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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

At the Edge


[The letter below was written by my father, Cyril ‘Jay’ Johnson, three weeks before his death on 14 October 1943. He is writing to his brother Robert Johnson].

1615489 RAFVR
Sgt. Johnson, C.
Pupil Sergeants’ Mess
R.A.F. Station
MILLOM, Cumberland

24th September 1943

Dear Doris and Bob

I have been here for a fortnight now but have found little time for letter writing, for one reason we are very busy and work seven days a week, and moreover Meg has been here for a short holiday.

When I got back to Harrogate, I was soon posted here. As you may remember, Meg was planning to spend a few days with me there, of course that became U/S and so we decided to try here.

I had the utmost difficulty in finding accommodation, spending nearly all my spare time in my first week going here and there, however eventually I was lucky and found some excellent digs in a small house in the country near the village of Silecroft about two miles from the camp.

As it was Meg was very comfortable and had a really nice holiday. She had good company in the day, a very comfy room and was provided with a bicycle. She had several trips into the hills on this and also found it pleasant walking down to the shore and along the beach.

I managed to get a bicycle too and so could get into Silecroft easily. By dint of wangling I got two sleeping out passes and on an average was able to spend one and a half hours a day with her.

Millom itself is a somewhat grim mining and iron working town and she would not have enjoyed it there, but the country at Silecroft is very pleasant and we had some good walks in the evening, visiting the truly rural ‘locals’ [inns] in the neighbouring villages.

We are on the edge of the Lake District here, under a mountain called Black Coombe.

The weather hasn’t been too good but hasn’t kept us in. Meg called at the Verona on the way here and left Sue there. She called for her yesterday and today they will be on their way back to 67 (the family home, 67 Roundmead Avenue, Loughton, Essex).

This is an Advanced Flying Unit and we shall be here for a few weeks, getting used to English flying conditions. Actually I do not find them much different except, of course, there is more cloud and we have to fly lower. I have had some good trips including one to Northern Ireland.

The camp itself is not bad – you get used to it. There is little to do outside but then we have little time to ourselves, as there is extra work to be done after hours. However, I am not complaining. I did very well while Meg was here.

How are things with you three? I trust you are well and all is O.K. I shan’t get leave for sometime but I shall look forward to seeing you again and meanwhile shall be very interested to hear your news. I trust Jan [their daughter, Janice] is well and as lively as ever.

All the best, Cyril

[I was born on 9th June 1944, eight months after my father’s death, having started life in Silecroft]

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Andrew Baird (1869-1944) - planting Scotland's far-famed tree in Southland, New Zealand.


On 22nd July 1879, nineteen year old Andrew Baird arrived in Dunedin, NZ on the ‘Calypso’ after a 3 month voyage from London. He journeyed alone. Andrew had been born on 8th March in Kilmaurs, Ayrshire in 1860. He was the son of Hugh Baird (b 1834) and Mary (b 1837, nee Mary Anton) who were born and married (24th June 1859) in Sorn, Ayrshire.

By 1891, Andrew was well-established enough as a farmer in Thornbury, Southland to marry a local girl Hannah Maria Foster in the house of Hannah’s father in Riverton on the 16th of December. Among their children was Hugh Charles Leslie Baird (1906-1993) who went on to marry Edna May Shaw (1910-1997) – great grandparents to my 2 younger sons.

The picture above shows Andrew as a prosperous Southland farmer, resplendent with a large and newish car in 1941. He was then 81 years old – and he is shown proudly posing with his NZ grand-daughter, 5 year old Shirley Baird.

Fortunately form a research point of view, the fine online tribute to the Baird family that has been compiled by Kenny Baird provides the means of unravelling the deeper ancestry of Andrew Baird (see ‘Baird History and Genealogy’ at: http://www.bairdnet.com/).

Andrew’s father Hugh Baird Sr. was the son of Andrew Baird Sr. (b 1792, Sorn) and Jean / Jane Mitchell. It seems that both Andrew Sr. and Jean may have died by 1841 as the census of that year records the three younger sons James (12), Andrew (9) and Hugh (7) as living on the farm of George and Jean Mitchener.

The elder Andrew Baird was one of the 14 children of James Baird (b 1742) and his wife Jean (nee Jean Miller) of Blackside Farm, Sorn who had married on 12th March 1769. James in turn was one of the 11 children of Hugh Baird and Sarah Howat who farmed at New Cumnock, Ayrshire and who had married in 1729.

The past stretches back then to a prolific family, with the Ayrshire strands ultimately contributing to a wider Scottish ‘Clan Baird’. And, if one explores the Ayrshire family history in more detail, one sees that there was a constant flux in tenant farming families between farms and localities, with younger sons drifting off to work as agricultural labourers, miners or factory operatives in the textile mills.

Also of course there was an accelerating drift overseas – at first particularly to the West Indies where Ayrshire farm boys became plantation overseers and mechanics (as once tempted the poet Robert Burns) – and then as farmer settlers in North America, Australia and New Zealand (as is evident from the family trees supplied online by Kenny Baird).

So Andrew Baird and his family also provide a wider opportunity to relate to some of Burns’ poetry - in terms of both the harsh life that the Burns and Baird farming families faced and the hard choices that had to be made about moving up and away to pursue independence and financial security.

And like as not, Andrew left a lassie behind in Scotland:

‘O sad and heavy, should I part,
But for her sake, sae far awa;
Unknowing what my way may thwart,
My native land sae far awa.

Thou that of a' things Maker art,
That formed this Fair sae far awa,
Gie body strength, then I'll ne'er start
At this my way sae far awa.

How true is love to pure desert!
Like mine for her sae far awa;
And nocht can heal my bosom's smart,
While, oh, she is sae far awa!

Nane other love, nane other dart,
I feel but her's sae far awa;
But fairer never touch'd a heart
Than her's, the Fair, sae far awa’.


We know from the 1861 census that Andrew’s father Hugh was then working in Tarbolton, Ayrshire as a ploughman. As a younger and possibly orphaned son, he struggled to gain the stubborn independence that his grandparents James and Jean had enjoyed at Blackside Farm (see top photo above).

On a fine early summer’s day, a ploughman could sing with the joys of life:

‘As I was a-wand'ring ae morning in spring,
I heard a young ploughman sae sweetly to sing;
And as he was singin', thir words he did say, -
There's nae life like the ploughman's in the month o' sweet May.

The lav'rock in the morning she'll rise frae her nest,
And mount i' the air wi' the dew on her breast,
And wi' the merry ploughman she'll whistle and sing,
And at night she'll return to her nest back again’.

But then again, the rich could sing their own songs by the fire accompanied by the piano at any time of year – and they rarely spared a thought for their tenants and farm workers. Reflecting on this, Burns provides a bitter epitaph on the death of the local squire James Grieve, Laird Of Boghead, Tarbolton:

‘Here lies Boghead amang the dead
In hopes to get salvation;
But if such as he in Heav'n may be,
Then welcome, hail! Damnation’.

Looking more objectively at the local agricultural economy, farmers and their workers were constantly pushed towards poverty by poor soils, a harsh climate, competition for resources among a rapidly rising population, and the absence of sufficient surplus for investment.

Writing in 1898, Helen Steven (‘Sorn Parish - its history and associations’) describes the context of the privations that the Bairds and Burns would have faced:

‘The parish of Sorn consists of about 19,000 acres, and a century ago there were 3000 acres of moss, 7000 of hills, moor, and other pasture lands, 200 acres of natural wood or plantings, and of the remaining 9000 or so of arable ground, all was not under actual cultivation. Few tenants possessed more than a ploughgate of land, and many of them much less.

‘Those small holdings were a decided disadvantage to the parish, as the farmers could not afford to keep the necessary implements or horses, and so were often dependent for ploughing upon hired labour, or had to wait until someone else could lend them implement or horse, and often they missed their season.

‘They seldom could afford to pay a rent, or paid a very small one when the season was good; and there was not sufficient work on their small holdings to keep them busy all the year through. The proprietors of such small farms, if they farmed their land themselves, simply made a shift to exist and exerted themselves as little as possible. A farm of moderate size was much better kept and more profitable than the very small holdings, and much more provocative of industry.

‘But even the best of farmers was very far behind, as looked at from the standpoint of scientific farming of today. The leases were for eighteen or nineteen years, and a rotation of crops was prescribed, but, through inattention of farmers and absence of landlords, was not strictly enforced.

‘The general rules of rotation were the following: Only one third of a farm to be ploughed at a time, the first two crops to be oats, the third bear and grass seeds, the fourth hay, and the next five years pasture. The farms were not properly subdivided, however, and the farmers were careless of rules made by absent, uninterested landlords. Too often, instead of varying the third and fourth crops, a crop of oats was taken from the ground three or four years in succession, and then, without any kind of seed being sown at all, it grew a rank kind of pasture for the cattle.

‘Farm-houses were beginning to be rebuilt, a century ago, in a better style than the cot-houses or hovels which formerly were the dwelling-houses, with men and cattle living under the same roof, and often only a narrow passage between the byres and the kitchen. Some of the cot-houses fell into ruins and the pendicles were annexed to the adjacent farms. The cottars went to live in the villages, where they found employment of various kinds, the young people readily getting work in the new mills at Catrine.

‘The rent of the arable farms under the old leases was only about five shillings an acre; but as the leases expired the rents were much raised, and a century ago, ten or twelve shillings an acre was quite common, and near the villages as much as twenty or thirty shillings was asked and obtained.

‘A ploughman received £10 or £12 per annum for wages, a woman-servant £4. A farm-labourer earned 1s 3d a day in winter and 1s 8d in summer. Tailors went from one farm to another and made the household garments, of good home spun, on the spot. A tailor received one shilling each day, and his food; a mason received is 8d per day. All those prices are quoted as a great advance on what had been until a few years previously.

‘In 1790 a man-servant's wage was £7 or £8; a woman's £3 10s; a tailor received 8d a day; a labourer 10d in winter and a shilling in summer.

‘There were three corn-mills in the parish and a wauk-mill or bleaching mill, all on the river Ayr, and the farmers were thirled (bonded) to a particular mill. The farmers reared most of their own horses, some of the old diminutive breed of the country, others middle-sized and hardy and suitable for purposes of agriculture.

‘There were about eighty ploughs in the parish and twice that number of carts. Farmers' gigs were utterly unknown, and the farmer rode to market with his wife seated behind on a pillion. The cattle were almost all black, of a small ancient breed, and were reared for dairy purposes, few, if any, for the market.

‘The making of cheese had just been introduced into the parish by some farmers who had settled there from Dunlop. Before the advent of the cheese-makers, butter, exclusively, was made in the dairies and sold in the neighbouring villages and in Glasgow.

‘The potato was a staple article of diet both for man and beast, for it seems at that time both horses and, cows were partly fed with it, and many of the villagers rented a small piece of ground from the nearest farmers to grow the favourite tuber. For the ground they paid a small rent and a hundred acres were under such cultivation.

‘Every farmer and cottar grew a small quantity of flax, sufficient for his own domestic, purposes, but little or none for sale. Wheat had been grown experimentally and successfully on some holm-lands, but oats and bear (inferior barley) were the principal crops’.

Notwithstanding the toil, the farm families were often relatively well-educated for the times. Backed by the teachings of the kirk and the relatively open and progressive village schools, the best developed a rugged personal morality and staunch independence – poverty regardless – as Burns describes in his tribute to his father:

‘My father was a farmer upon the Carrick border, O,
And carefully he bred me in decency and order, O;
He bade me act a manly part, though I had ne'er a farthing, O;
For without an honest manly heart, no man was worth regarding, O.

No help, nor hope, nor view had I, nor person to befriend me, O;
So I must toil, and sweat, and moil, and labour to sustain me, O;
To plough and sow, to reap and mow, my father bred me early, O;
For one, he said, to labour bred, was a match for Fortune fairly, O.

Thus all obscure, unknown, and poor, thro' life I'm doom'd to wander, O,
Till down my weary bones I lay in everlasting slumber, O:
No view nor care, but shun whate'er might breed me pain or sorrow, O;
I live to-day as well's I may, regardless of to-morrow, O.

But cheerful still, I am as well as a monarch in his palace, O,
Tho' Fortune's frown still hunts me down, with all her wonted malice, O:
I make indeed my daily bread, but ne'er can make it farther, O:
But as daily bread is all I need, I do not much regard her, O.

When sometimes by my labour, I earn a little money, O,
Some unforeseen misfortune comes gen'rally upon me, O;
Mischance, mistake, or by neglect, or my goodnatur'd folly, O:
But come what will, I've sworn it still, I'll ne'er be melancholy, O.

All you who follow wealth and power with unremitting ardour, O,
The more in this you look for bliss, you leave your view the farther, O:
Had you the wealth Potosi boasts, or nations to adore you, O,
A cheerful honest-hearted clown I will prefer before you, O’.


Honest and hardworking, young Andrew Baird ended up by doing quite well for himself when he settled in New Zealand – with no serious hints of ‘mischance, mistake and good-natured folly’.

The landscape that he found in his new home would respond much more favourably to hard work than his native soil. Before European settlement, the low plains of Southland were covered by bush – mataī, rimu, lowland beech, kānuka and mānuka, interspersed with tussock grasslands, and swamp and bog in low-lying areas. Clearing this land took the effort and patience that had long been bred into the Scots.

Settlement of the Southland plains began in the mid-1850s. The shore whaling stations like that of Riverton had all closed by 1850, and inland pioneers including some former whalers, took up pastoral leases. Both Campbelltown (now Bluff) and Invercargill were surveyed in 1856, with Bluff becoming the port, and Invercargill the commercial focus for the new farming districts, such that they gradually replaced Riverton as Southland’s main town.

Much Southland lowland was swampy – a result of a high water table and low evaporation rates – and drainage was needed to make it suitable for farming. Rain also leached the soil of nutrients, especially lime. Early farmers became pioneers in the large-scale use of lime on pasture (again a practice that was common in Ayrshire –as it also was in my home county Cheshire).

The rural population of Southland increased steadily from the 1870s until about 1911, along with the number of farms, as the bush was cleared and flats were drained. From the 1880s the advent of refrigerated shipments of meat and dairy produce to the United Kingdom brought prosperity to the Southland rural economy. Within eight years, four freezing works opened – two at Bluff, in 1885 and 1892, and the others at Makarewa (1887) and Mataura (1893). The first NZ cheese factory opened at Edendale in 1882 – and by 1932, Southland had 80 dairy factories.

As for the settlers, between 1860 and 1863 more Scots left their homeland for New Zealand than for any other destination. In 1864 the Scottish-born accounted for nearly one fifth of the non-Māori population, with a strong concentration in the southern provinces of the South Island. In 1871 they made up about a third of the total population in Otago and Southland, with Lowlanders predominating.

The economic and cultural influence of the Scottish settlers remains strong today throughout New Zealand. The landscape of southern New Zealand is thickly sown with Scottish names like Clyde, Invercargill and Dunedin. And by way of a more direct example relating to the Baird family, the little settlement of Otautau, (formerly in Wallace County), Southland has both Sorn and Katrine Streets.

Red hair and Scottish surnames remain extremely common, with Burns and Baird being well represented - and Wellington is the only English-speaking city that I know where Macdonalds outnumber Johnsons in the phone book. Furthermore, the Lallans ‘Soond o Scots’ still touches everyday speech in Southland and Otago where the burred rolling ‘r’ is still sometimes a feature of speech. Following her grandfather, my mother-in-law still greets visitors with ‘How would ye be?’ and talks of her ‘wee’ grandchildren.

As for Thornbury, where Andrew settled initially, the 1906 Cyclopedia of New Zealand notes that it ‘is the name of a rich agricultural district which stands at an elevation of only fifteen feet above the level of the sea, and is twenty miles from Invercargill and six miles from Riverton, with the district having a population of 262 in 1901’.

The township had been founded by pioneer settlers Matthew Instone and Robert Foster and it was named by Robert Foster after his wife's birthplace, the market town of Thornbury, in Gloucestershire, England. And there we have a merging of the Scottish and New Zealand histories, with Andrew Baird marrying Robert Foster’s daughter Hannah Maria on 16th December 1891.

Somewhat to the discomfort of my wife, this establishes that she also has English forbears – in the persons of Robert Foster who had been born in Lancashire and Helen Matilda Hopton (sometimes referred to as Ellen but actually registered only as Matilda) who he had married in Australia. The Hoptons it seems had had a pub in Thornbury but went bust - maybe they drank all the profits!

There is some Celtic redemption though as Andrew’s son Hugh Charles Leslie Baird laid aside some Presbyterian prejudices for a spirited and fine-looking bride in the form of Edna Mary Shaw. Edna was the daughter of John Thomas Shaw (1879-1946 born Taieri - whose parents were Samuel Shaw and Mary Woodcroft). Edna’s mother was Mary Beatrice Deegan (1879-1958 born Riverton) whose clearly Irish forbears Edward Deegan and Kate McCarthy married in New Zealand 1875.

For all the old country prejudices against their neighbouring nationals, I hazard that Robert Burns would have been very proud of the Tree of Liberty planted in New Zealand under the Union Jack and Southern Cross:

"Let Britain boast her hardy oak,
Her poplar and her pine, man,
Auld Britain ance could crack her joke,
And o'er her neighbours shine, man,
But seek the forest round and round,
And soon 'twill be agreed, man,
That sic a tree can not be found,
Twixt London and the Tweed, man.

"Without this tree, alake this life
Is but a vale o' woe, man;
A scene o' sorrow mixed wi' strife,
Nae real joys we know, man,
We labour soon, we labour late,
To feed the titled knave, man;
And a'the comfort we're to get
Is that ayont the grave, man.

"Wi' plenty o' sic trees, I trow,
The warld would live in peace, man;
The sword would help to mak a plough,
The din o' war wad cease man.
Like brethren wi' a common cause,
We'd on each other smile, man;
And equal rights and equal laws
Wad gladden every isle, man.

"Wae worth the loon wha wadna eat
Sic halesome dainty cheer, man;
I'd gie my shoon frae aff my feet,
To taste sic fruit, I swear, man.
Syne let us pray, auld England may
Sure plant this far-famed tree, man;
And blythe we'll sing, and hail the day
That gave us liberty, man."

Monday, June 13, 2011

A Golden Age of Wifedom and Motherhood in the USA – and its provenance


In my previous post, I touched on the question of whether there was ever a golden age in the history of the USA, within which women were held to occupy a “nobler sphere” than men’s “bank-note” world.

And with respect to Sophia Hawthorne’s response to her mother in the 1850s that she did not share her concerns about improving the rights of women, because wives already exerted “a power which no king or conqueror can cope with”, I suggested tongue-in-cheek that this statement was never meant to apply to American women in general and that Sophia’s comment owes much her experiences living in North West England during the period that her husband Nathaniel was the US Consul in Liverpool.

It was an easy pitch to go on to try to claim that American women, as the daughters of the Mayflower, had always been more relatively oppressed than their English cousins. The more so that Nathaniel Hawthorne’s ‘The Scarlet Letter’ lays bare the ‘morbid intensity’ of Puritan preoccupations with sin, evil and guilt and their interweaving with male perceptions of feminine innocence and powerlessness.

The Scarlet Letter which is set in the period 1642-1649, has also been viewed as a retelling of the loss of Paradise because it similarly links innocence - sin – expulsion – suffering – and redemption through mortification.

Clearly, Hawthorne was well-place to tell the story, being a direct descendant of John Hathorne, a judge during the Salem Witch Trials (1692-1693).

And if we need contemporary validation, we need go no further than John Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’ which embroils itself in the same bitter puritanical pottage:

‘O fairest of Creation, last and best
Of all Gods works, Creature in whom excell'd
Whatever can to sight or thought be formd,
Holy, divine, good, amiable, or sweet!

‘How art thou lost, how on a sudden lost,
Defac't, deflourd, and now to Death devote?
Rather how hast thou yeelded to transgress
The strict forbiddance, how to violate
The sacred Fruit forbidd'n! som cursed fraud
Of Enemie hath beguil'd thee, yet unknown,
And mee with thee hath ruind, for with thee
Certain my resolution is to Die;

How can I live without thee, how forgoe
Thy sweet Converse and Love so dearly joyn'd,
To live again in these wilde Woods forlorn?

These are the sad and bitter words of a sad and bitter man.

Having lost any opportunity for advancement in public service and facing persecution following the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660, and having lost his loved second wife, Milton was left blind and plagued by three unruly daughters.

The three girls “on whom he ought now to have been able principally to depend, were his most serious domestic trouble. The poor motherless girls, the eldest in her seventeenth year in 1662, the second in her fifteenth and the youngest in her eleventh, had grown up, in their father’s blindness and too great self-absorption, ill-looked-after and but poorly educated; and the result now appeared.

They “made nothing of neglecting him “; they rebelled against the drudgery of reading to him or otherwise attending on him; they “did combine together and counsel his maid-servant to cheat him in her marketing's” - they actually “had made away some of his books, and would have sold the rest.”

But as Dr Samuel Johnson commented, there was a strong case that Milton only had himself to blame for his predicament:

"It has been observed, that they who most loudly clamour for liberty do not most liberally grant it. What we know of Milton's character, in domestick relations, is, that he was severe and arbitrary. His family consisted of women; and there appears in his books something like a Turkish contempt of females, as subordinate and inferiour beings.

That his own daughters might not break the ranks, he suffered them to be depressed by a mean and penurious education. He thought women made only for obedience, and man only for rebellion."


But as for many of us, Milton must have reflected in his later years that ‘life would be pretty terrible if we only got what we deserve’. He was enduringly fortunate that his friend Dr Nathan Paget (an eminent physician who was originally from Stockport, Cheshire) introduced him to his relative Elizabeth Minshull who became his third wife.

She was the daughter of a yeoman farmer from Wistaston in South Cheshire – in fact Elizabeth and I were both born in the same hamlet, within the village bounds, Wells Green.

Elizabeth was 24 years old when they married in London on 24 February 1663. John was 31 years older, blind and had three daughters from a previous marriage, but they were married for over 11 years until he died on 8 November 1674.

"A genteel person, a peaceful and agreeable woman," says Aubrey, who knew her.

‘She was pretty, and had golden hair, which one connects pleasantly with the late sunshine she brought into Milton's life. She sang to his accompaniment on the organ and bass-viol, but is not recorded to have read or written for him; the only direct testimony we have of her care of him is his verbal acknowledgment of her attention to his creature comforts.

Yet Aubrey's memoranda show that she could talk with her husband about Hobbes, and she treasured the letters he had received from distinguished foreigners. At the time of their marriage Milton was living in Jewin Street, Aldersgate, from which he soon afterwards removed to Artillery Walk, Bunhill Fields, their last residence."

As a widow, Elizabeth later returned to Cheshire no later than 1681, living until 1727.

After residing some years in London she retired to Nantwich, Cheshire in 1681, where ‘divers glimpses’ reveal her as leading the decent existence of a poor but comfortable gentlewoman as late as August or September, 1727.

On her death, the inventory of her effects, amounted to £38 8s. 4d. and included: "Mr. Milton's pictures and coat of arms, valued at ten guineas" and "two Books of Paradise," valued at ten shillings.

Well, that’s that, you may say – this time you have really lost yourself in lanes of your boyhood – let’s see how you get back from here to American Womanhood!


Well, it is really not so hard – Elizabeth Minshull was a Quaker.

And, as I pointed out in my article of 8th March ‘Chain Migration from Rural Cheshire to Chester County, Pennsylvania in the 1700s’, the Cheshire Quakers took an important role in the early settlement of Pennsylvania.

In fact there are records for 1663 of a Robert Vernon (22) marrying an Elinor Minshull (15) in Chester County, Pennsylvania. Both bride and groom had been born in Cheshire.

It is highly likely that Elinor and Elizabeth were close relatives.

But there was a world of difference between Pennsylvania and Massachusetts.

As a Quaker historian comments:

‘I have noticed in my years that the more uncertain one is in their unbeliefs, the more threatening opposing beliefs are. Many Puritans left England in an earlier age to escape persecution, fleeing to the American colonies. It is tragic that when the Quaker faith arose, the Puritans were the most violent in opposition.

‘I suggest that their faith, based on an extremely rigid outward observance of rules within the Bible, was so fragile, that when the Truth appeared with the Quakers, they were the most frightened. Therefore they reacted in desperation to put out the Light that said their faith was on the sandy bottom, ready to be washed away by the first storm. They viciously persecuted the Quakers and anyone who dared care for them.

‘The Puritans of New England, specifically Connecticut and Massachusetts, exceeded the persecutions that the Quakers experienced in England, principally by hanging three Quaker men and one Quaker woman. Twenty-three other Quakers were scheduled to die by hanging before the King of England intervened.

‘One would think that the Puritans, after escaping persecutions themselves by fleeing to New England, would have been more tolerant. But, as you will see, their self-righteous spirit, viciously dealt with all conflicting religious opinions; and, since the Quakers were far more convicting than any other sect, with their non-traditional doctrines, they were most brutally persecuted.

One of the main issues between the Puritans and the Quakers was their treatment of women. From the start, Quaker women were allowed to speak at meetings, preach to crowds and even travel alone.

This led to the execution of Mary Dyer in Boston in 1656.

In the previous year the General Court of Plymouth had issued a proclamation denouncing Quakers for "publishing dangerous and horrid tracts," and declaring that any convicted of holding their views should be banished from the colony under pain of death.

‘In obedience to this law four persons were ordered to leave. They were William Robinson, Marmaduke Stephenson, William Leddra, and Mary Dyer, who had "come to Boston to labor for their Lord." Following their decision to return from Salem, William, Mary and Marmaduke were arrested.

‘On the day appointed for their execution a band of two hundred armed men, besides many horsemen, were called out to escort these harmless, unarmed Quakers to the gallows. The prisoners were placed in the center with a drummer next to them, who was ordered to make noise enough to drown their voices, if they attempted to speak to the crowds which followed them. The prisoners themselves were at peace.

‘Observing that Mary Dyer walked between her condemned companions, coarsely and tauntingly said to her:

"Are you not ashamed to walk thus between two young men?"

"No,” answered Mary Dyer, to the repulsive observation, "this is to me an hour of the greatest joy I ever had in this world”.

‘We are told "they went with great cheerfulness, as to an everlasting wedding feast." The men were hung first, and then Mary Dyer ascended the scaffold, but as the rope was placed about her neck a cry was heard: "She is reprieved." Her son had made such earnest intercession that her life was granted him on condition she should leave the colony at once.

‘However, Mary returned to Boston in the spring of 1656 and she was immediately sentenced to death by Governor Endicott. When her life was again proffered, before the hanging, on condition she should leave Boston forever, she replied, "No, I cannot promise. In obedience to the will of the Lord I came, and in His will I abide, faithful unto death."

Six years later Alice Ambrose, Mary Tomkins and Ann Coleman were arrested during their missionary work, under the following warrant:

‘To the Constables of Dover, Hampton, Salisbury, Newbury, Rowley, Ipswich, Wenham, Lynn, Boston, Roxbury, Dedhara, and until these vagabond Quakers are carried out of this jurisdiction.

‘You and every of you are required, in the king's name, to take these vagabond Quakers, Ann Coleman, Mary Tomkins, and Alice Ambrose, and make them fast to the cart's tail, and driving the cart through your several towns, to whip them on their backs, not exceeding ten stripes each on each of them, in each town, and so convey them from constable to constable, until they come out of this jurisdiction, as you will answer it at your peril; and this shall be your warrant.

‘At Dover, dated Dec. 22nd, 1662

'Per me, Richard Walden

Consistent with the warrant, the three young women were stripped naked from the middle up and whipped. Later in Hampton, the constable William Fifield told the women to take off all their clothes. When they refused, he stripped them stark naked and lashed them himself.

But ‘the condition of the prisoners as they passed through Salisbury, fastened with ropes to the cart's tail with their "torn bodies and weary steps," excited the sympathies of the spectators; and one of the inhabitants, after persuading the constable to pass the prisoners and the warrant into his hands as deputy, immediately gave them their liberty’.

When the three young women returned to Massachusetts from Maine, they were subjected to further violence. They were dragged head down through snow and across rocks and tree stumps and Alice was dragged along a freezing river behind a canoe and made to swim for her life. When she was providentially spared, her clothes were frozen as ‘hard as boards’.


So there you have it – some early American women who really did exert “a power which no king or conqueror could cope with” but they were Quakers not Puritans.

But still, it seems that we are a way short of being able to establish Cheshire and North West England as the provenance of at least one strand of gritty early feminism in the USA. That is unless you are unprepared to take into account the assessment made by Barry Levy in his book ‘Quakers and the American Family: British Settlement in the Delaware Valley’ (1988).

Apparently Levy argues that American domesticity did not originate among 19th Century New Englanders but among middling, north-western British Quakers who spiritualized family life and created an ideology of domesticity in the 17th Century. Habitually poor, according to Levy, ‘north-western middling families from areas like Wales and Cheshire could ‘keep some measure of independence by owning a small business or by securely occupying a piece of land’ and pooling male and female talents and energies.

Consequently, they thrived (like my Darlington Family relatives who were farmers from near Church Minshull, Cheshire) when they settled in the Radnor and Chester areas just west of Philadelphia.

According to reviewers, Levy argues that the Quakers brought a new vision of family and social life to America -- one that contrasted sharply with the harsh, formal world of the New England Puritans. The Quakers stressed affection, friendship and hospitality, the importance of women in the home, and the value of self-disciplined, non-coercive childrearing. This book explains how and why the Quakers have had such a profound cultural impact on America and what the Quakers' experience with their own radical family system tells us about American families.

I might add that it likely was not just a matter of being from the middling sort and coping with 'living on a cinder tip'. There were cultural issues as well - women had always had a higher status and greater independence in the North West.

As for John Milton, back in England, it seems that he knew where his bread was being buttered towards the end of his life. He didn’t stop being horrid to his daughters but he gave up rigid religiosity and went quiet about his beliefs, accepting the reality that every man can really be his own priest. After all, he had a gradely Cheshire wench to fuss him and fother him.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Sophia Hawthorne - US Feminist touched by Cartimandua's Daughters


In post of the 26th of May, I commented, among other things, on Stephanie Coontz’s recent article on the shifting memes surrounding wifedom and motherhood. In this she appeared to suggest that American women had taken a fall in both status and grace since a supposed golden age in the 1840s.

While I am not qualified to assess the quality of her feminist rhetoric, I am bothered by her grasp of history and place.

In support of her early Victorian Garden of Even, Stephanie quotes Sophia Hawthorne, the wife of novelist Nathaniel, who apparently told her mother that she did not share her concerns about improving the rights of women, because wives already exerted “a power which no king or conqueror can cope with.”

I put forward the challenge that this statement was never meant to apply to American women in general and that Sophia’s comment owes much to her experience in North West England.

Sophia (born Sophia Amelia Peabody born Massachusetts, 1809) was the sickly child of a dentist, who toyed with hypochondria in later life. Mostly bedridden, before she met her beau, her headaches fortunately abated rather than increased after her marriage to Nathaniel. They seem to have been a devoted couple. Naturally somewhat shy, they both appreciated each others’ quiet ways.

Nathaniel wrote of his Dove: ‘she is, in the strictest sense, my sole companion; and I need no other—there is no vacancy in my mind, any more than in my heart... Thank God that I suffice for her boundless heart!"

She was equally gushing: "I am always so dazzled and bewildered with the richness, the depth, the ... jewels of beauty in his productions that I am always looking forward to a second reading where I can ponder and muse and fully take in the miraculous wealth of thoughts".

So the devoted Dove seems an unlikely surrogate king or conqueror of males.

At least until she went to live in Liverpool, Lancashire – which she did in 1853, when Nathaniel was appointed US Consul.


The Hawthornes rented an elegant red sandstone villa (26 Rock Park) at Rock Ferry in Cheshire that overlooked the Mersey Estuary. Every morning Nathaniel would take the ferry to work in the Washington Building of the Goree Piazza, Strand, Liverpool.

For recreation, the family explored Chester, dining (like Jonathan Swift) at the Yacht Inn in Watergate Street, and North Wales where Nathaniel was particularly taken with Conway Castle.

[Incidentally, both 25 Rock Park and the Yacht Inn have been demolished to make way for road projects – while Conway Castle now has a motorway beneath it].

But Nathaniel also liked the odd walk on the wild side, observing English life. And what he observed about the Lancashire Lasses of the lower orders in the back streets is interesting;

‘The women and children greatly preponderate in such places; the men probably wandering abroad in quest of that daily miracle, a dinner and a drink, or perhaps slumbering in the daylight that they may the better follow out their cat-like rambles through the dark.

‘Here are women with young figures, but old, wrinkled, yellow faces, fanned and blear-eyed with the smoke which they cannot spare from their scanty fires,--it being too precious for its warmth to be swallowed by the chimney.

'Some of them sit on the doorsteps, nursing their unwashed babies at bosoms which we will glance aside from, for the sake of our mothers and all womanhood, because the fairest spectacle is here the foulest.

‘I am persuaded, however, that there were laws of intercourse which they never violated,--a code of the cellar, the garret, the common staircase, the doorstep, and the pavement, which perhaps had as deep a foundation in natural fitness as the code of the drawing-room.

‘Yet again I doubt whether I may not have been uttering folly in the last two sentences, when I reflect how rude and rough these specimens of feminine character generally were. They had a readiness with their hands that reminded me of Molly Seagrim and other heroines in Fielding's novels.

‘For example, I have seen a woman meet a man in the street, and, for no reason perceptible to me, suddenly clutch him by the hair and cuff his ears,--an infliction which he bore with exemplary patience, only snatching the very earliest opportunity to take to his heels.

‘Where a sharp tongue will not serve the purpose, they trust to the sharpness of their finger-nails, or incarnate a whole vocabulary of vituperative words in a resounding slap, or the downright blow of a doubled fist.

‘All English people, I imagine, are influenced in a far greater degree than ourselves by this simple and honest tendency, in cases of disagreement, to batter one another's persons; and whoever has seen a crowd of English ladies (for instance, at the door of the Sistine Chapel, in Holy Week) will be satisfied that their belligerent propensities are kept in abeyance only by a merciless rigor on the part of society.

‘It requires a vast deal of refinement to spiritualize their large physical endowments’.

So we come back to women that would have excited the imagination of Stephanie Coontz – but they are not in Salem or Boston – they are in Toxteth and Bootle.

And, among the homely red sandstone facades of Rock Ferry, something obviously turned in the delicate young lady from New England, as she fought the belligerent propensities of her Old English female cousins. Sophia the Dove became No Nonsense Sofie.

I am not in the least surprised – as I have discussed on other occasions, the women of the North West of England are a formidable lot.

After they had returned to the States, Nathaniel swapped coffee for tea, buckled and wisely admitted:

"She is the most sensible woman I ever knew in my life, much superior to me in general talent, and of fine cultivation."

Two years later Nathaniel who had been preternaturally active, took sick and died and, after she had tidied up her affairs, Sophia moved back to England with her three children.

For more on Cartimandua, the lusty, devious and tyrannical Queen of the Brigantes under the Romans - the epitome of powerful womanhood in North Western England - see my post of Saturday, June 5, 2010 'Sally Darlington & the Kinseys of Burwardsley, Cheshire'