Sunday, 10 August 2014

Moon Time

Photo by Orion 8

In Virginia, on March 22, 1622, and again on April 18, 1644, paramount chief Opechancanough arranged attacks killing several hundred colonists on both occasions. The fact that assaults could be carried out with such devastating consequences on unsuspecting colonists demonstrates Opechancanough's organizational skills. But how did he time his attacks with such precision?

For the most part, the various tribes commonly referred to as the Powhatan lived in towns near water, which could be reached by dugout (a type of canoe). Runners were also common messengers, but the tribal people used the moon as a calendar. Both attacks came one day shy of the third-quarter moon.

Moon cycles have been used for thousands of years to mark the passage of time. Each month the moon cycles has a new moon, first quarter, a full moon, last quarter, then returns to the new moon. The cycle repeats approximately every 29 days. One clergyman wrote that the Powhatan kept track of time by days, moons, and years. In their numbering system, they had specific words for one to ten, after which, according to John Smith, they counted by tens, and they also had a word for a thousand. If necessary, they used notched sticks and knotted strings to keep track of larger numbers.

The people tracked the lunar calendar with seasonal and solar cycles, along with crop and migratory seasons. Little is known about the astronomical knowledge of the Powhatan, but they recognized lunar months, such as "moon of the stags," the "corn moon," and the first and second "moon of cohonks." Cohonk is the Algonquian word meaning Canada goose, and the moons so named occurred in early winter when the geese returned. It was also the beginning of their year. The word itself sounded like a goose honking. Not only that, I recently discovered an interesting tidbit that to honk your car horn is derived from the same Algonquian word.

According to some anthropologists, calendars were developed by women to coincide with not only the lunar cycle, but menstrual cycles as well. Mayan midwives knew that when a woman missed her period a baby would be delivered about 260 days later. Opechancanough most likely timed his attacks using a similar method. In any case, the attacks were timed with precision, taking place just before spring planting and the beginning of the busiest time of year.

Kim Murphy

Sunday, 3 August 2014

William and Benedict Arnold: Rhode Island’s Borgias?

The Borgias

The House of Borgia rose to political and ecclesiastical prominence during the Italian Renaissance. Though the Borgias were accused of murder, bribery, and simony, and the powerful Medici family were their enemies, the Borgias produced two popes, and their support of the arts helped spur the Renaissance.

17th century Rhode Island had a pair of leaders who could well be described as Borgia-esque. William Arnold was baptized on 6/24/1587 in Ilchester, County Somerset. His eldest son, Benedict, was baptized on December 21, 1615, also in Ilchester, and died June 19, 1678 in Newport, Rhode Island. No, he wasn’t THAT Benedict Arnold, but he was the Revolutionary War traitor’s great-grandsire.

Arnold coat of arms
William Arnold brought his family from Somerset to Hingham, Massachusetts in 1635. A year later the Arnolds followed Roger Williams (who was banished for radical notions, such as freedom of religion) to Providence, Rhode Island. In 1638 William and his sons moved a few miles south of Providence, and named their self-governed settlement Pawtuxet, after the nearby river.

Rhode Island 1660
The Arnolds got along well with Roger Williams, but the same could not be said of Samuel Gorton. On January 12, 1642-3, Gorton, who Roger Williams described as bewitching and bemadding poor Providence, purchased a large tract of land adjoining Pawtuxet from the Narragansetts, and named it Shawomet. 

Samuel Gorton on trial
Samuel Gorton had been turned out of nearly every place he settled in New England. He came to Boston in 1636, but before long he fled Massachusetts’ Puritans for Plymouth. The Pilgrims quickly ousted him. Gorton tried Portsmouth, then Newport, and then Providence, Rhode Island, but didn’t stay long in any of those towns. William Coddington, Rhode Island’s chief Justice, had him whipped for insolence after Gorton referred to him as a “Just-Ass.”

Benedict and William Arnold loathed their new neighbor, knew that the Puritans in Massachusetts felt likewise, and also knew that Massachusetts eagerly sought to claim the entire western side of Narragansett Bay. Benedict  had learned to speak the Narragansett language, and used his knowledge to undermine Rhode Island in general, and Samuel Gorton in particular. Two minor Narragansett sachems had partial control of both Pawtuxet and Shawomet. Benedict Arnold took these chieftains to Boston and persuaded them to submit themselves and their lands to Massachusetts. On September 8, 1642, Benedict and William Arnold formally turned the English settlement at Pawtuxet over to Massachusetts’ rule and protection.

With the Arnolds’ cooperation in hand, Massachusetts ordered Gorton to come to Boston’s court to answer charges of duress and theft made by the Narragansett chieftans. Gorton refused, and Massachusetts sent an army to arrest him, again with the Arnolds’ blessing. 

Remember the Borgias’ reputation for assassination and murder? Benedict and William Arnold knew well that the Puritans considered Samuel Gorton to be a heretic, and that delivering him into Puritan hands placed Gorton in grave danger. Maybe they weren’t seeking Gorton’s life, but he was tried, not for harassing the Indians, but for heresy. He barely escaped execution when a single vote saved Samuel Gorton’s life.

Robert Rich, 2nd Earl of Warwick
The Arnolds likely wanted to see Gorton removed so they could occupy the Gortonists’ improved lands, but that plot failed as well. Samuel Gorton sought help from his powerful patron, the Earl of Warwick. The overt harassment of Samuel Gorton by his neighbors stopped, and Gorton named his settlement Warwick in gratitude.

William and Benedict Arnold also engaged in other shady practices. On October 27 1643, Massachusetts ordered that the Narragansett chieftans be lent fowling guns, and gave Benedict Arnold permission to supply them with powder and shot, though giving Indians arms and ammunition was directly counter to Rhode Island’s law. Samuel Gorton also complained that the Arnolds gave liquor to the Indians – also illegal – and traded on the Sabbath Day.

The Arnolds and their Pawtuxet residents remained under Massachusetts’ jurisdiction, despite a charter issued by Parliament in 1644 which included Pawtuxet as part of Rhode Island. On May 22, 1649, Rhode Island’s court sent letters to Pawtuxet, ordering them subject themselves to Rhode Island governance, but the Arnolds ignored it.

The Arnolds actively undermined Rhode Island’s affairs by providing information to the Puritans for sixteen years, and were repaid with food and protection. William wrote regarding Rhode Island’s effort to get a charter from Parliament: From Pawtuxet, this 1st day of the 7th month, 1651, Much Honored, I thought it my duty to give intelligence unto the much honored Court [of Massachusetts] of that which is now working here in these parts; so that if it be the will of God, an evil may be prevented … under the pretence of liberty of conscience about these parts, there comes to live all the scum, the runaways of the country, which, in time, for want of better order, may bring a heavy burthen upon the land … I humbly desire my name may be concealed, lest they, hearing of what I have herein written, they will be enraged against me, and so will revenge themselves upon me.

William Arnold maintained his opposition to Rhode Island, and Samuel Gorton went back to London in disgust. He returned in 1658 with a strong letter of protest from the Earl of Warwick, who was both an ardent Puritan and a sponsor of Providence settlement. Massachusetts was finally forced to withdraw, Pawtuxet submitted to Rhode Island, and on 5/31/1666 William Arnold swore allegiance to King Charles II. William Arnold remained in Pawtuxet for the rest of his life, reconciling with his neighbors as they mellowed with age.

Benedict Arnold grave marker
William's son, on the other hand, had already grasped a new opportunity. In 1653, at the age of 38, Benedict took his family to Rhode Island’s principal city, Newport. He became a freeman that year and represented Newport in Rhode Island’s government, and in 1657 he succeeded Roger Williams as President of the colony. He served as president, then as governor almost continuously from then until his death in 1678.

Now, Benedict Arnold had to fight off Massachusetts, his former protector. He complained to Parliament, and then to King Charles II about “sundry obstructions” and claims made by Massachusetts and Connecticut to the Narragansett Indians’ lands. He vigorously pursued a new royal charter for Rhode Island, and obtained that vital document in 1663, granting the colony self-rule and liberty of conscience in “a Republic of Liberty under Law, in which every man is king and no man subject.”

Though the Puritan colonies complained, and despite the “bad effects of their doctrines and endeavors,” President Arnold allowed the highly controversial Quakers to shelter in Rhode Island. He advised the Puritan colonies to let them speak their minds in peace, and in 1658 coolly noted that where Quakers were punished harshly, they unceasingly returned and gained adherents through their patient sufferings. However, Rhode Island’s government allowed Quakers to declare themselves freely, and in consequence, “they least of all desire to come [among us].”

Benedict truly turned over a new leaf, pursuing the union of Pawtuxet and Warwick with Rhode Island’s other towns. He became a warrior for civil and religious liberty, and the historian Samuel G. Arnold wrote of his famed ancestor that “he recognized the distinction between persecution and opposition, between legal force and moral suasion as applied to matters of opinion … throughout his long and useful life he displayed talents of a brilliant order which were ever employed for the welfare of his fellow men.”

If Benedict Arnold’s actions benefitted himself along with his fellow Rhode Islanders, that was all to the better. At Governor Arnold’s death, his will dispersed several thousand acres of land, cash, and livestock among his wife and children. If wealth was any indication, God had clearly poured out his favor on Benedict Arnold, and so did Rhode Island, even though Benedict had once been a force of opposition. 

Jo Ann Butler is proud to be a 13th generation descendant from Benedict Arnold. She is currently writing about the Arnolds in the final volume of her A Scandalous Life series about Herodias (Long) Hicks Gardner Porter and Rhode Island’s earliest years.

“Benedict Arnold, First Governor of Rhode Island” - Hamilton B. Tompkins - Bulletin of the Newport Historical Society - 1919
The Great Migration - Robert Anderson, George Sanborn, Melinde Sanborn - 1999
The Arnold Memorial - Elisha S. Arnold - 1935

Sunday, 20 July 2014

The Windsor Nell Gwynn Knew

As royal mistresses go, Nell Gwynn is probably our most favourite of King Charles II's mistresses - and with good reason. This saucy, funny, beautiful actress was quite a loveable character - and her royal lover certainly knew that. John Evelyn referred to Nell as, "the Comedian & Apple-woman's daughter", whilst Samuel Pepys called her, "pretty witty Nell." She had risen from impoverished prostitute and orange seller to admired Restoration actress before catching the eye of the Merry Monarch. She had two sons by Charles - Charles and James.

Last month, my husband and I moved from Lancashire to Windsor, and I was excited for many reasons, not least because Windsor has an abundance of 17th-century history. As I turn one corner, walk down this street, stop in front of this house, I can't get over how much history is everywhere. Very near Windsor Castle, there is a small, quaint street which has an array of little shops and eateries. I daresay most tourists - overwhelmed by so much to see - don't realise how old the buildings are. There is a Chinese restaurant in what is referred to as "Nell Gwynn's House" - and there is an inscription on the exterior of this building that states it was built in 1640. You can see how close the castle is to the site of Nell's house.

"The Protestant Whore" had previously lived in houses in Lincoln's Inn Fields and Pall Mall. In Windsor, however, Nell Gwynn is most closely associated with Burford House. In The Story of Windsor, Maurice Bond stated, "Charles II had a strong affection for Windsor. [His] mistress, Nell Gwynn, had a house especially built for her (Burford House) just outside the Castle Walls, and her descendants, the Beauclerks, Dukes of St. Albans, came to play a considerable role in the life of the borough" (page  63).

James Beauclerk, Charles Beauclerk, 1st Duke
St. Albans, Nell Gwynn, by Richard Tompson,
after Sir Peter Lely, before 1693.
The Windsor that Nell Gwynn knew was one of rural life mixed with cockfighting, horse races, and there was a bustling new coffee house. According to The Physical Shape and Urban Landscape of New Windsor 1500-1780 by E.J. Brown, "a coach and postal service were introduced in 1673 and 1674." The River Thames runs by, dividing Windsor from Eton. Windsor Castle, now known to be the oldest and largest inhabited castle in the world, was extensively renovated during the Restoration, following its use as a prison under Cromwell. You can read more about its history here.

By the time Nell began living in Windsor, the 1670s, the town had begun to see a rise in population. Such increase understandably led to some concerns about contaminated wells, more refuse on the streets, and associated health risks. In the early 18th-century, during the reign of Queen Anne, the population had risen more and the queen asked for water to be brought in from a neighbouring area.

As with the home in Pall Mall, London, Nell Gwynn wanted to secure the freehold of the house instead of the leasehold she was originally given. Now, this is a problem many people still face. Indeed, my husband and I had a leasehold in London and we had to pay rent for the land even though we owned the house. It's all rather confusing, but then as now it was far better - more secure - to have the freehold on a property than a leasehold. 

Nell, always a sharp cookie, knew this and did obtain the freehold (first for the Pall Mall property) by telling the king that, "she had always conveyed herself free under the crown , but that she would not accept the house until its freehold was conveyed free to her by the crown." Nell and Charles's descendants continued to own Burford House until the late 18th century.

Image found in The House of Nell Gwynn, 1670-1974.

Burford House, however, was an enchanting dwelling, as you can see from the image above. Great, fabulous gardens were created, and it is believed that the land surrounding the house was no more than forty acres. You can tell how countryfied it was. It is to this day a remarkably verdant area - and I can understand why Charles liked it so - it's very different and quiet - in comparison to London. As a great deal of construction was going on inside Windsor Castle itself at that time, Nell was able to have the interiors of her new, modern home decorated by the highly sought-after painter Antonio Verrio and some elaborate woodcarvings were also created for parts of the house by the talented Baroque woodcarver Grinling Gibbons. We can only imagine how beautiful the end result was! 

Despite her favourable position as a royal mistress, poor Nell was often in debt. In fact, one of King Charles II's last words was to his brother, James. The following is from John Evelyn's Diary entry for 6th of February, 1685:

He spake to the Duke [James, Duke of York] to be kind to his Concubines the DD: of Cleveland, & especially Portsmouth, & that Nelly might not starve.

...because she was so often in debt, starvation was a frightening possibility. James stayed true to his promise to his brother and paid of Nell's debts. Nell and Charles's son, the Duke of St. Albans, was financially better off than his mother.

Charles Beauclerk, 1st Duke St. Albans. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

As stated in The Windsor Beauties:

The Earl of Burford was created Duke of St. Albans in January 1684, and ample provision was made for him by his father. There was a settlement of £5000 a year, chargeable on the Exchequer, he inherited on his mother's death Burford House, and he was given the reversion of the sinecure office of Master Falconer of England and Registrar of the Court of Chancery, both to be hereditary, worth some £1500 a year.
Beauclerk later became a favourite of King William III's following the Glorious Revolution of 1688/89, at which point his fortunes increased. Beauclerk lived in Burford House and eventually married Diana de Vere, with whom he had twelve children.

As I've walked around this part of Windsor, I've noticed so many shop signs and gift shop trinkets that feature Nell. Nell as the busty orange-seller, Nell as the romantic actress, Nell as the wanton mistress. A highly romanticised depiction of her from a 19th-century painting adorns the door to the Windsor & Royal Borough Museum (perfectly situated in the building that Christopher Wren designed!).

It's quite easy to imagine her in her colourful dresses, a bright smile upon her face, as she walked around these streets. I think she'd be astonished to find that, after all this time, people still think on her fondly. I like to think it's because she's the most accessible of Charles II's mistresses, and her warmth transcends time. 

Adamson, Donald and Peter Beauclerk Dewar. The House of Nell Gwynn, 1670-1974.
Bond, Maurice. The Story of Windsor.
Brown, E.J. The Physical Shape and Urban Landscape of New Windsor 1500-1780.
Evelyn, John. Diary.
Pepys, Samuel. Diary.
Melville, Lewis. The Windsor Beauties: Ladies of the Court of Charles II.
Powell, Roger. Royal Sex: The Scandalous Love Lives of the British Royal Family.

Andrea Zuvich (aka The Seventeenth Century Lady) is usually a 17th-century historian and authoress of historical fiction set in the 17th-century, but she has had to take a break from her beloved history for a month to deal with the craziness of moving house. Now that's sorted out (whew!) she's back, working on three books: William & Mary: A Novel, William Alone: A Sequel, and Anthea: Confessions of a Restoration Actress. She is also thinking about writing a non-fiction history on the Stuarts. She was recently listed as one of the Most Followed Historians on Twitter.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

1650: The FIRST attorney general in America -- a firebrand

Engaged for the people, by, or in the peoples' name

William Dyer, the son of a yeoman farmer from a village near Boston, Lincolnshire, was apprenticed as a haberdasher in London, where his guild brothers often became mayors, councilmen, or government officers. After his emigration to New England in 1635, he held a succession of appointments as surveyor, clerk, Secretary of State, and General Recorder, and was appointed the first Attorney General of Rhode Island in 1650. But as I discovered, Dyer was also the first Attorney General of any colony in North America! And wait until you read his commission. It’s brilliant. It will make you long for a return to that ideal of government today!

In 1628, the founders of Massachusetts Bay Colony followed the lead of the Plymouth Colony, and obtained a royal charter to form a community that was self-governed but answerable to the King, Parliament, and laws of England. The Massachusetts Bay Company purchased a huge tract of wilderness that was later subdivided to become part of New Hampshire and Connecticut.
In late 1637, a large group of religious dissidents in the Boston area, including Anne and William Hutchinson, and William and Mary Dyer, were given the choice of submitting to the Massachusetts Bay theocracy, or being banished. They may have been planning to leave anyway, but the expulsion of Anne Hutchinson for heresy certainly hurried their departure. While she was under house arrest in the winter of 1637-38, the men were searching for and purchasing land from the Narragansett Indians, for what would become the Colony of Providence Plantations and Rhode Island.
The group may have sent their belongings by ship around Cape Cod, but some of them walked out of Boston and through the Indian trails of the forest in hip-deep snow, near the time of Passover and Easter. They walked 44 miles in what must have been an impressive Exodus from Egypt.
Upon their arrival, they immediately began building a town at the top of Rhode Island, later called Portsmouth. And a year later, a group of them moved to build a town and harbor called Newport. William and Mary Dyer were co-founders.
They formed the first democracy in America—and a secular one at that— (Massachusetts governors John Winthrop and Thomas Dudley were disdainful of democracy), and obtained their own charter from the English government in 1643, after Massachusetts Bay’s Gov. Winthrop implied that Rhode Island would be annexed to Massachusetts, thus bringing the heretics back under his control.
In May 1650, the General Assembly, meeting in Newport, created the offices of Attorney General and Solicitor General. William Dyer and Hugh Bewitt/Buit, respectively, were immediately engaged.
Notice the wording in the order and commission for Attorney General below, that he was “Engaged for the people, by, or in the peoples name…”  Does that sound familiar, like, say, the Gettysburg Address by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863, when he said that “Government by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth”?  

Abraham Lincoln's 1863 Gettysburg Address
You won't see many “one people” or “We the People” empowering statements until 1776, in the Declaration of Independence, or 1787, when the United States Constitution was written. But Rhode Island was there in 1650, advocating for us—the People.
How wise and creative and brilliant were those Rhode Island founders?! Huzzah! This office of Attorney General was not created for the use of oligarchs, or “the cutthroat of prosperitie” and commerce, or for preferment of the representatives and executive officers (feel free to contrast with modern government). It was for the interests of the people—of any background or social structure or financial status.  

The. Free. People. 

The job description promised protection from criminals, and from officers of the state. These assemblymen were not creating laws to cover their behinds, they were creating laws for transparency and accountability. It’s mind-boggling, contrasting what the United States (and its allies) have come to over the last few decades.
Records of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations in New England, p. 220 and 225:
Acts and Orders made at the Generall Courte of Election held at Newport, May the 23d, (1650), for the Colonie of Providence Plantations.

It is ordered by this Courte, to apoynt an Atturney Generall for the Colonie, as also a Solicitor. That the Atturney Generall shall have full power to impleade any transgression of the lawe of this State in any Courte of this State; but especially to bringe all such matters of penal lawes to tryall of the Generall Courte of Tryalls, as also for the tryall of the officers in the State at the Generall Assemblies, and to impleade in the full power and authoritie of the free people of this State, their prerogatives and liberties; and because envy, the cut throat of all prosperitie will not faile to gallop with its full careere, let the sayed Atturney be faithfully ingaged and authorized and encouraged. Engaged for the people, by, or in the peoples name, and with their full authoritie assisted; authorized, that upon information of transgressions or transgressors of the lawes, prerogatives and liberties of the people, and their penal lawes, he shall under hand and seale take forth summons from the President or Generall Assistants, to command any delinquent, or vehemently suspected of delinquencie in what kind soever accordinge to the premises, to appeare at the Generall Courte, if it be thereto belonginge, or to the Generall Assemblie in those matters proper thereunto; and if any refuse to apeare at that mandamus in the State of England’s name and the free people of this State, he shall be judged guiltie; and so proceeded with according to fine or penaltie.
Mr. William Dyre is deputed Generall Atturney for the Colonie, and ingaged.

I created the table by searching for the first attorney general of every English colony or early state of America. William Dyer is, indeed, the very first appointment, by 27 years!
First Attorneys-General of colonial/east-coast America
Year instituted
Colony/east coast of America
First attorney general
Rhode Island
William Dyer
North Carolina
George Durant
New York
crown appointee
David Lloyd
Benjamin Bullivant
western New Jersey
Charles Carroll
South Carolina
Nicholas Trott
Alexander Griffith
Sir John Randolph (deputy AG)
William Clifton
Gunning Bedford, Jr.
New Hampshire
Samuel Livermore
Erastus Foote
Charles Phelps

The most famous segment of Abraham Lincoln's 1863 Gettysburg Address is:  “…that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”
Note the similarity to the 1650 commission to the office of Rhode Island attorney general: “engaged for the people, by, or in the peoples' name.”
Well done, Rhode Island, and well done, William Dyer.  

The Dyers trilogy, by Christy K Robinson
Christy K Robinson has written a trilogy (two historical novels based in fact, and a nonfiction book) on Mary and William Dyer. Traditionally, Mary Dyer, who is known for giving her life in the cause of religious liberty, gets all the attention because Quaker historians used her story for political and evangelization purposes. Because he never became a Quaker, William Dyer’s history has been much more difficult to tease out of archives and records in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and the British Library. But this English farmer's son was a foundation stone of American democracy. One might call him a Firebrand.