AUTHOR NOTES: Many of the girls who traveled to the New World in the early 1600s to become colonist’s wives
were, in fact, as young as thirteen. When my story began, the three main characters were still in their teens. Four hundred
years ago, unmarried girls were taught to live according to rules: their parents’ rules and those dictated by the church.
They did not have access to self-help books and guidance counselors, as do young girls of today. They did not listen to Oprah
or Dr. Phil. Their preparation for marriage came from the Bible, and from published works of the time known as Conduct Books.
In 1564, Thomas
Becon wrote The Booke of Matrimony, passages from which were quoted well into the 1600s. Becon inspired many of Mrs.
Douglass’s teachings, as did those of Henry Smith, whose book, A Preparation to Marriage, was published in 1591. To prepare them for marriage, young people attended Marriage Sermons. Henry Smith
was a popular Marriage Sermon speaker whose lectures were very well attended. In 1619, William Whately gave a Marriage Sermon
titled A Bride-Bush in which he called marriage “a happiness beyond all other earthly blessings.” Popular
speaker and author Jeremy Taylor wrote The Mysteriousness & Duties of Marriage, in which he referred to marriage as “God’s first blessing” and declared that the married
person’s body was “ministered to by angels.” William Gouge wrote Of Domesticall Duties in 1622.
From the Bible, young girls
were taught that the man was the head of the household and that they must submit to their husbands in all ways. A marriage
lecturer named Vives warned unwed girls by declaring “if she was disobedient to her husband, she was an offence to her
own father and mother and kin.” Vives declared that a wife must “bear with her husband even if he was evil. If
he struck her or even beat her, she must try to understand his mood and to accord herself with him as long as she could feel
she obeyed God’s will.” Vives assured girls that if they “could live peaceably with their husbands in adversity
that they would inherit eternal glory.”
For a young wife to question
whether or not she was happy after marriage, or whether or not her marriage was “what she wanted,” was simply
not done. For her to speak aloud of her discontent would have been considered self-indulgent and against the church. Young
people who entered into marriage knew that the married state was for life. After 1602 there was no legal escape from marriage
except by the death of one’s spouse. In the event of desertion, remarriage was not allowed if both parties were still
alive. Divorce was not only expensive and time-consuming, but it took an Act of Parliament to grant one.
During this time period, girls
knew nothing about examining their feelings, or questioning why they loved a particular man, or if their husband’s “ways”
were wrong or harmful or detrimental to their own health and well-being. If a young woman found herself in a loveless or abusive
(by today’s definition) marriage, her only option was to suffer in silence, to ask God to forgive her for her
sins and to help her make it through another day. I expect many young wives and mothers were not only confused but also overwhelmed
by the challenges they faced. But to whom could a young bride turn? Older, supposedly wiser, women were trapped in the same
situation. Yes, by 1620, Jamestown and other settlements in the New World were considered to be thriving, but figuring out
how to create a happy fulfilled life, while also dealing with the many daily inconveniences facing the colonists, was still
hundreds of years into the future.
Regarding my reference
in Secrets and Lies to rape, it was quite common in those days for men to be sexually abusive to young women in their
employ, even as it later became common for plantation owners to sexually abuse their black female slaves. In his book, Everyday Life in Colonial America, Dale Taylor states on page 128: “Rape was a crime against married
or engaged women, or girls under ten. In all other cases, the woman was considered to have given in to her inherent
lustfulness and consented, reducing the crime to mere fornication. Witnesses were essential to prove rape for if she did not
cry out for help, she consented by not resisting.” From this, it is apparent that men in the early 1600s who sexually
molested their female servants did not believe that (1) they were doing anything wrong beyond committing fornication, or adultery
if they were married, and that (2) there was little to no chance they could ever be proven guilty of rape.
My allusion to witchcraft in the Jamestown colony
is supported by historical fact. Fear of witches and witchcraft was prevalent for centuries in Europe before the Salem witchcraft
trials took place in this country in 1692. In England in 1563 Parliament passed The Witchcraft Act, which imposed the death penalty on those guilty of “invocations or conjurations of . . . evil spirits.”
In 1584, Englishman Reginald Scott authored a book titled Discoverie of Witchcraft. During his reign, King James I
republished a book he had written in 1597 called Daemonologie, warning his English subjects against the dangers of
witches and demons. In 1612, in Lancashire County, England, eight women and two men were hanged
for the crime of witchcraft. The accused were believed to have sold their souls to the devil or to evil spirits in return for the power to kill or lame whomever they pleased. The Pendle Witches, as they came to
be known, were believed to have murdered a minimum of seventeen people in and around the Forest of Pendle.
that, King Henry VIII accused his wife Anne Boleyn of practicing witchcraft after she consulted with sorcerers in an attempt
to conceive a son. Henry and Anne’s daughter, Queen Elizabeth I, also believed in sorcerers and as a young woman, avidly
studied the art of alchemy. She later gave Essex a magic ring said to protect him from highway robbers while traveling.
Early records show that witches
were persecuted, tried and put to death not only in England, but also in France, Germany and Italy. Settlers from these countries
who came to the New World brought with them strong superstitions and beliefs in witchcraft: Witches could cause strange diseases
to manifest in children, they could change men into horses, put spells on muskets and other weapons, and cause cattle to choke
on hair balls. Swedish immigrants believed that when one sold a healthy cow, the owner must snip and keep a hank of its hair
if he wished good luck to remain on his own farm. Another Swedish superstition also involved cattle: on Christmas Eve every
cow briefly acquired the ability to speak. Because this miracle was never witnessed, it understandably remained unproven.
Swedes also believed that saying the Lord’s Prayer backward would prevent rain during a harvest. German immigrants believed
that anyone unfortunate enough to be born during the first three days of a new year was doomed to an unhappy life. Germans
also declared that a newly purchased pig must be backed into its pen if it was to remain healthy; that is, of course, until
the day it was slaughtered. In Virginia, if a man happened to stumble over a grave in a field, everyone knew that he had better
jump backward over it; otherwise, one of his own kinsmen would soon die.
Many scholars believe
that the Salem witchcraft trials ended the hunt for, and persecution of, witches in America. Records show, however, that a
witch trial was held in Virginia as late as 1706, and another in North Carolina in 1712. Doubtless there were other such trials
elsewhere in the early American colonies. In later years, witches were no longer put to death in England or in America; however,
belief in witches and their antics and other superstitious beliefs continued to flourish in this country well into the eighteenth