To those who say God wrote the Bible, let me reply as a writer

If He’s so perfect, why didn’t He do a better job of it? (See any masculine references here as traditional and object to them as you wish.)

Even in Hebrew, so I’m told, many key passages are unintelligible. As for the King James English, which many Protestant fundamentalists hold as inerrant (meaning flawless, perfect, unblemished), let me object. There’s a lot of clumsy translation – and outright mistranslation. Add to that the ways our own language has shifted in the centuries since. (To wit: I find myself having to retranslate many key Quaker writings from the mid-1600s on for modern readers, even those with PhD credentials. Those early Friends were conversant with the KJV lingo. Does thee understand?)

For perspective. When’s the last time you read Shakespeare? Without relying on footnotes?

More to the point. He (yes, He, in the current argument) certainly could have used a better editor, in any language. As for revisions? Let me contend that no work of language is ever perfect, it is ultimately a human artifact. Including the arcane collection known as The Bible.

For me, the best we have in those pages is all the more exalted because of that edge of imperfection and decay. It allows humanity to creep in. I’m thinking of some very cutting-edge contemporary poets, actually.

My fascination with that divine text has turned to the struggle to accurately record our own, very personal, experiences of the Holy One. Name it as best you can. And, from the other direction, the ways our own lives have reacted to the struggle from our own first-hand encounters with those haunting great mysteries.

I’ve come to see – and treasure – what we have in that book more as a set of deeply personal journals of individual and group experiences, including their failures, than as any set of how-to steps to eternity.

The persecution wasn’t consistent

Had the Puritan persecution of dissidents been consistent, the Quakers and Baptists likely wouldn’t have survived. Instead, it came in waves aimed more at the traveling missionaries as well as to constrain the political and business prowess of resident Friends.

Further, there were relatively few congregations or ministers in New England. Despite required attendance at worship on the Sabbath, the buildings couldn’t hold them all, had they showed up.

Who was keeping attendance rolls, anyway?

Under its stern exterior, Puritan polity was fragile in nature

No, I didn’t expect to be feeling some sympathy for the Puritan authorities in America.

In fact, I had assumed they were a pretty formidable front.

But then, in researching my new book, Quaking Dover, I was rather amazed by the range of developments they faced in the 1630s, their first decade in the New World. It’s like they were being hit on all sides.

In addition, they had no direct representation in Parliament. And they didn’t necessarily represent the majority of the residents in their own towns.

In their tribulations with the Crown, the place was ripe for Revolution from the very beginning, rather than having to wait for Paul Revere’s midnight ride.

The Quaker challenge of the late 1650s hit at some intrinsic flaws in the Puritan mindset. As one challenge voiced it, the flaws were essentially theological rather than focusing on the unfolding news events. The title of the pamphlet?

An examination of the grounds or causes which are said to induce the Court of Boston in New England to make an order or law of banishment, upon pain of death, against the Quakers

As also

Of the grounds and considerations by them produced, to manifest the warrantableness and justness both by their making and executing the same; which they now stand deeply engaged to defend, having already put two of them to death

As also

Of some further grounds for justifying the same, in an appendix to John Norton’s book (which was printed after the book itself, yet part thereof); whereof he is said to be appointed by the General Court

And likewise the Arguments briefly hinted, in that which is called, “A true Relation of the Proceedings against the Quakers, &c.”

Whereunto somewhat is added about the Authority and Government Christ excluded out of his church; which occasioneth somewhat his true Church-Government

By Isaac Penington, the Younger



It’s a remarkable document, actually, well worth reading, even in light of the headlines and news flashes we encounter. It argued, essentially, that the Puritans were falling far short of their true goals and potential.

As for the full title?

It would never sell today.

The Puritans do get a bad rap

Oh, it’s hard for me to admit that, at least in light of the early persecution of Friends. I started out with my new book, Quaking Dover, assuming the Puritans were a monolithic opponent of religious liberty for others.

I did know, however, they weren’t always as uptight as they’ve been portrayed. In some ways they were liberal, with high literacy rates for men and women. Startlingly, a woman could divorce her husband if he didn’t sexually satisfy her. Besides, in England their Parliamentarian armies were the vanguard of the radical World Turned Upside Down that toppled the king. And they did love their beer.

As I researched my book, I began to sense that the old adage about coming to America for religious freedom but not extending it to others wasn’t exactly on target, nor was the part about neighboring colonies like New Hampshire being founded purely for monetary gain. As for Rhode Island? You see, it complicates.

For starters, the Puritans’ Massachusetts Bay charter was a commercial document, like the one for the East India Company, with their brilliance coming in immediately moving the annual stockholders meeting to the New World rather than London, under the King’s eyes.

The Pilgrims at Plymouth, too, had come under a commercial charter, one that left them strained by heavy debt. The majority of the first settlers at Plymouth weren’t even fellow Separatists in faith, but here for economic opportunity.

What the Puritans envisioned was a utopia, one within an economic, political, and religious worldview. While it’s sometimes described as a theocracy, ministers were banned from town office – not so elsewhere in the colonies.

Two of New Hampshire’s first four towns, meanwhile, were founded by ministers fleeing Massachusetts. That’s Hampton and Exeter.

And then, the Puritan fundamentalism somehow evolved into a liberal Unitarian strand and more mainstream Congregational wing, now part of the United Church of Christ denomination.

I’ve previously noted an essay by Marilynne Robinson in the August 2022 Harper’s Magazine, delineating ways Massachusetts was far more liberal than Virginia or the Carolinas when it came to religion and liberty in general. In early Virginia, for instance, missing church three times or speaking ill of the King merited a death sentence. Let it be noted, too, that Puritans, along with Presbyterians, Baptists, Quakers, and Roman Catholics, were unable to gain much of a foothold anywhere in colonial Virginia, with its ruthless Anglican state denomination.

There are even arguments that the persecution of the upstart Quakers in both New England and the southern colonies was based more on political and monetary motivations than religion.

The historian at First Parish church in Dover had me seeing that the opposition in New England wasn’t nearly as monolithic as I’d assumed, and then that New Hampshire’s four local congregations had somewhat different characters from those in Massachusetts.

More recently, I’m facing Carla Gardina Pestana’s contention in Quakers and Baptists in Colonial Massachusetts that Friends went out of their way looking for trouble. It does rather thicken the plot. The Baptists somehow found ways to fit in more agreeably.

Considering current attacks on freedom of speech (and printing), some of it under the guise of religion, I do wonder about the status of the separation of church and state.

Sometimes history isn’t so far back there as we’d like to suppose.


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.


Maybe I’m going soft, but I am viewing the Puritans in a fresh light

Readers of my new book are telling me how shocking they find the Puritans’ cruel persecution of the up-and-coming Quaker faith. That reaction is quickly followed with their disgust that the Puritans came to the New World for religious freedom but then refused it to others.

What we need to acknowledge, though, is how deeply our outlook is engrained with an expectation of freedom of speech and religion, something that would have been foreign to mindsets back in the 1600s. There, religion and politics were one, as in a one-party state. In England in the early 1600s, the king had the state church, what we know as Anglican or Episcopal, well under his thumb, while the Puritans had Parliament and its armies. It was a volatile mix, even before we get to New England, where my book is set.

I should emphasize that for us, as modern Americans, it’s all too easy to condemn Puritans as backwater bigots, when in fact they were radical progressives on many fronts. They were decidedly anti-monarchy and proto-democracy, and advanced a less feudal, more equitable economy and society. They championed education and literacy for men and women alike and founded Harvard College within their first six years in New England despite deep divisions within their attempt to establish a godly Utopia. Boston was even prepared to fire cannons at Royal Navy ships in the mid-1630s, had they arrived to revoke the colony’s charter, which the Puritans had obtained from the king in an end-run around the man who was responsible for New England’s development – Sir Ferdinando Gorges, the father of Maine and first cohead of New Hampshire, as you’ll find in my book. He definitely would have torpedoed their application. (Whew! The amassing details do thicken the plot, hard as they become to follow.) A Puritan wife could actually divorce her husband if he failed to fulfill her. And they loved their beer.

In other words, Puritans weren’t nearly as awful as we want to portray them today, even if they do come across as villains in my book, Quaking Dover.

Since its release, I’ve been coming to believe the Quakers pressed the Puritans simply for not going far enough in their reforms and intended Utopia. Historian Carla Gardina Pestana, in her wonderful “Quakers and Baptists in Colonial Massachusetts,” even came to the conclusion that the Quakers (or Friends, as we more often refer to ourselves) went out of their way to provoke the Puritan authorities. Ouch, I’m thinking that’s true.

More recently, in revisiting Kenneth Carroll’s book “Quakerism on the Eastern Shore,” meaning Maryland, I felt affirmed by his statement, “Quakerism was, in some ways, an extreme form of Puritanism,” followed by, “It is not surprising, therefore, to discover that Quakerism, in its opening days in Maryland, reached into the centers of Puritanism … for a great number of its converts.”

Well, that latter point was surprising to me. I do see Friends blending Mennonite strands via the English General Baptists into what emerged.


While my book is focuses on New Hampshire and its adjacent provinces, I’m finding that religious restraints in the southern American English colonies of the time were far harsher than those in New England. For instance, a provocative essay by Marilynne Robinson, “One Manner of Law, the Religious Origins of American Liberalism” in the November Harper’s Magazine, notes that the under the repressive laws in Virginia the penalty for missing church services three times or speaking ill of the king was death, along with the harshest penalties for minor infractions of other laws. She adds there was no mention of trial or appeal and much of what we consider Common Law was nebulous. The Carolinas were just as extreme.

Carroll, for his part, finds that in contrast to New England’s persecution of Quakers, “there may be a skeleton in the closet of the southern colonies also.” He remarks, “The intense persecution experienced by Friends in Virginia soon drove many of them into Maryland,” followed by a series of drastic laws that even kept Quakers from being allowed to enter the colony. “There was to be no challenge to the Established Church as the one religious institution in Virginia,” something that excluded Puritans, Presbyterians, Baptists, Quakers, and Roman Catholics alike. Carroll then states, “The full nature and extent of persecution suffered by Quakers in Virginia is not known. … We do know that William Cole, of Maryland, and George Wilson, of England, were imprisoned in a ‘nasty stinking, dirty’ dungeon in Jamestown where Wilson was whipped and heavily chained so that ‘his flesh rotted from his bones and he died.’” A number of Indian converts to Quaker faith may have also been sentenced to death because of their conversions.  And Maryland for a while also imposed harsh persecution, including the banishment and whipping of Quaker “vagabonds” from constable to constable through the colony.

Among those in the South who had visited Dover were William Robinson, before his execution in Boston, and Alice Ambrose and Mary Tompkins, once they left the north.

This statue by Sylvia Shaw Judson sits in front of the Massachusetts statehouse, with copies in Philadelphia and Richmond, Indiana. Mary Dyer was one of four Quaker missionaries hanged in Boston because of their faith. She’s the only one who hadn’t visited Dover, New Hampshire, although the site of the gallows later became known as Dover Street. As a fine point, she didn’t offer her life for religious freedom but rather as a sacrifice to a Truth she espoused.


To see how this played out in Dover, please turn to my book, Quaking Dover.

I, for one, would definitely like to see a fuller understanding of how religious liberty came about in the Southern colonies and also a presentation of how Puritans in New England evolved to emerge, in one strand, as Unitarians.

Ten major American religious dissidents

Who says you had to conform growing up? Here are some people who made America the land of the free, not that I agree with all of them. Still, it really does come down to language and how we use it. Especially when religion and politics are mixed in.

  1. Samuel Gorton. Just plain onery in early New England.
  2. Roger Williams. Leading to a progressive movement then known as Baptists.
  3. Anne Hutchinson. Pointing the way to New England Quakers.
  4. John Woolman. A Quaker who worked ardently against slavery and other economic perils.
  5. Henry David Thoreau. It’s a Unitarian thing, ultimately.
  6. William Miller. The foremost of the voices that would become the Seventh-day Adventist church. Ellen G. White emerged as an essential proponent in its development as it organized in Battle Creek, Michigan, and then Takoma Park, Maryland.
  7. Joseph Smith. You know, the Mormons. Along with Brigham Young and Utah.
  8. Dorothy Day. Catholic Workers, a truly radical movement.
  9. Martin Luther King Jr. Civil rights and much more.
  10. Bayard Rustin. Gay Black Quaker ahead of his time on many fronts.

Who am I overlooking?

My history essentially drifts off about the time the textile mills take over

Among other things, I would love to know more about the livelihoods of Dover’s Quaker families, especially as they evolved over the generations. How did they acquire new skills, for one thing, as the town went from being a fishing and shipbuilding center to timbering and sawmills and then milling in general, even before its emergence as a calico capital?

New England farming, of course, underwent its own permutations, especially after wool was displaced by cotton in the early 1800s.

As Dover shifted from a rural village with agricultural roots and fishing and shipbuilding to an industrial city depending on an immigrant workforce, the Quaker presence shrank to a mere thread. Even so, as I like to think, some of the Friends’ values continued in the descendants of the Meeting’s earlier members, even when the family was no longer Quaker.

Many had moved north or east in search of new farmlands, and others were about to head off to Minnesota and Iowa.

Dover Friends Meeting was already declining when the textile mills started changing the character of the community. Moreover, the new arrivals brought new churches and ethnic identities, and these are stories waiting to be told in the upcoming celebrations. I’ll be all ears.

As the ownership of the mills passed to out-of-town investors, the profits being generated in Dover prospered an upper crust elsewhere, most likely the famed Boston Brahmins. In contrast, Dover became a largely working-class neighborhood. The same can be said for the busy rail lines passing through town.

The centerpiece of Dover is the Lower Falls of the Cochecho River, capped by a dam that increased the waterpower to the textiles mills. Here, water from the river rushes into the tidewaters below and runs through an arch in the mills that define the downtown. Who can’t be inspired by such a sight, whether the river’s running high or low, in season?

Although a visitor to Dover today would have no problem seeing the town’s character as New England, its identity today comes from the brick mills erected at the falls four-and-a-half or five miles north of the Hilton settlement. There is no town common, a wide green square surrounded by imposing Colonial houses and white church under a lofty steeple. The same can be said for neighboring Portsmouth, formed around the harbor, and Exeter, with the elite academy. Yes, there are the iconic church spires and rooster weather vane but not the central green common. Hampton, which remained largely agricultural, does have a tiny green, not that it would pasture a single horse.

As my new book and these blog posts note, David Hackett Fischer’s Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America explains that the stereotypical New England arises in the customs and culture of East Anglia, the region of England that produced most of the Puritan migrants who shaped Massachusetts and Connecticut. He sharply counters that with the Quaker migrations from the Midlands into Pennsylvania, and from the Royalist cavaliers who predominated the Virginia planter society, as well as from the Borderlands people in northern England who share commonalities with the Scots-Irish settling the Appalachian spine from Georgia to Maine.

Fischer examines these complex workings in a set of specifics that include distinctive speech, architecture, geographic patterns of settlement, family, marriage, gender, sex, child-rearing, naming of children, attitudes toward aging, religion, magic, learning and education, food, dress, sports, work ethics and practices, use of time and recording, ideas of social order and institutions, authority and power, and more, including differing concepts of liberty and social restraint.

Quite simply, there was no generic Englishman. Even the dialects could prove incomprehensible when taken from one part of the country to the other.

While the new settlers to the Piscataqua settlement were primarily Puritans, imbued with its Protestant ethos, they were also overwhelmingly from Devon, with folkways quite distinct from their East Anglia brethren.

I suspect these contrasting folkways play a major, though previously undetected role, in the deep conflicts about to emerge in the seeming isolation along the Piscataqua as well as elsewhere in other pockets of New England.

Far from being a homogenous nation, Britain was a patchwork of many long-buried identities, some of them resurfacing in new guises. The country had never suffered an Inquisition, either, to suppress them. Its Christianity had been imposed from the conversion of the regional kings, whose subjects might publicly worship one way but another in private.

English Quakers, too, had never suffered the trials of sustained violence with New France and the Indigenous American tribes or racial slavery or a Revolutionary War, as their American coreligionists did, especially in New England. Little wonder the English Friends were baffled by the separations that ultimately divided Quakers in the New World.

It was a rich brew. And, frankly, still is.


Though Dover Quaker Meeting was reborn in the ’50s after a hiatus, its viability is challenged, but so is much more of contemporary American society.  Besides, I’m not comfortable in considering the period as “history,” much less examining it systematically or comprehensively, though I tell what I can. Some early readers think it’s the best part of my book. I won’t argue.

I will say that our Quaker Meeting is a beautiful community, one I love dearly and invite you to experience.

As well as Dover.


Check out my new book, Quaking Dover, available in your choice of ebook platforms at

Welcome to the upcoming 400th anniversary.

There’s plenty for other researchers to expand on

My Dover history project has taught me how slippery much of the material – especially the early parts – can be. What comes through is often fragmentary.

Did Edward Hilton actually look like this?

There’s the very enigma of Edward Hilton, for starters, just trying to prove he was here from 1623. From the circumstantial evidence, I’m convinced that he and Thomas Roberts definitely were, and besides, there are no rival hypotheses regarding their arrival. But that’s not rock-solid documentation doesn’t appear until retroactively. Maybe some of it, taken to London, survived the big fires and plagues and will resurface. Don’t hold your breath.

I’ve seen some of the early charters and patents and, for all of their descriptive prose, find them baffling. The layers of landholding are just the beginning.

What, for instance, did William Fiennes – the eighth Baron Saye-and-Sele – and Robert Greville, the second Baron Brooke, receive in compensation when they relinquished their proprietorship of the New Hampshire province to Massachusetts? And for that matter, how did the Massachusetts Bay colony arrange the transaction?

I would even like to see the details on what Edward Hilton had received when he earlier sold his proprietorship – again, just what did he possess? – to Lords Saye and Brooke. His reason, according to one source, was a sense that the Massachusetts authorities were preparing to seize the Piscataqua and his defense would have been inadequate. Saye and Brooke had clout, as well as a colony in Connecticut named after themselves: Saybrook.

There are also questions of how the “governors” and ministers of the province were selected prior to Massachusetts’ control of New Hampshire.

Just trying to decipher the script and text requires an expert, perhaps even an antiquarian lawyer. And how many of the documents remain, anyway, in the mother country or the New World?

Fellow blogger Mark Everett Miner touches on some of this when he remarks, “It is thought that William Hilton was somewhat educated as he wrote several competent, if poorly spelled, letters.” They are, however, quite convoluted. Here’s an excerpt from a 1633 letter to John Winthrop:

“There arived a ffishing shipe at Pascataque about the 15th of this p’sant moneth where in is one Richard ffoxwell whoe hath fformerly lived in this cuntery he bringeth nuse yt there were tow shipes making ready at Barstaple whoe are to bring passingers & catell ffor to plant in the bay he hath leters ffor mr wearom & divers others at dorchester wch hee intends to bring hr to the bay so soone as posible he can like wise he heard ffrom mr Alerton whoe was making ready at Bristole ffor to come ffor this cuntery other nuse he bringeth not that I can heare of onely mr Borowes purposeth to come ffor this cuntery ffrom london & soe desighring you to convey thes leters in to the bay wth what conveniency you can desighring the lord to blesse you in your lawffull designes I humbly rest …”

How do you make sense of such surviving documents?

In Dover, First Parish records don’t pick up until John Pike set down his memories, beginning with his arrival as minister in 1677. Still, as later minister and historian A.H. Quint observed, “There are no extant Dover church records before Dr. Jeremy Belknap’s ministry,” beginning in 1767, “except that he copied into a record book a list of baptisms and of members, commencing in 1717. The town records are also very defective during the period of Mr. Pike’s residence.” He adds, “This is due partly to the Indian troubles, and partly to the Masonian difficulties.”

By the time Samuel Bownas first visited Dover, the Meeting’s earliest minutes had already been lost – in a barn fire, according to oral lore.

Old volumes in the Dover Friends library tell mostly about Quakers elsewhere. These rare books do not circulate.

In Quakers in the Colonial Northeast, Arthur J. Worrall notes, “The clerk was the most important of the persons active in meeting affairs.” While his examination focused on the yearly meeting level, he remarks, “Clerks had been appointed before 1700, but we know little about their activities. Their note-keeping was careless at best, and … it was not unusual for a clerk of many years’ standing to lose his copy of the minutes.”

One consequence is that we are unlikely to learn much of Dover Quaker life in the early years from the Yearly Meeting books.

Dover’s surviving records begin with the women’s minutes in 1701, with a gap from 1785 to 1814, and the men’s minutes, from 1703. Its vital records stretch back to 1678 but, curiously, were not begun until 1787.

Missing, of course, are the accounts of the early persecutions by the Puritan authorities, the reactions to the Waldron incarceration of Natives or their later attack on the village, or even the early leadership of the faith community.

For family genealogists, the Quaker sources are among the best available family records in America before the 1850 Census, the first to name everyone in a household. The Friends minutes, however, name only those families in good standing as members. Even so, they can be very useful in framing a family overall.

New England records were never comprehensively indexed along the lines of William Wade Hinshaw’s six-volume Encyclopedia of American Quaker Genealogy, covering Pennsylvania and New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Virginia, and Ohio, or its seven-volume companion by Willard Heiss, Abstracts of the Records of the Society of Friends in Indiana. But Dover Meeting’s surviving family records were serialized from 1903 to 1909 in the New Hampshire Genealogical Record, the Official Organ of the New Hampshire Genealogical Society. Its editor and publisher was Charles Wesley Tibbetts, an attorney. I haven’t been able to determine if he is a direct Quaker descendant, but his kin were prominent in the Meeting.

Dover’s surviving records are preserved in the New England Yearly Meeting archives in the special collections at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where they can be accessed by researchers and readers. As I already mentioned in an earlier post, a truly close examination of them would add much to a more thorough history of Dover Friends – a list of clerks, for instance, or the Revolutionary War volumes of discipline – but the results would likely be too arcane for my intended audience.

Still, if opportunity ever presents itself, hunkering down for several weeks in Amherst might be revealing.

Other things I would also like to see:

  • A fuller presentation of the Devon folkways, without the Virginia overlay in David Hackett Fischer’s Albion’s Seed.
  • A history of Salem, Massachusetts, drawing on the culture clash that runs through my own book. I suspect that much of the witch trial hysteria originates in those differences, abetted by a “perfect storm” of related factors. Likewise, the Salem Friends Meeting and its successor at Lynn need a bigger profile.
  • Ditto for Hampton Friends, morphing into today’s Amesbury Monthly Meeting.
  • A major overview of Quakers in Maine. Again, the fragmentary nature of the surviving minutes would require amplification from court records, deeds, and genealogies.


Welcome to Dover’s upcoming 400th anniversary.


When working from others becomes a conversation

My latest book is nothing like the others I’ve written. It’s not one of the novels, which required me to learn entirely different approaches to a story than I’d used in the daily newspaper business. And it’s not extended essays, like my usual Quaker materials. Nor is it poetry, where most of my literary efforts have been.

At the start, my genealogy came closest, but those are more research notes for others to follow up on – and if I ever get the energy to return to those, they do need a major cleanup.

As much as I’ve loved history, from childhood on, I’m not a trained historian. The closest I came was majoring in political science.

But for the last 50 years, I’ve been a Quaker and become quite grounded in the movement’s history and theology. And that’s what prompted the new book, along with Dover’s upcoming 400th anniversary.

I do like the big picture, and that’s what evolved here. Not just Dover Friends Meeting, then, but the broader forces that shaped and impacted it. So I went digging, drawing on others who had closely examined the early records or, in some cases, drawing on published journals and other early accounts.

Ground Zero, as it were. Contrary to the historic marker, however, William was not yet on the scene. The honor rather goes to Edward’s apprentice, Thomas Roberts, who was a key player in the early settlement.

What I collected seemed to write itself, which was an exhilarating experience – until I showed it to a circle of Beta readers. And then it was back to the drawing board, cutting the first half of the book by two-thirds and refining the tone by inserting myself into the text. The journalist in me, trained to be invisible, did so uneasily but trusted in the generous advice of a fellow poet and writer.

Also insightful has been historian Stephen Sanfilippo’s quip about being a “footnote historian,” the professional who can spend much of his career investigating minutia that become a paper or dissertation that in turn become a footnote in a “general” historian’s book, one that looks at the broader scene.

Much of my book is a step from that, drawing more on the general historians before me, but that’s led to its own encounters. I’ve often found myself in conversation with them, wishing we could actually sit down together rather than having all these years, even centuries, between us.

The first was Annie E. Pinkham, whose A Brief History of Dover Friends Meeting, a 1935 mimeographed paper, became the springboard for this project. Her material is no doubt based on much of what she had heard passed down in her husband’s family and maybe her own, though I’ve since found that her version of the earliest days of the town reflect common misunderstandings.

I’m also grateful to some people I knew personally, a generation older, who went through the Quaker minutes themselves – Shirley Leslie and Silas Weeks and I sense a few others. Their summaries were sufficient to round out the history, though there are many points where I now see that a more thorough investigation, of a doctoral dissertation nature, might glean answers that currently elude us. (Back to the footnote historians!)

George Wadleigh

Another voice I’ve been deeply grateful to is George Wadleigh, who struggled with many of the town’s often conflicting details and missing data when assembling his own history of Dover, dated April 1882 but not published until 1913.

The volume is prefaced with “NOTICE. It was the intention of the collector of these notes to complete them to a later date, then to revise and publish them, but he did not live to do so. They are now published without the revision the collector would have made, in order that his work may not be entirely lost.”

Originally, I thought that was Wadleigh’s own insertion, but finding that he died two years after dating the preface and that the book had to wait 31 years before publication, the “collector” seems to be Wadleigh himself, with the notice being added by one of the editors.

Either way, Wadleigh apparently had access to perspectives and possibly documents unavailable to earlier historians. He also may have had long discussions of the materials and their implications with other elders. From 1831 to 1868, he was editor and publisher of the weekly Dover Enquirer newspaper.

And then there are bloggers like Mark Everett Miner, some of them working as genealogists. I’m curious to see what they make of my take.

Beyond that, I hope I’m ready for the nitpicking and correction I’ll no doubt hear if anyone actually reads what I’ve produced.

As Stephen Sanfilippo has said, repeating the advice of one of his mentors about working in history, if you think you have the answer, you’re mistaken.

Or as I learned doing genealogy, every new answer you get raises ten more questions.

The work is never done.

Welcome to the dialogue.


Welcome to Dover’s upcoming 400th anniversary.