Guest Post by Lucretia Grindle on the Histroical Background to the Women in The Devil’s Glove
As I began to think about the Salem witchcraft trials, I was struck by what a distinctly female episode Salem was. Sure, you’ve got the Mathers, father and son, and the magistrates – all men. But this was a furor that was whipped up and powered by women, some of them very young women. And, while six men were executed (five hanged and one pressed to death) fourteen women were hanged. Because other women accused them.
All of which led me to consider the roles women played in 17th century New England. As I began to contemplate The Devil’s Glove, I knew that my central character would be female, and so it seemed important to try to get past preconceptions and really understand the scope of possibility as well as the limitations on women’s lives in that time and place. What were they able to do, and not do? How did they fit, and not fit into the power structure of society?
Salem certainly seemed a ‘fracture’; an incident when teen-aged girls, some of them orphaned, most of them servants and dependents – in other words those who would usually be the most un-empowered – wielded extraordinary power. A power they used to attack some of the most powerful female figures in the Massachusetts colony. Established and respected matrons like Rebecca Nurse. Women of wealth and social standing like Mary English. Women who would normally be politically untouchable, like the governor’s sister, Anne Phipps. What other ‘fractures’ might I find, if I went looking?
One of the greatest pleasures of writing history, and historical fiction in particular, is the way in which you begin thinking you know about something, only to discover facets of a world that are a complete surprise. So as I settled into archives and began to peel back layers, I was thrilled to find a complex and unexpected past peopled with an astonishing array of women. Resolve Hammond and her mother, Deliverance, are fictional characters. But the circumstances and possibilities of their lives are based on real women, some of whom appear in The Devil’s Glove, and many of whom will appear in the second and third books of the trilogy. These are a few of their stories.
Early in The Devil’s Glove we discover that Resolve and her mother spent the bloody years of King Philip’s war (1675-1678) sheltered among the tribe led by the female sachem, Ashawonks. This is based on a true episode. I placed the Hammonds with Ashawonks specifically, both because I wanted to bring her into the story and because she is Deliverance’s mentor, and her guide – the door through which Deliverance, and thus Resolve, enter the Native world. So, who was she?
Female sachem, or saunkskwa of the Sakonnets, a tribe whose lands bordered the southern edge of the Plymouth settlement on Narragansett bay, Ashawonks was unique, not just because she was a women – there were several female sachems at the time – but because she became leader not via inheritance, but because of her formidable diplomatic skills. Her position would be challenged throughout her life, not only by the Anglo-Europeans who tried to push her off her lands, but also from within her own tribe. None of them succeeded. Instead, Ashawonks managed to walk a dangerous tightrope, keeping alliances – or at least relations – with Anglo-Europeans, while not openly alienating fellow sachems and tribes. She was especially close to the powerful militia commander, Benjamin Church, whom she often met and spoke with at length, using him as both a sounding board and conduit to The Powers that Were in Massachusetts. Thanks to skill, nerve, and an uncanny ability to read situations, Ashawonks piloted her people, and those under her protection, through one of the most dangerous episodes in early American colonial history.
At about the same time Ashawonks was steering a course through a bloody war, another extraordinary woman gave birth to a daughter in Salem, Massachusetts. The daughter would become Mary English, who appears at the end of The Devil’s Glove and is a central to book II of the Salem trilogy. But it was her mother, Elinor Hollingworth, whose life suggested to me what the realistic possibilities might be for Deliverance Hammond.
Elinor’s family arrived in Salem as part of The Great Migration, an influx of something in the area of 20,000 immigrants, primarily from the British Isles and mostly from England, who arrived in New England between approximately 1630 and 1640. At seventeen, Elinor married William Hollingworth, a sea captain and general all-round trader who wasn’t particularly good at either. His not very thrilling career came to an end when he went overboard and drowned, leaving Elinor with three small children and a mountain of debt.
There were more eligible men than marriagable women drifting around New England at the time, and Elinor might well have re-married, as most widows did. But she wasn’t having any of it. Once was apparently enough. Instead, Elinor Hollingworth went to work. Petitioning the court to gain control of what was left of her husband’s business, she set about clearing his debts.
In England at the time, women in naval cities like Bristol and Portsmouth were banding together to negotiate with the British Navy about pay and conditions while their husbands were at sea. Taking a leaf out of the same book, Elinor set herself up as a broker negotiating pay deals for working seamen in Salem, many of whom were illiterate, while taking a cut in return. She so successful that she rapidly became a sort of mini working seaman’s merchant bank.
At the same time, Elinor saw an opportunity in the wives they left behind. Harnessing their domestic labor, inviting them to produce surplus butter, beer, biscuit, shirts, shoes and other supplies needed to outfit Salem’s growing merchant fleet, she became a ship’s chandler – the person captains went to for all the supplies they needed as soon as they knew they were going to sea. Within a few years, she not only paid off all of William’s accrued debt, but also acquired The Blue Parrot tavern, a seedy drinking den down on the waterfront that she made her headquarters.
Riding the tide of Salem’s exploding maritime trade, Elinor Hollingworth became so successful, and powerful, that when she was accused of witchcraft in 1672 by a neighbor she had annoyed, she merely shrugged it off, saying she was far too busy to be a witch. Twenty years later, her daughter tried essentially the same approach, with vastly different results.
By then, Mary was married to Philip English, and they were the wealthiest tax payers in Salem, joint owners of a shipping empire that owned more than twenty vessels and included, among other things His and Hers warehouses. Mary received her warehouse from her mother as a wedding present. Elinor had not only made sure that her daughter was exceptionally well educated, she thought so much of her ability that she bypassed her son, and handed her entire business empire directly to her daughter. Philip English shared his mother in law’s esteem. Throughout their marriage, he and his wife owned their business jointly.
Along with the warehouses and the wharf and the ships, Mary and Philip English owned and inhabited a house in Salem so grand that it was known simply as The Great House. It had three stories, and housed not only their family, but also the shipping company’s counting house and a luxury goods shop which Mary oversaw and ran. And it was staffed by fifteen domestic servants, many of them indentured.
Indenture, the practice of contracting labor for a period of years in return for food and keep, and often passage to The New World was a relatively common practice, and part of the Englishes’ business. They arranged and brokered indenture contracts for a large number of, mostly young, people who came to New England from the island of Jersey. Many of them were single young women. One was called Judah White, and is Resolve’s best friend in The Devil’s Glove.
Indenture was not an easy life. You had little say over who you were indentured to, and there was no way out except to work out the years of the contract, or somehow find enough money to buy it out. But it was also a way for young men, and young women, from the lower classes to have a chance at starting a new life in The New World. For women in particular, this was otherwise close to impossible. Here was a way to take at least some of your destiny into your hands. Many made the leap, exhibiting an independence that defies common presumptions about women in the 17th century.
Ashawonks, Elinor, Mary and Judah are only some of the women I encountered while researching The Devil’s Glove. In each case, their circumstances and lives were unexpected. I hope you enjoy getting to know them as much as I did.
Here’s the blurb
Northern New England, summer, 1688.
Salem started here.
A suspicious death. A rumor of war. Whispers of witchcraft.
Perched on the brink of disaster, Resolve Hammond and her mother, Deliverance, struggle to survive in their isolated coastal village. They’re known as healers taught by the local tribes – and suspected of witchcraft by the local villagers.
Their precarious existence becomes even more chaotic when summoned to tend to a poisoned woman. As they uncover a web of dark secrets, rumors of war engulf the village, forcing the Hammonds to choose between loyalty to their native friends or the increasingly terrified settler community.
As Resolve is plagued by strange dreams, she questions everything she thought she knew – about her family, her closest friend, and even herself. If the truth comes to light, the repercussions will be felt far beyond the confines of this small settlement.
Based on meticulous research and inspired by the true story of the fear and suspicion that led to the Salem Witchcraft Trials, THE DEVIL’S GLOVE is a tale of betrayal, loyalty, and the power of secrets. Will Resolve be able to uncover the truth before the town tears itself apart, or will she become the next victim of the village’s dark and mysterious past?
Praise for The Devil’s Glove:
“From its opening lines this historical novel from Grindle (Villa Triste) grips with its rare blend of a powerfully evoked past, resonant characters, smart suspense, and prose touched with shivery poetry.”
~ BookLife Reviews Editor’s Pick
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Meet the author
Lucretia Grindle grew up and went to school and university in England and the United States. After a brief career in journalism, she worked for The United States Equestrian Team organizing ‘kids and ponies,’ and for the Canadian Equestrian Team. For ten years, she produced and owned Three Day Event horses that competed at The World Games, The European Games and the Atlanta Olympics. In 1997, she packed a five mule train across 250 miles of what is now Grasslands National Park on the Saskatchewan/Montana border tracing the history of her mother’s family who descend from both the Sitting Bull Sioux and the first officers of the Canadian Mounties.
Returning to graduate school as a ‘mature student’, Lucretia completed an MA in Biography and Non-Fiction at The University of East Anglia where her work, FIREFLIES, won the Lorna Sage Prize. Specializing in the 19th century Canadian West, the Plains Tribes, and American Indigenous and Women’s History, she is currently finishing her PhD dissertation at The University of Maine.
Lucretia is the author of the psychological thrillers, THE NIGHTSPINNERS, shortlisted for the Steel Dagger Award, and THE FACES of ANGELS, one of BBC FrontRow’s six best books of the year, shortlisted for the Edgar Award. Her historical fiction includes, THE VILLA TRISTE, a novel of the Italian Partisans in World War II, a finalist for the Gold Dagger Award, and THE LOST DAUGHTER, a fictionalized account of the Aldo Moro kidnapping. She has been fortunate enough to be awarded fellowships at The Hedgebrook Foundation, The Hawthornden Foundation, The Hambidge Foundation, The American Academy in Paris, and to be the Writer in Residence at The Wallace Stegner Foundation. A television drama based on her research and journey across Grasslands is currently in development. THE DEVIL’S GLOVE and the concluding books of THE SALEM TRILOGY are drawn from her research at The University of Maine where Lucretia is grateful to have been a fellow at the Canadian American Foundation.
She and her husband, David Lutyens, live in Shropshire.
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