White supremacy was there all along

Maintaining a unique group identity can be perilous, no matter how necessary.

The necessity side, at its best, has to do with trying to make progress, improve justice and physical comfort, live healthier, counter the corrosive forces of status quo and lethargy, be smarter, and so on. Put it any way you want, things in general could be better, and even thinking something like that will set you apart from the status quo of broader society.

On the other hand, humans are social animals. We need others as family, friends, colleagues, cohorts. We even need them to share our stories, histories, songs, and place on this earth. Relax, right?

It’s a complex calculus, then, around the world.

What I started to see in researching my book on a Quaker community in New England, though, was a blatant arrogance within the Puritan wave of immigration. I suspect similar sides are apparent in the Spanish settlers to the south or the French to the north, or, well, back in the Old World, all the way to China. Even one tribe over another.

I’m trying to look at this clearly.

The English, of course, knew they were superior to the French, who I gather saw it the other way around. (Insert proper expletive and spit appropriately.) And they were both superior to the Spanish or Portuguese or Italians, according to this scenario.

Germans? Not really on the scene in earliest settlement in America, far as I can tell, though the Dutch of New Netherlands add their own twist.

Remember, the English also looked down on the Scots and Irish, as well as the Welsh and Cornish.

Sounds to me like the old game, King of the Hill.

The comedian Eddie Izzard has an insightful riff on this where he says it all comes down to a flag. If you have no flag, you have no claim to your country or land. So, here, I’ll stick mine in the ground and this place is mine.

That does make for a short ride on the papal Doctrine of Discovery. Look it up, if you must.

What I’ve seen in my research is how this air of superiority made equitable dealings between the Europeans and the Indigenous peoples impossible. There was no eye-to-eye even exchange. Even the concept of farming was viewed as more productive, and thus superior, than the Native hunting and gathering use of a piece of land.

Well, I could argue that God preferred a wild-game offering over grain in Cain vs. Abel, Genesis chapter 4.

You know, quality over quantity.

As for equality? We have our guns and Bibles.

Which points to another distinction: written language. I’m a writer and a reader. You expect me to not take sides here?

Still, in the New England story, the English weren’t shy about labeling the Natives as “barbarians,” “savages,” and “heathens.” Never mind many of the practices of the English and French, who not only offered bounties on scalps – Native and the other side’s European – but also indulged in the practice themselves. As for heathen? For the Puritans, with their Calvinist inclination of proclaiming themselves God’s Elect, most other Christians were also lumped in that group, perhaps at a slightly lesser degree.

Many of the consequences, however, have been tragic, for all sides.

In some theology, pride is a sin, right? Ahem. (Hopefully, in contrast to justifiable self-esteem.)

Well, as some among us might note, I’m proud to be a humble Quaker. Not that we didn’t fall into that trap of feeling superior, too.

There’s plenty of work for all to do on this issue. I’ll leave my end of the discussion at that, for now.

More on the early Scots around Dover

The Scottish prisoners of war who had been deported in chains to New England and sold into indentured servitude were becoming free men about the time the Quaker movement came to the New World. It must have added to the volatile social, economic, political, and religious mix.

My book Quaking Dover examines the tensions between the traditions and values of the settlers from Devonshire and those of the Puritans originating from East Anglia. In the Piscataqua watershed, the Scots no doubt added another dimension to that culture clash.

Their number in a sparsely populated area is impressive – more than 50 men in Berwick, Maine, plus Oyster River, Exeter, and Hampton in New Hampshire. In short, they were a significant part of the inhabitants, even before many of them scooted off to places like York, Maine, or Boston.


A historical marker on Sligo Road in Rollinsford, opposite Berwick along the Salmon Falls river, summarizes the life of one as thus:

Near this place lived David Hamilton of Westburn born in the parish of Cambuslang, Scotland, in October, 1620; captured by Oliver Cromwell at the Battle of Worcester, England. September 3, 1651 brought to America as a prisoner in chains on the “John and Sarah” in the same year; settled near here and married Annah Jaxson of Lanark, Scotland; killed by Indians on September 28, 1691.

The marriage to Anna Jackson took place in 1662 in either Dover or Saco, Maine. She is believed to be the daughter of Richard Jackson, another Scottish POW. We are left wondering whether she had somehow managed to rejoin her father in New England or whether Hamilton knew her in Scotland and arranged for her passage. I’ve found little more about her father and nothing about her mother, although the fact that he died in 1691 in Berwick has me wondering if he, like Hamilton, fell in an attack by Natives.

David and Anna settled in Rollinsford and had seven sons.

He was slain in 1691 while working on his farm. His wife presumably predeceased him.

Today, Hamilton House can be seen across the river from the site of their farm.

That house gets its name from their great-grandson Jonathan, a wealthy merchant who built a manor overlooking a broad cove of the Salmon Falls. There, he had ships unloaded and repacked.

The site, with a classic Georgian house erected by later residents, is now maintained as a museum by Historic New England and open to the public.


The Oyster River connection brings into the picture an early settler who bought seven of the prisoners. He was Valentine Hill, who arrived in Oyster River in 1643 and established a large farm and saw mill at the falls. His 1649 house, now part of the Three Chimneys Inn, is one of the oldest structures in New Hampshire. His prominence is reflected in his construction of a meetinghouse in 1655 for the village, which was still part of Dover. Or should we say the Scots laboring for him did? The Puritan minister at First Parish held services there as well as at the Fort Meetinghouse on Dover Neck.

Through his first wife, Hill was distantly related to William Hutchinson, whose wife Ann had been banished from Massachusetts in a religious controversy and resettled in Rhode Island, where many of her followers later joined in the Quaker movement.

Valentine appears to have been thoroughly Puritan, but not so his likely nephew John, who settled in Oyster River in 1656; many of his descendants were active Friends in Dover. I’m assuming that John was the son of a John Hill who settled in Dover by 1639.


One Scottish POW who definitely had a line of Quaker descendants was John Bean, who settled in Exeter. As I describe in my book, Joel and James Bean and their two sisters left Dover to assist the growth of Friends Meetings in Iowa and then the West Coast, including roles in the founding of two colleges.

Their great-great-grandfather Bean was a recorded Quaker minister in Brentwood, New Hampshire, but stubbornly refused to submit to eldering from New England Yearly Meeting colleagues and was ultimately “disowned,” or removed from membership. Even so, he then led a splinter Quaker body in town. Was that the Scottish heritage at work?


There’s much more than one big story to touch on

There’s more to the origin of Dover Friends Meeting than the three women who were whipped out of town in December 1662 in what would have been a death sentence, had it been carried out to the letter.

Still, it’s a big story, one that occupies a central place in my new book, Quaking Dover. The horrific incident is also the most frequently visited page at the public library’s online history site, and it’s the subject of one of Greenleaf Whittier’s most famous poems.

I’ll be using that to introduce other examples of courage and faith from the town’s Quaker experience when the Dover Public Library features me in a book reading in front of a live audience this coming Wednesday. I hope you can join me, perhaps even posing a question or insight.

The appearance will also be streamed live, but preregistration is required.

That’s 6:30 pm this Wednesday (March 22).

If it’s anything like the Dover400 new authors presentation earlier in the month, I can assure you it will be a blast.


What revelations will turn up in Dover’s early public records?

In preparation for Dover’s 400th anniversary, dedicated volunteers have been poring over early records. In many cases, these served both the town and its tax-supported church, back to the 1600s. Many of these have been digitized and posted on the City of Dover website, but they can be very hard to read.

Even so, they’re being transcribed for release as part of this year’s big celebrations.

Moreover, in the light of scholarly advances, these hold the potential of drastically revising an understanding of our legacy.

I think it will be exciting.

Farewell to a Greek treat



Best wishes to the owners of Café Nostimo in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, who have just announced that they’re closing their Greek restaurant at the end of today after 16 years in business. Time to retire. We can understand that, especially the part about working nights and weekends.

Theirs had become a must-stop on my return trips to the Seacoast region, and I was looking forward to indulging myself next Wednesday, before my Quaking Dover presentation at the Dover Public Library.

Wish I’d known about the place pre-Covid, when I lived in nearby Dover. I had heard that some nights even had Greek dancing. The restaurant did have a large tent pavilion beside it for summer dining and more.

Lamb shank was top-of-the-line, but their gyro wrap was heavenly. I could argue about some details elsewhere, especially in comparison to a favorite version in Watertown, Massachusetts, but their desserts lineup was unbeatable.

I’m viewing this like a great dinner and the time you look at the empty plate while you’re full of happy memories.

As the translations on their wall proclaim, Yamos! And: Epharisto!

Factor in the Scottish prisoners of war

Quakers weren’t the only significant minority along the Piscataqua watershed in the colonial era.

One that doesn’t appear in my book Quaking Dover is the Scottish conscripts who had been defeated by Oliver Cromwell and his Puritan army at the battles of Dunbar in 1650 and Worcester in 1651, with some then showing up in what would become Berwick, Maine, and Oyster River in New Hampshire, now the town of Durham.

The Scots had sided with Charles II as king rather than Cromwell’s commonwealth. Hence, the “Bonnie Charlie” of the folksong lament, “Will yae ne’er come back again?” I now see the song also applying to the sons and brothers lost in the battles.

Despite their shared Calvinist theology, the Puritans took up to 16,000 defeated Presbyterians (Covenanters) as prisoners of war and treated them harshly. Many died in an infamous death march to Durham, England, or of illness later. Of the 3,000 survivors, around 900 of the healthiest were then deported to the American colonies, where they were sold for 20 to 30 pounds apiece (the cost of their passage) into indentured servitude, a form of slavery with freedom after five to eight years of satisfactory labor. The numbers of soldiers, I should caution, vary widely, depending on the source, at least until we get to the passengers on the ship Unity, 150 when it set sail late in 1650, and an additional 272 who reached Boston Harbor aboard the John and Sarah in late 1651.

I had come across passing references to some who had been sent from there to Berwick, Maine, but had not known of the enormity they endured or of their impact on the Piscataqua. One roadside historical marker, as I now understand, sanitizes their history.


The Old Berwick Historical Society has pursued the story of about 25 Scots who were brought to reconstruct and expand a sawmill on the Great Works river, on a site now on Brattle Street in South Berwick.

For full details, check out their website and its post, The Scottish Prisoners of 1650.

For an idea of the impact of that number, remember that neighboring Dover, the largest town in the region, had about 60 households.

The Puritans in the New World did continue to rub salt in the Scots’ wounds.  Before the town of Berwick was set off from Kittery in 1713, the English often called the settlement Unity, after the first ship that had transported the prisoners.

B. Craig Stinson’s Oyster River Scots, available online at the Scottish Prisoners of War Society’s thorough website, names another 22 who were taken to what was then part of Dover and then examines 18 of them. His list is drawn from the tax list at Oyster River, 1657-1659, most of them arriving on the John and Sarah. These are men who had fulfilled their indenture obligations, been freed, but were still in the settlement. Many of them later moved on to new locations.


Cultural clashes with the New England Puritans were inevitable. The records tell of Scots being taken to court for using foul language or bold confrontations with militia leaders as well as one husband put in the stocks for kissing his wife on Sunday and a minister being barred from preaching.

Considering the imbalance of European men and women in the New World, I am surprised by the number of Scots who managed to marry after they had paid off their indenture. According to the New England Historical Society, many of the brides were Irish housemaids who had been brought to the region, in this case likely Scots-Irish; a few others were even the daughters of the men’s former bosses. Notably, few of the former prisoners of war returned to Britain. Still, I’ve wondered if any of them had left wives and families behind and somehow reunited with them in New England.

In subsequent generations, I do see some descendants marrying into Quaker surnames, but not many.

One notable exception, told in my book, is Quaker Richard Otis’ third wife, Grizel, the daughter of Scottish POW James Warren of Berwick.

In the devastating 1689 attack on Cochecho Village, her husband and a stepson and stepdaughter were slain, while she, her three-month-old daughter, and other family members were taken captive to Montreal, where she was renamed and remarried to a French-Canadian farmer and had five children. After being widowed again, she returned to Dover without her children and established a prominent public house, or tavern.

The Otis story is part of my book.

Town meeting and grassroots democracy

New England’s annual town meetings are often hailed as an epitome of participatory democracy, but I have yet to hear an examination of how they mutated from the original Congregational churches’ model of self-governance, back when the town and Puritan parish were one.

As long as voting on town affairs was limited only to males in good standing with the local congregation, up to two-thirds of a town’s households were excluded from the deliberations.

In New Hampshire, that wasn’t the case, even after Massachusetts annexed the colony. What happened then, I’ll venture, is that the Quakers and Baptists tempered the deliberations in the future Granite State in ways that eventually seeped elsewhere.

Quakers, or more formally Friends, served as a loyal opposition, one that wouldn’t take up arms in its cause but that would nonetheless hold firm to its convictions. Like the Baptists, they also believed in a separation of church and state.

The Quaker practice of conducting community business in a monthly session meant seeking unity on an issue without ever taking a vote. A vote, after all, would create a minority. Instead, when differences arose, due consideration might produce a synthesis – not a compromise. The former would be superior to either of the earlier positions. The latter would mean settling on the lowest common denominator.

Crucial to this process was the Meeting’s clerk, carefully listening to all involved.

A skillful town moderator, so I’ve heard, needs similar abilities.

I’m curious to hear how this played out in Rhode Island and on the Cape, where Friends and Baptists were also an influence.

Do note, the Puritan colonies had none of the toleration of Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, or New York to the south and west, yet they lacked the town meeting heritage.

I do want to hear more.


‘It’s all fiction’

As my new book came together in its revisions, I began to feel some parallels to John Baskin’s 1976 New Burlington: The Life and Death of an American Village, a non-fiction opus based on what was then the new field of oral history.

The village he examined was largely Methodist and Quaker, the latter having come en masse from South Carolina as their rejection of living in a slave-holding countryside. In fact, when they relocated as a Quaker Monthly Meeting, they carried their treasured minute book with them and continued their records in Ohio.

His book became something of a classic and was even excerpted as a popular series in the Dayton Daily News.

While relying heavily on quotations from his sources, he did knit the interviews together with some heavy interpretation on his part. And here I was, becoming an active narrator in the action in my own work.

My book, as it stands, is heavily influenced by what I’ve learned writing fiction, in addition to my lifetime career as a newspaper journalist. I view the result as a story.

More to the point, when Quaking Dover came out, one longtime friend asked me if it was another novel. I bristled, I think, “No! It’s a history! Non-fiction!” While also thinking, “Didn’t you read the description? What did you miss?”


I am trying to remember the first time I mentioned Baskin’s book, probably in a Quaker circle in another part of the state, and hearing the response, “It’s all fiction.”

Huh? It seemed pretty solid to me, and the asides on Quakers were rather informative for a newcomer, as I still was then.

A decade or so later, visiting family back in Ohio, I ventured off to worship at the New Burlington Quaker church, which had rebuilt out by the highway after the village had been flooded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

At the close of the service, I was asked why I chose them rather than the more silent Friends in nearby Waynesville. Well, I had worshipped in that historic meetinghouse years earlier but, as I replied, I enjoyed visiting other branches of the Quaker world. And then I added, “Besides, I have the book.”

A moment of awkward silence struck the circle around me before the oldest person, a woman perhaps in her early 90s, softly pronounced, “It’s all fiction.” Obviously, they all knew what I meant by “the book.”

Oh? I was in no place to argue and accepted her verdict as literary criticism. In some ways, I took it as advice, not that anyone knew I, too, was a writer. Those of us in the news biz were already treading on thin ice in too many ways.

Still, as I retold the encounter to a reliable bud, he inhaled sharply and noted, “That’s strange. It’s the same thing Aunt Cecille said. Her words, ‘It’s all fiction.’”

Well, she did live in a town only a few miles up the road, one where the local Friends church had recently petered out. She, too, had Quaker roots and community creds.


As a journalist, I can relay one fine reporter’s observation that he knew he was on course with a controversial issue when he found both sides of the story were upset. Not that I want to go there. Still, I do know that we humans have a hard time accepting our own shortcomings and follies and that we view events through our own lenses.

I should add that Quakers, as a whole, write a lot. It’s a crowded field.

How crowded? The primary Quaker history journal takes this stand: if a book hasn’t been vetted by a peer review panel of historians, it’s taking a pass.

As they did on mine.


It’s always a fun time

For those of you living in New Hampshire or southern Maine, here’s an invitation to Dover Friends’ annual Arts & Letters event now rescheduled for 2 pm Saturday, March 18.

It’s one way to sample the local Quaker community as members of all ages display their artistic talents, from painting, drawing, weaving, and photography to original music, poetry, and fiction, perhaps even dance or furniture-making.

The mix each year is different. I remember our amazement when we first saw the museum-quality quilts a newly retired English teacher had begun creating as well as the array of Sculpey figures one of the kids produced. The afternoon even includes a potluck, billed as culinary arts.

The historic meetinghouse is at 141 Central Avenue, just south of the downtown.