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.
Author Nancy Shattuck was inspired to write this series when she discovered her direct ancestors had lived through King Philip’s War. Exploring their history, she was so impressed by the complexity of the colonial experience that each family member began to tell a different story. No longer a novel, the “chronicles” were born. Nancy earned a master’s degree in Comparative and Japanese Literature at Washington University (WU) in St. Louis and completed the classwork for two separate doctorates, in Comparative Literature at WU and in American Literature at Wayne State University in Detroit. Previous publications include a children’s fable, "The Fishers," and memoir, "Travel Wings: An Adventure," in addition to short stories and poetry.”
I'm currently leading a book group reading "An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States." The author points out that England sent very few trained military personnel to the colonies. The colonial armies were made up of irregular fighters, settlers trained to fight outside any organized military institution. They believed the Indians were trying to take land that they held legitimate title to, land the English King had granted them. The result? They fought with extreme violence using special operations. These armed militants cold enter an Indian town and kill every man, woman and child with no repercusions from a military tribunal, no court trial. They targeted noncombatant civilians and their food supplies, seeking to remove them forever.
Suzanne, The Midwife
Joseph Morse had trained for combat in Watertown like all males over sixteen in the Massachusetts colony, where the military alliance in Boston required servicemen to own a regulation combat-ready matchlock musket. In Groton, he continued to drill with the town’s men under the newly commissioned Captain Parker; he was ready if conscription began. Cleaning his guns for these drills, he’d set six-year-old Joseph to work. One by one, he removed two guns from their pegs above the hearth: both with rifled barrels. He’d explained to her that the smooth-bore barrel muskets that Boston regulated speeded up reloading in battle, but he thought the accuracy and greater range of rifled barrels was more important than efficiency, especially when he hunted. He’d promised to show her how to fire the matchlock rifle, but the newly invented flintlock rifle was his alone. It served better in battle because he could load it on the run, though it could misfire when it rained. He wanted her to be able to defend herself in any emergency. Suzanne had put off the lesson in more-populated Watertown, but living in Groton and traveling through wilderness to serve the women made defense a necessity.