Monday, February 18, 2013

Boston snowpocalypses of 1638

© 2013 Christy K Robinson

AP Wirephoto from Feb. 19, 1964
Because the coldest years of the Little Ice Age* occurred during the Dyers' lifetimes in the mid-1600s, it's reasonable to expect that heavy snowfall would have been normal in Rhode Island and Massachusetts winters. Certainly there are reports that Boston's harbor iced over a number of times, people lost fingers and limbs to frostbite, and died from extreme exposure.

In January 1638, Anne Hutchinson was under house arrest in Roxbury, Mary Dyer was in Boston recovering from the miscarriage of her anencephalic fetus, and the Hutchinson/Wheelwright supporters, including William Dyer and William Hutchinson, were buying Aquidneck Island from Narragansett Indians for their anticipated move in April. Massachusetts Bay Colony (and probably all of New England) experienced a nor'easter snow storm in the midst of a long, severe winter. Governor John Winthrop kept a historical journal with his observations of the formation and growth of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
About thirty persons of Boston going out in a fair day to Spectacle Island to cut wood, (the town being in great want thereof,) the next night the wind rose so high at N.E. with snow, and after at N.W. for two days, and then it froze so hard, as the bay was all frozen up, save a little channel. In this twelve of them got to the Governor's Garden [island], and seven more were carried in the ice in a small skiff out at Broad Sound, and kept among Brewster's Rocks, without food or fire, two days, and then the wind forbearing, they got to Pullin Point, to a little house there of Mr. Aspenwall's. Three of them got home the next day over the ice, but their hands and feet frozen. Some lost their fingers and toes, and one died. The rest went from Spectacle Island to the main, but two of them fell into the ice, yet recovered again. ~John Winthrop’s Journal made at Boston, January 13, 1638
This was a very hard winter. The snow lay, from November 4th to March 23d, half a yard deep about the Massachusetts, and a yard deep beyond Merrimack, and so the more north the deeper, and the spring was very backward. This day [April 23] it did snow two hours together, (after much rain from N.E.) with flakes as great as shillings. ~John Winthrop’s Journal made at Boston, April 23, 1638

Boston Harbor detail from a 1639 map of New England, in the William Wood book, New-Englands Prospect.
Color added by Christy K Robinson.
The wind at N.E., there was so great a tempest of wind and snow all the night and the next day, as had not been since our time. Five men and youths perished between Mattapan and Dorchester, and a man and a woman between Boston and Roxbury. Anthony Dick, in a bark of thirty tons, cast away upon the head of Cape Cod. Three were starved to death with the cold; the other two got some fire and so lived there, by such food as they saved, seven weeks, till an Indian found them, etc.
27 January 2015: The Tall Ship Providence has blown over
at Newport Shipyard leaving the mast broken.

Reports indicate the hull has been ruptured, too.
The ship's owner, Thorpe Leeson, says she will "come back to life."
Photo credit: Rocky Steeves via Twitter.
Two vessels bound for Quinipiack [early name for New Haven, Connecticut] were cast away at Aquiday [Rhode Island], but the people saved [by the Boston exiles who founded Rhode Island, including the Dyers and Hutchinsons!]. Much other harm was done in staving of boats, etc., and by the great tides, which exceeded all before. This happened the day after a general fast, which occasioned some of our ministers to stir us up to seek the Lord better, because he seemed to discountenance the means of reconciliation. ~John Winthrop’s Journal made at Boston, Dec. 15, 1638

Mary Dyer statue at Massachusetts Statehouse, Boston, in snow
Original image URL:

Rebel Beach, Rhode Island, February 2013

© 2013 Photography by Sheri, used by permission

* The Little Ice Age in the 17th century: 
All three of the Dyer trilogy are set in England and New England during
the Little Ice Age, in the 1600s.
Find them at this link:

Thursday, February 14, 2013

A Puritan valentine?

© 2013 Christy K Robinson

In frame 3 of the cartoon image,
Massachusetts Bay Gov. John Winthrop (d. 1649),
is shown with a woman reputed to be Margaret Tyndal Winthrop,
his wife of 29 years, but the style is NOT that of the 1600s,
so it's an artist's conception, not a portrait.
Winthrop married four times: his first two wives died because of childbirth,
his third wife, Margaret, died in middle age of yellow fever,
and his fourth wife survived him by eleven years--before she committed suicide.
Click HERE for that story.
 Puritans of the early and mid-17th century did NOT celebrate Catholic holidays or saint days like St. Valentine’s. Anathema!

But they did have an extremely strong commitment to families and a godly community, which they saw as a necessity to bring on the Second Coming of Christ. They were the Elect, the Remnant of God living in the earth’s last days. They were building the ideal "City Upon a Hill," the New Jerusalem. Puritans revered the institution of marriage.

Letters between husband and wife were tender, caring, and deeply loving, whether they were apart for a few days or separated by the Atlantic Ocean. Governor John Winthrop and his wife Margaret were separated for a year and a half while she gave birth to and nursed their latest child in Essex, and he and others established Massachusetts Bay Colony. When he left England in 1630, he made a pact with her to spend at least two times a week, Tuesdays and Fridays at 5:00 pm, thinking of each other.

New England Puritans were probably more strait-laced than those in Old England, due to their harrowing experiences and pioneering courage needed to build a new society in the harsh wilderness. They enjoyed social events, military exercises, fishing, cooking and sewing competitions, music performances, and dancing, though most dancing was segregated by gender.

Unmarried adults did not live alone--they were placed in families. In Virginia, the ratio of men to women was 4:1, and in Massachusetts about 1.5:1, so there would have been competition for single women! Nearly everyone in the early years of the colony married, and they did it for love, mutual comfort, and to establish their own households and businesses. Their marriages were not arranged, though parents of the bride and groom had to approve.

If unmarried people fornicated before marriage, which was fairly common, men and women were stripped to the waist and publicly whipped 10 stripes. Men were punished with more severity than women. More than the sin of fornication, it seems that the leaders were extremely concerned about the Christian upbringing and financial support of a resulting baby. In New Haven (Connecticut) Colony in 1642, Samuel Hotchkiss and Elizabeth Cleverly, aged 19 and 18, were whipped and made to marry because they'd "spoiled" each other for anyone else by their "filthy dalliance." They were whipped in August 1642, married the next month, and had the first of their seven children 14 months later.

Adultery (where one or both partners were married to someone else) could result in execution, but if the Court was “merciful,” the offender might go the gallows and stand there with a rope around their neck, fully expecting to die, before being released.

A holdover from England that was practiced in coastal America: If a widow had property and no heir, and her neighbors were envious, she could be accused as a witch, and her possessions and land would be confiscated and "redistributed."

If a widower had children, he often remarried within 3-6 months for companionship, as well as to keep the household running, and to make even more children. His new wife was sometimes a young widow with children who needed a father and support. This solution reduced the community's need to provide welfare relief.

Though this "business" of marrying for financial security sounds rather crass, it also celebrated godly, married love as a choice, instead of "romantic" or superficial relationships. It was a model of Christian salvation, like Christ and the Church as a bride.

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After Mary Barrett Dyer was hanged in June 1660, her widower, William Dyer, married a woman named Catherine, and they had one daughter, Elizabeth. When William died in 1677, he made provision for Catherine's dower, and left a financial settlement for Elizabeth.
17th century Flemish wedding

When the youngest Dyer son, Charles, was widowed by the woman who'd borne him five children, he married a childless widow who was seven years older than he. She raised his youngest children, and possibly some of his grandchildren, and died at about 100 years of age on the Dyer farm in Newport where Charles had been born. This shows us that she was a cherished member of the family.

Enjoy the laughs, and have a happy Valentine's Day.

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Like this article? Check out my non-fiction book on 17th-century life and times,
The Dyers of London, Boston, & Newport, by Christy K Robinson.
Nonfiction, illustrated. The research and recent discoveries behind the novels.  
The Dyers is a lively nonfiction account of background color, culture, short stories, personality sketches, food, medicine, interests, recreation, cosmic events, and all the "stuff" that made up the world of William and Mary Dyer in the 1600s. More than 70 chapters, and all-new, exclusive content found nowhere else! 

Christy K Robinson is author of these sites:

·       Discovering Love (inspiration)
·       Rooting for Ancestors (history and genealogy)
·       William and Mary Barrett Dyer (17th century culture and history of England and New England)
and of these books:
·       We Shall Be Changed (2010)
·       Mary Dyer Illuminated (2013)
·       Mary Dyer: For Such a Time as This (2014)
·       Effigy Hunter (2015)

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Watery Villagers: sea creatures of colonial New England

As observed by William Wood in New Englands Prospect, published in 1634-35 as an advertisement for Englishmen to emigrate to Massachusetts Bay Colony. Some of the species Wood mentions may have become extinct from over-fishing in the 17th and 18th centuries. Fishing and whaling in the North Atlantic were big business even before the New England colonies were established, and became one of the chief recreational pursuits of the settlers.

Let me leade you from the land to the Sea, to view what commodities may come from thence; there is no countrey knowne, that yeelds more variety of fish winter and summer: and that not onely for the present spending and sustentation of the plantations, but likewise for trade into other countries, so that those which have had stages & make fishing voyages into those parts, have gained (it is thought) more than the Newfoundland Jobbers. Codfish in these seas are larger than in Newfoundland, six or seven making a quintall, whereas there they have fifteene to the same weight; and though this they seeme a base and more contemptible commoditie in the judgement of more neate adventurers, yet it hath bin the enrichment of other nations, and is likely to prove no small commoditie to the planters, and likewise to England if it were thorowly undertaken. Salt may be had from the salt Islands, and as is supposed may be made in the countrey. The chiefe fish for trade is Cod, but for the use of the countrey, there is all manner of fish as followeth.

The king of waters, the Sea shouldering Whale,
The snuffing Grampus, with the oyly Seale,
The Storme presaging Porpus, Herring-Hogge,
Lineshearing Sharke, the Catfish, and Sea Dogge,
Still-Life of Fish and Cat by Clara Peeters, 1594-1657.
The Scale-fenc'd Sturgeon, wry mouthd Hollibut,
The flounsing Sammon, Codfish, Greediguts [see below].
Cole, Haddocke, Haicke, the Thornebacke, and the Scale,
Whose Slimie outside makes himselfe in date, 

The stately Basse old Neptunes sleeting post,
That tides it out and in from Sea to Coast.
Consorting Herrings, and the bony Shad,
Big bellied Alewives, Machrills richly clad
With Rainebow colours, thy Frost fist and the Smelt,
As good as ever lady Gustus [taste] felt.
The spotted Lamprons, Eeles, the Lamperies,
That seeke fresh water brookes with Argus eyes;
These waterie villagers with thousands more,
Doe passe and repasse neare the verdant store.

Broyling Fish Over Fire, by John White c 1540-1593.
“The men bestow their time in fishing,
hunting, wars, and such man-like exercises,”
William Strachey wrote of Native Americans in 1609-1610.
Kinds of all Shel-fish.
The luscious Lobster, with the Crabfish raw,
The Briniy Osier, Muscle, Periwigge,
And Tortoise sought for by the Indian Squaw,
Which to the slats daunce many a winters Jigge,
To dive for Coddes, and to digge for Clamms,
Whereby her lazie husbands guts hee cramms.

To omit such of these as are not usefull, therefore not to be spoken of, and onely to certifie you of such as be usefull.

First the Seale which is that which is called the Sea Calfe, his skinne is good for divers uses, his body being betweene fish and flesh, it is not very delectable to the pallate, or congruent with the stomack; his Oyle is very good to burne in Lampes, of which he affords a great deale.

Late 17th century fishing vessel.
Ships such as this one often frequented the coastal waters
around the island of Newfoundland on a seasonal
basis during the 17th and 18th centuries. Ship detail
from a French woodcut of unknown origins. In 1710,
a similar scene appeared on the Herman Moll map
of North America with the English description,
 The Sharke is a kinde of fish as bigge as a man, some as bigge as a horse, with three rowes of teeth within his mouth, with which he snaps asunder the fishermans lines, if he be not very circumspect: This fish will leape at a mans hand if it be over board, and with his teeth snap off a mans legge or hand if he be a swimming; These are often taken, being good for nothing but to put on the ground for manuring of land.

The Sturgeons be all over the countrey, but the best catching of them be upon the shoales of Cape Codde, and in the River of Mirrimacke, where much is taken, pickled and brought for England, some of these be 12. 14. 18. foote long: I set not downe the price of fish there, because it is so cheape, so that one may have as much for two pence, as would give him an angell in England. The Sammon is as good as it is in England and in great plenty. The Hollibut is not much unlike a plaice or Turbot, some being two yards long and one wide: and a foot thicke; the plenty of better fish makes these of little esteeme, except the head and finnes, which stewed or baked is very good: these Hollibuts be little set by while Basse is in season. Thornebacke and Scates [rays] is given to the dogges, being not counted worth the dressing in many places.

Atlantic bass, William Wood's favorite fish.
He thought sea bass was better than lobster.
Do not neglect the "sweet, good, pleasant to the palate,
wholesome" marrow in the headbone. (Ack!)

Wood describes bass as 3-4 feet long or larger,  so today's
bass must be wimps compared to those in the 1630s.
The Basse is one of the best fishes in the countrey, and though men are soone wearied with other fish, yet are they never with Basse; it is a delicate, fine, fat, fast fish, having a bone in his head, which containes a sawcerfull of marrow sweet and good, pleasant to the pallat, and wholsome to the stomack. When there be great store of them,we onely eate the heads, and salt up the bodies for winter, which exceedes Ling or Haberdine. Of these fishes some be three and some foure foot long, some bigger, some lesser: at some tides a man may catch a dozen or twenty of these in three houres, the way to catch them is with hooke and line: The Fisherman taking a great Cod-line, to which he fastneth a peece of Lobster, and throwes it into the Sea, the fish biting at it he pulls her to him, and knockes her on the head with a sticke.

These are at one time (when Alewives passe up the Rivers) to be catched in Rivers, in Lobster time at the Rockes, in Macrill time in the Bayes, at Michelmas in the Seas. When they use to tide it in and out to the Rivers and Creekes, the English at the top of an high water do crosse the Creekes with long seines or Basse Netts, which stop in the fish; and the water ebbing from them they are left on the dry ground, sometimes two or three thousand at a set, which are salted up against winter, or distributed to such as have present occasion either to spend them in their houses, or use them for their ground. The Herrings be much like them that be caught on the English coasts. Alewives be a kind of fish which is much like a Herring, which in the latter end of Aprill come up to the fresh Rivers to spawne, in such multitudes as is allmost incredible, pressing up in such shallow waters as will scarce permit them to swimme, having likewise such longing desire after the fresh water ponds, that no beatings with poles, or forcive agitations by other devices, will cause them to returne to the sea, till they have cast their Spawne. The Shaddes be bigger than the English Shaddes and fatter.

The Macrills [mackerel] be of two sorts, in the beginning of the yeare are great ones, which be upon the coast; some are 18. inches long. In Summer as in May, June, July, and August, come in a smaller kind of them: These Macrills are taken with drailes which is a long small line, with a lead and hooke at the end of it, being baited with a peece of red cloath: this kind of fish is counted a leane fish in England, but there it is so fat, that it can scarce be saved against winter without reisting.
Eel and lampern
There be a great store of Salt water Eeles, especially in such places where grasse growes: for to take these there be certaine Eele pots made of Osyers, which must be baited with a peece of Lobster, into which the Eeles entering cannot returne backe againe: some take a bushel in a night in this manner, eating as many as they have neede of for the present, and salt up the rest against winter. These Eeles be not of so luscious a taste as they be in England, neyther are they so aguish [feverish? shivering? quivering?], but are both wholesome for the body, and delightfull for the taste: Lamprons and Lampreyes be not much set by. 

Lobsters be in plenty in most places, very large ones, some being 20. pound in weight; these are taken at a low water amongst the rockes, they are very good fish, the small ones being the best, their plenty makes them little esteemed and seldome eaten. The Indians get many of them every day for to baite their hookes withall, and to eate when they can get no Basse.

The Oisters be great ones in forme of a shoo horne, some be a foote long, these breede on certaine bankes that are bare every spring tide. This fish without the shell is so big that it must admit of a division before you can well get it into your mouth.
The "periwig fish" is
probably the starlet sea
anemone, which lives in
salt marshes. Thanks to
Alysa Farrell for
help in identification.

The Perewig is a kind of fish that lyeth in the ooze like a head of haire, which being touched conveyes it selfe leaving nothing to bee seene but a small round hole.  

Muscles [mussels] be in great plenty, left onely for the Hogges, which if they were in England would be more esteemed of the poorer sort. Clamms or Clamps is a shel-fish not much unlike a cockle, it lyeth under the sand, every six or seven of them having a round hole to take ayre and receive water at. When the tide ebbs and flowes, a man running over these Clamm bankes will presently be made all wet, by their spouting of water out of those small holes: These fishes be in great plenty in most places of the countrey, which is a great commoditie for the feeding of Swine, both in winter, and Summer; for being once used to those places, they will repaire to them as duely every ebbe, as if they were driven to them by keepers: In some places of the countrey there bee Clamms as bigge as a pennie white loafe, which are great dainties amongst the natives, and would bee in good esteeme amongst the English were it not for better fish.

 Greediguts fish (Lophius piscatorius) is one U.G.L.Y. fish! 
'The singular appearance and habits of the goosefish have gained it numerous appellations. In Massachusetts the fishermen know it by the names "goosefish," "angler," or "fishing frog." In Maine it is the "monkfish," in Rhode Island the "bellows-fish," in eastern Connecticut the "molligut," and in South Carolina "allmouth." The early colonial writers refer to it as the "greedigut." It is also known as the "wide-gap," "kettle-maw," and "sea devil."' ~Unutilized fishes and their relation to the fishing industries, by Irving Angell Field.
Color photo of greediguts fish:

More about New England fish: 
See Kathleen Wall's article on Eels--Fat and Sweet HERE.
Massachusetts Bay underwater:  
17th-century sea monsters: 
If they had Shark Week in the 17th century: 

If you enjoy articles like this, you’ll love the book The Dyers of London, Boston, & Newport  (The Dyers #3), by Christy K Robinson. It’s packed with illustrations, trivia, new research, and facts about the people and culture of the 17th century.