I’d love to hear more about the settlers’ culture

What did they eat, for instance. Or, more accurately, how did they prefer it to be cooked?

And did children really smoke tobacco and drink beer, as seemed to be common among the Puritans.

My book, Quaking Dover, mentions a number of things that may have come down through the West Country culture of Devonshire. As one historian details, they were part of the Cavaliers’ lifestyle in Virginia, but for now I have no evidence of the degree they influenced the settlers in the Piscataqua watershed.

Still, I believe they were one of the reasons the Quaker message so readily took root and flourished there.

Not that Quakers or Puritans got very far in Virginia.

Trying to fit in

IN A SUIT AT A POSH GATHERING. Subdued lighting, fine carpet and porcelain, upholstery and dark polished furniture. I’m being considered for a position with a prestigious law firm. One of the wait staff, in a gray or beige uniform, comes up from behind and I step aside, gesturing for her to pass with the used dishes she’s taking to the kitchen. There’s a universal gasp and chuckling. I’ve made a faux pas. Then I notice the men’s striped silk ties, all immaculate. I’m wearing none. A sign of my Quaker practice, I sense, along with my instinctive respect for all people. The message I get is that when you’re in a position of power, you have to command it. (Stay by his side while he snubs others. The trick, also, is to tip well when finished.) Rather than taking pride in my values and sticking with them, I want to be part of the elite. (Disturbing truth.)


OFF TO ATTEND a Quaker gathering somewhere. Shortly after arrival, I’m directed to the Jacuzzi, and after repeated invitations, I step in. Quite comforting. After a while, I find myself being driven on a tour of metropolitan suburbia (Connecticut? New Jersey? Chicagoland?), into a neighborhood of failed, boarded up malls and related big-box structures, all in a gray concrete architecture, including a drive-in parking lot under the main edifice. We pass on through what had been neighborhoods but are now missing half of the houses. There are scattered trees and even some tents or small trailers, but also some hideous McMansions. I’m instructed (more than invited) to enter one, which is owned by oil sheiks. I gathered the woman of the house is interested in me, but much of the activity is veiled. Still, I’m their overnight guest and given a bedroom. In the middle of deep sleep, I feel my thumb pinched and held, to prevent my escape, as the four corners of my sheets are lifted by runners, who are soon speeding through the house, or at least in large circles. I feel exhilarated.

And then, you enter the room. I tell you about the sheets and the feeling of lightness. What I’ll never know, of course, is whether I was being summoned by the woman of the house – or her jealous husband.


BACK “ON THE ROAD.” The recurring core has me in a hotel and trying to check out, only I’ve flown in for an extended stay (a conference or sales meeting) and brought a lot of stuff I intended to sort and discard. Since there’s so much, I apparently brought it by company car, taken off, and returned without it. The problem is that all of that happened months ago, I really need to leave – either eviction or some approaching tyrannical force I desire to leave – and nothing’s been sorted. I keep finding more, can’t figure out how to pack up and get out. Plus there’s the added realization I owe thousands for the room.

In this version, I arrive by hiking with a group along railroad tracks. Something, at some point, clandestine. And later there are neighbors on the other side of a hurricane fence that may mark the (communist) side from our Free Market side.

Let’s haul on some sea chanteys

As I’ve previously noted, the work songs went into the woods in the winter, carried by sailors who came ashore for the season. But few songs in return migrated from the forests to the sea.

Women’s names could be a clue to the, uh, moral integrity of many messages. “Sally” or “Nancy,” for instance, some more sterling than others.

Other work songs include chain-gang ditties or even the racist, “Zip-a-dee-doo-dah,” though it might fit what’s become of the minimum-wage American workplace.

As for spellings, I’m sticking with “chantey,” based on a scholarly friend’s insistence the notes having a chanter setting the pace. “Shanty” and “chanty,” though, are more common.

Here are some related facts.

  1. This folk music genre flourished aboard larger merchant vessels of the 19th century as a means of setting a rhythm to optimize joint labor involved in either a pulling or pushing motion, such as lifting anchor or setting sail, tasks that required working together for a long time. Think of circling a capstan. Think “Heave!” Or “Haul!”
  2. That’s why many of them are about whaling.
  3. The tradition soared in the period between the War of 1812 and the Civil War and died out with the arrival of steam-powered ships.
  4. Its roots, though, go way back through earlier work songs around the world, including stevedores loading and unloading ships.
  5. Some of the chanteys originated with African-Americans performing “cotton-screwing” on shore, using a large screw-jack to compress and bale cotton for shipment from Southern ports. Some of the incomprehensible words in the songs are attributed to this.
  6. Essentially, it’s a call-and-response form between the solo chantey man and the work crew.
  7. Sometimes they were accompanied by a bosun’s pipe, fife, drum, or fiddle.
  8. They were sung by pirates, too.
  9. About 200 were set down on paper, but thousands more were likely lost.
  10. Some may have been used when relaxing in the evening.


There’s a good reason Dover Friends didn’t have a meetinghouse before 1680

Or keep minutes, that we know of.

The Quaker Meetings in Salem, Hampton, and Dover were all in Puritan-governed colonies, and thus officially illegal at the time. Religious toleration around 1680 came with a change New England governance and a royal governorship in Massachusetts.

With it, Salem has claimed to have the first Friends meetinghouse in America, though it was built about the same time as the one on Dover Neck, just south of today’s St. Thomas Aquinas high school. And Third Haven on Maryland’s Eastern Shore may be a tad older than either one.

Now, if we only had documentation, we might find the honor of being first in New England belongs instead to Dover.