Sunday, March 4, 2012

Fasting to “Caft” out the Devil

With Ash Wednesday just behind us and the start of the Lenten season for Christians, I thought I would talk today about fasting. Fasting – going without food for a long time – is not common today except for a few that use it to control their weight.

There are still some individuals that use fasting as a religious practice. This involves more than just not eating. It is also meditation and a thoughtful consideration of how to be a better person, including how to make amends for slights and grievances against others.

Have You Ever Fasted?

I actually practiced fasting on Ash Wednesdays for many years. Every time I noticed being hungry, I would pray to be a better person and take time to read a Bible passage. If nothing else, it made me mindful of my shortcomings and being thankful for the food I could eat the next day.

The Puritans Fasted Often

The Puritans held fast days often and for various reasons. The chief reason was repentance and reformation of life. The Puritans thought this was a method for exorcising the devil. They saw the devil is everything so they had many days of humiliation.  Calamities were a classic example. Their belief that God was always finding ways to correct their lives, something like an earthquake, bad storm or failure of their crop, meant they hadn’t been living pure enough.

The Government Ordered Fasting

The government, wanting their public to atone for what they saw as a lack of Godliness, would call for days of humiliation for the colony. “To fet apart a Day of Fafting and Prayer, to entreat the Lord to caft out Satan.” This would include a church service with a lengthy sermon and a stop to other activities.

The First Thanksgiving

Since everyone was gathered at the church, the end of the day of humiliation and fasting would turn into a celebration. This was the reason for the first Thanksgiving. At the end of a day of fasting and prayer in thanksgiving for a good harvest and the help of the natives, the people celebrated.

Christopher Durston and Jacqueline Eales in The Culture of English Puritanism, 1560-1700 state it this way: “For Puritans, fasting ‘was to inculcate an individual and collective sense of ‘humiliation’ by providing puritans with an ideal opportunity for length meditation upon the insignificance and depravity of humankind and the power and justice of God . . . . Puritans also saw fasting as a particularly effective means of assuaging or diverting God’s wrath.’  At the same time, a fast day was ‘an important social occasion.’”  

Have you ever fasted? Please comment on why and how you reacted.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

What Medical Condition Made Susana (Garbrand) Hooker an invalid?

Susana Garbrand was born in 1593 in England. Her parents were Richard and Anne (Ferrar) Garbrand. On 7 Jul 1621, she married the Puritan minister Rev. Thomas Hooker, son of Thomas and Susanna (Pym) Hooker. They moved a number of times keeping ahead of arrest by Archbishop Laud.

More Moves

Finally, they fled, with their four young children, to Holland in 1631. They returned to England to board the ship Griffin to come to New England. They set up a home in what is now Cambridge but before long, Rev. Hooker and many of his congregation became disenfranchised with the Massachusetts Bay Colony leadership.

Once again, Susana had to pack up her household belonging and move. On the other hand, did she? Some reports say that by this time Susana was incapacitated when, in 1636, over 100 people set out on a trek of 100 miles to the Connecticut River.

Susana Carried to Hartford on a Litter

This had to be the most difficult move Susana had to make with her children. Joanna, at 15 and Mary at 13, would have been given a lot of responsibility in watching the smaller children and helping their mother. There are at least two sites that say that Susana was carried the whole way on a litter. There is no indication what her infirmary was.

According to Caroline Gaylord Newton, in her 1912 book concerning Rev. Roger Newton, who married Mary Hooker, daughter of Susana and Thomas Hooker, Susana was an invalid for years.  She describes Susana, “Susana Hooker was a lady of culture, and worthy to be the companion of such a man as Thomas Hooker.”

Daughter Mary Took Care of Susana and Household

According to this report, Mary Hooker, being the eldest at home after Joanna married had the care of her father’s household. Caroline Newton said of Mary, “The one upon whose young shoulders had come many of the burdens of the family life.” She went on to describe Mary walking from Massachusetts to Hartford next to the litter of her invalid mother.

Yet, Susana married a second time, to William Goodwin, after the death of Thomas Hooker and moved two more times before she died in Farmington, CT in 1676 at the age of 83.

The big question is what medical condition caused Susana to be an invalid.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Why the Puritans Came

It’s easy to look at the Puritan migration to New England just from a religion point of view but that’s a mistake. Yes, they came to New England to worship without persecution but many also came for other reasons. The ships were full of individuals looking for economic gain. This was a new country with new opportunities.

Mary Blott and Thomas Woodford

Mary, the eldest of 10 children, came from Bedfordshire, England in 1632 as a servant. Her parents and siblings followed a couple of years later. Thomas Woodford, also a servant, came to New England on the William and Francis ship in 1632. I haven’t proven yet if Mary was on the same ship. Maybe we have a shipboard romance.

Looking at the Gains

From the Hampshire County Probate Records we find that upon his death Thomas Woodford’s inventory was valued at more than 197 pounds and included  “a dwelling house, barn, orchard, garden” with land adjoining, 4 acres over the swamp, 8 acres in the third square, “5 acres of mowing land in the Great Rainbow” and discusses three more acres. This is a nice accumulation of wealth for someone who started out a servant.

Would you have taken that dangerous ocean crossing trip to come to a wild unknown land?

Monday, February 6, 2012

Frances Crippen, a Giddy Puritan

 Frances (Bray) Crippen was born in 1645 in England. So far, I have not been able to find any information on her parents. Frances married Thomas Crippen in 1664 in Plymouth Colony. He was born in 1640 in England. Note that when I don’t give an exact date, it is approximate.

Charged with Being too Giddy

With these dates in mind, they must have come to Plymouth Colony between the dates of 1640 and 1664. Being a new bride must have brought great happiness to Frances because the next year the Plymouth Colony brought Thomas into court to answer charges that his wife Frances “was too giddy.”

Living Saints

This is an example of how the Puritans lived within a fishbowl with everyone watching each others’ action. This was because they were taught that God would punish the whole community if any one individual within the community did not live trying to be a saint.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Following Seventeenth Century Rules

We started last week to look at some of the individual women who I am profiling in my book, “Tracing the Invisible Women Who Helped Birth Connecticut.” As I promised here is what happened to Hannah Spencer when she changed her mind about marrying Simon Lobell.

The Lawsuit

According to the records of the Quarter Court for Connecticut, March 7 1660/61, Simon Lobell sued Jared and Hannah Spencer “in an action of ye case shee for refuseing to marry with him according to promise.”

What was decided?

The magistrates and jury “doe returne this as a special verdict. That ye find not any possitiue engagemt broken by her respecting coniugal relation or absolutely binding her to consummate such a relation…we find vpon Evidenc that Simon hath sustained much damadge by their occasion and therefore doe find it just and meet that all expenses that he hath bin at in reference to these proceeding Jared shal repay.”

What it Cost

I don’t want to burden you with the whole proceedings but the first judgment charged Jared with 150 pounds. That was a lot of money. Later in the proceedings all they mention is 10 pounds and 15 pounds, which the court said Jared could pay in “pease and wheat.”

Of course, the bigger price for such an offense, the gossip and avoidance of her neighbors, challenged Hannah. It is obvious that Jared Spencer must have been a loving father because in most of these situations, the fathers forced their daughters to marry.

What do you think? Would you want to live by these rules?

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Let’s Meet the Brave Women

Over the next few weeks, I am starting a series that will introduce some of the women I profile in “Tracing the Invisible Women Who Helped Birth Connecticut.”

Hannah (Spencer) Brainerd

Hannah Spencer was born 15 Apr 1640 in Lynn, MA to Jared and Hannah (Hills) Spencer. The family moved to Hartford, CT and in 1663/4 Hannah married Daniel Brainerd, Sr.

Factually Based Faux Quote

“I have lived a busy life and seen a lot of our new country. I remember how excited we were to leave Lynn and go to, Hartford, a new place in the wilderness where we could worship God in our way. The trip was long, tiring and sometimes frightening. I had to help Mother with the little ones. In Hartford, I married my fine husband Daniel who lives by God’s word and we moved again. We have eight healthy children. As this sickness wears me down, the older children manage the house and the younger children. May it be God’s will that I get well and take that burden from them.”

Hannah (Spencer) Brainerd died in 1691 when her youngest child was ten.

Next Week

Next week we find out what happens when, at the age of 20, Hannah broke an engagement.

Please comment if you’ve ever known a Spencer or a Brainerd.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Embracing Change Makes it easier to Accept

Gail Sheehy, the feel-better guru who wrote a number of self-help books that assist women in navigating the many changes life throws at us, said, “Changes are not predictable; but to deny them is to be an accomplice to one’s own unnecessary vegetation.” We all know people caught in this trap. But, we live from life that attitude makes all the difference. If we dread something, we are apt to put it off and not make the changes in our lives that we should.

Always Changing but Always the Same

Some changes are more predictable than other changes, such as winter is coming whether I like it or not. My remedy for being concerned about the cold weather I dislike (that I thought was peeking over the seasonal horizon but instead cascaded right in ahead of time as a noreaster), is to go to the ocean and soak up the sun and atmosphere.

I did that some weeks ago to consider some major changes coming in my life even bigger than winter coming, most of which I welcome with open arms. The universe served me well and dished out some perfect weather if a little cool. There is something mysterious about the pull of the ocean, that has always spoken to my spirit. I find the routine of the waves and the tides so reassuring. Always changing but always the same.

Storing Inspiring Scenes for Later Viewing

I walked the surf and filled my mind’s eye with clusters of scenes that I can recall later when I need them. I have always believed in the connection between body and mind. I have done this in the past. If in the middle of winter when I could allow myself to become depressed, I would rather close my eyes, pay attention to my breathing and let the vision of sun and sand and warmth warm my body. This reminded me of a trip to the Rhode Island beaches earlier in the year. This too was a great beach day with a warm sun and a constant soft breeze and not too many people. The seagulls were aggressive and didn’t want to leave after they finished my leftover lunch. This trip being earlier in the year provided some different scenes. One toddler, wearing only sunglasses, was running back and forth teasing the surf and squealing with delight.

A fashion statement was very noticeable – the two-piece swimsuit for women is back. Unfortunately, it is not a very pleasing sight on some women!

Dealing with Inevitability

I watched as a group of children desperately tried to save their sandcastle from the changing tide. They, of course, were not successful. Some things in life we cannot keep from changing; we grow older, our children grow up, the tides keep changing and the seasons revolve.

Helping others is a Good Life Focus

I talked to an elderly man scanning the beach with his little metal detector, who said he had found $600 so far this year. More important to him was that he helps people find valuables. He recently helped a young couple who had just become engaged that morning find the engagement right that had been lost in the sand. (Was that an omen?) He was happy he could help and refused their offer of a reward. 

We cannot hold back time, the seasons or the end of a day at the beach. Nor can be avoid the many changes life forces on us. We can, however, approach them with an open mind focused on the positive. In the meantime, the sights, sounds and impression I recorded in my journal that day are memories that will keep me warm this winter. And here we are in the middle of January and the first really cold weather is here but SPRING IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER.