Category Archives: History, for real


By page 10 of This is the House, the mother of my main female character enters Barnstable as a “housekeeper” to a man returning from the war. Which brings us to Sandwich, through which they must have passed on the way. The people who settled Sandwich were an interesting group, worthy of an historical digression, and rather than move directly on to further discussion of This is the House, I’m diverting right now to the earlier days of the little Pilgrim foothold in Plymouth and its decision to expand its “plantation”.

Before I start, let me answer the obvious question: you are telling us about Sandwich because….?

Because of Elizabeth Warden, Molly’s mistress and mentor, a lovely woman whom all readers I have spoken with love and admire. A Quaker. I refer to her Quaker faith quite often, and it’s only natural (I think) to wonder how this sect came to be in Yarmouth, since in the days these towns were founded, Plain people were very much discriminated against. It started with the founding of  Sandwich.

The primary reference for the history of Cape Cod is a tome compiled by Simeon Deyo, and in it we learn that early on, Sandwich was having a lot of trouble with its church. In fact, one of the first ministers left and the pulpit was vacant for a year or two. This was definitely not OK. The Plymouth Court seems to have remonstrated about this situation, but no one seemed to be in a hurry to do much about it. The other early towns were nothing like this. Everyone knew that a town had to have a church, the membership of which would run the place. Who, pray tell, was running Sandwich?

We must back up. Boston was settled by Puritans in 1630. Led by John Winthrop, a fairly wealthy gentleman, five ships landed and built fortresses and churches on the Boston peninsula and the surrounding spots nearby in order to present less of a target for Native Americans who might be unhappy, and because there wasn’t room for them all in just one place. More and more boatloads of people arrived, running from the harsh treatment of Separatists in England – ten thousand of them. That’s a lot of people, and needless to say, not all of them were there to purify the Anglican Church. But Winthrop and his brand of separatism prevailed (after all, he had led the expedition and financed it). Here’s his fleet, as depicted in Wikipedia.


In 1632, two years after the arrival of Winthrop, a boatload of newcomers led by one Stephen Bechelder was allowed to settle in Saugus (today’s Lynn). But unknown to Winthrop, (at least I assume he didn’t know) they were of a mystic separatist sect called Familists. (I’ve never heard of these. Have you?) They believed that a part of God is in every person. They denied the Trinity, and repudiated infant baptism. They held that no man should be put to death for his opinions, and objected to the carrying of arms and to swearing an oath. They were quite impartial in their repudiation of all other churches and sects. In fact, they were Quakers waiting to happen.

Part of Bechelder’s church applied to Winthrop for permission to settle elsewhere. Granted. They applied to the Plymouth Church for permission to settle on Cape Cod. Granted. These were the “ten men of Saugus” who get credit for it:

ten men

Not only were they given permission to start a town, but they were also given space to expand up to 3 score of families, and very quickly a whole lot more settlers followed. I don’t know if they were all Familist sympathizers or not, but I’m a little suspicious…

Now comes the part I can’t quite figure out, but a few guesses here and there fill the gaps. As we know, in the settling of any town, a meeting house complete with minister, was required. Most certainly Plymouth believed that the ten men of Saugus were proper puritans; they’d come from Winthrop’s jurisdiction, after all, and those that followed them were most likely believed to be regulation Puritans too. A meeting house was built, but this congregation, as one might expect, was pretty slow to take orders from Plymouth, and when a proselytizing Quaker arrived soon thereafter, clearly the whole church, Familists one and all, converted. They were so close to Quaker thought anyway that it’s hard, from this distance, to see the difference between them.  But they couldn’t say so! In fact, most of them became closet Quakers, and continued on with the running of the town according to the laws of the time. After all, Plymouth would have been perfectly within its rights to make them leave if they were found out. But they had trouble keeping a minister, as we might expect, because a regulation Reverend would have found this flock apathetic in response to his preaching.

In the minimal record left to us, we find reference to the church being censured for one breach of conduct or another by Plymouth, including failure to install a whipping post and stocks. While not as stringent as the Puritans in Boston, the Plymouth Court was zealous in its defense of the Standing Order, and meted out a variety of punishments for anyone in the Sandwich Church who affirmed Quakerism and imposed fines on self-declared Friends that kept them impoverished.

Barnstable (where Hannah lived) was created in 1639 on the east side of Sandwich, and then Yarmouth, further east, where at last we meet Elizabeth Warden with a strong Quaker heritage behind her. And that, as I recall, is why we explored the settling of Sandwich in the first place.

Any questions?


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.