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 as, 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 Smashwords.com.

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.

 

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?

My take on the causes of decline 

There are many reasons for the closure of the Dover Friends meetinghouse after the First World War, as I note in my book, along with its reopening in the 1950s.

Dover Friends meetinghouse, erected in 1758, the congregation’s third in town.

In an even bigger picture, we could argue about the marginalization of religion in American society in general, and then extend our consideration to lessened civic involvement and association.

My short quip is that Friends became too respectable.

For now, I’ll leave it at that – at least here, in a blog post. Many other factors come into play.

Besides, it’s the basis of enough for an entirely new book, rather than the history at hand.

Just what makes us tick, anyway – individually and together?

~*~

Check out my new book, Quaking Dover, available in an iBook edition at the Apple Store.

Welcome to Dover’s upcoming 400th anniversary.

 

Forget Portsmouth as far as the first permanent settlement goes

Dover and Portsmouth have always been at odds, it seems. But Dover is definitely older, despite the upstart’s claims to the contrary.

Portsmouth goes back to 1630, when the Laconia Company dispatched Captain Walter Neale, an English Army officer, to locate the large “lake of the Iroquois” the investors believed existed beyond the Piscataqua, which would give them a monopoly on the beaver trade – and possibly gold. He arrived with eight or ten ex-military adventurers aboard the barque Warwick that spring or summer and set up operations at the abandoned Pannaway Manor in today’s Rye, New Hampshire.

Portsmouth grew up around its harbor downstream from Dover.

As George Wadleigh deduced in 1882, “The Thomson house erected at Little Harbor in 1623, though built of stone, could have been no such substantial structure as has been assumed for it. It is not probable that ‘it presented the general appearance of the dwelling houses of the time of James I, vast numbers of which still remain in good preservation all over the old country.’ Had it been of this character it would hardly have been reduced to the dilapidated condition in which it was found by Hubbard in 1680, less than sixty years after its erection, when only ‘the chimney and some parts of the stone wall were standing.’ It is probable that as it must have been hastily built, it only sufficed for the immediate needs of Thomson and his little party, as a shelter from the elements.”

Within a year, Neale moved two miles east along the Piscataqua River, choosing to settle on a site rife with wild berries, leading to the name Strawbery Banke. Over the course of a few years, the Warwick and Pide-Cowe conveyed 48 men and 22 women to the new settlement. Note the odds. At least there were women.

A “Great House” was erected as the center of the settlement, one that “would be larger than the house at Pannaway.” It would be built of pine, with a stone foundation and chimney. In addition, a storehouse was constructed, along with small houses for the tenants, a shelter for cows and sheep, and wells were dug. There were also a sawmill and platforms for drying fish. Humphrey Chadbourne has sometimes been credited as the carpenter, but he would have been only 16 at the time, if he were even in the New World at all. He does definitely show up a few years later, though, at Newichwannock at today’s South Berwick, Maine, just upstream.

In addition to his explorations, Neale served as administrator, or governor, of the “lower plantations” along the river, while Wiggin did the same for the “upper plantations.” They had boundary disagreements during the three years before Neale returned to England.

As Wadleigh wrote, “‘Mason Hall,’ or the Great House, as it has been styled, was … probably a more suitable location for carrying on the business of the settlement, while the station at Little Harbor was abandoned. Such as it was, it passed into the hands of Mason’s men, and was sometimes called his ‘stone house,’ though it is now conceded the term ‘Mason Hall’ was never, as has been popularly supposed, applied to it.”

As a business, though, “In a few years this company broke up [in 1634] and the servants were discharged, the whole scheme proving a failure. On a division of the property, Mason bought the shares of some of his associates and sent over a new supply of men, set up saw mills, and soon after died.”

As Wadleigh notes, “These settlements on the Piscataqua went on but slowly for several years.”

~*~

At the time, “There were but three houses or settlements in all this region, namely, at Little Harbor or Portsmouth at the ‘Bank,’ at Dover Point and at Newichwannock. … Their occupants turned their attention chiefly to trade and the fisheries, the cultivation of the grape and the discovery of mines; in the latter it is hardly necessary to say that they did not meet with much success. Very little improvement was made on the lands, and bread was either brought from England, in meal, or from Virginia in grain, and then sent to the windmill in Boston to be ground.

“That they fared hard, if they did not work hard, is evident. One of them (Ambrose Gibbons) in a letter to the proprietors in England, complains that for himself, wife and child, and four men, ‘an have but half a barrel of corn … beef and pork I have not had but one piece this three months, nor beer this four months. I nor the servants have neither money nor clothes,’ etc.”

Wadleigh added, “The dwellings of the early settlers for nearly a hundred years were hastily constructed and of the rudest character. Their houses had but one or two rooms. Very few of them had other than block windows. Their furnishing, beyond a few necessary cooking utensils, was of the most meagre description. Of the dwellings of the settlers at Plymouth, at about the same time, we collect here and there (says Palfrey) a hint as to their construction. A storm on the 4th of February 1621, ’caused much daubing of our houses to fall down’; this was the clay or other earth which filled the chinks between the logs. Winslow wrote to persons proposing to emigrate, ‘Bring paper and linseed oil for your windows.’ The earliest houses on Cape Cod were built by selecting large logs of the right dimensions for sills and plates. In these, holes were bored about six inches apart and poles were inserted as a sort of studding, intervals being allowed for doors and windows. The spaces between them were filled with stones and clay. The most thoroughly built were plastered with clay. The roofs were thatched with long grass. The chimney was built of sticks, arranged like a cob house and plastered with clay inside. The windows were supplied with oiled paper instead of glass. The floors were nothing more than the bare earth or perhaps in some cases flat stones covered with straw, for as late as 1623 the cottages of the common people in England, of whom the emigrants were chiefly composed, were no better finished.”

Nor do I find any mention of a church in Portsmouth before 1641, which suggests the town’s faithful found themselves relying on Dover’s minister and congregation. The southern province itself didn’t incorporate until 1653, when it took the name of Portsmouth, after John Mason’s home port in Hampshire, rather than continuing as Strawbery Banke.

 ~*~

Welcome to Dover’s upcoming 400th anniversary.

A view of early Plymouth from one of Dover’s earliest settlers

It turns out that Edward Hilton’s older brother, William, did indeed have a taste of what to expect in New England before settling in along the Piscataqua River.

William had emigrated to the Plymouth Bay colony aboard the Fortune, the first vessel after the Mayflower to bring settlers to the Pilgrim plantation. The small ship, carrying only 35 passengers, left England in July 1621 but didn’t arrive at Plymouth until November 10 or 11 of that year – late in the sailing season and most likely after the big feast or even too late for any leftovers.

As genealogist Mark Everett Miner notes, “On arrival they found that half the Mayflower passengers had not made it through their first winter in Plymouth and had died. The Fortune sailed back to England carrying a ‘cargo of good clapboard as full as she could stow, and two hogsheads of beaver and other skins,’ which showed the great potential for settling in America, and the hopes of selling this cargo and ensuring future settlement at Plymouth. Unfortunately, before reaching port in England, the ship was stopped by the French, who seized the cargo, and that intended profit for the small colony back in Plymouth was lost.”

So much for further thanksgiving. Sounds more like continued lamentation was in order.

The Fortune was under the command of Captain William Trevore, who had previously joined the crew of the Mayflower in its oft-told voyage to the New World after the Speedwell was deemed unfit. His exploration of Boston Harbor with Myles Standish gave name to the island New Hampshire pioneer David Thomson later inhabited. In the 1630s, as master of the William, Trevore made repeated trips bringing Puritan settlers into Massachusetts.

In a letter sent to their cousin Anthony Hilton in South Shields, England, William Hilton described the conditions of the Pilgrim settlement, where William was now living and laboring while his wife and children remained in England. They would come in 1623 aboard the ships Anne and the smaller, supply-loaded Little James.

As he wrote in a cheery mode:

“Loving Cousin,

“At our arrival at New Plymouth, in New England, we found all our friends and planters in good health, though they were left sick and weak, with very small means; the Indians round about us peaceable and friendly; the country very pleasant and temperate, yielding naturally, of itself, great store of fruits, as vines of divers sorts, in great abundance. There is likewise walnuts, chestnuts, small nuts and plums, with much variety of flowers, roots and herbs, no less pleasant than wholesome and profitable. No place hath more gooseberries and strawberries nor better. Timber of all sorts you have in England doth cover the land, that affords beasts of divers sorts, and great flocks of turkeys, quails, pigeons and partridges; many great lakes abounding with fish, fowl, beavers, and otters. The sea affords us great plenty of all excellent sorts of sea-fish, as the rivers and isles doth variety of wild fowl of most useful sorts. Mines we find, to our thinking; but neither the goodness nor quality we know. Better grain cannot be than the Indian corn, if we will plant it upon as good ground as a man need desire. We are all freeholders; the rent-day doth not trouble us; and all those good blessings we have, of which and what we list in their seasons for taking. Our company are, for the most part, very religious, honest people; the word of God sincerely taught us ever Sabbath; so that I know not an thing a contented mind can here want. I desire your friendly care to send my wife and children to me, where I wish all the friends I have in England; and so I rest

“Your loving kinsman,

“William Hilton”

The “cousin,” incidentally, may have been an alias for Captain Smith, who soon after published the letter in his own book promoting New England settlement.

~*~

William Hilton next appears in 1623, when Governor William Bradford dissolved the communal operation of the Plymouth colony’s holdings and parceled out land to the settlers to build on and farm themselves. Hilton received one acre as a passenger on the Fortune and his wife and two children received three acres as passengers on the Anne.

Given a farm of four acres, Hilton was unlikely to pull up roots so soon to try the unknown Piscataqua venture or, for that matter, to be part of Thomson’s Pannaway Plantation. Confirmation of his remaining at new Plymouth rather than Piscataqua comes the next year, when the infant John Hilton was baptized by the Reverend John Lyford, who was not a member of the Pilgrims’ congregation. That action stirred up a controversy between Lyford and the Plymouth authorities that quickly escalated to the point that Lyford and John Oldham were expelled.

According to Miner, Hilton and his family left new Plymouth soon thereafter, possibly to join his brother Edward on the banks of the Piscataqua. William’s land in Plymouth, I assume, reverted to the colony. Real estate ownership, as we’ve noted, had different meanings back then.

Regarding the Lyford controversy, Miner explains the child “could not be baptized at Plymouth unless the parents joined the Pilgrim church, which they were not disposed to do, being staunch Anglicans. They appealed to Rev. John Lyford and arranged a private baptism according to the rites of the Church of England. … This issue … was behind the family’s migration first to the Piscataqua River and later to join his brother Edward to help found Dover, New Hampshire.”

Miner does acknowledge an alternative destination: “On the other hand, Noyes, Libby and Davis state that Hilton ‘left Plymouth and joined Thomson at Little Harbor with the purpose of starting salt works,’ and apparently did this in partnership with Gilbert Winslow,” a brother of two fellow Fortune passengers. “This would provide William Hilton and his family with a home prior to the arrival of Edward Hilton, assuming the latter did not come so early as 1625.”

There’s also the possibility that William may have had previous wives before the one, maybe named Mary, who followed him to new Plymouth. Miner quotes a source “suggesting that if one of his wives should prove to have been a Winslow, it would explain his letter writing with Edward Winslow, his association with John Winslow, his removal to Piscataqua [Fort Pannaway] with Gilbert Winslow and the marriage of two of John Winslow’s sons to his relations.”

Either way, William Hilton and his family would not have been living on the Piscataqua as early as 1623. And curiously, there’s no indication of his trade directly involving fish but rather salt manufacture.

William Hilton arrived at Plymouth but probably was a tad too late for the big dinner. Don’t bother looking for him in the group shot. Also note that the settlement looked nothing like this. It was fortified, for one thing, and had a completely different style of house.

The Lyford incident illuminates another side of the New England migrations. Not everyone came for a noble cause, religious or entrepreneurial. Some were running away from reprehensible acts.

After the Hilton child’s baptism, leaders of the colony discovered that Lyford had been writing letters to England disparaging the Separatists at new Plymouth. As the Lyford entry on Wikipedia explains, some of the letters were seized before they were sent and opened. When Governor Bradford confronted Lyford about their contents. Lyford apologized but later wrote another similar letter that was also intercepted. After the second incident, Lyford was sentenced to banishment.

Before his expulsion, Lyford’s wife, Sarah, came forward with further charges. Lyford had fathered a child out of wedlock with another woman before his marriage, and after his marriage, he was constantly engaging in sexual relationships with his housemaids.

Bradford recorded Sarah Lyford’s explanation of how her husband “had wronged her, as first he had a bastard by another before they were married, and she having some inkling of some ill cariage that way, when he was a suitor to her, she tould him what she heard, and deneyd him; but she not certainly knowing the thing, other wise then by some darke and secrete muterings, he not only stifly denied it, but to satisfie her tooke a solemne oath ther was no shuch matter. Upon which she gave consente, and married with him; but afterwards it was found true, and the bastard brought home to them. She then charged him with his oath, but he prayed pardon, and said he should els not have had her. And yet afterwards she could keep no maids but he would be medling with them, and some time she hath taken him in the maner, as they lay at their beds feete, with shuch other circumstances as I am ashamed to relate.”

Once more, he was on the run, eventually landing in Virginia. Sarah apparently remained behind, where as a widow, she married Edmund Hobart, a constable, court official, and minister, in 1634.

~*~

So much for some juicy scandal surrounding all the piety.

Happy Thanksgiving, anyway.

It’s all part of my new book, Quaking Dover, available in a Nook edition at Barnes & Noble.