Sunday, 21 July 2013

Rhode Island Firebrands: Guest Post - Jo Ann Butler

Thanks to the Hoydens and Firebrands for having me as their guest today, and my thanks also to Kim Murphy, who invited me. I am Jo Ann Butler, genealogist, once a colonial archeologist, and author of Rebel Puritan and the Reputed Wife, historical novels set in seventeenth-century Rhode Island.

We remember few seventeenth century New England women. Perhaps we think of Priscilla Mullins, the Pilgrim bride of John Alden, at Thanksgiving. However, Rhode Island was home to several famed hoydens and firebrands who deserve to be remembered.

A Firebrand is one who stirs up trouble or conflict, and Rhode Island had plenty of them. Canonchet led his Narragansett nation, and after being attacked by a Puritan army, joined Metacomet’s Wampanoags in rising against the Englishmen in King Philip’s War. Roger Williams was chased out of Puritan Massachusetts for heresy. The same colony sent an army into Rhode Island to arrest Samuell Gorton. Massachusetts said Gorton was treating the Narragansetts unfairly, but their aim was to annex Gorton’s holdings into the Puritan colony. Rhode Island was noted for its female firebrands. Perhaps Anne Hutchinson and Mary Dyer are still mentioned by history teachers searching for female participation in New England society. I hope so, for by their words and deeds these women changed their world.

In 1635 Boston women began meeting at the home of William and Anne (Marbury) Hutchinson on the day after Sabbath. In many respects, Anne was like most other New England wives. With twelve children, she must have run her household with military efficiency. However, unlike nearly all of her contemporaries, Anne had been educated by her minister father. She and her audience discussed the Puritan ministers’ sermons, and Anne gave her own interpretation of Scripture. Soon she held two meetings each week, and upwards of eighty women – and men – participated.

When one of Anne’s followers, Lord Henry Vane, was elected as governor the Puritans mobilized. They overturned the election, then prevented a possible uprising by disarming over 140 men from the Boston area. Anne’s supporters were told to recant, or to leave. In 1637 over half of them took their families and left, most of them to Rhode Island.

Assisted by New England’s ministers, Governor John Winthrop led the trial of Anne Hutchinson. There was no separation of church and state, so she was banished as “not fit for our society” for her religious beliefs. A few months later Anne joined her followers in Rhode Island after being excommunicated. She “gloried in her sufferings,” and as she swept out of the Boston church, Anne was joined arm in arm by Mary (Barrett) Dyer.

Mary Dyer was very well known to Bostonians. “A very proper and fair woman,” she was married to a rising merchant and minor official, and they had a two-year old son. Mary and William Dyer followed the Hutchinsons to Rhode Island. However, without Puritan laws and beliefs to oppose, Anne lost influence. After her husband’s death, Anne and most of her family moved to the margins of New Amsterdam. In 1643 all but one daughter were slain by the Siwanoy Indians.

Mary Dyer left Newport, Rhode Island in 1651, and did not return from England until 1657. The year before her return, English Quaker missionaries had begun arriving in Puritan Boston. The Quakers were notorious for their civil disobedience in England, and New England’s Puritans were on the alert. The first two Quaker women were jailed before being deported back to England. The next group of Quakers sat in Boston’s jail for much longer. John Endecott was governor when whipping Quakers became Massachusetts law that autumn. When Mary returned she was jailed, but escaped the lash, probably because the Dyers had been friends with so many Bostonians. The English Quakers did not fare so well, and several, including women, were whipped in the Puritan colonies. One of them was Herodias (Long) Gardner of Newport.

In summer 1657 Mary returned to Newport after her jailing in Boston. Herodias – who was known as Horred – was a few years younger than Mary. The two women had come to Newport about the same time, had several young children, and knew each other well.

In May 1658, after Mary brought her Quaker beliefs to Rhode Island, Horred Gardner shouldered her nursing infant. With Mary Stanton, a neighbor’s daughter who came to help, Horred walked fifty wilderness miles from Newport to Weymouth, Massachusetts, where she had once lived. There she spoke in public, perhaps at a market, telling of the scarred, starved, and traumatized Quakers recuperating in Rhode Island, and pleading that the abuse be stopped.

Horred Gardner and Mary Stanton were whisked to Boston by the militia. There, Governor Endecott ordered both of them whipped 10 lashes. Afterward, Horred prayed that God would forgive them. However, her whipping marked the last of Horred’s firebrand days.

Despite Horred and the other Quakers’ ordeals, the whippings, brandings, and ear-cuttings continued. In 1659 two Quaker men hanged when they returned to Massachusetts after being banished. Mary Dyer, who had also been banished on pain of death, then mounted the gallows and had the noose placed around her neck before being reprieved. She again defied her order of banishment and was hanged in 1660. However, her sacrifice finally ended the execution of Quakers after the newly-restored King Charles II read of Mary’s hanging.

Now, let's consider Rhode Island’s hoydens. A Hoyden is a lively or boisterous young woman, and perhaps there were plenty of them to go around in Rhode Island. That colony was called “Rogues Island” by Puritan detractors: rude, illiterate, and unchurched. Perhaps one birth in ten occurred within nine months of a couple’s marriage in Rhode Island, but about the same proportion occurred in Puritan colonies. Rhode Island punished women for theft, sexual misconduct, and scolding, but not overly many of those lesser crimes.

However, a few notable cases made Rhode Islanders whisper. In 1655 a stone mason bragged that not only had he built Elizabeth (Baulstone) Coggeshall’s house; he had “laid many a stone there” and was confident that her youngest child was his. Betty’s husband, John Coggeshall divorced her and repudiated her two youngest children. Lesser couples might have been fined or whipped, but John was son of Rhode Island’s ex-governor, and Betty was the only child of the colony’s richest man.

Horred Gardner’s full name was Herodias (Long) Hicks Gardner Porter, and her marital hijinx also made Rhode Island talk. In 1644 she and her first husband, John Hicks, parted after Horred charged him with abuse and he accused her of whoredom. In 1655 her second husband, George Gardner, was tried for keeping John Hicks’ wife as his own. Gardner was found not guilty because the Hickses had been legally separated. However, in 1665 the forty-two year-old Horred asked for a divorce from George because they had never married. Horred got another separation from the shocked colony. Only a couple of years later she and John Porter, who was a good twenty years older than she, were tried for cohabitation.

By the way, the image here is of Horred’s granddaughter, Hannah Gardner. No contemporary image exists of Horred, Mary Dyer, or Anne Hutchinson.

I believe that ‘hoyden’ is an appropriate description for Horred Long, but she was also a firebrand in her defense of the Quakers. Many years ago I learned about Horred when compiling my genealogy, and I am proud that she is my 8th-great grandmother. I also thought her story would make a dandy historical novel. I hope that Horred is proud that I wrote Rebel Puritan, an Indie BRAG Award-winning novel, about her, and followed it this year with The Reputed Wife. Horred shares the pages of my novels with Mary Dyer and Anne Hutchinson, all three of them formidable Rhode Island Firebrands.

Want to know more?

American Jezebel – Eve La Plante. An excellent biography of Anne Hutchinson.
Wayward Puritans – Kai Erikson. Fine social history with sections about both Hutchinson and Dyer My website about Herodias Long. Christy Robinson’s superb blog about William and Mary (Barrett) Dyer
The Winthrop Woman – Anya Seton. Superb historical fiction with Anne Hutchinson as a main character
Rebel Puritan and The Reputed Wife – Jo Ann Butler. I humbly recommend my own novels about the development and disputes in early New England as experienced by Herodias Long.
Mary Dyer, Biography of a Puritan Rebel – Ruth Plympton. This book contains inaccuracies, and is as much fiction as biography, but also covers Mary’s life.

Jo Ann Butler


Alison Stuart said...

Welcome to the Hoydens, Jo-Ann. I loved your post on the Rhode Island Firebrands - a formidable bunch of ladies.

Kim Murphy said...

Thanks for joining us, Jo Ann!