The turmoil’s turned up, blowing the lid off simmering pot

Let’s take a look.

Over the past year, we’ve witnessed a range of economic jolts that seem vaguely related to the worldwide Covid outbreak, though I’d say the virus only precipitated troubles that would have been inevitable even without it.

The pandemic simply turned up the heat, as it were.

Among the headlines:

  • Soaring prices of houses, many of them going to buyers from California or New York, sight unseen. Who can afford these mortgages? None of us in our old neighborhood could have moved in today.
  • The relocation from big cities to small towns, for those whose jobs can be done from home. Will they stay or fit in? What will their impact be, especially in places that have been economically struggling?
  • A retail apocalypse in the face of rising online shopping – what’s the future of downtown or the malls? (If you’re “going to work” on Zoom, you don’t need to dress up in new clothes, for one thing.)
  • Superrich and corporate takeover of American farmlands – and mobile home parks. Another blow to the middle and lower classes.
  • Systemic problems in the nation’s health-care system, including the uneven distribution of medical services. A fourth of Americans, mostly rural, have no primary physician, and many others are afraid to use the system because of serious past racial abuses. (These appear to be the leading reason many people have not been vaccinated.)
  • The failure of “just-in time,” including the supply-chain issues that have plagued retailers and manufacturers alike. It’s also exposing the vulnerabilities of offshore sourcing to places like China and Indonesia, as well as looming national security weaknesses. (I blame the Walmart influence in shuttering American factories.)
  • While automakers have shut down assembly lines because of the unavailability of computer chips, what we found most striking was all the empty shelves during a run to IKEA, the home design line built on its international flair and savvy. Row after row, empty. So much for our shopping list and research.
  • Inflating food prices. Fuel and weather are only part of the problem. (Well, we should note climate change somewhere in here, though it has nothing to do with Covid.)
  • Customer and voter nastiness, no doubt intensified by the isolation and resentment.

~*~

More telling is the shift in the workplace, with all of the help-wanted signs for jobs that go begging. It’s not that people are lazy, but rather they’ve realized the positions are demeaning, or meaningless, and it costs them more to work than they’re paid. It’s time to admit that minimum wage is insufficient. Many apparently discovered during Covid that their jobs were costing more than they were earning, once child care, transportation, and related costs were factored in.

Add to that the fact that a certain percentage of the populace is, candidly, unemployable – in the old days, you could give them chores around the farm, but even those have been mechanized. So what can they do to still be contributing members of the wider society?

There has been a serious breakdown in the social contract that underpins democracy. And in the work ethic – or ethics, for those who look closer.

For decades now, employers have demanding loyalty but offering none of their own. Sometimes, there’s even a requirement of noncompete agreements, no matter that the worker has paid for the needed education and career. In reality, in a big company, you work for your immediate boss and colleagues and whatever satisfaction you can find – not the remote layers above. The fact is, nobody entering the workforce today will be at the same enterprise at the end of their career. Maybe public service – especially education – will remain the rare exception.

One of the more shocking reports I saw in the past year noted that only a minority of American males between 18 and 65 hold fulltime jobs – I think the figure was just a third of the total. What are the rest doing? School, prison, early retirement, or – as I’m suspecting – under-the-table ventures. They’re not all stay-at-home dads, are they?

~*~

My new community is an interesting place to watch all of this play out. The place has long been stressed economically, with few adequately paying jobs to sustain families, and that’s led to a population outflow.

Qualified contractors, on the other hand, have been booked out solid, as has been the case nationally. (See above housing sales.)

Our new old house needs tons of renovation, but we’re stymied. As my wife says, “I have money I want to give to somebody but just can’t find anyone to take it.” Well, if we had a crew lined up, there would have been the problem of getting building supplies, and then at prices twice what they’d been just months before.

We’re hoping that will all change in the months ahead.

~*~

These are all things that need to be examined closely in the months ahead, especially in the public arena like the upcoming elections, not that I expect much of it will come coherently from the candidates. The fixes, after all, aren’t easy or painless.

In a way, it’s reflected in the matters of even wearing a mask (or not) or getting the vaccine (or not). I’d say Covid has simply made more obvious the deep polarization at work in our nation – and the wider world.

We all have some important and difficult work to do ahead. We can start with small steps.

 

The early investors were looking for gold, not Jesus

To understand why a third of Dover became Quaker in the mid-1600s, we need to go back to the very founding of the colony.

The whirlpool in Sir Ferdinando Gorges’ coat of arms eerily reflects his role in New England’s early settlement.

The common presentation of history has New England settlement being prompted by a quest for religious liberty – you know, the Pilgrims and then the Puritans – but close examination finds that’s not the full story.

For instance, the first permanent English habitation, Plymouth in southern Massachusetts, is only half Pilgrims – the other half is diverse individuals looking for economic opportunity. The colony is also heavily in debt to investors in London who dictate much of its operation. Religion isn’t on their radar.

There’s nothing altruistic in the investors’ role. They’re looking for quick returns on their money. Their eye is on gold and silver or at least a shortcut to the Far East and its lucrative spices. Trade for furs could also be lewdly profitable. And then there’s the possibility of creating landed estates in the New World, where they could live at ease as gentlemen farmers supported by the rents paid by their tenants once the time’s ripe.

All of that puts the investors at odds with settlers who are out to establish homes, livelihoods, and security.

~*~

AS A FURTHER COMPLICATION, the investors come in layers. One company holds rights to the development of all of New England and then enters agreements with others interested in specific tracts, sometimes within a specified timeframe.

Sir Ferdinando Gorges is the godfather of all this and plays a crucial role in the birth of Maine, which emerged largely on its border with Dover. Quite simply, the Maine side of the Piscataqua River is a big part of early Dover’s community.

Sir Ferdinando’s business associate, Captain John Mason, emerges more directly as the proprietor of New Hampshire itself.

Together, only two years after the Pilgrim venture, they negotiate with a band of Devonshire merchants to settle on the Piscataqua River, today’s border between New Hampshire and Maine.

~*~

THEIR AGREEMENT SPECIFIES seven settlers – and, as we will see, that implies their families, servants, and laborers – intent on commercial opportunity. Forget religion.

Captain John Mason may have owned the province of New Hampshire, but fate intervened before he could set foot in it.

The Puritans, pointedly, are nowhere to be found. They’re still seven or eight years off in the future. Their arrival to the south of New Hampshire will, however, spark a culture clash and ongoing power struggle that will include Maine. As you’ll see, the plot thickens.

In the meantime, the odds are greatly against the survival of the Piscataqua enterprise.

Other attempts in New England have failed, some without a trace, as would others. The Plymouth colony is faltering.

Remember, nobody finds gold or silver or that shortcut to China.

Even so, Gorges and Mason leave a deep imprint on the future Dover.

As do Edward Hilton, a member of the powerful fishmongers’ guild in London, and his apprentice, Thomas Roberts. Their outpost at Dover Point is the start of the seventh oldest permanent European settlement in the United States – and the third oldest in New England.

Edward has been recognized as the Father of New Hampshire.

Thomas, however, is generally neglected, even though he has a more central role in its continuing development. He even becomes Quaker, for all intents and purposes. And though an apprentice, he’s not a disadvantaged youth looking for a step upward. He comes from a privileged family, and his father, by some accounts, is about to become a baron.

~*~

ALL OF THAT’S PART of what we’ll be celebrating next year – 400 years after their arrival. And my new big book tackles some of the story.

 

Ten things about water-powered grist mills

In my book The Secret Side of Jaya, her sojourn in the Ozarks introduces her to a magical vale in the woods just beyond their house. It’s also the site of a water-powered grist mill she begins to frequent in her free time.

Here are ten facts about the historic industry.

  1. The technology of arranging grinding stones goes way back in antiquity and across cultures. It could make for a Tendril in its own right.
  2. While the image of a big water wheel remains popular, driven either by current pouring from an aqueduct above or running in a millstream below, turbines ultimately proved more efficient, often placed in the cellar of the building.
  3. Mills have been powered both by water and wind, and more recently electricity, steam, and petroleum fuels.
  4. Grist refers to the grain that’s been separated from its chaff. Flour from wheat, rye, and barley, as well as cornmeal are major milled products, though far from the only ones. Chicken feed, anyone?
  5. Traditional milling, with slower grinding than today’s industrial “roller” output, produces what’s considered a coarser, nuttier, even “softer” flour.
  6. There were 5,624 grist mills in England in 1086, or about one for every 300 people. The proportion seems to hold across other times and places, including the experiences in Jaya’s story, until the late 1800s.
  7. Granite and sandstone millstones from Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and France were especially valued in American water-powered mills.
  8. The stones required frequent “dressing,” meaning removal for sharpening. It was laborious and time-consuming, demanding a deft touch.
  9. The miller was usually paid in a “toll” set by authorities – one-eighth for corn, one-sixth for wheat, typically – otherwise known as “the miller’s take.”
  10. Quakers were the leading millers and flour merchants in early America, despite British restrictions on innovations or improvements. It was hard, labor-intensive work. I do wonder if these Friends cursed, and how.

Why were so many people in Dover so willing to defy the Puritan authorities’ draconian anti-Quaker laws?

Dover Friends have long relied on the story of the three Quaker missionaries who came to town in 1662 as the origin of Dover Friends Meeting. They were severely persecuted and whipped, the subject of a well-known John Greenleaf Whittier protest poem, yet they were promptly followed by more itinerant ministers and soon a third of the population was Quaker.

The Puritan authorities had enacted harsh anti-Quaker laws. Anyone who even listened to a Quaker for an hour or owned a Friends book or tract could be imprisoned, fined, have an ear loped off, or have the flesh mutilated with a red-glowing branding iron. By the time the three women – accompanied by two men – came to Dover, four Quakers had been hanged in Boston. Yet in some places, a few people listened and even hosted them.

Dover, obviously, was one – and, as I find, had welcomed Friends even earlier than we’d thought. In 1659, some residents were fined for neglecting public worship, meaning the Puritans’ services, and attending Quaker Meeting instead.

My central question keeps asking what made Dover, of all places, so responsive to the controversial Friends message? What made some residents so willing to defy the prohibitions and risk the consequences? 

My upcoming book delves into the findings, but quite simply, the town had been rocked by divisions for much of its then-short existence. At one point there had even been an armed skirmish between rival ministers for the town’s tax-funded pulpit.

~*~

Merely listening to a Quaker could lead to this. Hours hanging in the town stocks.

Some grudges are harbored a long time, awaiting the right opportunity to flare up again.

Or, for repeated offenses, even being branded.

Another factor to consider is the ways that Dover’s settlers differed from the majority of the Puritans to the south. Dover’s came overwhelmingly from Devon, a large shire in South West England, while the Puritans were rooted in East Anglia, to the other side of London. Culturally, they differed strongly, from accents and cuisines to courting and marriage patterns to superstitions and social customs. It’s something Dover shared with two Quaker hotbeds nearby – Salem, in Massachusetts, and Hampton, down the coast of New Hampshire.

Frankly, I’ve been surprised by the degree to which Dover was a center of controversy and scandal in the mid-1630s and a bit on, all so early in New England’s history.

Much of the Atlantic coastline hadn’t yet been settled. What happened in Dover fuels a big part of my big book and definitely sets the stage for what follows.

Maybe you’ll be as startled as I’ve been.

It’s the book I didn’t want to write, but it wouldn’t let go  

I thought we Dover Quakers – or more formally Friends – had our long history covered. I had even helped Silas Weeks, way back, in some of his research for his definitive volume on New England Quaker meetinghouses and burial grounds.

Frankly, after revising and republishing seven novels after the appearance of my eighth, I wanted a break.

A big break.

These are supposed to be my retirement years, OK? Admittedly, I had long imagined devoting myself to the writing as a big part of that dream, but really!

But then a casual request for an overview of Dover Friends history changed everything. It came indirectly, through someone in another denomination who was active in our Sanctuary movement. But then, going back through my filing drawers, I came up empty – couldn’t even find my folders of notes. What we did have was mostly about our three meetinghouses over the years – especially the structure where we’ve worshiped since 1768 – along with a few prominent events.

This left me unsettled.

Unlike many other denominations, the Society of Friends, or Quakers, is first and foremost about its members. Our definition of church is the body of believers – not the building or the polity and definitely not the ordained clergy. It’s why we call our building a meetinghouse and why we organize as Meetings, reflecting the times and ways our church-people come together. Church can happen whenever and wherever we are, even over dinner in our homes or chance encounters on the street or in the midst of social activism. And vitally it’s not just us – we’re meeting God, too.

I spent a lot of time at my impromptu workstation in Eastport, Maine, last year working on a history of Quakers in Dover, New Hampshire. And I arrived with what I thought was a largely finished manuscript. I was mistaken.

~*~

WHAT NEEDED TO BE TOLD was the lives of the individuals and families who were the essence of one of the oldest Quaker Meetings in the world.

I resisted as long as I could but finally succumbed. Who were they? Why were they so willing to risk severe punishment and persecution imposed by the Puritan authorities? And in the face of that, how and why did a third of Dover’s population quickly become Quaker? And several generations later, start fading away?

With the 400th anniversary of the settling of Dover – and thus New Hampshire, too – coming up next year, the timing for our side of the history felt right.

Now that the book’s written and revised, I’ll be sharing some of my findings with you as well as news of publication itself as that nears.

~*~

WHAT EMERGED IS A PARTIAL HISTORY, as in partisan, with my focus on a radical religious subculture that thrived in a unique, out-of-the-way, locale. Partial, as well, to the independent streak of New Hampshire against more powerful Massachusetts authorities to the south. Partial even in being incomplete as well as lacking footnotes, and not even the work of a professionally trained historian.

The story is also partial in being biased toward a sequence of unusual, sometimes roughhewn, figures and their families – not all of them Quaker – and inclined especially toward the narrative they shape.

The roots, as you’ll see, arise in the very beginning of English settlement. Forget what you’ve assumed about New England before Paul Revere and Sam Adams and the American Revolution and Boston as the Hub of the Universe.

A lot had already happened before the first Puritans sailed into Boston Harbor. Let’s look instead to Dover, which lays claim to being the seventh-oldest continually inhabited European settlement in the United States.

In the standard telling of the founding of today’s city of Dover, New Hampshire, two brothers arrived from England in the spring of 1623 and settled at the mouth of Great Bay on the Piscataqua River, upstream from the Atlantic Ocean. The brothers were fishmongers, members of one of the oldest and wealthiest guilds, or great companies, of London.

Except, as it turns out, one of the brothers didn’t arrive until a few years later.

Instead, the cofounder of the new settlement was a fishmonger apprentice who would be an important figure in the early years of the colony.

The meetinghouse, Dover Friends’ third, is home to the faith community today. It was erected in a single day in 1768.

~*~

YOU’LL PROBABLY BY AS SURPRISED by this alternative take on New England history as I’ve been. It’s not just Quakers. There’s much more to New England’s past than a Thanksgiving dinner and a riotous tea party followed by a midnight ride and the shot heard ’round the world or even the notorious witch trials.

Here at the Barn, you’ll definitely be hearing a lot more about this big project through the coming year. Believe me, some of the findings will be startling.

Ten largest Native American reservations in Washington state

There are 21 Native American reservations in Washington state. As Joshua and Jaya discover in my novel Nearly Canaan, living adjacent to one, they are home to a unique culture.

Here are the ten largest by area.

~*~

  1. Colville, 1,300,000 acres or 2,031 square miles. A little larger than Delaware. It’s in the arid northeast corner of the state.
  2. Yakama, 837,753 acres or 1,309 square miles. Still larger than Rhode Island. It stretches from the Cascade crest into the arid Yakima Valley.
  3. Quinault, 208,150 acres or 325 square miles. About the size of Omaha or Greensboro. It’s along the Pacific Ocean on the Olympic peninsula.
  4. Spokane, 153,600 acres or 240 square miles. Compare its area to Milwaukee. It’s just east of Colville.
  5. Makah, 23,040 acres or 36 square miles. Still larger than Manhattan. Sits at the northwest tip of the Olympic peninsula.
  6. Snohomish or Tulalip, 8.930 acres or 14 square miles. Sits along Puget Sound north of Seattle.
  7. Port Madison, 1,375 acres or 2.145 square miles.
  8. Quileaute, 837 acres or 1.3 square miles.
  9. Hoh, 640 acres or one square mile.
  10. Lummi, 598 acres.

~*~

Have you ever attended a powwow?

 

On that day

The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the LORD, and the neediest people shall exult in the Holy One of Israel,

For the tyrant shall be no more, and the scoffer shall cease to be; and all those alert to do evil shall be cut off – those who cause a person to lose a lawsuit, who set a trap for the arbiter in the gate, and without grounds deny justice to the one in the right. …

And those who err in spirit will come to understanding, and those who grumble will accept instruction.

Isaiah 29:19-21, 29 (NRSV)

Enumerator insights

After 7½ years of retirement, I returned to the workplace part-time for two months this year.

The job was supposed to begin in May and run through the summer but got pushed back to August and then abruptly cut off at the end of September.

I was a federal agent.

The private identifying details we recorded are sworn to secrecy – or the equivalent, for those of us who follow Scripture and refuse to take oaths. But I’m still trying to put the experience into perspective.

For nearly 40 years, I’ve worked through the available Census files in my genealogical research, as you’ll see in the posts on my Orphan George blog. It’s become something of a specialty for me, along with the Quaker minutes. I mean, it’s how I learned that Grandpa married the girl next door. There’s also one set of ancestors who were recorded twice in 1860 but with enough differences to make me suspect there were two Jacob Ehrstines closely related – one detail in the 1870 Census cleared that up. And I have one ancestor who shaved another year or two off her age every decade, though I have no idea whether it was intentional or out of ignorance, considering that Quakers didn’t celebrate birthdays.

So I set forth in part out of gratitude for those earlier enumerators. The first ones, incidentally, were federal marshals. This was that important.

What surprised me as I hit the streets and knocked on doors on behalf of the Census Bureau was how physically hard it becomes – bending over an iPhone placed on a clipboard to input data quickly had my back aching, especially. For a dozen years, I managed to work a double shift every Saturday as a newspaper editor, yet here I was pushing my limits when it got close to five hours a day. (Wimp!) Six really maxed it. An article in the Washington Post enlightened me that I wasn’t alone here, so I couldn’t blame it all on age.

I am surprised by how many Americans don’t know what a census is or that it’s required every ten years or that they don’t want to be recorded.

Well, I now also have a clearer understanding of why one household might disappear ten years later but reappear again in a subsequent Census. You know, be there in 1800 and 1820 but not 1810.

I am also surprised how much of my brain space got wrapped in a job again. You know, replaying cases and wondering how I might have done them differently. This was supposed to be something I could let go of at quitting time. Not so, though.

Inputting data in an app on an iPhone still strikes me as tedious. You might have guessed I pretty much hate texting, except as an alternative to an actual phone call. (Emails seem to be my preferred form of communicating these days.) How do kids do it, texting with their thumbs? Or are their exchanges all typos?

Oh, yes, another confession. I’ve typed for nearly six decades now. Self-taught, earned my livelihood with it. Written whole books, even. But ask me to re-create a keyboard from memory, and I have no clue where the individual letters of the alphabet are. The memory is all in my fingers, not my head. Seriously.

So I can’t imagine keyboarding with my thumbs. As I was saying about the kids? Besides, thumbs are awfully fat for those tiny screens. My dry fingers had enough trouble connecting, even before getting to any issue of accuracy.

In my rounds, I had a few near falls (including one wooden step that wasn’t nailed down anymore), a couple of dogs who could have turned nasty, some close calls in traffic, but emerged unscathed.

Some of the most enjoyable interviews turned out to be those where I could put my very limited Spanish to work. Other enumerators had backed off, so I guessed it was up to me, and somehow, we got the required data, often with a lot of laughter. Yes, I made some funnies.

The best part of the job, though, was meeting people who, for the most part, were warm, friendly, helpful. I have a much clearer understanding of the neighborhoods around me.

Would I do it again?

No, I’ll be too feeble – or feebleminded – in another decade.

But maybe you’d want to give it a crack.

Sometimes, you need a bigger map

I’ve loved maps since childhood, so our new interest in Downeast Maine has whetted an appetite to investigate more of the region’s geography, which includes a lot of water. Not just the ragged coastline and bays, but also large lakes and many bogs, marshes, and swamps plus rivers and waterfalls.

One thing that’s rather boggled my mind is discovering of what’s cut off from U.S. maps on that edge of the continent.

For instance, I had no clue of Grand Manan Island, which is 21 miles long with bluffs rising 200 to 400 feet above the Atlantic just nine miles east of Maine. It even has three lighthouses. Getting there’s a whole other matter.

Still, I doubt that many Americans think of anything lying in the ocean east of the United States until you get to the British Isles or European mainland. So is there anything else we’re missing?

Well, there’s tiny Machias Seal Island further south, claimed by both the U.S. and Canada, which has a long lighthouse presence there.

What’s really surprised me is how far the province of Nova Scotia extends south.

From the easternmost point in the U.S., Nova Scotia is more than 82 miles to the southeast.

From Bar Harbor, Maine, it’s 113 miles to the east.

And further south, it runs down past Portland, Maine, where sits more than 200 miles to the east.

Put another way, nearly anyone sailing from Maine has to navigate around this extension of Canada.

If you follow the news, it also puts some of our fishing controversies in perspective.

From Provincetown, at the tip of Cape Cod, for instance, the distance to the tip of Nova Scotia is roughly 230 miles, versus 111 to Portland, Maine, meaning that the southernmost point of Canada juts that much further into what I had considered U.S. fishing grounds.

With the bigger map, one including both the New England, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia shorelines, you can see how a funnel is formed, one where ocean currents push into Fundy Bay to create the world’s highest tides.

For me, this is a reminder of how often our comprehension of a problem is limited by conventional thinking when we look at the situation.

Just how else do you get outside the box, anyway?