Monthly Archiv: March, 2014


The problem of unrepentant heirs led the Puritans – some of some – to support the “Half-Way Covenant”. Under the covenant, the second generation could be accepted provisionally. They could be baptized, and when at last conversion happened, they could be admitted to membership and communion.  The Covenant allowed for baptism of their children, too, but increasingly there was pressure to allow all godly men to participate in the sacraments. Otherwise the secular community, becoming more wealthy and more powerful as the years went on, would take over government, eliminating forever the Puritan Way.

But the half-way covenant was controversial. Not all congregations accepted it. The General Court (legislature) called for a meeting of ministers and magistrates to resolve the issue. Though it isn’t mentioned in many articles concerning this meeting, The Cambridge Platform shifted the responsibility of remuneration for the minister from the congregation he served to the community at large. Thus, all citizens were required to attend church services and pay taxes to support their local minister whether they had been converted (and thus were members) or not.

Reinforced under the Royal charter of 1692 and further action by the legislature, the ministers became even more secure when Massachusetts took over their remuneration, a practice that was continued under the state constitution of 1790. (For an excellent and very clear description of the whole thing, see The Crisis of the Standing Order by Peter S. Field.)

There you have it. The Standing Order, influencing and controlling church, state, culture, community and wealth right from the beginning and becoming more and more powerful as time went on.

Definitely, back on its feet.

Thus Molly, in 1794, was required by the Standing Order to confess her sins in order to be baptized, and only a bribe saved her. (This is the House, p.274-276)


Early Americans were English by birth and culture, and assumed that the balance of power  between king, elite and commoners stabilized society. As it was “at home” in Britain, so it was in the colonies: the lower orders were deferential to the higher, defined pretty much by wealth. But higher than almost anyone, in New England, was the minister. When the Rev. Cotton Mather could address the magistrates of the Massachusetts General Court with “Syres! I have a message from God unto you!” we get the picture. After all, who is going to argue with the Lord?

The church itself had more influence than the General Court (legislature). Only its male members could vote on either church or town business, and they were careful about who was admitted to membership. Early on the churches tested applicants based on their virtue and their spiritual life: had they experienced contact with the Divine? Calvinist to the core, the first comers had no doubts about God’s election of Saints (themselves). All of them had experienced the presence of God personally. Here’s how it worked:

  1. Agitations of the soul lead to the sinner’s deep sense of humiliation at his condition.
  2. The stricken sinner attempts to redress the wrongs he has done through obedience to the covenant of works. He turns to good works as a remedy, but this effort fails and he is brought to deeper despair.
  3. The sinner experiences abject despair and misery. He sees all his efforts as vain and inconsequential before a perfect God.
  4. At the most abject moment of despair, the soul begins to understand God’s grace and is elevated to an appreciation of it.
  5. Gratitude causes the sinner to live a life of obedience and thanksgiving, although human nature and pride may cause the sinner to backslide and to rely on his own will and works once again. Because of this temptation, individuals must continually monitor their spiritual state and repeat the process of conversion if necessary.

And so the Puritan theocracy moved forward…

But what about the kids? What if they didn’t experience conversion? If members of the next generation couldn’t show evidence that the Lord had elected them to be saved, the church would no longer be running the town – or the legislature. Both would fall into the hands of the ungodly.

Tune in next week to find out what was done about it.


FROM FRYING PAN TO FIRE (This is the House)

Someone had to take care of the women, usually the oldest male of her husband’s family. The widow had 1/3 dower right in the property owned by her husband, but a widow such as Hannah Deems, whose husband was lost at Monmouth, whose parents had perished in Mohawk country, and who had been “read out” of Quaker Meeting because of marrying a Congregationalist – there was no one. The Vendue had been used before, and fairly frequently to care for the indigent of the towns. During this time period, though, there were probably so many widows that it warranted a name of its own: The Widow’s Vendue.

I think the most humiliating thing about the Vendue is that the person who bid the least won the auction. No one was bidding for the widow – it was a question of how low the bidder could go, how little he could accept for her upkeep without a serious loss to the well-being of himself. The town, of course, paid as little as possible.

So Hannah Deems was willing to accept Seth Adams, walking home from war, who offered to take her with him to Barnstable. Thus begins Chapter One, with Hannah escaping the frying pan (the vendue) and choosing the fire (Seth) instead.

Seth’s place had been unattended during the war, and had probably not been especially well tended before it. His house was a one-room cabin, and this sketch is how I envision it, barren and alone in the middle of a field in the middle of nowhere.


“The door was unlocked, and Hannah wondered that Adams would leave his home without even bothering to secure it. Inside she saw why. There was nothing to take. There was a fireplace in the middle of the room, the frame of a cot without a mattress tucked behind it. A table and chair occupied one corner; rows of empty shelves lined the back wall. A ladder beside the fireplace reached to the loft – and that was all. It was dark and smelled moldy from lack of use.”

And thus a start has been made in making Molly who she is – a young girl who sees what can happen when there is no one to depend on.

So many readers were appalled to think that widows might actually have been auctioned off that I checked it out on the web, (unavailable to me when writing the first edition in 1975) and found that this had been a common practice from the beginning.

“Poor residents, such as widows, the disabled and the mentally ill, were placed with local families who would be paid by the Overseers to provide them meat, drink, washing, lodging, mending & nursing Suitable and find all their Clothing that is necessary for one year from the date, and return them as well clothed as they took them.”  In these cases, care of the indigent was “auctioned off” to the lowest bidder.” Robert C. Hughes, who is the Town Historian for Huntington, NY.

For two centuries, Massachusetts towns were responsible for supporting those who could not support themselves. Sometimes this meant providing necessities, such as clothing, firewood, or food. Other times, a household was compensated for taking in an indigent man, woman, or child.

Boston was unusual; it had opened the first almshouse in the colonies in 1664 (although it continued to place 80 percent of the town’s poor through vendue).

Naturally, being paid to take in a poor widow didn’t mean that the lowest bidder had unlimited access to the woman involved — but Hannah was conveniently isolated in Barnstable. No one even knew she was there — and Seth had not acquired her through vendue, after all. She’d willingly gone with him…

She’d have probably been better off if she had accepted the auction. But, of course, there was the problem of being humiliated in front of people who had rejected both her and her family.






SETH’S TRAVELS (This is the House)

So, let’s start with Molly’s mother, Hannah Deems. We know that to be auctioned at the Dartmouth town meeting would have been an unbearable humiliation for her. But before she has to face it, along comes Seth Adams, a war veteran walking home. There must have been many of these men who needed food and shelter, and they were accommodated according to whatever was available. Seth was given both at the farm of George Gorman, where Hannah had been working.

Details like topography didn’t bother me when I was writing 35 years ago, but since I can verify things on the internet, I took the time to check: would Seth have “passed through” Dartmouth (where Gorman’s farm was located) on his way home?

(If you aren’t interested in these kinds of details, tune in next week!)

Here’s the portion of the seaboard that we’re involved with just now:

The red ball represents Yorktown, and you can see Cape Cod, just below Boston.

yorktown to barnstableSeth (and all the soldiers from New England) would have had to walk west of the Chesapeake Bay and north, unless they crossed over and went up the east side. They’d have passed through the Philadelphia environs, and once north of Philadelphia, on to New York and then the Connecticut coast —


and then—




There’s Narragansett Bay —

narraganset bayIt, too, would have to be crossed, and by the time he did (in whatever manner was possible) Seth would have certainly gone through Dartmouth (just above “town” on the Narragansett Town Beach map) because he was headed for New Bedford, Wareham, and eventually, Barnstable,  


which you can get the sense of by “hitching” this map to the one above.

southern mass map

I’m tired just thinking about it.