Widow's War

The Story Behind the Story

Back in the early 1970s, when I was a college student, I took a summer job as a tour guide in a Revolutionary War museum. I found the era fascinating, and over the years I picked up and read a number of equally fascinating books, both fiction and nonfiction, that enlarged my view: Paul Revere and the World He Lived In, by Esther Forbes, and April Morning by Howard Fast, stand out among them.

A few years later my husband and I became permanent residents of Brewster, the Cape Cod town that was the source of half my family's roots and which had long been a summer haven for me. I soon became engrossed in the town's history and found that it was, in fact, my family history. My fourteen great-greats-grandfather Thomas Prence, later Governor of the colony, first bought land from the Sauquatucket Indians to erect a grist mill along the powerful Satucket River. The town of Brewster received its name from another ancestor, William Brewster, a religious elder in the original Plymouth colony. But of greater interest to me were the ancestors who didn't make the histories: Old Red Stocking who got so drunk he fell out of his canoe and drowned; the Berrys, who were required to stand up in church and confess the sin of fornication when they gave birth to a child before nine months of marriage; and the Clarkes and Winslows, whose feud over millstream rights lasted through several generations.

I began to read up on eighteenth century Cape Cod and learned more interesting things: the laws of the colony left widows use, but not ownership, of only one-third of their husband's real estate, that the region's whaling industry began in Cape Cod Bay long before Moby-Dick, that the Puritans were by no means pure, and that the races were much more mixed than most writers, old or new, acknowledged. But as fascinating as I found these eighteenth century facts, I discovered that most Cape Cod historians spent their time either among the seventeenth century Pilgrims or the nineteenth century ship captains.

And then in 2001 a statue of Mercy Otis Warren was commissioned to stand on the grounds of the courthouse in her hometown of Barnstable on Cape Cod , beside the already-existing statue of her more famous brother, James Otis. James and Mercy together had been major players in the pre- and post-Revolutionary era, but until 2001, they seemed to have escaped any recent attention. Or at least they had escaped my attention. I started reading about the Otises and decided that my next book was going to be an historical one, that it would feature a displaced widow situated in Brewster, that whales and Indians and Africans would appear along with Old Red Stocking and the Clarkes and Berrys. I also decided that I would set my book in 1761, when James Otis made his grand entrance on the political scene with a famous speech challenging the legality of Parliament's Writs of Assistance, a speech in which he stirred up all kinds of revolutionary ideas about natural rights in the hearts and minds of men.

And women.

Widow's War - Read an Excerpt

Widow's War - Reading Guide

Widow's War - Illustrated Tour of Lyddie Berry's Satucket

Widow's War - An Excerpt From Thomas Clarke's Last Will and Testament

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