Blood on the Snow

Indians_Attacking_a_Garrison_HouseMary Rowlandson’s bestselling captivity narrative begins with the words: “On the tenth of February 1675, came the Indians with great numbers upon Lancaster.”  Her book then goes on to tell the chilling story of the devastating attack on her home and family and her ensuing captivity.

In my research for Flight of the Sparrow, I came across a 19th century source listing what happened to the people who were in the Rowlandson garrison when it was attacked.  Reading the names and ages of those killed and captured – not just numbers – brings the scene, and the individuals, more vividly to life.

Here’s what I was able to find out about those people. (Note: the ages are approximate.  There are several people whose fates I was not able to find.)

Killed in the Attack:

  • Ensign John Divoll, husband to Hannah, brother-in-law to Mary Rowlandson
  • Josiah Divoll, age 7, son of John and Hannah Divoll
  • Daniel Gains
  • Abraham Joslin, age 26
  • Thomas Rowlandson, age 19, nephew of Joseph and Mary Rowlandson
  • John Kettle, age 36
  • John Kettle, Jr., son of John and Elizabeth Kettle
  • Joseph Kettle, age 10, son of John and Elizabeth Kettle
  • Elizabeth Kerley, age 41, wife of Lieutenant Henry Kerley and older sister to Mary Rowlandson
  • William Kerley, age 17, son of Henry and Elizabeth Kerley
  • Joseph Kerley, age 7, son of Henry and Elizabeth Kerley
  • Priscilla Roper, wife of Ephriam Roper
  • Priscilla Roper, age 3, daughter of Ephriam and Priscilla Roper

Taken Captive in the Attack:

  • Mary Rowlandson, age about 39, wife of town minister, Joseph Rowlandson, ransomed May 2, 1676
  • Mary Rowlandson, age 10, daughter of Joseph and Mary Rowlandson, ransomed
  • Joseph Rowlandson, Jr., age 12, son of Joseph and Mary Rowlandson, ransomed
  • Sarah Rowlandson, age 6, daughter of Joseph and Mary Rowlandson, died of wounds, February 18th
  • Hannah Divoll, wife of Ensign John Divoll, younger sister of Mary Rowlandson, ransomed
  • John Divoll, age 12, son of John and Hannah Divoll, died in captivity
  • William Divoll, age 4, son of John and Hannah Divoll, ransomed
  • Ann Joslin, wife of Abraham Joslin, killed in captivity
  • Beatrice Joslin, age 2, daughter of Abraham and Ann Joslin, killed in captivity
  • Henry Kerley, age 16, son of Henry and Elizabeth Kerley
  • Hannah Kerley, age 13, daughter of Henry and Elizabeth Kerley
  • Mary Kerley, age 10, daughter of Henry and Elizabeth Kerley
  • Martha Kerley, age 4, daughter of Henry and Elizabeth Kerley
  • Infant, child of Henry and Elizabeth Kerley
  • Elizabeth Kettle, wife of John Kettle, ransomed
  • Sarah Kettle, age 14, daughter of John and Elizabeth Kettle, escaped from captivity
  • Jonathan Kettle, son of John and Elizabeth Kettle
  • Ephriam Roper, escaped during attack

There were also at least eight people killed and two people captured during the attack on Lancaster who were not in the Rowlandson garrison.  A soldier from Watertown was killed a few days after the attack.  And a John Roper was killed on March 26, 1676, the same day the town was abandoned by all the remaining inhabitants.


How They Lived

15_13I’ve always been as interested in the day-to-day lives of people in other times as I have in the dramatic events of history.  So I spend a good deal of time researching domestic details.  Here are a few of the many facts I uncovered about the lives of the New England Puritans:

  • Rooms were lit by tallow-candles, made by dipping spun wicks of cotton or tow into melted tallow. Tallow is made from beef or mutton fat, and can be stored for long periods of time without decaying.
  • Wheeled vehicles, except for ox carts, were rare. While there were coaches in Boston in the late 1600’s, stage-coaches, carriages, and “riding chairs” (a chaise body without a top) didn’t appear until the early 18th century.
  • Women did not wear jewelry, not even wedding rings.
  • The first shelters for the colonists were not log cabins but caves or modified wetus. The homes they constructed were modeled on English houses of time.  Depending on the wealth of the owner, they ranged from single-room wattle-and-daub cottages with thatched roofs to two or four room frame houses with an entry room and staircase.
  • Two of the seventeen capital crimes in Massachusetts Bay Colony were for speech: blasphemy and cursing a parent. The penalty was death.
  • Breakfast usually consisted of leftovers or other foods that were quickly prepared. A typical breakfast was corn mush or milk, though a large breakfast could also include cheese, bread, beer, and leftover meat.
  • For over fifty years, it was a crime to celebrate Christmas in Massachusetts Bay Colony. Even though that law was repealed in 1681, disapproval of Christmas celebrations continued until after the Civil War.
  • First marriages required parental permission. The Puritans did not consider marriage a sacrament and prohibited ministers from performing wedding ceremonies. Instead they were informal events which took place in the bride’s home and were presided over by a magistrate.
  • In 1647, the Old Deluder Satan Law required towns with 50 families to provide for the education of children.
  • Everyone drank alcoholic beverages, including hard cider, ale, rum, and wine. There were more arrests for public drunkenness than for any other crime.


The Story of the Slave Silvanus

In my novel, Flight of the Sparrow, Silvanus Warro makes a brief appearance when Mary Rowlandson encounters him after her return to Boston in the home of Daniel Gookin.  My first encounter with Silvanus began when I read Diane Rapaport’s fascinating book, The Naked Quaker, which explores stories unearthed from the old court records of colonial New England.  Silvanus was born in Maryland on a plantation owned by the Gookin family.  He was a baby when Daniel Gookin took him to Massachusetts, where he lived with Gookin’s wife and infant daughter in Cambridge.  Gookin was to become an important military and civic leader in the colony, and devoted a lot of time and energy to helping John Eliot convert the natives and organize “Praying Towns.”

In 1667, Gookin promised to set Silvanus free.  However, he “postponed” that promise and rented Silvanus to Deacon William Park in Roxbury.  The understanding was that, if Silvanus gave Park eight years of faithful service, then Gookin would set him free in 1675.

Apparently it was too much for Silvanus.  In 1668 he tried to escape by taking a horse from Park’s stable and riding away.  He was captured and returned to Park, but a few years later he got into more trouble when he fell in love with Elizabeth Parker, an indentured servant from Lancaster who lived in Park’s household, and fathered her child.  The couple prepared to flee.  Silvanus broke into Park’s strongbox and took money, but the robbery was discovered before they left.  Elizabeth gave birth to a son and was sent back to her father in Lancaster; Silvanus went to prison.

Gookin and Park visited Silvanus in prison and presented him with a cruel choice – Gookin could send him to Virginia where he would be sold onto a plantation, or Park could sell him to a Medford slave owner, Jonathan Wade, and use the profits to support the child.  It’s not surprising that Silvanus chose to stay in Massachusetts, where he had a chance of seeing Elizabeth and his son. Park got his money and Silvanus left prison in 1672 with Gookin’s advice that he should make a life with Wade’s “Negro wench.”

Meanwhile, in Lancaster, Elizabeth Parker’s father, Edmund, welcomed her and her son and refused to surrender the boy when Lancaster authorities tried to send the baby back to Roxbury.  The town officials took the matter to court, claiming that the family was too poor to support the child.  Deacon Park, who had received the proceeds from Silvanus’s sale to Wade, never turned over the money.  Instead, he proposed selling Silvanus and Elizabeth’s son and putting him “out to service.”  The court agreed.

Edmund Parker continued to resist, but eventually the child was taken and sold, while Silvanus continued his life as Wade’s slave.  Gookin, who apparently regretted his part in the events, came up with a plan to reclaim Silvanus.

In November of 1682, Silvanus secretly traveled from Medford to Cambridge and signed an indenture agreement to serve Gookin for the rest of his life.  When Wade discovered that his slave was missing, he called the constables and sent them to return Silvanus.  Gookin sued Wade for “holding and detaining” his servant, and presented a compelling case for why Silvanus should be returned to him, but the court ruled against him, and ordered that Wade could keep him for life.

Silvanus was never set free. In 1707, his son, Silvanus Jr., came back to Boston, severely injured – a “lame cripple” according to court documents – but a free man, after more than thirty years as a slave.  It was too late for him to meet with his father; Silvanus had died.  But he discovered that he had a half-sister in service in the Wade home, and he vowed to set her free.  Unfortunately, there’s no record to tell us whether or not he was successful.