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.

Blessings, all

As the sign in front of an Aroostook County church advised:

When temptation knocks,

let Jesus open the door.


Yes, I had to laugh.

It all starts with the events being remembered today.

The quote also flips the quotation from Revelation, which I recall with its association with an illustration on my grandparents’ dining room wall, where he’s knocking at a thick wooden door. Maybe that’s a symbol of our own hearts, too many days … closed, hard, and dark.

Today, let him enter, in spirit, and dine with you and those you love most dearly.

May you be spared all temptations in this blessed day.


Just to get Saint Nicholas clear

He’s not a synonym for the fat man who comes down the chimney at Christmas, especially in Eastern Orthodox Christianity, where he’s especially revered. Let’s set the record straight.

  1. He was born in 270 CE to wealthy parents of Greek descent in Patara, now southeastern Turkey.
  2. After they died of an epidemic, he went to live with an uncle, also named Nicolas, who was bishop of Patara and guided him into the priesthood. After ordination, he gave away his large inheritance to those in need, establishing his reputation for generosity.
  3. During the first half of his life, it was illegal to be a Christian in the Roman Empire. Even so, he was ordained bishop of Myra, also in southeastern Turkey, before being imprisoned for refusing to worship idols.
  4. After his release from prison in 305, he zealously made the rounds of local pagan temples and shrines, smashing their idols and turning their temples to dust, as the account goes.
  5. In 325, Nicholas was sufficiently esteemed to be summoned by Emperor Constantine to a gathering to discuss issues Christians were facing. There, at the First Ecumenical Council, he became so outraged at hearing views voiced by Arius (“the first heretic”) that he either punched or slapped the offender. He was then stripped of his bishop’s robes and thrown into prison because it was illegal to strike someone in the presence of the emperor, to say nothing of his own violation of his bishop’s code of non-violence or self-restraint. While in shackles, Nicholas repented of his actions but not his views, and then received a nighttime visitation by Christ and the Theotokos (Virgin Mary). Constantine freed him the next morning. (Nicholas is somehow not mentioned in the writings of any of the people who were actually at the sessions. Ahem. It’s still a hot story.)
  6. In another report, a formerly wealthy man had three daughters of marriageable age but not the money for a dowry or prika for them to be married to good men. He feared they might become slaves. When Nicolas heard of the man’s plight, he came by the house secretly at night and tossed a sack of gold through the window, where it bounced into a sock or a shoe. This happened each time before a daughter’s wedding. The third time, the father saw who the secret donor was. Nicolas pleaded with him to keep the secret. In another, more salacious version, the father had planned to sell off his daughters, into either slavery or prostitution, and Nicholas arranged to save them all from a host of sins.
  7. He is attributed with many miracles, including saving drowning people at sea, rescuing three innocent soldiers from execution, and restoring at least one mortally injured sailor.
  8. He’s widely known as Nicholas the Wonderworker and one of the highly regarded Eastern Orthodox saints.
  9. He died peacefully in his sleep in 343 in his old age, that is, 73.
  10.  In 1087, Italian sailors from Bari seized at least part of the saint’s remains from the church where he was buried in Myra, over the objections of Greek Orthodox monks. Two years later, Pope Urban II personally placed those relics under the altar at the new Basilica di San Nicola in Bari. For the Eastern Orthodox and Turks alike, it remains theft.


So much for Santa Claus, eh?

Manifesto or perchance confession

Fellow workers in the field know the practice is not easy. They notice movements and deft accomplishments as well as slips and defects the wider public doesn’t. They’re also rarely moved by easy though flashy flourishes and scorn the con-artist and cheat.

I’m not referring solely to other writers or artists, either. Watch a gymnast evaluate a meet or a figure-skater a competition. Even a software writer or electrician. Or a surgical nurse.

That said, when I’m drafting and revising intensely, I’m also more appreciative of qualities in the writing of others. At the best is an admiration of something I lack, a time for humility and gratitude rather than jealousy or envy.

It’s work, after all. Which is why published pages are called “works.”

Given a choice, the rational decision would be to browse through great pages already given to us by others. Browse, as sheep or cattle – OK, I joke, but the fact is I seldom find what most calls me.

Writing is work, especially when you’re already working a regular full-time job somewhere else. Why else where there those periods in my life where I rose at four a.m.  to write and revise before going in to the office? How many others do likewise? At what personal cost to their lives and growth?

Real work, I’ll contend, is the practice of being fully alive. Aware. Totally there, at times.

Some people charge up and then release it in an extended explosion, as Kerouac did in his fiction.

I, in contrast, see it as a balance, between inspiration – breath within – and exhalation – the atmosphere without.

Creativity? No, God creates.

Man discovers, cultivates, nurtures, at best.

Practicing an art (and likely much more) means wrestling with power – including, in the Apostle Paul’s phrase, the “powers and principalities.” Powers of destruction, on one hand, and sustenance, on the other. Destruction that can, as seen too many times, include the artist. Hence, the fascination with Faust. With madness. Alcoholism. And on.

Self-absorption and inflated self-importance. We hazard much, often without the slightest awareness of the risks afoot. In Satan’s dominion over “the world,” which is the realm of the arts, or in Eastern thought, the traps of Maya, that spider web of worldly attraction and deadly illusion.  Either way, cause to be wary.


Self-discipline, route to true freedom, strips away false attachments, barriers, chaff.

Writing involves observing my own shifting mind while opening to manifold living energies around me. It means simplifying, following unexpected leadings and openings, sometimes to dead ends, other times to unanticipated ranges.


Some of my fellowship at the time would have argued that’s not where I should be. Some were praying for me through this period. The kind of work that once would have had me read out of Meeting. Is this acceptable activity for a free Gospel minister? All I can do is explore the Truth given to me.

“We Quakers read only true things.” Distractions from worship? Traps of the flesh? So where does fiction fall?

The piece goes its own way: a living organism: readers, editors see it differently from you. What you would cut they love. What you love they see as sore thumb.

Versus becoming so rarified we lose all sense of joy and delight. The danger of Plainness or strictness, that it suffocates personality, makes us so humiliated we cannot move forward in the Holy Spirit to perform bold action.


My poetry has been influenced by the craft of headline writing and news reporting more than I care to admit. The trade paid the rent, provided a point of resistance in my personal endeavors. The Political Science Fiction I once envisioned has since come together in real history as a horrid reality.

Not that we’re anywhere near done yet.

Ten kinds of prayers

It is how striking the impulse to prayer arises across cultures and eras. I’ve even noted that one set of Zen Buddhist prayers in print is something even an atheist could endorse.

In her book, Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers, Anne Lamott lays out a basic approach to the universal practice of turning to the Holy One, regardless of name. Her three types seem to cover it all.

Still, there other types, even before we touch on wildly different faiths and theologies. Here are a few, even as I search for some formal Greek theological terms I’ve filed away somewhere.

  1. Supplication or petition: Humble, kneeling, raising a request or concern for God’s action.
  2. Intercession: Pleading on behalf of the needs of others.
  3. Confession: Openly admitting one’s sin and desire for pardon.
  4. Consecration, benediction, or blessing: Joyfully approving a person or situation, with the speaker as an active co-participant.
  5. Agreement: Corporate prayer encouraging each other in our shared faith when gathered together.
  6. Surrender: In times when one feels the weakest, a yielding to God’s strength and leading.
  7. Prophetic: Speaking as an oracle of the Holy One or the Holy Spirit.
  8. Listening or waiting: Sitting silently, raising one’s heart to the Presence, open to answer.
  9. Contemplative: Eliminating outward distractions by focusing on a repeated word or phrase, drawing the one closer to God in calm stillness.
  10. Fasting: Think about this one, especially if you’ve never tried it.


And we haven’t even touched on postures or breathing, much less chanting or dancing …


Ten things about Baptists

In my novel The Secret Side of Jaya, she learns a lot about Baptists while living in the Ozarks.

For starters, within their shared identity, they come in all varieties of theological nuance and group practice – and the lines within them can be drawn sharply. And they don’t handle snakes as part of their worship.

Here are a few facts:

  1. Baptism is reserved for believing “born again” adults and is usually by water immersion only. Jesus is accepted as Lord and Savior.
  2. Church authority, with few exceptions, is placed in the local congregation, which can voluntarily affiliate with other like-minded fellowships. Beliefs can vary by congregation, historically along Calvinist versus Arminian lines. Far more than I want to get into here, other than say I’m in the Arminian camp.
  3. The major affiliations in the U.S. are the Southern Baptist Convention, American Baptist Association, National Baptist Convention, National Baptist Convention of America, American Baptist Churches USA, and Baptist Bible Fellowship International. Far from the only ones.
  4. There are also Independent Baptist churches that refuse to affiliate with others.
  5. Faith is a matter between God and the individual. Thus, absolute liberty of conscience is essential.
  6. The Bible is asserted as the only norm of faith and practice. So start flipping pages.
  7. Baptist membership is roughly 100 million worldwide – half of them in the USA, where they constitute a third of American Protestants, especially in the South.
  8. They make up more than 40 percent of the population in Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee.
  9. Forty-five percent of African-Americans identify themselves as Baptists.
  10. The Lord’s Supper, or communion, is considered symbolic and not necessary for salvation. There is no set calendar for its observance.


Does this make their identity any clearer? We haven’t even touched on some of the key theological language.


Some facts about the Brethren

The Brethren resemble Mennonites in many ways, including their belief that baptism is for believing adults only, but they have their differences, beginning with the way they baptize. They traditionally do it by trine immersion, and historically that often happened in the dead of winter, once they broke the ice in the stream. Seriously.

Much of my ancestry on my dad’s side were Brethren, as I explain on my Orphan George blog.

Here’s a brief introduction to the faith.

  1. Alexander Mack (1679-1735) was the leader and first minister of a Pietist community that broke with the three state churches in Germany in 1708. Persecution sent them fleeing to the Netherlands and then, beginning in 1719, to Pennsylvania. Mack arrived with about 30 families ten years later, essentially completing the migration to the New World.
  2. They often resembled the Amish – and some still do – including the German-speaking identity. Like the Amish, Mennonites, and Quakers, they have upheld a peace testimony that rejects participation in war.
  3. They also led lives modeled on simplicity and a non-creedal belief, “No creed but the New Testament.”
  4. They were active on the American frontier and grew in numbers.
  5. There has often been an identity problem. They were often called Dunkards or Dunkers, for their mode of baptism, which some found offensive, or German Baptist Brethren – but please don’t confuse them with the Baptists or the United Brethren in Christ, which I was raised in, or the Brethren in Christ, an offshoot of the Mennonites. Or the Plymouth Brethren in Garrison Keillor’s past, who broke off from the Anglicans.
  6. Tensions between conservatives and progressives led in the 1880s to a separation that split off the Old German Baptist Brethren, on one side, and the Brethren Church, on the other, from the central body, now known as the Church of the Brethren.
  7. The Heifer Project began as a Brethren peace and social justice initiative in the 1950s.
  8. Denominational polity is through Annual Conference.
  9. The annual love feast includes foot washing.
  10. What others call sacraments the Brethren call ordinances. Among them are the laying on of hands and anointing for healing or for consecrating an individual for service.