Category Archives: This is the House



Molly figures that if she and Elijah can be married from the Congregational Meeting in Yarmouth, the opinion of Mother Merrick and Rockford won’t matter – the deed will be done. She scurries over to the house of Pastor Hastings, minister of the Yarmouth Church of the Standing Order, Congregational, to see if he will help. This is where we learn how the church operates, in respect to sinners:

“You would join our congregation?”

“Yes indeed.”

“Well.” He coughed. “I’m delighted to hear it.  And naturally I would be happy to instruct you, baptize you and, I hope, find you worthy of membership. We do not practice public confession so very much these days, But I think in your case it would be quite appropriate; the congregation would hardly accept you otherwise.    Then, after your confession, I’ll instruct and baptize you.  When the time is right, you will be admitted to full membership.  I think the congregation will be willing to accept that, having been convinced of your repentance.”

“You will have to explain to me what you mean, sir, by confession. Of what do I repent that will so please your congregation?”

He looked stunned.“You can hardly expect my flock to accept the illegitimate daughter of a whore!”

jonathan edwards

(This is Jonathan Edwards, who was the first to take personal aim at his congregation, challenging them to look into their own hearts instead of listening to him drone on and on, reading from a text he’d written as was the practice at the time.)

Bastardy and fornication were constant subjects in the annals of early American church history. In time, though, people became lacidaisical until the Great Awakening, when they joined with the preacher (evangelist) as he spoke to them about sin and repentence, rolling on the ground and moaning and fainting and seeing visions. Jonathan Edwards, a mystic, softened them up so that by the time George Whitfield arrived, Americans were ready for their religion to be an emotional experience rather than an encounter with theology.

pgeorge-whitefieldWhitfield preached for many years, up and down the east coast of America and in England, as well. He started the new trend of addressing audiences wherever he found them (or where they found him) so he didn’t have to worry about being invited to speak from a church’s pulpit. He was a great friend of Benjamin Franklin, who did not share his views, (Franklin being a Deist) but apparently could hold his own with the great scientist and politician. Franklin figured out the radius of the circle that figuratively surrounded Whitfield when he spoke, and calculated the preacher had a range of five miles. Thousands of people at a time heard him in the cities, and without fail, they were totally enchanted with him.

Or, at least, many were. As is usually the case, when under attack the wagons will circle; Congregationalism became vigilant in the pursuit of its own purity, returning to the practices that had dominated it from the start. Its ministers had the respect and reverence they’d been accustomed in the good ol’ days. The “New Lights” (Methodists) had made inroads by the time Elijah interviewed Pastor Simmonds on the subject of his cousin, Tony Gray marrying Olive Snow; you may remember Pastor Simmonds is nervous about the possibility that Snow would leave Rockford’s Church and attend a New Light establishment in the South Precinct. The writing was on the wall, of course, but in an isolated place like Cape Cod, it would have been easy to miss it. And Simmonds did.


HOW DID SHE KNOW? (This is the House)

Mistress Warden, as we know, was a Quaker, yet she taught Molly “fancy” stitches. More often than I like to confess, I have made assumptions about details, especially in the first editions of my books, when I didn’t have the internet for an instant check. The one I’m thinking about just now is Mrs. Warden’s teaching Molly to do fancy embroidery. Quakers, of course, were and are all about being plain. How would Mrs. Warden have learned “fancy” stitches to teach? To find this out, we have to take a look at the history of the sampler.

Early on, they were simply pieces of linen with examples of stitches and patterns, like a primer. The needleworker could refer to them if she were looking for ideas, or had forgotten the sequence of loops and ties and what-not on a certain flower or decoration.

Early on, making a sampler as we know these was part of going to school. The girls embroidered the numbers one to ten and the alphabet in upper and lower case, an aid in the process of learning to read and, perhaps to cipher. All girls needed to know basic cross stitch, so they would be able to mark their linens when they were married. Early on, they were black and white, most likely because if you wanted thread to have color, you had to dye it yourself, and neither the Puritans nor the Quakers bothered. This example, one of the earliest we have, does have some decoration, but no color.


Many girls never made a second, more elaborate sampler. This was the privilege of girls continuing their education, and many of them got no further schooling.  But ongoing education of women was important to the Quakers; females were as much a witness to God’s love as any male. The sampler would have been used not only as an aid to reading, but also writing (which was not taught to Puritan maidens) and even geometry of a rudimentary sort. The stitches became more elaborate, colors were the rule, and plenty of fancy stitches, too.


That, of course, didn’t meant the fanciness was used by Quaker maidens to decorate clothing. Heaven forbid! But Molly was a different case, and in her wisdom, Mrs. Warden knew that worldly lures were sometimes necessary if you were out in that world. She’s one of my favorite characters. Perhaps she comes from Philadelphia, where the Quakers were known to have one foot in the meeting house and the other in the counting house. Not exactly worldly, but not cloistered, either.



Mrs. Warden taught Molly the household arts of cloth production. The colonists had become proficient at this long before the Revolution because trade was so restricted. As I understand it, cloth production was actually against the law, because you were supposed to buy everything from England. But the supply wasn’t always at the ready, nor was there money with which to purchase anything, (colonists had to use the barter system because England didn’t want them to have coinage, which might contribute to their functioning independently.) So spinning did take place, thus weaving happened, too.

Now, weaving is an ancient art and traditionally had been accomplished by men, members of a guild. But with cloth scarce, looms somehow became available and  began to appear in the keeping room where yarn produced by the Goodwife was ready to be woven. Wool was the material of choice, or flax, which could be grown almost anywhere. (I don’t think much cotton was actually grown in the south, because the Virginia planters were wealthy enough to buy their cloth and until Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin, it wasn’t worth trying to process it except in very small batches.) As far as I know, it didn’t grow in the north at all and wasn’t worth buying in order to spin, because of the difficulty in getting it ready for the wheel. So wool was the material of choice.

Mrs. Warden spinning wheel
According to Wikipedia, numerous types of spinning wheels exist, including the great wheel also known as walking wheel or wool wheel for rapid long draw spinning of woolen-spun yarns; the flax wheel, which is a double-drive wheel used with a distaff for spinning linen. We, of course, are interested in the Great Wheel, because that’s the kind Molly was taught to use.

colonial loom

It was kept in the attic, and the loom she was taught to use was most likely stored there, too, able to be reassembled when the need arose, as it did when Molly had finally accumulated enough yarn to weave.The loom, as you see, is large. My mother-in-law had one, and I can remember being in awe of it. The keeping room must have been pretty crowded when everyone was snowed in and Mrs. Warden, Molly and Isaac all hung out by its fire together! No wonder he could watch her without his mother knowing.

Then there is fulling, which is pretty clearly described in chapter 3. At the mill itself, a wheel on the same shaft as the waterwheel had projecting cams which lifted heavy wooden hammers. These hammers or fulling stocks fell on to the cloth placed in a trough with water and the cleansing agent.


That’s all I need to know, and it’s probably more than you, the reader, ever needed to know! There was, of course, the problem of sharing the flow of water with the grist mill, but that whole issue is discussed sufficiently, I think, in chapter 3 also.

Of course, there’s no need to discuss what happened once Molly had finished her weaving and her cloth was ready to be fulled and Isaac took her to the mill…

AND THEN THERE’S ISAAC (This is the House)

Let’s talk about Isaac Warden. [When This is the House was under discussion before, Molly and Elijah were visiting Mother Merrick, Elijah was off to his first command and Molly was being taught all kinds of household things by Elizabeth Warden.] Then Isaac comes home, lying to his mother, hoping to escape to London before his father gets back from sea. But Mistress Warden is too canny for that. I think she already knows he’s a bad apple…

So he works his way around her, sets up to study law in the parlor, gets sick and is nursed by Molly and everyone else in the house, and by then Molly is totally besotted. This is a modern image of him.



He lures her, bit by little bit, knowing full well that women find him irresistible. Indeed, I do, myself, even while I hate him! But then I rethink him, and consider:

That he is spoiled by his parents and the household staff as the younger son and well able, from the sound of it, to beguile adults into giving him what he wants. (He was his father’s toy.)That he can’t compete with his brother. John had what it took to be a leader; he mingled easily with the other children at district school (while Isaac, more reserved with these young folk of lesser rank, held back). John took easily to deep water; the expectation is that Isaac, too, will do well at sea, yet it never really worked for him. He seems not to fit anywhere.

But he’s the very devil with the girls (so says Ellen, the cook). In this arena he excels. And loves life in the fast lane — gambling, cards, drink, etc. When Captain Warden gets home, he threatens to send Isaac to Mr. Franklin’s college in Philadelphia, under the supervision of Quaker family members who will see to it that he behaves. So Isaac knows he has to do well in London and behave himself, or this fate will befall him.


If I choose to, I can feel sorry for Isaac, though my loyalty is with Molly and I am appalled at what he does to her without so much as a loving word. He ruins her, and thinks he can bully her into coming to England with him, where she will surely have to turn to prostitution once he’s done with her. Whatever sympathy I might have had for him disappears, and despite his struggle for identity in the wake of his older brother, and despite the fact that many a young man proves himself in the ways Isaac also chooses, I am unable to give him a whole lot of leeway.

And yet, he loves women. I don’t think it’s all about proving himself, or even amusing himself. I think he really loves them, and I think he really loves Molly – to the extent that such a man can. And face it, he IS pretty cute!

GROWING A HOUSE (This is the House)

When Molly and Elijah go to Rockford to meet Mother Merrick, the family house is described in detail. (After all, Molly will be marooned there with this harridan!) I have an abiding interest in house building; my husband and I built several on the Cape during the boom of the 70’s, and I became interested in local old places by default. We knew how to build a house by following the Massachusetts structural code, but 300 years ago, obviously, this guide was unavailable. Originally, the earlier settlers were interested in simply getting out of the rain. Being English, most of them country people, they were accustomed to seeing these kinds of cottages:


English cottage3


So they started with the minimal shelter, known today as the “half house”. It wasn’t half of anything when it was built – it was everything. Their time was consumed with providing for survival, and a small shelter did the job just fine despite the fact that the family grew and grew and grew. They most likely did thatch the earliest houses with beach grass, but there was plenty of wood, and thatch wasn’t probably much good in the wind, of which there is plenty on Cape Cod. Thus, shingles all the way around. When things got just too crowded, they added another half-house: the other half

And then you have the full Cape, such as we are accustomed to seeing today:

full cape

Then there’s the ¾ house, an evolutionary variation leading to the Cape Cod Cottage as we know it.  


More on its structural details is described in What’s So Grand About it?

MEETING THE GURGLES (This is the House)

Once Elijah has courted Molly on the beach and in Mrs. Warden’s garden, they become engaged and proceed to the next required step: meeting Mother. Formidable for any prospective daughter in law, but as we know, Mother Merrick is opposed to the marriage even before she meets Molly. Advised by Elijah to  be tactfully high-handed, Molly practices at Rockford’s mill stream, where the happy couple refreshes themselves on the way to the Merrick homestead.

“Ah!” she exclaimed, with an artificial song in her voice. “I see my dear friends, the Gurgles. Pray, my dear Elijah, let me introduce you.” She led him close to the stream where a rock impeded the flow of water. “Mistress Gurgle, I should like you to meet my friend Captain Merrick. He has recently returned from Timbucktoo. Captain, this is Goodwife Merrily Gurgle.”

He bowed, and the brook babbled on in acknowledgement.

Here’s the mill:

old mill

The building standing there now replaces one that burned down some years ago (there were several fires). It’s pretty old, and the Mill Sites Committee operates it on certain days in the summer so that you, too, may purchase authentically ground corn meal and get your teeth ground down at the same time (I read that by the time they were old, colonists didn’t have any teeth left, only roots, since there was mill stone dust mixed in with the meal).

Then, of course, the stream itself:

herring run


The above photo is downstream from the mill. The herring “ladders” (openings in the cement steps) facilitate the spring migration of alewives. In the early ‘70’s, when the author’s family lived in Brewster, netting herring was a wonderful “sport” and everyone did it, though herring are too bony to eat. Not so the roe! Out of season it really is a peaceful place with almost no one around. During the run, though, the gulls flock there (as you can see), making a huge racket while they somehow swallow those fish whole (alewives aren’t small). Doesn’t seem fair, somehow, that these poor anphibs full of eggs have to jump up waterfalls three and four times their height – some even more – and dodge the gulls and nets at the same time. C’est la vie. Not all of them make it, by any stretch of the imagination, but enough have always done so that the supply has been kept going from ancient times until now, when the numbers have suddenly dropped.

The newly-hatched alewives produced in one summer don’t return for five years. No one knows where they go to grow up, but five years after they’ve left, they’re back sometime in March. Each herring run is revisited by the fish that hatched there (rather than some other run) and the New England coastline sported countless streams to the sea, fed by ponds large enough to permit spawning. Most likely it isn’t necessary to remind anyone that it was these self-same alewives that Squanto showed the Pilgrims how to use for fertilizer. And once they were dried, their bones became small enough that they could be consumed, like jerky. And then, as mentioned before, there was the roe, pan-fried in butter and seasoned just so. I think it’s still legal to take herring in season, and it would be worth going down there next spring, just for a tiny taste of roe.



RAMBLING AROUND IN CH. 2 (This is the House)

Chapter two of This is the House introduces us to Elijah, brought up on a neighbor’s farm after his father was lost at sea and his mother had more children at home than she could feed. In this chapter we learn that to be the master of a brig was the dream of every boy. The alternative was farming – a back-breaking job done almost entirely by hand. Do you remember in Cold Mountain, when the girls were plowing the field? One of them took the place of the horse, dragging the plow, the other steering and keeping the blade in a straight line. If you didn’t have a horse, that’s what you would have to do. Fortunately for Elijah, Farmer Crosby did have a horse – which eventually dragged the injured boy home on a sledge.

wooden sledgesledge




And, let’s not forget the modern day sledge:sledge2

Of course, you could be a fisherman. There was a cash market for fish, but the war had ruined the fleet, the boats of which had been pulled out of the water for the duration. Besides, Cape Cod’s North Shore boys weren’t interested in fishing; they had their eyes on Boston, right across the bay:



Previous to the revolution, mariners sailed for the Crown, on ships that belonged to the king. New ones had to be built, but this was not a problem; the colonies had built ships from the get-go, there being lots of timber around.


Brigs were about 100’ long, shaped like a bathtub, and had carried the world’s commerce up to then. They had two masts (that’s how I recognize them) and a lot of room for trading goods. Mastering one blows my mind – but they went everywhere (Captain Warden traded on the west coast, so obviously he sailed around the horn). I “made” one as a display item when I’d be selling copies of This is the House at bookstores. My camera work is usually blurry because I use my cell phone and unless I have a place to prop my arms, that’s the best I can do.

Having ascertained in the last blog that Elizabeth Warden did have a two-chimney house such that Molly knew all about them, now we are at the point of being able to establish that yes, Elijah did go to district school #3, and the Warden’s had sent John there too, so that he’d have the “common touch” and, living in Yarmouth, were in a position to do so. Remembering that the eastern reaches of Yarmouth, in the early days, overlapped the western boundaries of Harwich before Harwich was established, and considering that Rockford has been created and lies in between them, it’s perfectly plausible that John could walk east  to get to school and Elijah would walk west, and they’d meet. (Dennis didn’t exist then. It was still part of Yarmouth, and for all I know, the Wardens lived where Dennis is today. Here’s the map, in case you need to be reminded). So presto! It is accomplished. It’s perfectly plausible that John and Elijah would meet at school.

map with Rockford

And important, because Elijah’s friendship with the Wardens was the occasion for his meeting Molly in the first place.


Now that we’ve figured out how the Wardens came to be in Yarmouth, and have decided they did live in a house with double chimneys, giving Molly a good idea of the kind of house she wanted, we might ask: how did this kind of building make a new life-style possible? Two story houses had been built for years, of course, even on Cape Cod, They sported a single centered chimney like the one on the Yarmouth Inn.

Yarmouth InnThe central chimney provided plenty of warmth, since the open hearth was the site of heat, cooking, and hot water. Yet, if you’ve ever done any winter camping, you know that the campfire will keep only one side of you warm at a time. You have to keep turning, like a turkey on a spit. Half of you is too warm and half of you is too cold. At home, or at the Inn, in wintertime you were a turkey. And if you slept upstairs, which you would certainly do if you were staying at the Inn, there’d be no heat at all — only what came up from below through the floorboards, or emanated from the body of the person in bed with you, whom you might — or might not know.

Yarmouth house 2

Now, with a chimney at either end, the keeping room, at back of the house, would have two open hearths instead of one. That’s got to be easier on the hired help! Since a flue can serve more than one fireplace, one of the double chimneys could also be used by a hearth in the front room adjacent to it, perhaps the parlor. The other keeping room chimney can share its flue with its adjacent front room – perhaps the dining room. Both the parlor and the diningroom could be heated at will, of course – but that’s not all. The dining room and the parlor were separated by the stairs going up, and depending on where the stairs started, there could be plenty of space for a decent entry – a vestibule, which could hold quite a few people all by itself.


This beautiful staircase may be found at the Candleberry Inn, in Brewster MA. The Innkeepers, Charlotte and Stuart Phyfe, opened their home to a walking tour of Molly’s World in 2012, because their house lies on the site of a family mentioned in This is the House. While we were there, I saw this lovely staircase and knew it was just the one I envisioned for Molly’s house. She used it as an extra room when the Merricks were entertaining, and it is here (well, not HERE, but in a setting much like it) that Isaac Warden enters her life again. And, yes, the Candleberry Inn is a two chimney house:


Upstairs, the two chimneys also carried flues for all the bedrooms. Each could be separately heated at will. While the New Englander of old wouldn’t have wasted fuel heating a room he or she wasn’t going to be awake to enjoy, the Wardens entertained guests from all over the seaboard, and had servants. These could lay a fire ready for use and carry away the ashes, so over-night guests could use their assigned room as they wished, maybe linger to write letters or keep a journal up to date, even in winter. They’d want warmth, and due to the new style, they’d get it.

And so a new style of living was possible, too, and Elizabeth and Abel Warden, though Plain people, could provide a gathering place not only for the Quaker community of Yarmouth but also for out-of-town merchant visitors, relatives from Philadelphia, and, as we know, family friends like Elijah Merrick, stopping by when he came home from sea.

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.