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Monday, 9 September 2013

Rebel Puritan and The Reputed Wife by Jo Ann Butler

My love for colonial America is rooted from 1963, when National Geographic ran an article about Pompeii. I read the issue to shreds and made plans to become an archeologist. Ten years later I worked on my first dig. Though it was in a Connecticut mill village, not Pompeii, I was hooked anyway. A knee injury forced me out of the field, so I channeled my deep interest in colonial America into genealogy. There I met Herodias (Long) Hicks Gardner Porter, my 8th-great grandmother from 17th century Rhode Island.

Genealogists began writing about Herodias in the 1880s, and their assessments of her character were dreadful. 'Redoubtable and undoubtedly glamorous' was the most favorable; lurid and neurotic were more typical. Herodias was separated from her first husband, John Hicks, by Rhode Island's governor when Hicks' abuse endangered Herodias' life. Amazingly, most genealogists sided with Hicks, who described his ex-wife as a whore. The more I explored Herodias' life, the more I was convinced that she was maligned, and wanted to tell Herodias' story from her point of view. Herodias married John Hicks when she was only thirteen, and perhaps he took advantage of a naive girl separated from her family. George Gardner, Herodias' second husband and a target of John Hicks' wrath, may well have protected Herodias from John Hicks' beatings.

Genealogists clucked because years after she took up with George, Herodias sought a divorce from him. Why? Because the couple had never been legally married, and George Gardner was not providing for their seven children. It's my belief that Herodias refused to wed, and become the property of another husband after her sad experience with John Hicks. She had watched him abscond with their children and her inheritance, legal acts under English law. Rhode Island was scandalized when Herodias revealed that she and George weren't married, but Herodias got her separation. Herodias' neighbors were even more shocked when she took up with an affluent man old enough to be her father. However, John Porter made her seven Gardner his heirs, and Herodias' two Hicks children benefited from his estate as well. Herodias said that George hadn't provided for her children, but Porter did exactly that.

Herodias Long steered her life in a way that few 17th century women did, including royalty, and I love her for her vision. She put her body on the line in her defense of Quaker missionaries who were being whipped and tortured by New England's Puritans. Knowing she faced the whipping post, Herodias walked sixty miles to protest the cruelty, was flogged and jailed, and I love her for her boldness. I just had to write about this amazing woman!

You can learn more about Herodias Long, and find Rebel Puritan and The Reputed Wife, the first books in my Herodias Long trilogy at


Helena P. Schrader said...

What an incredible story and woman! This is just the kind of story that inspires me to write too. I love "righting wrongs" and providing alternative explanations to conventional wisdom about historical figures. My interpretation of Joan of Kent, the Fair Maid of Kent (and later Princess of Wales) for example, is likewise based on the fact that a 13 year old girl trapped in a "secret marriage" with a mature man was probably the victim not the other way around. But that's for another day! Hope this book sells very well. The heroine deserves it!

Deborah Swift said...

Hi JoAnn and Helena, both books sound great. I'm a particular fan of the 17th century, but the story of the Fair Maid of Kent also sounds very appealing!

Ann Turnbull said...

Jo Ann, I love this period of history too, and have written about it. Your story sounds fascinating.

Helena, I'm ashamed to say I know nothing about the Fair Maid of Kent except that she was married to the Black Prince. As a child I lived near - and often visited - Hall Place at Bexley in Kent, where the Fair Maid apparently lived.