Gifted with clairvoyance, a strain that runs through her Celtic ancestors, Mary is born in the wrong place at the wrong time. The Massachusetts Bay Colony, founded by Puritans in 1630, tolerates no other faith or people. After the magistrates execute the first midwife for witchcraft, Mary dares not admit her visions to anyone, even to herself while she conforms to the Puritan faith. Marrying both wealth and power, she struggles to maintain the respect of her community while concealing her visions. With the aid of her concerned and understanding parents, Mary finally learns that she can no longer hide her non-conforming ways; she must embrace this gift with its dubious benefits and find an acceptable way to fully live her life. “Mary, The Clairvoyant” is the second book of The Watertown Chronicles, a saga of one of America’s immigrant families. William Sherborn, an early immigrant to Massachusetts, his wife, and their family of ten children live through the turbulent period in colonial history that surrounds the devastating King Philip’s War in 1675.
The Puritan women in Massachusetts were not allowed to speak aloud in the Sunday meetings or in the prophesying that followed them. Although I have no historical basis that they formed networks outside of these institutional rules, I know that the Deacons wife, or Deaconess, did take charge of distributing charity. I imagine the prohibition would create an underground sub-culture where women pulled strings from the sidelines. Even where women's rights are suppressed, when wives and children were considered chattel, women may have persisted. So I take liberty to invent an elite women's social group in this first Watertown congregation. Does this stretch the history too much?
When his father dies and his older brother inherits the family’s estate in Stogumber, England, William Sherborn becomes an easy target for companies recruiting skilled workers for the Massachusetts Bay Colony in New England. A devout Puritan, which makes him a persecuted political outcast in 1640, eighteen years old with a civil war and conscription looming, he believes his decision to emigrate is God’s will. The colonies promise land grants for weavers and a Puritan community. William leaps at the chance to belong and be counted and boards a ship for the British colonies in north America with his inheritance: a bit of cash, his father’s loom, and two spinning wheels. Twenty-four years later, the year his tenth child is born, he must admit that he might have been mistaken. Although he has reaped the bounty of God’s Providence tenfold, the political winds turn, the Indians become enemies, and his children leave the faith. What he had fled in England may have followed him to New England. Can he escape his fate? William's longing to return to his home in England becomes almost unbearable when a series of dreams point the way. When he has overcome all of the obstacles presented by his community, his family, and his church, he packs for his journey. Only fate has a surprise in store for him.
The minister at the First Unitarian Universalist church gave a sermon today on the history of UU in America. I was surprised to hear him compare the early Puritan faith to the Taliban, but had to agree they shared similarities with the harsh fundamentalism of our time. The churchmen silenced women, who had no spiritual, political or economic parity with men; it executed heretics, such as Quakers and Baptists; it enforced laws for small infractions with unreasonably harsh punishments. That said, I find that individuals lend windows into the resistance that inspired the evolution of these institutions to our modern times. I presume some were enlightened in that time.
The day of rest, the Sabbath, must have been a welcome break from the hard toil of daily life. The colonial settlers, struggling to eke their living out of the wilderness, could take time to visit with friends, to connect with their neighbors. Even the sermons and prophesying provided some intellectual stimulation that was not present otherwise.
Christmas cards usually romanticize country winters, warm rooms from which we look out at the frosty landscapes. My childhood years spent on a farm, a mile from the nearest neighbor, was a window on what these colonists must have experienced. We huddled around wood stoves and slept beneath rugs in rooms without heat. My grandmother paced the floor in thunder storms because lightning struck often, even emanating from our radio at dinner one night. In these colonial houses with no insulation and cracks the wind could whistle through, surrounded by lands barely cleared, it would have been even worse. Have you had experiences like this?
Working Title: Suzanne, The Midwife
This Book Is In Development
Suzanne Morse, a midwife in Watertown, moves to the remote frontier town, Groton, Massachusetts with her husband and two children in 1666. A hands-on practical woman who needs people, she bonds with the first two women she meets. The minister’s new wife, Abigail Willard, wants to learn Suzanne’s trade. At the same time, Dancing Light, a renowned medicine woman in the Indian town across the river, calls her to heal her sister with white medicine. In no time, Suzanne becomes known as an effective healer among Groton settlers, and Reverend Willard certifies her, a necessity to practice in the Puritan colony. However, the friendship between Suzanne and Dancing Light--the two collaborate with long forays into the wilds to gather herbs--arouses the town’s approbation. Abigail, too, is compromised when her servant, sixteen-year-old Elizabeth Knapp is “bedeviled,” famously accused of being a witch. Some villagers project their fears on the neighboring natives, as well as anyone who befriends Suzanne, friend of a witch doctor. In 1675, when King Philip begins to attack colonial settlements throughout New England, the townsmen arm and build garrisons to defend themselves. After the Nipmuk sachem, Monoco, lays siege to and destroys Groton, the settlers turn on Suzanne. Notwithstanding she’s lost her sister, Joseph’s brother-in-law, and his uncle John Morse (a captive), the townsmen bar her and her family from the rescue caravan to Concord. In jeopardy, the family flees through spring-snowy forests on foot to her brother’s house in Watertown forty miles away, but not before Dancing Light warns Suzanne that Monoco plans to ambush the rescue caravan. It is the beginning of an existential crisis that may take her down.
Abigail and Reverend Samuel Willard are historical personages. The Rev. Willard's father was the chief military officer for the country of Middlesex in Massachusetts, Major Simon Willard. This commander worked closely with the tribal people in Massachusetts, often together with Elliott and Gookin. His son Samuel Willard, the minister of the Groton church, later became the first President of Harvard college in Cambridge. His wife Abigail is the daughter of a famous minister in Watertown, Massachusetts, Reverend John Sherman.
When Abigail Willard says that her mother, wife of Reverend John Sherman of Watertown Massachusetts, has a "a lot of children," it's a gross understatement. The minister sired eighteen children in serial marriages with two wives. Ten children was the average for New England farming families. To understand the impact the population must have had on the settlers' and Amerindian natives' customs and cultures, we have to do the math. How fast would the population grow if each one of the ten thousand couples added ten children to their numbers in one generation? Immigrants returning to England during the Commonwealth era and those expiring from the harsh exposure to the wilderness may have tempered the birth rates. But notwithstanding the attrition, by the start of King Philip's War in 1675, in one generation, the settlers population had doubled to forty thousand, far exceeding the Indian population two to one person. It stands to reason, the population explosion both alarmed the natives and tested the Puritan authoritarians..
I have posted chapters for this third book in my Watertown Chronicles series to ask for input from readers. I have a contract with the Ardent Writer's Press to publish it in the latter part of May 2020, and have completed the plotting and all but the last six chapters. I would love any comments on this as I refine and develop it. My writing group has read through the chapters that I have posted so far, but it has yet to pass inspection of my editor.
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