American Politics

The recent election was acrimonious and ugly. People have unfriended erstwhile friends or just simply stopped talking with them.  While there may be unusual facets to this election, those in the past were not nice or gentle. I am including a section from my new book: The Devil’s Cold Dish, where I describe some of the unfortunate aftereffects of politics. Now this was in 1797 and I wrote this in 2014, so the emotional tenor is based solely on my research.

Turning her gaze to Rees, Jerusha said, “Your cheek is bleeding.”

“Yes, it is,” Rees agreed.

“Fetch me a bowl, Abby,” Lydia said. “And put some warm water in it, please.” She urged Rees into the side room and into a chair, despite his protests. “What happened?”

“Oh, Tom McIntyre had another customer. Mr. Drummond, a gentleman from Virginia by his accent. One of those land speculators. He was holding forth on George Washington and why he should have been impeached. I don’t know why people can’t leave the man alone.” With last fall’s election, John Adams had won the presidency and Thomas Jefferson the vice presidency. Washington had gone into retirement, a battered, aging lion.

“Was Mr. Drummond the one who did this?” She gestured to the cut upon his cheek.

“No,” Rees said. Drummond had already left when the argument exploded.

“I suppose you had to speak up,” Lydia said, her voice dropping with disappointment. “I love your sense of justice but I do wish you didn’t feel the need to fight every battle.” A former Shaker, she abhorred violence. Besides, she worried about the consequences, especially now after the serious injury to Sam.

Rees knew how she felt. He was trying to curb his temper, mostly because he wanted Lydia and his adopted children to be happy in Dugard. But so far he’d broken every promise to do better that he’d made to himself.

“We wouldn’t have a country without the president’s leadership during the War for Independence,” Rees said, hearing the defensiveness in his voice. After fighting under General Washington during the War for Independence, Rees would hear no criticism of the man who’d become the first president. Those who hadn’t fought, or who had only belonged to the Continental Army between planting and harvest, could not possibly understand what Washington had achieved.

Rees hesitated, fighting the urge to justify himself, but finally bursting into speech. “Mac and that Drummond fellow both favor Jefferson and the French. Drummond said that President Washington’s actions during the Jay affair smacked of treason. And when I said that the president had done his very best and that if anyone was guilty of treason it was John Jay, Mac said that the problem was that General Washington was a tired, senile old man.” He stopped talking.

When McIntyre had called Washington senile, Rees’s temper had risen and he had pushed the smaller man with all his strength. Since Mac probably weighed barely more than nine stone, he flew backward into the side of the mill. Flour from his clothing rose up at the impact, filling the air with a fine dust. That was when Zadoc Ward, Mac’s cousin, jumped on Rees and began pummeling him. Rees had already had a previous fight with the belligerent black-haired fellow who was usually found in the center of every brawl. Rees had caught Ward bullying Sam in the tavern and would have knocked him down if Constable Caldwell hadn’t broken up the fight and sent Rees on his way.

Rees permitted himself a small smile of satisfaction. At the mill, he’d put down Ward like the mad dog he was. But by then Mac’s eldest son, Elijah, and some of the other mill employees had arrived. They’d grabbed Rees. In the ensuing altercation, Ward, who was looking for revenge, had hit Rees in the face and sent him crashing to the ground in his turn. But Rees had bloodied a few noses before that. He didn’t want to admit to Lydia that he had participated in the brawl just like a schoolboy, but he suspected she already knew. She frowned anxiously.

“Well, you can hardly blame Mr. McIntyre for his unhappiness,” she said, turning Rees’s face up to the light. “The British have continued capturing American ships. Wasn’t his brother impressed by the British into their navy? Anyway, it’s not only the French who were, and still are, angry about Mr. Jay’s treaty. You were the one who told me he was burned in effigy all up and down the coast. And that the cry was ‘Damn John Jay. Damn everyone who won’t damn John Jay and damn everyone who won’t stay up all night damning John Jay.’”

“Yes,” Rees admitted with some reluctance.

“And now, with the Bank of England withholding payments to American vendors, Mr. McIntyre might go broke and lose his mill.”

“But none of this was President Washington’s fault,” Rees argued. “He has always striven for fairness. To be neutral in all things. Personally, I blame Mr. Hamilton.”

“I’m certain Mr. Jefferson bears some of the responsibility,” Lydia said in an acerbic tone. “He is so pro-French.” Rees wished he didn’t agree. Although he concurred with many of Jefferson’s Republican ideals, the vice president was pro-French and a slaveholder besides. And Rees could not forgive Jefferson for turning on Washington and criticizing him. “Discussing politics is never wise,” Lydia continued. “You know better. Passions run so high. And I see your argument resulted in fisticuffs.”

“Mr. McIntyre struck me first,” Rees said as Lydia dabbed at the cut above his eyebrow. The hot water stung and he grunted involuntarily. “You know how emotional he is.” Mac had spent his life quivering in outrage over something or other, and for all his small size he had been embroiled in as many battles as Rees. But now, with the wisdom of hindsight, Rees was beginning to wonder why Mac had been so eager to quarrel with him. They’d always been friends. Yet Mac had been, well, almost hostile.

“He can’t weigh much more than one hundred twenty or so pounds soaking wet,” Lydia added in a reproachful tone.

“I know. This,” he gestured to the cut, “came from his cousin, Zadoc Ward.” In fact Ward would have continued the fight, but Elijah had held him back. “I knocked him down, though,” Rees said in some satisfaction. Lydia did not speak for several seconds, although she gave his wound an extra hard wipe.

My Mother always said never discuss politics or religion. Failing a neutral topic, fall back on the weather. I find that advice hard to take – I’m sure it was just as difficult to follow it in the past as well.

Hired men: the Shaker challenge

Farming is hard work even now with all the modern equipment we use. (Both good and bad don’t you think, but clearly a topic for another time.)   In the 1790s farming was even harder. It remains and was certainly even more so then a very people intensive profession. Lots of help was required, and that is true even now. So hired help was a common feature of early America. Sons and daughters hired themselves out to the neighbors until they had homes and farms of their own. Younger sons, who often never obtained a farm of their own – the older sons inherited – frequently hired on to other farms.  Unattached males traveled from farm to farm exactly as migrant labor does now. This is a long standing practice, continuing right up to modern times. Think of Lennie and George in Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” and the current use of migrant labor. Farms really couldn’t function without this kind of a labor pool.

As usual, I digress.

So Rees and Lydia would have employed help, both inside the farmhouse and outside in the fields. think of Abigail and the boys David took on to help him brng in the harvest.

Even the Shakers employed hired help, primarily men. During the nineteenth century the number of hired men increased as the flow of male converts decreased. (The Shakers always attracted more women than men for a variety of reasons.) The use of hired men within the Shaker community created a number of consequences. Since the men were ‘too much of the World’, they slept in a separate building and were required to eat alone. I would guess that there were still unexpected and forbidden attractions between Sisters and the men. Human biology is very hard to resist and one of the primary sources I read discussed the problems of keeping the boys and girls adopted into the community separate. The attraction the adolescents felt to one another and their efforts to attract attention was a great trial to the Shaker caretakers.

But some of the problems were cultural, if you will. After the Believers had become teetotalers, the Families in Canterbury (New Hampshire), were much exercised over whether to brew beer for the hired men. The community worried that by brewing beer they were risking not only their ideals but also the consequence of drunken men living in the heart of the village. (Described in “The Shakers, Neither Plain nor Simple”. Even though Sisters took on ‘male’ tasks, men were still required.

Horses, buggies, wagons, and Will Rees

Well, we have had a wide-ranging journey through the domestication of horses and the invention of wagons and buggies.

 

This is one of the things I find so incredible: horses (as well as donkeys, asses and other equines) were not only the main form of transportation for almost 9000 years, they were, except for shanks mare – i.e. walking –the only form. By the time of Will Rees in the late eighteenth century, wagons and buggies were polished and elegant inventions.

 

Okay, I can just hear someone saying ‘But what about shocks?’ Right, they didn’t have shocks. But the front wheels were slightly smaller than the rear and they were cupped to make for smooth turning. The axle, as mentioned before, is equipped with other pieces to make the operation both smooth and efficient.

 

And horses have been domesticated for literally millennia.

 

What does this mean? Well, as with dogs and the other livestock, (cattle, pigs, sheep) they are used to human companionship. Training a horse is a lot easier (I would say it requires) human contact from a very early age. Horses not only have to accept human companionship but also direction. They have to be trained to a bit and reins. If intended for a saddle horse, the animal has to accept a saddle and the weight of a rider as something normal. Horses destined to pull vehicles have to learn, besides the feel of the bit and reins, to accept the weight and the clatter of something following (Remember, horses are prey so they instinctually run).

 

In Rees’s time, most of the horses were trained as working horses, pulling wagons and buggies. Saddle horses were expensive and, as had been the case for several centuries, were pretty much owned and used only by the wealthy. A horse trained to pull a wagon could not serve also as a saddle horse unless it had been trained as one also. Horses were divided into the aristocrats and the cobs. The working and middle classes ( and I think of Rees as middle class since he owns property and has a craft) did not have the wherewithal to own saddle horses. They needed workers that pulled vehicles.

 

Of course things are different now.

 

For a time horses continued to be used simultaneously with the car. But gradually the engine took over. Although the Amish continue to use horses as they have been for thousands of years, for most of us, the horse has become a luxury animal. And it happened in less than one hundred years.

 

But not completely. One of my readers referred me to an organization that strives to keep the skills of using horses and oxen alive. Since the use of these animals are more sustainable in Africa than tractors, farmers there are assisted in their use. Thanks Kim for that information! I love it.

Goodreads Giveaway

Last call for the giveaway of my second book, “Death of a Dyer

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The giveaway ends Sunday night. In “Death of a Dyer”, Rees goes home to Dugard. He is trying to mend fences with David, his son. Lydia has accompanied him as well, as a housekeeper. Both have baggage from previous relationships and are hesitant to begin again.

Rees is home for only a short while when he is asked to look into the death of Nate Bowditch, Rees’s boyhood friend. A weaver like Rees, Nate has become a dyer. This is a time before the coal tar dyes. Besides indigo and cochineal, most of the dyes used in Dugard would have been natural dyes: some madder, black walnut, butternut and so on. And both indigo and cochineal were very expensive.

I had a lot of fun with this book since I got to include tons of stuff about dyeing and weaving.

Devil’s Cold Dish

I am happy and so excited to announce that I have received the cover for the new Will Rees mystery – A Devil’s Cold Dish. The graphics arts department at Minotaur is so good. In my opinion, they have scored with every single cover.

devils cold dish

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Will and Lydia Rees return to Dugard after their adventures in Salem and find themselves in new trouble. Not only is Will accused of murder but Lydia finds her own life in danger.

Coming June, 2016

Iceland

Iceland is a beautiful country. Very dramatic with steep mountains, volcanoes and then lakes and streams with waterfalls.

waterfall

 

 

 

 

Iceland is a geothermal country and is growing – slowly. Volcanoes are a big part of the landscape. We saw the volcano that erupted in 2010 (I can neither pronounce nor spell the name) and stopped air traffic over Europe. The lava formations do indeed look like trolls, which are huge in the mythology.

lava

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The scale of the image does not show how enormous this outcropping is.

Because of the this activity, all the energy is geothermal. And signs of the geothermal activity are everywhere.

geyser

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This one is at geysir – yes, folks, geyser is an Icelandic name. Another feature is the boiling water and mud that one can see everywhere

fumerole

 

 

 

 

Iceland was very green, with snow on the higher peaks. But it is too cold to grow many things so most of the produce – that is not imported – is grown in greenhouses. Here, even a degree or two can make a huge difference.

We bought more sweaters.

One interesting feature: the livestock. Almost feral horses that are thickly covered with hair. Cattle that are a very old breed (Iceland has strict laws on importing livestock since they want to keep their breeds pure). The cattle look very different from our modern cows. They are horned with long pointed horns, for one thing, and instead of a barrel shape their bodies hang from their prominent hips as though the flesh was on a coat hanger.

And there are more sheep than people: sheep everywhere.

I loved Iceland but I don’t think I could take the cold climate. And, in the north, we had almost 24 hours of day. I cannot imagine coping with 24 hours of night.

Norway 2

One of my favorite parts of this trips was seeing an Iron Age farm. Man, times were hard. The people lived in longhouses with sod roofs.

Peopel lived in the south, animals in the north, so the heat from the animals came down, Also the smells and other less nice things. I’ve read about the custom of keeping the animals in the house. Diseases that began in animals then jumped to humans.

But I digress.

I was very interested in the loom. The weaving was done top to bottom. The warp threads at the bottom were hung with weights. Weaving, which for me is a fairly quiet operation, must have been noisy.

loom weights

One of the things I found interesting was the green tape and the interpreter’s green shirt. I knew from my research for “Death of a Dyer” that there was no green dye in Europe. In Peru they used some plant but that had not been discovered in Europe. But they did have yellow, blue (indigo) and red (madder).

yarns

So, where did they get green? Here is a better shot of the green tape.

green tape

I asked the interpreter and he referred me to the Archaelogy Department. Answer: they over dyed, beginning with yellow and then blue.

For pictures of the dress and shoes I refer you to the blog by ArchaeoFox.

Witches – Salem and more

I ‘ve had a couple of questions about my most recent book, Death in Salem. Why didn’t I fully explore the witchcraft angle? Well, as I’ve said in earlier posts, Salem by 1797, was a very cosmopolitan city. It was not only the sixth largest, one of the most diverse (with the first East Indian immigrant populations in the US) but it was also the wealthiest. Salem’s witchcraft past was more an embarrassment.

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House of one of the judges.

 

The witchcraft spell has never completely left Salem, however. On one of our tours, the guide was the descendent of one of the accused witches. Reminders of this past abound.

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Graveyard includes memorials to those that were executed.

 

 

Although Salem became something other – a huge center of shipping and trading, however, the belief in witchcraft did not fade. In an earlier blog I wrote about trials that continued, right up to one in Russia in 1999.

And I wonder what is behind these accusations? Belief? Greed, malice, revenge? Hatred of women. With Gamer gate and all of the Internet attacks on women we certainly cannot discount that as a motive.

Christianity certainly plays a part.I think most of us are familiar with the quote from the Bible about not suffering a witch to live. During the middle ages and right up to modern times this has been used to execute any number of innocent people, primarily women.

I will blog  in the future about my research into witchcraft and goddesses – I think the two are tied. I decided, that since I did not explore witchcraft and the psychologies behind it in Death in Salem, I would do so in the next book. That book, titled The Devil”s Cold Dish, will be coming out next year. Spoiler alert: it does not take place in Salem.