As I’ve admitted, many of the historical persons in my new book, Quaking Dover, really deserve full-length biographical treatment or maybe individual operas or Hollywood blockbuster movies, if only we had time to linger. Four hundred years requires a lot of compression and that meant keep moving ahead. Anyone looking for a writing prompt can dig in with a host of possibilities on the list.
Retired librarian Olga R. Morrill, bless her, rises to the challenge with her historical fiction, Vagabond Quakers: Northern Colonies, published in 2017, focusing on the three women missionaries who came to Dover in 1662 and were whipped out of town in what was essentially a death sentence.
In doing so, she also portrays Richard Waldron and Nicholas Shapleigh as fully fleshed characters, even though they both have much more ahead in their lives after the three troublesome Quakers venture off-stage, the part she follows as the women venture south. (Yes, we need a full bio for each of the guys, please.)
As fiction, Vagabond Quakers resorts to some creative history and plausibility to fill in huge gaps. I see this in Waldron’s chronology, especially – with details where my findings and her tale conflict – but she does induce a compelling drama even in the minor players. She weaves fact and fiction seamlessly and manages a credible dialogue. (What they actually said would sound unintelligible gibberish to our ears.) If only I were sure which parts arise in her invention and which parts rest on solid evidence.
I’m happy to see that she examines Waldron’s life as a major figure in Boston, not just his existence as the most powerful man in New Hampshire, where he’s usually confined in the telling. Dover may have been his private fiefdom, out on the fringe of New England, but he wasn’t exactly provincial. She even manages to stir some sympathy for the man I dub the perfect villain.
She also gives full due to the deep conflicts in the town church before the Quakers arrive. Those are something I’ve long suspected contributed to the willingness of so many residents to join Friends early on. My one quibble is that I think Elder Starbuck would have been in the other party than the one where she places him.
For me, Morrill’s biggest contributions come in her envisioning the proceedings from the women’s perspective – not just the Quakers, but even those in the Waldron household. In the actual dates-and-names history, they’re mostly invisible. Many of Dover’s earliest wives remain ciphers, and even too many of their first and maiden names are missing. As for their language, demeanor, and dress? Morrill has me willingly suspending disbelief in her storytelling. Was one of the Quakers of short stature? Not that I’ve found anywhere. As for singing? Unlikely, but the quirk does pop the individual into three dimensions.
The events she describes in what would seem an out-of-the-way frontier settlement remain an important breakthrough in establishing religious freedom, anywhere.
Morrill and I both find these events to be endlessly fascinating, and hope you will, too.
Let me know of examples of courage you find that match the Quaker women’s.