Dame Schools

In several of my books, Rees’s children attend dame schools. I mention them almost without a description. (Of course I mention the schooling received at the hands of the Shakers. Boys and girls were segregated: boys were taught by the men during the winter and girls by the women during the summer.)

Well, what are dame schools?

The New England Puritans believed that Satan would try to keep people from understanding the scriptures so it was decided that all children be taught to read. In fact, the first American schools arose in New England. The Boston Latin School was founded in 1635 and the Mather School in 1639 in Dorchester.In 1642 the Massachusetts Bay Colony made town schools compulsory and other New England colonies soon followed. These were for white boys only. Common schools were established in the 1700s but a tuition was charged.

If parents could not homeschool their children they went to dame schools. Considering how busy most women were I wondered how that worked out. With that said, however, there were enough educated women in the North who could function as teachers. Usually they were widows who taught in their own home. They were paid in money but also in kind – baked goods, produce, alcohol and the like. (I imagine the abilities of these untrained teachers varied widely – from essentially a day care to a real school. But I digress.)

In the beginning education focused on reading and ‘rithmetic but soon it was the four R’s; ‘riting and religion as well. Some of the dame schools offered girls embroidery, sewing and other such graces. Dame schools went up to eight grade and most girls went no farther. Boys, however, might move to a grammar school where they were taught advanced arithmetic, Latin and Greek by a male teacher.

There was also a huge divergence between the North and the South. Planters educated their children with tutors and son were frequently sent to England or Scotland for schooling. During the early part of the 1800s, it was against the law to teach slaves but schools for white children were opened in Georgia and South Carolina (1811). Segregated schools for children of all races began opening during Reconstruction and continued until 1954 when the Supreme Court declared state laws establishing segregated schools unconstitutional.

A final note: These schools went only to the eighth grade just like the dame schools. For many rural areas of the country eighth grade school was the norm until 1945.

 

Speaking Engagements

I had a great talk at the Newburgh Library last Wednesday. I have two more coming up. On Sunday, October 23, I will be talking at the Orangeburg Library – in Rockland County, New York. The talk begins at 2.

The following Sunday, I will be speaking about witchcraft at my own library – the Goshen Public Library in Goshen, New York. Hard to believe but I have never spoken there. I felt shy pushing myself into a slot where I work.

Come and ask questions.

Bouchercon 47

As I have mentioned before, I love attending Bouchercon. Not just because it is fun, although it is, but because it is so inspiring. This time I was put on a panel with other authors I have read, except for the one whose book has just come out. And one of my favorites as well: Laura Joh Rowland. I attended the interview of Harlen Coben by Michael Connolly – two heavy hitters. And the panel on social media. Well, I don’t need to continue. The point is that listening to other writers talk, about problems I struggle with – and sometimes they even have solutions – reenergizes me.

And the opening ceremonies with the faux Mardi Gras parade! Words cannot express. I wish I had taken some pictures but I was so caught up in the moment I never thought of it – even for the dragon float.

Holding the conference in New Orleans was wonderful as well. The people are so friendly and the food is great. We also took a few tours. My two favorites: the Mardi Gras World and the Whitney plantation.

I saw the two pretty plantations: Oak Alley and Laura.

oak-alley

laura-plantation

The Whitney Plantation focuses on the lives of the enslaved.

antioch-baptist-church

wall-detail

This is detail from the wall listing all the enslaved at Whitney. I did not take many pictures; it was so sad and horrifying.

If you go to New Orleans try to stop by Mardi Gras World

mardi-gras-float

 

fluffy

 

 

 

Scenes from a move

I have moved many times and each one has had its share of problems. But this one was easily the most grueling of them all. Now that the end is near, I am beginning to see the funny side.

First, the whole mortgage process was awful. OK, no surprise there. But they pushed it for so long we closed on the last possible day. We would have had to start over the following week.

Then we started moving, first from the storage facility (because we staged the house). That took about ten trips in the van. Then from the house. Yes, we hired movers. They brought two trucks. When they got ready to load the second truck it wouldn’t start. Another truck had to be called in and this second crew wouldn’t take a lot of stuff – the kayaks and the canoe for example. Yes, we had to hire a truck from u-haul to load in all this stuff . When we got there to pick it up it was damaged. They had to find another truck for us. We ended driving to Peekskill.

Even after this, we had about ten more trips with the van – to move this stuff. Are we finished? No. But we just have a few things left.

Then there is the commuting, new for me after many years of living ten minutes from my job. One week after moving, the road I take was closed. Yes. And along the detour there were four different places with road repair crews and signs saying people working. (No one was working. They were all drinking coffee and standing around. But I digress.) One day after they opened the road there was a big accident on the Tappan Zee that caused massive backups everywhere. It took me two hours to get home.

And while we’re at it lets talk about the post office. I filled out a change of address form online. Two weeks later we were still not getting any mail at the new house. Why? well, the Campbell Hall Post Office told me I should have come in and spoken to them. Seriously? This is the post office open 9 to 11 in the morning and 2 – 4 in the afternoon. And what about the new mail that was addressed to the new house? I finally called the Yorktown post office The carrier was holding it. Why? I don’t know. But we have begun receiving mail.

There are a host of other issues. Even before we moved in, the kitchen sink fell out of the counter. I finally found a handyman that is scheduled for Thursday.

I am beginning to feel like the hero of an old silent movie who is challenged by one crisis after another.

I love, love, love the new house and the location (despite the commute). but I suspect I will be giving away lots more stuff. Clearly we own too much!

 

Goodreads Giveaway – The Devil’s Cold Dish

Beginning August 1, I am starting a Goodreads Giveaway for A Devil’s Cold Dish. The publisher had a giveaway for only 5 copies. I thought that was less than generous so I will be offering 20 copies.

Devil’s Cold Dish has revenge, witchcraft and murder. As everyone in Dugard turns against Rees and his family, he takes his family to safety with the Shakers of Zion before returning home to find the truth. The question is, will he find it before he himself is captured and probably hung?

I will publish a link to goodreads before the giveaway.

Malice, resentment – and witchcraft

No doubt there were many causes of the hysteria. The summer was cool and wet, prime growing conditions for a fungus called ergot on the rye.  It releases a toxin similar to LSD. So it is possible that people were suffering hallucinations and genuinely thought they saw the devil and women flying around. If so, the climate that summer had a tremendous effect on history.

Another contributing factor: Tituba, a slave owned by Samuel Parrish.  Variously described as an Indian or a black slave, she told Samuel Parrish’s daughter and a group of girls stories which  drove much of the content of the visions. Her testimony and was a direct cause of the eventual hangings of women described as her confederates.  (Ironically, Tituba was set free.) A shadowy character, she has been also described as practicing voodoo. Her testimony. at least to me, reads more like the Christian belief in demons and the devil.

Then there are the girls themselves. To modern eyes, the easy belief in the veracity of a group of girls is incredible. Samuel Parrish believed in the truth of the accusations until the end of his life. I suspect there is another explanation. Women, and young girls especially, at this time were supposed to be quiet, meek and submissive. The claims  made by these girls and the charges against others in the village put them on center stage. I do not wonder that they kept ratcheting up their stories; anything to keep that attention.

The hysteria ended in 1693. After 1700 reparations began to be paid to the surviving victims and families of the executed. But belief in witches and the trials did not end.  In the new United States a 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) but accusation and hanging by  mobs could still happen.

In Europe women were still attacked and in some cases executed for witchcraft: in Denmark – (1800), in Poland( 1836) and even in Britain (1863). Violence continued in France through the 1830’s. Accusations continued in  the United States as well.  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.

There were two incidents of note in New York State. In 1783, Ann Lee, the spiritual heart of the new faith now commonly known as the Shakers, was arrested and charged for blasphemy One hundred years earlier she might have been hanged as a witch or devil worshipper. But she was released. Persecution of the Shakers continued however. And Lydia, my primary female character who is a former Shaker, would have been a target.

The final trial for witchcraft took place in 1816 in Nyack. Jane Kannif, the widow of a Scotch physician, lived in a small house on Germonds Road in West Nyack. An herbalist and widow of an apothecary, she treated neighbors that came to her with herbs and methods she learned from her late husband. But she was eccentric. According to the people at that time she dressed oddly, was unsociable and wandered around talking to herself. She was regarded as insane or worse yet a witch. It was decided to take her to Auert Polhemus’s grist mill and using his great flour scales weigh her against the old Holland Dutch family Bible, iron bound, with wooden covers and iron chain to carry it by. If outweighed by the Bible, she must be a witch and must suffer accordingly. She was taken to the mill, put on the scales, and weighed. Since she weighed more than the Bible, the committee released her.

So what happened in Salem? It seems as though the town lost its collective mind.

Despite the attention paid to the accusations and the trials and hangings, for me the real focus lies with the rest of the village, those who saw family and friends turn on them. Think what it must have been like living there at this time. Salem was a small community. Those accused were friends, family and neighbors of their accusers. How could you forgive the ones who hanged one of your family members as a witch and terrorized the others? Especially since the accounts make is clear that  some of the charges sprang from the worst of human nature: greed, revenge and malice. What kind of amends would be enough?  Would financial reparations ease the grief? I know this is something I could never forgive. And I would guess that, despite the end of the witch hunts, this village remained troubled for years. In fact, many of those whose family members had been accused or hanged moved away to a new village called Salem’s End. After those experiences, how could anyone ever trust again?

Although PTSD is not a term they used, I am certain those who survived their experiences in Danvers suffered from it the rest of their lives. People on both sides: the accused and the accusers, changed their names. One of the hanging judges was a Hathorne; Nathaniel Hawthorne added the w. And the Nurse family, right in the thick of the storm, moved away and became Nourses.
That brings me full circle, back to The Devil’s Cold Dish. Rees has a history with several people in his hometown and Lydia, a former Shaker, would surely be suspect. What if -?