How about a few more readers’ candid responses to my new book?

In case you’re wondering how things are going with Quaking Dover, here are some early reactions:

“The book purports to be merely a history of the Quakers at Dover, New Hampshire, but it is much more than that. It is a history of the beginning and spread of the Religious Society of Friends (aka Quakers) in the USA, the best exposition of their faith that I have read so far, a history of their persecution by the Puritans, and of the bloody conflicts between the Puritans and the native peoples. …

“Most of all, I had not previously been exposed to the reality of the Quakers’ faith, revealed in their own words. Jnana Hodson, himself a Quaker, has done extensive research in old records and journals and includes extensive quotations that bring the faith to life. Including their peaceful acceptance of persecution, their prudent approach to courtship and marriage and their belief in the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart.” – Bob Goodnough, Saskatchewan

(For his full review, visit his Flatlander Faith blog post of Dec. 12, 1922.)

~*~

“I enjoyed your conversational writing style – sharing the research that you did — and confidentially whispering (in your writing style), ‘This is what this finding means and how it should be interpreted.’ … To ascertain what really happened you checked primary documents, read previous accounts of Dover, New Hampshire – triangulated your sources and showed us readers how you reached your conclusion. A very enlightening read – well researched, well written.” – Joe Clabby, author of A History of Eastport, Passamaquoddy Bay, and Vicinity

~*~

“Love it!” – Susan Wiley, Sandwich, New Hampshire

~*~

“Deftly told. I really like your voice. It’s engaging, light, and easy to read.” – Jim Mastro, science fiction novelist

~*~

“An enjoyable book!” – Arnie Alpert, longtime peace activist

~*~

“A rich feast of a book.” – one of my favorite authors and fellow Maine resident

~*~

“I truly appreciate all the work and careful thought and interpretations you put into it.” – Canyon Woman, New Mexico

~*~

“I enjoyed your book very much. I particularly liked relearning about early life in Dover and surroundings, and was impressed by how much research you did to fill in details. Not only about the life of early Quakers and their trials and tribulations, but the connection they had to the rest of New and Old England. I did not understand how important the settlement of Dover was compared to Portsmouth, Exeter, and other towns.” – John Dawson, Lee, New Hampshire

~*~

“Thank you for writing this record of Dover Friends Meeting. The ‘Children of the Light’ had me on the verge of tears as I read it to Andrea.” – Harvin Groft, Berwick, Maine

~*~

What if God came down to walk in the garden with Adam and it was more like She?

Not a bearded old fart but a wise, calming, older woman?

Would it change the workings of the story for you?

~*~

That’s something I’d been pondering even before Regina Renee Ward’s amazing Bible half-hour presentations at New England Yearly Meeting’s sessions last summer. (Do check them out at NEYM’s website, even if you have an allergy to Scripture. She understands that aversion.) Aware of our varied backgrounds and outlooks, she tenderly took us very deeply into ourselves, personally and as a gathered body, via her selected verse of the day and its context plus brief commentary.

One of the books she recommended was Christena Cleveland’s God Is a Black Woman, and I wound up ordering a copy.

Let me say I definitely find it refreshing. Should I add, eye-opening? She was transformed by her encounters with the famed Black Madonna icons in Europe. Take it from there.

~*~

It has me returning to the concept of thinking in metaphor, which I feel is essential to religious slash spiritual practice.

Metaphor compresses image and concepts and actions in ways that legalistic, “thou shalt not” teachings fail to comprehend.

We can begin with the ways we envision something like God or Christ. To that, let me add, the concept of Holy Spirit becomes quite liberated from the earlier English translation of Holy Ghost. The first is definitely infinitely bigger than the second.

~*~

Well, the story of the Garden of Eden is one I come back to endlessly. It’s pointedly not a children’s tale, despite the efforts of Sunday schools, and that rib Adam lost is something, uh, more erotic. OK?

For now, though, I’m quite wrapped up in my new book about one community’s Quakers in early New England – which as readers of this blog, I hope you’re aware of.

So here we are! How ‘bout a walk?

In case you’re wondering what others are saying

Listen to this from a five-star review Beth Collea posted at Smashwords.com’s Quaking Dover page:

Jnana Hodson combines solid historical research with his engaging writing style. Light touches along the way keep the text moving. His own historical wonderings give us the feeling of personal involvement in the quest for insights and answers.

Drawing on the work of David Hackett Fischer, he contrasts the local folkways and customs of the area of England where the Puritans came from and the Devon region where the settlers to the Piscataqua area originated. Spoiler alert: the English in the Devon region so highly valued hospitality and welcome that they dared to host and harbor traveling Quaker ministers, especially if they were in need.

Hodson gives us a wonderful historical lens to use as a framework for general understanding and especially for exploring Quaker history in the U.S. The timing is perfect as the City of Dover prepares for the 400th anniversary of European settlement in 2023.

~*~

Photo by Jessica J. Williams.

Giving the devil his due

In researching a project of any scope, you can’t ever read everything touching on the subject, and sometimes that can be a blessing in disguise.

For one thing, it may mean you have to examine points afresh and unguided rather than relying on another’s assumptions or conclusions.

And, for another, you may find reassurance or in seeing how another researcher has come to the same results you have independently or, in another vein, you may strengthen your disagreement.

That’s where I find myself on The Devil of Great Island: Witchcraft and Conflict in Early New England, Emerson W. Baker’s 2007 examination of a paranormal outbreak of flying rocks in an inn on an island in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, ten years before the infamous Salem witch trials just to the south. Now that I’ve finally read it, I can say he’s cleared up some questions I had on events upstream and provided backup for some of my deductions.

My new book, Quaking Dover, takes place one colonial town upriver from Great Island, today’s New Castle, and shares some of the same cultural and historic influences. While I examine a sharp divide in Dover between its English settlers from Devonshire and the Puritans from East Anglia, Baker identifies this in Portsmouth and much of the rest of New England as the Old Planters, of Anglican faith, being pushed aside by the newer Puritans, and their rigid Calvinism. Quite simply, the tensions were more prevalent and widespread than I’d assumed.

The target of the airborne mineral projectiles was innkeeper George Walton, along with his family and guests, evening after evening through an entire summer.

Baker labels Walton repeatedly as a Quaker, as he also does for the identity for Nicholas Shapleigh, continuing a widespread misconception. The prominent Shapleigh proved a valuable ally but, as his descendants point out, he was never a member of the Society of Friends (Quakers). While Major Shapleigh suffers persecution for maintaining some of the Friends positions, nothing in Walton’s life or character suggests he did so. Quite the contrary, there were many reasons he would have been disciplined and disowned, if he had been part of a Quaker Meeting, the closest one being at Hampton.

As Baker, a Salem State University history professor, lays out Walton’s family and neighbors, what becomes clear that just about everyone had good reason to target the contentious innkeeper. As for a devil on Great Island, I’d have to say it was Walton himself.

Baker sees the New Castle incident as a precursor to similar events that culminate in Salem, and he traces individuals who would have been familiar with the Walton stoning incidents to the outbreaks elsewhere. He further finds common elements that include contested land claims and political upheaval, which far outweigh theological issues.

Baker has since written much more about witchcraft, befitting his locale. The Devil of Great Island is a fun and fast read and a fine introduction to a definitive moment in the American experience.

As I’m arguing, there’s much more in New England’s past than you were ever taught. Or maybe even suspected.

 

There’s more to history than the usual names-and-dates scenario

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.

You’ve got to meet Willow

Among the fascinating voices who show up regularly in my WordPress Reader is Willow Croft, “Bringer of Nightmares and Storms,” a writer included in an anthology of “ladies of horror fiction.”

Not to worry, her blog is gentle and warm as her she surveys the alt-indie world of literature and related arts, and from her shelf at Goodreads, it’s hard to imagine a more adventurous or prodigious reader. Better yet, she generously shares her discoveries with the wider world, often through their own voices.

One of her ongoing features is “Five Things Friday,” a handful of deep questions posed to the day’s selected writer. I was so honored yesterday, and I’d love for you to hop over to Willow’s blog to see the results.

There’s nothing generic in her five inquiries. They’re tailored to the day’s guest, and she does her research. Somehow, she homed in on the essence of what I do while also making me think about it in a fresh light. One of her points indulges in special interest of hers – food – but even there, she makes it personal to her guest, as you’ll see.

I’ll apologize for the length of my answers, but the questions were multifaceted and stirred up much more than I could possibly include. She was free to cut or condense, of course, but didn’t.

~*~

Willow herself is also a fellow poet, and that feeds into her compassionate curiosity.

Still, she’s surprisingly elusive in a digital age, even while being a comforting presence. Her blog, for instance, has no About page.

From the bits I’ve gathered, she grew up somewhere in the South, where she quickly resisted the enforced conformity, and recently relocated from New Mexico to Kansas, even though she dreams of someday settling in Scotland. Oh, yes, she also favors British spellings over American, as in “colour.”

I’m supposing she’s a water sign – Cancer, Pisces, or Scorpio. She claims to be middle-age, though I would have guessed a very wise late twenties to mid-thirties, based on her uninhibited tastes, and a cat lover.

A croft, by the way, is a small enclosed pasture, often with a cottage – and a resident known as a crofter. As for willows? How evocative – there’s water, after all, and resiliency.

A clue to her name and outlook may be this, from a piece she wrote for MookyChick: “Transform your backyard from a one-note turf lawn to a meadow-like garden that has a little something for every visitor; be it birds or flying insects and bugs. Avoid the use of leaf blowers, weed whackers, and pesticides in order to give nature the chance to tend to itself.”

Actually, that’s not a bad description for what you’ll see in her own work and life as well.

Psst! Care to look at the books I’ve been reading?

I was long overdue for a reading orgy — you know, an indulgence in books — and a little while ago, before the quarantine, in fact, I immersed myself in ebooks by other authors at Smashwords. Some of the volumes are even free.

If you’re curious about what I was reading, zip over to the books reviewed by me at the bottom of my Jnana Hodson page at Smashwords.com. Yes, I thought about posting the reviews here, too, but there was already a lot on the agenda.

Most of the ebooks touch in one way or another on topics in my own novels. It’s lovely finding kindred spirits. Well, it’s a lot like the ways we here at WordPress connect, too.

A BIT MORE ON HIPPIE LIT

One of my lingering questions wonders why the intensity of the hippie experience didn’t flower more fully in fiction.

Yes, I know hippies were considered “laid back” and “mellow,” but that’s only part of the picture. A lot of what we felt was indeed incredible and new. Yet while the music of the era gives both lyrics and a soundtrack to the late ’60s and early ’70s, the literary parallel runs thin. Most of the prose is in the non-fiction side of the aisle – memoir, especially, and sociology – works like Barry Miles’ Hippie. Within that flourished a range of small publishing operations, such as Straight Arrow Books and Ten-Speed Press.

But novels are another matter.

As I’ve already noted, Richard Brautigan and Gurney Norman (Divine Right’s Trip) did give wondrous voice to the action. Add to that Maxine Hong Kingston’s Tripmaster Monkey, T.C. Boyle’s Drop City, and we’re soon at the fringe. Thomas Pyncheon’s Vineland, Lisa Mason’s Summer of Love, and Jan Kerouac’s Baby Driver get nods. I’d add Edward Abbey, Tom Robbins, and John Nichols to the list. And then?

Well, there’s always my Freakin’ Free Spirits cycle at Smashwords.com. All four volumes.

As Michael Wards, author of Bitch, a novel about Berkeley 1968-73, commented on an earlier post here, “Today I don’t think 20-year-olds would believe their grandparents were capable of anything that actually happened then.”

That, I suppose, is the entire point. We came so close to a real revolution across the social and economic spectrum. That vision needs to be kept alive and rekindled. Especially in the face of today’s repressive regime.

START FILLING THE GROCERY CART … WITH BOOKS AND VIDEOS

As I blogged during the summer of 2014, the No. 1 topic of discussion across much of New England concerned the dramatic battle for control of the Market Basket supermarket chain. In an unprecedented reaction to moves by one-half of the family owning the company to sell the popular stores to more expensive rivals, its management, devoted workers, trusted suppliers, and loyal shoppers united to bring the enterprise itself to a halt. A grinding halt. And it worked.

After months of earlier rebuffs and daily headlines, the part of the family actually running the stores announced an agreement to buy the entire operation from its hostile relations.

It was a complicated story, with some long-festering feuds in the not-so-recent background. The kind of story that’s bound to show up as movie adaptations. Maybe even as a television mini-series. Maybe not Dallas in Boston, but as rich in its material.

We’ve been waiting for the book-length analyses, and the first one is finally making the rounds: We Are Market Basket (the title comes from a slogan at the time) has been published by an American Management Association affiliate.

Authors are frequently advised to “know their audience,” with the implication of tailoring their work to assumed demands. In this case, the book can be seen aiming at two audiences: New Englanders who remember the revolt and likely participated in some part of it, and then business majors and managers around the world. It’s both a strength and weakness for the volume.

Reading the text, it’s easy to see which part was written by which coauthor: Lowell Sun newspaper reporter Grant Walker drafted the day-by-day narrative, while associate business professor Daniel Korschun provided the chapters on business management. It’s all good stuff, though a bit repetitive, as one might expect from daily news reports that have to recap earlier developments. And I started wishing Walker had more sources to draw on. Still, they underscore the point of their book.

As the subtitle says, The Story of the Unlikely Grassroots Movement That Saved a Beloved Business, this was a remarkable event. Korschum uses it as a platform to argue for an awareness of stakeholders in a company – not just stockholders. It’s a theme Bernie Sanders has been pressing in his presidential campaign, and he’s not alone it saluting its importance. Workers, suppliers, and entire communities have investments of one sort or another in the companies that operate in our presence. For Market Basket, with prices typically 16 percent lower than its major competition, customers have a definite reason for supporting the stores, which, as it turns out, are remarkably profitable, despite or (as Korschum argues and others of us believe) because of their culture of contrarian instincts.

You can read the book for the reasons why. The list of down-to-earth practices throughout the operation, where the lowest level workers are encouraged to find ways to improve the business, is worth the read alone. You won’t walk through any store quite the same afterward.

My interest in the topic goes back decades before this, as I saw the operations of a smaller but similar grocery operation run by my then-girlfriend’s father. His own father had started out with a produce cart that went door to door. Besides, my own inclination has been for smaller, typically family, operations rather than monolithic corporations – as I demonstrate in my novel Hometown News and pursued for most of my employment as a journalist.

As I was perusing We Are Market Basket, I kept thinking of business books like Tom Peters’ In Search of Excellence series. They’re fun to read and make their point, though there just might be more to the story. In this case, I definitely feel there is.

Yes, when we come to the stakeholders argument, we can look to John Henry Patterson’s benevolent leadership at the National Cash Register Co. in Dayton, Ohio, or the glory years of the cereal makers in Battle Creek, Michigan, or Aaron Feuerstein’s moves in the aftermath of the Polar Fleece fabrics’ devastating factory fire in Malden, Massachusetts. Essentially, these provide similar models of enlightened leadership along the stakeholders’ ideal. But this book also leaves me wondering about the next generation after Arthur T. Demoulas’ leadership – he is, after all, pictured riding a white horse. So there’s a need for a management text on maintaining leadership a generation or two down the pike, which this book glides over as one of simply maintaining the historic company culture. There’s a lot of repetition on Market Basket’s culture in these pages, perhaps to drive the point home or, as I suspect, perhaps because of slack editing. But will that culture be enough?

On another front, there’s a volume yet to appear that puts the Market Basket experience in perspective with other leader-defined companies. Yes, we love our heroes, but they’re hardly the stuff of corporate America these days. More often, they’re anonymous and invisible. What kind of executive would be needed to fill Arther T.’s shoes?

And there’s another round of writings that might relate Market Basket to other family-owned companies and their survival or failure in moving from one generation to another. Family ownership issues have become a distinct subset of a business school curriculum. You don’t get fired from being a brother or a sister or cousin or grandkid — it’s a lifetime position.

We Are Market Basket skims over the earlier family conflicts that erupted into ugly, protracted, and costly court battles only years before the events at the heart of this book. To understand the bitterness of the most recent round, I’d love to see a volume – or at least one more open to both sides – more detailed than what this one presents. Not that the other side made itself in any way sympathetic in the 2014 accounts. Even so, the events were not quite as black-or-white as they seem to appear. An astute reader senses the authors’ desire not to antagonize their sources, meaning the book’s told basically from one side.

Another fascinating dimension also appears in corporate ownership that’s not quite split evenly 50/50. Television viewers may remember an episode of Ed Asner’s Lou Grant series where the newspaper was threatened by such a division – not that much different from the Seattle Times, actually, where one percent held the sway vote.

When it comes to Market Basket, we have one crucial family voter who switched. Why? Everyone wants to know.

So I’m still hoping for a more definitive volume than this entry. Maybe by the crack team from the Boston Globe, which could throw far more reporters at the story than the suburban Lowell Sun could – reporter/author Welker at least had the advantage of having the Demoulas family grocery stores originating in Lowell and putting their headquarters one town over, in Tewksbury, but he was a Lone Ranger in the face of a large reporting and editing staff in Boston.

Another of the case studies waiting to happen would look at Market Basket since the uprising. Can it sustain the large debt load and still maintain its generous employee bonuses and profit-sharing, along with its low prices? A year-after report by the Globe found that the company is indeed prospering in its rebirth. But long-term questions remain.

Will the fuller story ever come out?

For me, more and more, I’m looking for another current example, somewhat the way scientists want an experiment that can be replicated — another stakeholder over stockholder victory.

In the meantime, we’re still shopping – almost religiously – at Market Basket.

A CLUTCH OF MAPS

One of my favorite passages in all of poetry comes from Howard McCord’s “Longjaunes His Periplus”:

A chest of maps
is a greater legacy
than a case of whisky.

Followed by:

My father left me both.

Like my younger one, I’ve always been fond of maps. My bedroom wall was lined with tacked-up National Geographic charts, which tended to sag in our humid summers.

I was reminded of this the other morning when I was looking for a Boston street map, just in case I lost my bearings. Yes, I could have gone to the maps at Yahoo or Google. Even looked for the satellite views and all of the scary ability to snoop that goes with it. I couldn’t, though, use a GPS, neo-Luddite that I partly remain.

So I opened the drawer and here’s what I found (I won’t give you the years, though many are from the early ’80s):

  • Connecticut.
  • Pennsylvania (Exxon).
  • Seacoast (New Hampshire).
  • Idaho.
  • New Jersey.
  • Sierra Club USA.
  • Pennsylvania (official).
  • AAA USA.
  • Long Island/New York City.
  • Saugus Iron Works.
  • Maine.
  • Historic Bath.
  • Delaware.
  • Audubon Flyways.
  • Walking Tours of Bath.
  • Strafford County.
  • Dover (0ne of a half-dozen varieties).
  • Maudslay State Park in Newburyport, Massachusetts. Has a great stand of mountain laurel overlooking the Merrimack River.
  • University of New Hampshire campus.
  • Museums of Boston.
  • Gonic Trails.
  • Doctors Without Borders global view (two copies).
  • Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
  • Paul Revere House in Boston.
  • Manchester, New Hampshire.
  • Vermont.
  • New Hampshire (one of several varieties).
  • National Geographic the Making of New England and another of Canada.
  • North Cascades.
  • Mount Rainier, including trails.
  • New York City subways (two versions, three maps).
  • Brunswick and neighboring Maine.
  • National Geographic Endangered Earth.
  • Virginia.
  • White Mountains trail guides.
  • Mount Agamenticus.
  • Lamprey River.
  • Pawtuckaway State Park.
  • Trumbull County, Ohio.
  • Baltimore (two versions).
  • Britain and Ireland.
  • Mohegan Island.
  • Historic New England properties.
  • Maryland.
  • Lake Champlain Ferries.
  • Maine State Ferry Service.
  • Ipswich, Massachusetts.
  • Portsmouth-Exeter-Hampton etc.
  • York (Maine) Water District trails.
  • Minute Man National Monument, a series of sites in Massachusetts …
They even take me places I haven't yet been, as well as back to some old favorites. All without leaving the house.
They even take me places I haven’t yet been, as well as back to some old favorites. All without leaving the house.

And that’s before we get to the drawer of topographical maps, especially those from my Cascades years. Or the books and atlases. Or the genealogical maps, Guilford County, especially in those files.

Oh, the memories! And you want to tell me they’re obsolete? Fat chance!