When I’m researching a novel set in history, I like to visit the locations where the characters lived. When writing Flight of the Sparrow, I walked the land where Mary Rowlandson’s farm stood in Lancaster, Massachusetts, and visited “Redemption Rock,” in Princeton, Massachusetts, where she was ransomed back to the English. I walked through
Hassanamesit Woods, in Grafton, Massachusetts, which archeologists think may have been the location for the Praying Indian village of Hassanamesit in the 1600’s. These visits give me a sense of the contours of the landscape and the locations of natural landmarks, but they can’t give me what I most want – the full sensory experience of living in another century.
The best way I know to get that knowledge is to visit museums. House museums help a lot, but there aren’t many houses from the 17th century that are still standing. The Fairbanks House in Dedham, Massachusetts is a fine exception, but like most homes that have been around for years, it’s been remodeled many times.
What I found most helpful in researching Flight of the Sparrow was visiting Plimoth Plantation. That living history museum presents life in 1628, which predates that events of my novel by almost fifty years, but it offers a pretty good idea of what the frontier town of Lancaster was probably like when Mary first moved there with her parents. And it has the added advantage of a recreated native Wampanoag village.
I’ve gone to Plimoth Plantation several times, and each time I’ve learned some new bit of information. But more valuable is seeing how the English colonists lived their lives in the spaces they built for themselves in the New World. And observing the traditional ways of the native people – ways passed down through generations – that shaped and inhabited the land the English Puritans came to claim as theirs.