Goodreads Giveaway


I am excited to announce I am giving away 10 copies of Cradle to Grave. Of all the books I’ve written, this is my favorite. I began working on it just when my first grandson was born and my research into the poor laws and the plight of orphans made me acutely conscious of the vulnerability of children. Go on Goodreads to try for a copy.

Better lives for women

I tend to think of the 1700s as static in terms of women’s lives but of course it wasn’t. Although Colonial women spent significant time spinning, weaving (if they had a loom) and making candles, as the century wore on households transitioned from frontier living where everything had to be made in-house to a time where necessities could be purchased. Of course the coastal cities like New York, Philadelphia and Boston enjoyed a higher standard of living even before the Revolution. Clothing or fabric, furniture and other luxuries were imported from England and the daughters of affluent households, well staffed with servants and/or slaves, had no need to use the wheel. They did ‘fancy’ work: embroidery of other decorative needlework.

But I digress.

By the late 1700s even rural communities, even in Maine, had access to items which could be purchased – such as dress goods – that would make a woman’s life easier. (Salem with its fast merchant ships and ties to the Orient, imported cloth of all kinds from cotton muslin to silk, cashmere shawls from India and more. Some of these goods made it away from the coasts. It is no surprise to learn that Salem at this time was the wealthiest city in the United States.) Labor could be hired to help in the fields and in the house. Will Rees, traveling weaver, was not the only (male) weaver who went from house to house plying his trade. (Women weavers were bound to their homes.) Spinners could also be hired, Usually widows or unmarried daughters in a large family, these women would spin for an agreed upon price.

But what about the frontier women. The frontier continued to push west and, by the late 1790’s, was pushing past Pittsburgh. Contemporary observers of Pittsburgh were vastly critical of the dirty streets, through which hogs ran unheeded. Most of the houses were wood or frame, but brick was beginning to take over. Glass for windows was imported at large expense. For women, moving to town no matter how dirty, made their lives less arduous. Tasks could be given over to the candlemakers, the washerwomen, dressmakers and shoemakers. Galatin (an important figure during the Whiskey Rebellion) was a weaver. By 1807 there were six professional bakers. In fact, by the 1800’s, the wealthy began building mansions outside of town and Pittsbugh began offering social and cultural opportunities.

The frontier had moved west to Ohio, Kentucky and Illinois.

Goodreads Giveaway -Death of a Dyer

I am giving away ten copies of Death of a Dyer, my second Will Rees mystery on Goodreads.

In this book, Rees returns to his hometown and tries to settle down. Lydia accompanies him as his housekeeper -both are not sure where their feelings might take them. David also returns home although he and his father are still at odds.

Rees has been home for only a short time when he is asked to look into the murder of a childhood friend.


Housekeeping – 1790s Laundry


Housekeeping  – 1790s – Laundry

Another really labor intensive and, to my mind, awful job was laundry. Water was heated in one of those large heavy kettles and the wet laundry was stirred in it. Water had to be carried from the well and if no well had been dug, from the nearest spring. Clothing was scrubbed clean on a washboard.


This is an antique. I am probably the third or fourth generation to own it. This is a small washboard, probably used for lingerie. The washboards used for heavier clothing would have been much larger.

Of course the laundry detergents we use now did not exist. Usually soap was made from wood ashes and fat. The wood ashes were soaked in a barrel. Why, you may ask. Because wood ashes contain lye. Mixed with fat, lye makes a hard and very harsh soap. Getting one’s mouth washed out with soap must have been incredibly unpleasant!

On the frontier, this lye soap was also used to wash bodies. Lydia, since Rees travels regularly to cities like Salem and Philadelphia, and also because Maine was not the frontier in the 1790’s, would have access to other soaps. Castile soap was made with olive oil and was first created in Spain -thus the name. One of the first manufactured soaps for skin was Pears soap and it was made with glycerine. (Ivory, the so pure it floats soap, was not produced until the 1840s. But I digress.)

Since clotheslines had not been invented yet,  laundry was usually draped over bushes or shrubs to dry –  that must have been fun in the winter. The Shakers invented a variety of methods to dry clothing indoors. If you visit Hancock Village you can see one method with a kind of folding screen like contraption. We can also thank them for inventing clothespins – the kind whittled from one piece of wood with two prongs.

Wealthier women hired a laundress who washed the linen – and later the cotton – sheets and clothing. (For those literary people, Beatrix Potter’s Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle was a laundress as was Emmett Otter’s mother). Until calico came in vogue, (since it was cotton it could be washed) only the body linens were laundered. The silks and velvets were not. (Can I say yuck?) After a few wearings they were passed down to a favored servant. Contemporary accounts describe how these pieces of clothing, gowns mostly, were cut up and the still wearable pieces added to other dresses or made over into other clothing.

Monday was wash day, Tuesday was ironing day. (Wednesday was sewing or mending day for those interested.) Flatirons were heated by the fire and when it reached the proper temperature was used. When it cooled it was put back into the fire and another iron was taken from the hearth. The Shakers also invented a chemical to put into the clothing before ironing to reduce the wrinkling: this was many decades before it was used in the World.

When I think of how much laundry my small family generates and imagine trying to keep up with a large family I shudder. And on laundry day, cooking meals still had to be done. Any free time was spent on spinning or, if a loom was owned, on weaving. Since looms were very expensive not every household had the money to purchase one – that is why itinerant weavers like Rees had jobs. Looms of course were passed down – and that is the genesis of the word heirloom.

Many women – I read one statistic that put the number as high as 50% – could not read or write. Girls did not always go to school. They were too busy working in the home.

I think it bears repeating also that women worked usually with a heavy infant in their arms or a toddler at their heels and were probably pregnant besides.

Goodreads Giveaway

I have begun a giveaway of ten copies of A Simple Murder, the first in the Will Rees history.

A traveling weaver, Rees goes home after some time spent on the road. He find his son. David, has run away. Rees tracks him to a nearby Shaker community but he has no sooner arrived than the body of one of the Sisters is discovered. Rees is accused but quickly finds the friendly farmer in whose barn he had spent the night.

From being the suspect, Rees goes to being the detective. What he finds in the Shaker community will change his life forever.

Next month we will move on to Death of a Dyer.

Goodreads Giveaway ends

I am thrilled to announced that 880 people put their names in for “Death in Salem”. That is just about half the number in two weeks than “A Simple Murder” dd in four. Thanks everyone. Good luck!

Goodreads Giveaway – One Day Left

I cracked the 500 level of requests. Yay! I am so close to 600 I am optimistic that I will cross that too. So, if you want a free book, put your name in. Reviews have been great.

Midwifery – and Witchcraft?

As Lydia, one of the principle characters (married to my detective Will Rees) prepares to deliver their first baby, my thoughts turned to births. In that time both maternal and infant mortality was high. It was not uncommon for a man to be buried in a church yard with several wives.

Most women, especially those in the country, had their babies delivered by a midwife. For one thing, it was considered indecent for a man to witness the birth. Male physicians were just beginning to make inroads in delivering babies in the cities. Thousands of women who were burned in Europe as witches were midwives and healers . Why? Well. everyone knew women, who were ill-educated to begin with,  were too stupid to learn something like this so the knowledge had to have a supernatural origin, i.e. the Devil. This in spite of the fact that midwives have been part of human history for millennia and there were less deaths when midwives delivered the babies. They washed their hands. Male doctors, according to the history I’ve read, did not and they passed bacteria from one woman to another, with maternal death following.

What did midwives do? Think about this: there were no pain killers other than alcohol and opium and anyway it was thought women should suffer. After all, they were guilty of listening to the serpent in the Garden of Eden and persuading Adam to eat the forbidden apple. Queen Victoria popularized pain killers during birth. (Smart woman).

There were no stethoscopes. They were not invented until 1816 and then looked like a long tube. Forceps were invented centuries earlier but were risky. Obstetric tools discovered in 1813 included forceps used by a male physician so they were known and used by then.

But midwives helped with the breathing, cut the cord, and some experienced midwives could turn a baby who was in a breech position. After the birth, they cleaned the baby, removing the mucous from nose and mouth, and made sure the cry was robust. Usually the midwife had an apprentice or two.

Now, with an interest in ‘natural birth’, we have come full circle back to midwives.


Witch Hunts after Salem

Although the witch craze in Salem ended, with many consequences as I have mentioned in an earlier post, the belief in witches did not end. With an increasing interest and belief in science, a belief in witches faded but did not disappear, either in Europe or in the Colonies – new United States. Legally, a witch trial and a judicial solution to perceived witch craft became unlikely (and I imagine that the uncritical acceptance of spectral evidence by Samuel Parris in Salem had a lot to do with increasing skepticism) hanging by lynch mobs could still happen.

In Europe women were still attacked and in some cases executed for witchcraft. In Denmanrk (1800), in Poland in 1836 and even in Britain in 1863. Violence continued in France through the 1830’s. And in the United States, as previously mentioned, Ann Lee of the Shakers was arrested and charged for blasphemy in 1783. But she was released.

In the 1830s a prosecution was begun against a man (yes) in Tennessee. Even as recently as 1997 two Russian farmers killed a woman and injured members of her family for the use of folk magic against them.

Why am I blogging about witchcraft? Well, one of the comments about one of my earlier posts talked about the influence of one person in swaying a community to hunting a witch. No matter how you look at it, most of the motivations behind witch hunts show the worst of human nature. Readings I’ve done point to class warfare and gender conflict. And while it is true that in some European countries men have been accused, in most of Europe and the United States the ones hunted have been women. There are a variety of opinions: control of a woman’s sexuality for one. The control of women’s reproductive life (and the eradication of midwives) for another. Considering what is still happening here I believe it. But some of the other motivations are equally as unflattering: greed, malice, revenge.

With all of this bouncing around in my head, I’ve decided that my next Will Rees (after Death in Salem) will look at some of these themes. You heard it here first.

The Question of Titles

I am not good at creating titles; I’ll admit that first thing. Some authors seem to choose the perfect title. snappy and appropriate. I struggle.

I think of this now since I am struggling to title the fourth book. Right now it is titled “Death in Salem”. Bland, right? I started with “Salem Slay Ride” which I think is snappier but one of my readers said it sounded like winter. Since the story takes place in June, not a good thing.

Maybe I should have a vote.

The original title for my first book was “Hands to Murder”. I took it from the Shaker saying “Hearts to God, Hands to work”. The publisher felt that too many people wouldn’t get the allusion so it became “A Simple Murder.”

I was lucky with the second book. Since the mystery concerns a dyer – as in one who dyes – the title seemed perfect. But the third book, now titled “Cradle to Grave”, I called  The Book until my daughter suggested the title.

So now I’m struggling with the title for the fourth Will Rees.  “Death at Sea”? “”Blow the Man down”? I’m still partial to “Salem Slay Ride” because I like puns. Like I said, still struggling.