About six years ago, I went to a writing retreat in a small town near Park City, Utah. I met Carol Bradley, whom I learned was interested in writing historical fiction about an ancestor of hers. Of course, she had my full attention since this is my “thing.” Carol told me she descended from Susanna, the daughter of Anne Hutchinson, and was hoping to write a novel about Susanna’s experiences of being captured by Indians and then returned to the Puritans six years later. I told her I had plans to write about John Lothropp, someone in the same time period. Neither of us were published authors yet. In February 2020, Carol released Daughter of Anne-Hoeck, the novel about Susanna Hutchinson. Also in February 2020, I finished my manuscript about John Lothropp. Happily, Carol published three books before Susanna’s story. But it’s Susanna’s story that I’ve interviewed Carol about here.
Hi Carol! Thanks for letting me interview you. Not only is Daughter of Anne-Hoeck an interesting piece of American history, it is also a great book. I was touched by your captivating writing and beautiful prose.
A: Thank you, Ora! I’m so glad you liked the book.
Q: I’m curious, did you feel any connection to Susanna as you wrote about her?
A: I did feel a connection but I’m not sure I have words to express it.
Q: I found Susanna to be a courageous survivor. When you first found out you were a descendant of hers, how did you feel?
A: I thought I was familiar with my family history but I did not learn that I descended from Anne Hutchinson and her daughter Susanna until I ran across it on an internet search while doing research for my book about Anne Askew during my MFA. I contacted one of my sisters and she told me that we descend from that line through my father. I wondered why my aunt, the main family genealogist, had never mentioned it. I looked up Anne Hutchinson. When I mentioned it to my son, he said: “We come from all kinds of renegades, don’t we?” I guess we do. Our genealogical lines are full of people who left their homelands to begin again in undeveloped country. My life is different because of the choices they made long ago: where I was born, what religion I claim as my own. I wonder if I would make the same choices they did, show the same courage, if I shared their circumstances? Did some of their courage pass to me? I’m not sure. I have the same responsibility as they did to decide what legacy I want to leave behind for my descendants.
|ANNE AND SUSANNA HUTCHINSON|
Q: Knowing you were writing about an ancestor, did you come at this story differently than your historical novels about the Biblical Daniel and the story of Anne Ayscough (Askew)?
A: I don’t think I did. In the end, whatever story we choose to write, we must bring the same amount of empathy and connection to the characters. They all feel real to me, even the ones I made up. When I finally finish a book and see it sitting on my shelf, I feel joy and satisfaction, but I also mourn a bit that my time with that story is over. I miss the people I spent so much time with as I imagined their stories.
Q: Do you know if Susanna was treated well by the Indians as you suggested in the novel?
A: I found nothing in the records about Susanna’s time with the Indians. In his journal, John Winthrop recorded that Susanna had forgotten her native language and come away reluctantly from the Indians. Because of his prejudice toward the Hutchinson’s, I didn’t trust his slant on her story. I searched other accounts of capture, such as Mary Jemison, whose own account of her life was recorded by a minister and published in 1824. In my novel, Susanna’s experience with the Indians is my own interpretation.
Q: Why did you write Susanna in first person?
A: When I first started writing, I wrote in third person, like I’d done with my other three books. Since I was writing about the things of the past, it felt more natural to write in past tense and third person. About five chapters in to this manuscript, though, I felt that I wasn’t fully connecting with the story or with Susanna’s voice. I went back and switched to first person and it felt right.
Q: I enjoyed the cadence of Susanna’s speech, which to me sounded authentic to a girl having lived in an Indian village for six years, and also her confusion and thought processes while trying to make sense of how the Indians taught her how to view the world through the metaphorical aspects of nature, whereas the harsh Puritans expected conformity to rigid views. Was it hard to write?
A: Susanna’s voice was so difficult! I felt this novel needed to be written in first person, something I hadn’t done before. I nearly gave up on the novel because I couldn’t figure out a huge problem: Susanna supposedly lost her ability to speak English. This raised a huge question: How long would it take for a girl who lived with the Indians from the age of 9 until about 15 to regain her native language of English? How much would she have understood right after she returned? I set the manuscript aside for a couple of years, thinking I would not be able to write the story. But it would not leave me alone.
Later, a search led me to language experts who said that children regain their native language very quickly. I figured that her comprehension of English would come much faster than reading and writing. It was a joy to write the sections where her niece taught Susanna her letters using a hornbook. I also felt that Susanna would not have lost the Lenape language. I found a Lenape website that I used for the Indian words.
Q: What would you like to share about the research? How much research did you do? How long did it take?
A: I’m not sure how long it took for the research. I worked on the book off and on for seven years before it was published. I did a ton of research. I poured over books and articles about the time period, read John Winthrop’s journal, books on Anne Hutchinson, and the transcript of her trial in Boston. “American Jezebel,” by Eve LaPlante, another descendant of Anne Hutchinson, was particularly helpful. I studied the practice of midwifery.
I poured over photos of the places on the internet. A first draft was completed when my husband and I traveled to Boston and Rhode Island, retracing the family’s steps. That brought the Hutchinson’s story to life for me. I saw how narrow the streets were in Boston, how close John Winthrop’s house would have been to the Hutchinson’s. I could see the spot in Rhode Island where William Hutchinson built his house, between the Cove and the ocean. I saw the wildflowers growing along the banks and the curve of the sky above the water.
My research also led me to other people in the Boston area, who became characters in the book, such as the midwife Alice Tilley, whose own history is fascinating in itself. Since Alice was a friend and colleague of Anne’s, it seemed natural to me that she would be the person who taught Susanna to be a midwife. (It was a supposition on my part that Susanna would choose midwifery. Her mother and grandmother were both midwives, and bore many children, as Susanna did). It was a necessary but risky thing to be a midwife. If she offended the authorities or others, she could be accused of practicing witchcraft.
During Anne Hutchinson’s trial for heresy, insinuations were made that she could be a witch but it did not carry through. A few midwives were hung on Boston Common.
During my research of Boston, I also discovered the missionary John Eliot, who translated the Bible into Algonquian and established Praying towns for Indians who converted to Christianity. Those praying towns were set strategically in a semi-circle around Boston, between the English settlers and the Indian tribes.
A warning about doing research: you can search and keep finding and never learn everything about a time and place. If you aren’t careful, you will never stop and write the story. I did a lot of research, and then began writing. But the research did not end there. As I wrote the story, I discovered many other things that I needed to know, so it grew into a combined process: write, research, write, research, write. That method works best for me.
Q: Was there anything you left out of the story because of word count constrictions or for some other reason?
A: No. In fact, my editor sent back instructions to add more scenes and characters and add at least ten thousand more words. It was so much fun to write more!
Q: What is your take on Puritans and the Anne Hutchinson trials?
A: I must admit that my opinion of the founders of the Boston area diminished. Men like John Winthrop and Thomas Dudley and the preacher John Cotton were no longer giants among men but human like everyone else, with weaknesses as well as strengths. Massachusetts was not tolerant of people who thought differently from the founders. It troubled me that the people who fled from England so they could believe according to their own consciences became like the very oppressors they had escaped from.
Human nature is a complicated and troubling thing to me. As I read these men’s words and studied their actions, it seemed they acted often out of pride and the belief that their own beliefs and opinions were the only truth. Humans are certainly like that now. We haven’t changed at all.
The founders of Boston did not approve of those who expressed their own beliefs publicly. People like Anne Hutchinson. I was outraged to read that the colony’s leaders disenfranchised any men who sided with Anne during the controversy, took away their weapons so they could not defend themselves if there were an Indian attack or such. That seemed like an egregious overreach of governmental power. Another example. When the Quakers came from England, they were not welcome in Boston. Mary Dyer, a close friend of Anne’s, converted to Quakerism. When she returned a third time to Boston, she was hung. Because she had a different religious belief.
John Winthrop was dogged in his persecution of Anne Hutchinson. She was a strong-willed, charismatic woman, fearless, a threat to his authority. Even more infuriating, she was a woman. He called her a Jezebel and continued to try to hound her into submission even after she was driven from Massachusetts. When she was murdered by Indians in 1643, he rejoiced that the work of God was done to punish the wicked. I was gratified when I read an account that just before Winthrop’s death in 1649, Thomas Dudley came to him with yet another order to expel someone from the colony. Winthrop refused, saying that he had done too much of that work already. Did he come to regret his actions toward Anne Hutchinson? I hope he did.
Another interesting character was the preacher John Cotton. He had known Anne Hutchinson in England, brought her in to his select group of parishioners, his “lilies among thorns.” Together, Anne worked to help Cotton nourish his parishioners. When Cotton was ousted from England, Anne and her family followed him to the new world. Many of Anne’s beliefs about God’s grace, etc. came from John Cotton. During Anne’s trial, Cotton was asked to speak. When he shrewdly noted that public opinion was solidly against her, he switched sides and condemned her. His betrayal must have been keenly felt by Anne.
Was Anne outspoken? Yes. Was she wrong in her beliefs? I don’t think so. Was she wrong to express what she felt? No. In the minds of those who presided over her trial, she threatened their authority by daring to declare that the Holy Spirit had spoken directly to her. In the beliefs of that time, a person could only have access to God’s grace through a designated preacher. Her beliefs were declared to be heresy. They made her a public example, excommunicating her from the church and expelling her from the colony. The ironic thing was that by bringing her to trial, all of her words were recorded and preserved for future generations. If they had not, she might have disappeared from history. Instead, she is considered an icon of religious freedom.
It is interesting to note that the freedoms upon which this country is built are not based on the government established in Massachusetts colony but on the charter of Rhode Island, where the Hutchinson’s and others founded a government where there was no established state church.
Q: If you could talk to Susanna face to face, what would you say?
A: I’d want to thank her for her courage and the legacy of strength that she left for descendants like me. I’d like to ask her if I got her story right, but that would be too scary so I wouldn’t do it. I would ask her how her life really was, take out pencil and paper and write down all she said.
Q: Have you written any other novels based on ancestors? Would you do it again?
A: I have not. I’ve mapped out a few. The story of Anne Hutchinson’s parents in England intrigues me. Maybe someday I’ll write it.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to mention that might be helpful to someone who’s decided to write fiction about their ancestor?
A: Even though Susanna’s time and experiences were different than the time I live in, I learned much about how to approach my own challenges. No matter what time period we live in, we all have much in common. An author must remember that within every time period people differ widely in their beliefs. We should not write from the narrow assumption that everyone who lived in the past is lumped into the same narrow space that we read about in history books written centuries later. Just like the present, there is so much variety in belief and lifestyle! I find that comforting. Strive to write the ancestor’s story within the historical context they lived in, remembering it is so much more than that. Write of their individual experience, of their own world within the bigger world of history.
Thank you, Carol, for taking the time to share your thoughts with my readers and myself. Daughter of Anne-Hoeck is a fantastic example of how to write fiction about ancestors.
To learn more about Carol Pratt Bradley's historical novel Daughter of Anne-Hoeck and other books, visit her website.