Several years ago I read a story about witch trials in Virginia. Surprisingly, most of the trials predated Salem. Except for some people who live in the coastal region of the state, few realize that Virginia was the first to hold witch trials on the North American continent.
Those stories became a journey for me. One that I had no idea where it might lead, but I think that's true with most writers. Not only were the Virginia trials overshadowed by Salem, but few records have survived to modern times. Thanks to the American Civil War, many of the 17th-century records were burned during the 19th century (another area of history that I know very well!).
Unlike Salem, only one woman was recorded to have been executed. But how many records were lost? No one will ever know. The journey of writing my story led me to read more about England where the colonists originated from. Fellow Hoyden, Mary Sharratt shared some of her research and introduced me to Emma Wilby and her wonderful book Cunning Folk and Familiar Spirits: Shamanistic Visionary Traditions in Early Modern British Witchcraft and Magic.
With an anthropology degree, I have always been intrigued by shamans. Wilby's book hit an instant chord with me, but historians disagree whether the cunning folk ever reached the American shores. I dug deeper. Two of the Virginia trials sounded very much like the accused were cunning women. Between that possibility and the fact that cunning folk were very common in the 17th century, I had a basis for my story. Yet, something was missing.
When the colonists first arrived on the Virginia shores, the land was already inhabited. Besides the John Smith/Pocahontas myth, I knew nothing about the Powhatan people. In my pursuit to learn more, not only did I read books, but I visited the historic sites. Jamestown is the original site where the colonists made the first permanent English settlement in North America, and Jamestown Settlement is a living history park where the 17th century comes alive. The Citie of Henricus is also a living history park portraying the second English settlement. Like Jamestown Settlement, it includes how the Indians of the time lived, but unlike Jamestown, Henricus did not survive Opechancanough's organized attacks in 1622. Also on my stops, I included visits to the Pamunkey and Mattaponi museums. The paramount chief Powhatan was a member of the Pamunkey tribe, and his daughter, Pocahontas was Mattaponi (the Algonquian speaking tribes of Virginia traced their lineage through the women). These two tribes were part of the Powhatan chiefdom and still live on reservations in Virginia to this day.
After four years of researching and writing, I was drawn into a world that I could have never imagined. In my story, The Dreaming: Walks Through Mist I have blended modern times with fantasy and the 17th century. As many of the tribal people teach, my path has taken me along a circle, leading me home. Now my journey is complete.
I look forward to seeing where my next journey leads.