The Story Behind the Story
In the course of some historical research that took me through a number of seventeenth and eighteenth century Cape Cod wills I discovered that slavery was widely practiced and little acknowledged in this part of the country. My there's-a-book light bulb went off; I felt that this particular part of New England's history deserved to see the light of day. But as I discussed the subject with my brother he said, "All the slaves weren't black , you know," reminding me of a related subject that had long interested me and greatly influenced the make-up of New England: indentured servitude. I also remembered that I'd come across an intriguing story of an indentured servant in researching my previous historical novel, The Widow's War.
Diarist Benjamin Bangs of Harwich (formerly Satucket, now Brewster) made the following notation in his diary in 1764, referencing a former indentured servant who had given birth to an illegitimate child while alone, and the child died. In that era a single woman in such circumstance was almost always charged with infanticide, the assumption being that she would have killed the child to hide the crime of fornication. The diary passage reads:
[July] 10: Tuesday: wind SW: hot: I went in my chaise with my wife to Bass ponds visited Mrs Kelly and dind then went to see :Hannah: the black girl we brought up: who has had a bastard child alone at tom Ralphs: the [grand] jury brot in that the child died for want help she is in fitts and weak and almost dead an object of pity the sheriff Stone has put a guard over her and intends to put her in goal if she lives She lies lamenting her folly when sencible.
Several things intrigued me about this passage: first, of course, was the fact of the pending infanticide charge, but second, the fact that Bangs refers to this indentured servant as "the black girl we brought up," as if she were almost a member of his family, even going to visit to her in her time of distress. The literature on indentured servitude is filled with tales of abusive masters, but Benjamin Bangs was clearly of another type.
Even thought Hannah was not one of the "white slaves" (Bangs alternately refers to her as "Indian Hannah" or "Black Hannah") I decided to see what I could find out about her, and was fortunate to be able to locate the files for the case of "Hannah Nutup, a spinster from Yarmouth" in the archives of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. The record contained three depositions from the women who arrived at the scene, each almost identical to the one by Sarah Burgess, Hannah's arrest warrant, grand jury indictment, and trial jury verdict. [These documents and transcripts are reproduced in the paperback edition of Bound.]
In reading the record of Hannah's trial I knew that this was a story I wished to tell. But as I began to talk to various people about indentured servitude I discovered that although they all knew plenty about the exploitation and enslavement of Africans and Indians, few were familiar with the "white slaves." I decided I might best illuminate this unknown part of our history by creating as my main character a young white girl who came into service the same way so many of them had: she was bound out by her father in order to help pay for the family's costly passage to America, a legal practice as long as the child had reached seven years of age.
So Alice Cole was born, and although her life converges with Hannah's in some of its details, it sometimes diverges dramatically, and in at least one instance to Alice's greater advantage: her path crosses that of someone the readers of my previous historical novel will recognize: the widow Lyddie Berry.
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