Sunday, August 14, 2011

Who Were These Invisible Women that Helped Settle Connecticut?

One of the reasons I took on the task of writing about the history of the women of East Haddam was because they were invisible. Writing about invisible people is an exciting challenge.  Some of the families that I am researching came from Massachusetts to Hartford in the Connecticut Colony. For some of these women, there is absolutely no information at all on the local level. That means my research has to extend to other parts of New England.

Were There Horses?

When we think of Native Americans, we visualize them on horses but the New England tribes did not have horses at that time. The tribes in the plains had horses given to them by the Spaniards. Most sources say the New England colonists did not have horses. Yet, in John Winthrop’s letter to his wife during his 1630 voyage, he said they had horses abroad, along with the cows, sheep and swine.

I researched wills to see if any of these early colonists bequeathed horses and I could find none in the families I’m researching. It is a reasonable conclusion that the main group of colonists that I am following as they traveled from the Boston area to settle Hartford, Haddam and East Haddam did not have horses. In the book, I detail the facts to back up this supposition. Since the colonists did not have horses, they had to carry everything they needed to start a village. They were on a mission to start communities and “people” the land. 
For the women, this trek from Boston to Hartford was just as difficult (if not more so) than for the men at their sides. It was an arduous trip for all. Often the women had small children to carry and sometimes were carrying one in their womb as well. Yet, when you look at the Founders Statue in Hartford or the list of founders for Haddam and East Haddam, all you will see are the names of the men. Of course, that is how it was at that time. Now we need to change that and make these women visible.

Who Were They?

Who were these invisible women?  Mehitable (Spencer) Cone – 12 children, Hannah (Hills) Spencer – 13 children, Mary (Smith) Barnes – 8 children, Deborarh (Spencer) Hungerford – 9 Children, Sarah (Hungerford) Cone – 11 children, and many more. In the book, I profile approximately 70 women.

We need to pay attention to the contributions of the women that made the completion of the colonists’ mission to populate the land possible by having 8 to 12 children. This allowed each family to have a bigger farm and get more land. This caused trouble a few years later but that is another story.

In the Connecticut Colony, the size of a man’s estate (being land) dictated his importance in the community. A woman’s womb was a valuable commodity for raising sons to settle more land. 

Women at Risk

Considering that childbirth was the biggest killer of women at the time means that these women were risking their lives, time after time, to help build the family’s estate, a community and a state.

Of course, while these women were carrying and delivering these babies and then taking care of them as babies, they were also making the cloth to make the family’s clothing, planting and weeding the garden, making candles so they had light, milking the cow so she would have cream to make cheese and butter. She also had to bake the bread and make the meals. Just writing this has made me tired.

We should honor these women and that is why I am writing about them so they will no longer be invisible. My goal is to give them a face and a voice by telling their stories.

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