 1705. On November 11th, 1705 Bennony & Mary Gardner, Henry & Joan Gardner, George & Tabitha Gardner, William & Elizabeth Gardner, Nicholas & Hannah Gardner, and John & Rebecca Watson sold 410 acres bounded by Pt. Judith Pond to John Potter for £140. The money was sent to Thomas Hicks of Flushing, Herod’s son fathered by John Hicks. I’m not the first researcher to conclude that this represents a bequest by Herodias Long, to a child taken from her over sixty years before her death.

Rhode Island colonial records
Land records of North Kingstown and South Kingstown
The History of Washington and Kent Counties   J.R. Cole  1889
The Great Migration Begins  Robert C. Anderson 1995
Flintlock and Tomahawk  Douglas Leach  1958
The Lands of Rhode Island  Sidney Rider  1904
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