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.

 

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.

No, it’s not always business as usual

My first published novel ends as the protagonist joins with five hippie siblings who run a restaurant they’ve just inherited.

My novel What’s Left returns to the scene, to find the family’s prospered under the alternative approach.

Do you know any “retired hippies” who did quite well professionally? Tell us about one.

~*~

When her family buys an old church like this and converts it into a hot nightspot, the move simply feels like a natural extension of what they’re already doing.

How can I not be delighted by this?

Writing often feels like working in a vacuum. Believe me, feedback from real readers – positive or negative – makes a huge difference.

How can I not savor a review like this by Girlpower at Amazon:

You’ll enjoy reading all of Jnana’s books, you won’t be disappointed.

Her reaction to Daffodil Uprising continues:

Jnana draws me back into the counterculture past we have in common. The book flows and takes you back into everything hippie during the seventies where most of the baby boomers found themselves. It was an exciting time, a revolution, fueled by peace and love, we were very different than our fathers and mothers.

His characters are people who reminded me of friends during that time. We experimented with drugs, and had more than one partner but it was an empowering time for women. Our fathers were of the silent generation who kept their heads down, we were no longer. We allowed ourselves the time to have a little fun. [It was also] the birth of organic food, which is now coming to bear fruit. The progressive generation gave birth to many of the things today that started back during those days.”

She turns to Kenzie’s days at Daffodil University, where he finds his bearings and has more than a few relationships and that unique casual sex that lived for itself and asked for nothing more.

Jnana in his free-flowing style gets down to it, explaining relationships. Kenzie got caught up in an affair with a woman who’s cheating …It took me back in time on a magic carpet ride. … Many generations are interested in how the hippie generation lived back then.

The making of a hippie

Available at the Apple Store, Barnes & Noble’s NookScribdSmashwords, Sony’s Kobo, and other fine ebook retailer and at Amazon in both Kindle and paperback.

If you’re getting toward the finish line with NaNoWriMo, just remember

The first draft is for yourself, as a writer. You want to see where this idea goes. And a  book-length manuscript in just a month is a mental marathon, often through uncharted terrain.

The revisions are more for the reader. You really have to lead them through what had been  tangles.

Sometimes that includes you. Just in case you were wondering what to do with your next 11 months.