Wednesday, January 9, 2013

What's that got to do with the Protestant Reformation?

Now for a bit of a change of pace.  I've been writing about my chickens and ducks lately and I really hadn't intended on it being a barnyard onto other things for this post at least.

I'm a couple of years behind the times in books, I just read Wolf Hall by Hillary Mantel, about Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell, which came out two years ago, which made it easier to get at the library.  Sure it's about the many wives and the court machinations, but it is also about the Protestant Reformation, not something that is usual dinner table talk.  Since it is generally not dinner table talk, most folks do not know that I have done a fair amount of reading about the Protestant Reformation previous to this and it has re-piqued my interest in it.  So, now you're probably thinking what does this person with too many critters care about the Protestant Reformation and why would I care??  Well, it all starts with family, doesn't it always?

I knew growing up that my Mom's side of the family, at least her father's side had been in America long before it was the U.S.  It seems the first of that line arrived on a little boat called the Mayflower, it was full of a bunch of folks who were seen as annoying religious fanatics in England and some fortune hunters.  Others soon followed in the Great Migration of the Puritans (Calvinists) to Massachusetts Bay Colony.  Little things in my early research piqued my interest, for instance one forebear, Samuel, arrived in Massachusetts and they would not take him because there was something wrong with his references, so they sent him on  to Plimoth (that's how they spelled it then) Colony.  My first response was, "huh?: He did not have the right references?  Here I am more than a decade after that first, "huh?" and many, many books and websites later and in the past three or four years I am finally getting it, but there are new, "huh's?"  I don't have the documentation on Samuel, but his son Zachariah I do, I found it a few months ago, they were Anabaptists, what we now call Baptists, what back then were also called heretics.  It seems that most of the family on that side were the various flavors of heretics of the day, no, I should say, all of them, at least the ones I can find so far.  Several members of the family followed Anne Hutchinson out of Massachusetts to Portsmouth, RI, and it appears that the Independent man himself, ol' Roger Williams is tucked into my genetic code somewhere.  Heretics all.  Baptists, Quakers, Free-thinkers, Searchers, all the folks the Puritans had a tendency to either kick out and pursue through the forest in the snow or to hang by the neck.  All these years I thought I had descended from the Puritans, I was wrong.  I am descended from people the Puritans, folks who moved several thousand miles to live in a sparsely populated, disconnected land, so that they could go to church without the Book of Common Prayer, thought that my folks were way off the deep end.

In the course of all of this research I have had to figure out Calvinist, Quaker and Baptist beliefs(the two latter believe in an inner light and a person's direct connection with their creator without the need of a minister or priest, which didn't sit well with the near theocratic MA Bay Colony), so I have read books on all of these, so that I could better understand why some groups moved place to place, why some groups stayed put, why they all thought the others deceived and what all this persecution was about.  There are many preachers in my line, what was so important to them that they gave up everything that they had to go out into the wilderness, repeatedly, over the centuries.

As I traced the family's branches I found strange jumps in the places where my great-grandfather's side lived, pockets outside the usual centers of settlement, from MA Bay Colony, Rhode Island and Portsmouth Colonies, New Amsterdam, VT, NY, IL MI...right up until around 1880.  These pockets were places of liberality or Quaker settlements, where the family could think  and behave as it wished.  Then the line moved back toward their starting point over 100 year later, southeastern MA and Rhode Island, suddenly.
I have no idea why.
Sometime between my great-great grandfather's time and my grandfather's time some sort of division happened in the family. My mother was told that the other folks in the area with the same last name were a different family, not related, but the birth, death and census records indicate that they are all related, pretty closely.  My clues are that one side appears to have stayed with the Society of Friends, producing a preacher, children with Penn as a middle name and gravestones labelled in Quaker fashion and the other side were members of the Congregationalist Church, but they didn't really attend much.

My great-grandmother's side (Baptists in the 1600's, later I'm unsure, there seems to be a Quaker here and there), stayed within 25 miles of where they had plunked themselves by 1640, from Portsmouth, RI to Freetown, MA.  The two sides joined up in 1900 at their wedding and produced a family that seems to have been secular, but still steeped in their Old Yankee sternness. 

This four hundred year odyssey of my family was spurred on by the Protestant Reformation and all of the groups that were spawned during that time and shortly thereafter, the religion seems to be the driving force to many of the changes and may be at the root of a family division in the late 1800's.More puzzles to figure out, more books to read.  I'm a descendant of the first very American evangelicals and  the evangelicals are still with us, stirring things up now and then, I'm hoping that maybe if I can understand my own family I may be able to understand some of what is going on in American today.

No comments:

Post a Comment