Mastodon The Writing Desk: Special Guest Post by Lucretia Grindle: The Historical Background to The Devil’s Glove

25 May 2023

Special Guest Post by Lucretia Grindle: The Historical Background to The Devil’s Glove

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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.

1688 was a leap year. It was also the year when the first Englishmen set foot on the continent of Australia, the year when amnesty was offered to pirates who had been plaguing shipping in the West Indies, the year a massive earthquake killed some 10,000 people in the Kingdom of Naples. And the year King James II issued his Declaration of Indulgence suspending the penalties against Catholics that he ordered to be read from every Anglican pulpit in England – an act which, more or less, led to his son in law, William of Orange deciding to invade and claim the British throne in what became known as the ‘Glorious Revolution.’

All of this is well known. What is not so well known is what was going on in the British American colonies at the same time, especially in the area called The Eastward, which is now the coast of Maine. There, trouble was boiling, and so was the weather. The summer of 1688 was one of the hottest and driest in living memory, a fact that may well have contributed the anxiousness, paranoia and fear that contemporary accounts refer to simply as ‘The Panick.’

When I was in school we didn’t really learn all that much about the early years of the British American colonial experiment. Sure, we knew all about Plymouth rock and the Mayflower, and went on a lot of field trips to reconstructions of colonial villages that mostly featured a lot of people wearing black and white calling each other ‘Thee’ and ‘Thou’ and, for some reason, making an awful lot of candles and soap. Any ten year old might reasonably have come away thinking that all colonists were not only Puritans, but also awfully clean and well lit. So, it came as something of a surprise when I started to really look into that world, and found it almost completely different from what I had thought I knew.

The world The Devil’s Glove takes place in was more varied, more sophisticated, more violent and more complex than I had even begun to suspect. It was also older, seasoned with an history of conflict that never really featured in all those soap-making reconstructions. A flood of recent scholarship has contributed to broadening and re-framing the hackneyed old picture of early colonial life in New England. For a start, by 1688 New England had been the site of two vicious wars. The Pequod War, 1636-1638, and King Philip’s War, 1675 -1676, both of which were fought between Anglo-European settlers and Indigenous tribes.

Between the two, the New England colonies had experienced The Great Migration, a flood of settlement, mostly from England, which kicked off gradually in the 1620s, and peaked in the late 1630s. By the early 1640s when it began to wind down, something in the region of 21,000 migrants had arrived in New England. Traditionally, it was taught that they were mostly Puritan. More recent scholarship has revealed a much more varied group. While some were certainly driven by religious conviction, but an awful lot of people were simply getting out of England looking for a better life, more opportunity, and especially, land.

While land is the canvas New England’s history played out on, it is also its motivator, and driving force, and the root of conflict. As Wendy Warren points out in her brilliant, New England Bound (Norton, 2017) most colonial endeavors prior to the colonization of North America, and especially New England, had been carried out with the goal of extracting resources. On the American continent, the French were after furs, the Spanish wanted gold. The English, however, wanted land. And that posed a problem. Because the land was already occupied.

By 1688, a confederation of Abenaki tribes in northern New England had banded together under the leadership of an especially charismatic leader called Madockawando. His seat of power, in what is now Castine, Maine, on the upper edge of Penobscot Bay, was known as the Pentagoet. Having watched what happened first in the Pequod war and then in King Philip’s war, Madockawando, his sons, and the sachems who joined him, had decided that Anglo-European settlement had gone far enough. From their perch in New France, the French agreed, and threw their support behind Madockawando in the form of a French baron called de Castine who married one of the sachem’s daughters and made his home at the Pentagoet. As the summer of 1688 boiled on, tempers, and terrors, stoked on both sides, boiled with it.

Who were the Europeans who dared moved north from Boston and Salem to stake claims in what is now Maine? When I began work on The Devil’s Glove, I really didn’t know. The answer, like almost everything else I uncovered, was something of a surprise. They were both more varied, and more cosmopolitan than I had expected. Some were Puritans, but a very great many were not. In fact, some of the lure of the Eastward was precisely that it was far enough away from Boston that you could get out from under the heavy thumb of Puritan godliness.

By 1688, the Portuguese, Spanish, and French as well as Italians and the British had been fishing off the Newfoundland banks for the better part of two centuries. So, The Eastward, at least its coast, was fairly well known to Europeans. There had, for instance, been an active fishing camp on Matinicus island, off what is now Maine’s mid-coast, for at least a hundred years, probably longer. Trade was thriving in Salem, and spread – mostly by water since the roads were dire – north along the coast. A polyglot group of Anglo and a smattering of European settlers and fishermen, including French Huguenots thrown into exile and a suprisingly large number of enterprising men and women from the British channel island of Jersey, made up most of the population. Most of them were primarily interested in trade, mostly in fish and furs with a component of lumber thrown in.

There was also an export in Indigenous slaves. Mary Ellen Newell’s Bretheren by Nature (Cornell, 2017) lays out the degree to which Anglo-European colonists in New England put Indigenous peoples into slavery, both for their own domestic labor, and for export and profit. Wendy Warren has also demonstrated the degree to which African slavery impacted New England, thanks to Atlantic trade. People held in slavery would not have been an uncommon sight, even in the Eastward settlements. Nor were they uncontroversial.

A large number of the migrants who arrived in New England in The Great Migration were essentially middle class. It was one of the reasons they needed so much help with labor, and took so long to build functioning infrastructure. On the flip side, most were literate, and many were well educated. By 1688, New England was populated by the second generation of their families. Many of these were people with connections and relatives across the Atlantic world who were well aware of ‘hot topics’ in London where resistance to slavery was becoming vocal. 1688 saw the publication of Aphra Behn’s anti-slavery novel, Oroonoko, which was so popular it was adapted for the stage. Aphra Behn herself, a woman who made her living as a successful novelist and playwright, was a sign of the times. The Enlightenment had not arrived, but it was coming.

And yet, belief in magic, in the force of spirits, in witches, still lingered and, as Salem would prove four years later, could be deadly. Oliver Cromwell’s head had been stuck on a spike on London Bridge. In England, the Puritan experiment was not only over, but had been pretty soundly rejected. If the reign of Charles II, dubbed The Merry Monarch, proved anything, it was that. So, in Boston, the last bastion of the Puritan experiment, people like the Mathers had a lot to prove, and a lot to lose.

So, the world of The Devil’s Glove is a world of tensions, of uncertainty and seismic change – and thus, of fear. These people are not primitive. But they are isolated, especially in Falmouth, a northern frontier town barely a day’s sail from The Pentagoet. They have varying opinions, varying histories, varying priorities, allegiances and loyalties. Mostly, they are trying to survive.

The Devil’s Glove is fiction, but the story it tells is true, and the background that story played out against is as accurate as I could make it. It is a story of a fragile place where fear and superstition, prejudice and misunderstanding upend lives, sparking the fuses that ignite King William’s war and, four years later, The Salem Witchcraft Trials.

Lucretia Grindle
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About 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. Specialising 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 fictionalised 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. Find out more from her website

1 comment:

  1. Thanks so much for hosting Lucretia Grindle today, Tony. What a fascinating post!

    Cathie xx
    The Coffee Pot Book Club


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