Miss M and I finished reading Puritan Adventure by Lois Lenski earlier this week. This was a title I found via All Through the Ages, a great book for finding suggestions of both fiction and non-fiction read-alouds for any time period.
Puritan Adventure takes place in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1635. Many historical fiction books I’ve looked at for our history studies take place in the early Jamestown/Plimoth colonial days, or in much later colonial times (after 1700), so I thought this was a nice addition to our list. It’s clear from Lenski’s forward and Bibliography that she put a lot of time into researching this novel. From her research she created an imaginary town to serve as a composite picture of what life in a Puritan settlement might have been like at that time.
The story in Puritan Adventure centers around the Partridges, a well-established family in the town. Goodwife Partridge’s sister Charity comes to join them in New England. She is a young widow, and it’s clear almost from the beginning of the story that she has not come because she shares the convictions of the Puritans in the colony. Not that she is not God-fearing — but austerity, sobriety and plain clothing are clearly not her way of life.
While adjusting to life in the new world, Aunty Charity tries to also bring the best of Old England to the new — Christmas-keeping and going “a-shroving” and “a-maying” are strictly forbidden by the colony’s laws, but she manages to find ways to introduce these holidays to the children and bring some joy to their seriously sober lives.
Meanwhile, another thread of the story revolves around Patty Tucker, a servant girl and “redemptioner” — aka someone who is “paying off” the cost of her voyage to the new world by working as a servant for a required number of years. Goody Lumpkin, Patty’s mistress, is cruel, leading Patty to be a poor servant in return. Like Aunt Charity, Patty is also drawn to sharing some of the joy of Old England with the children of the town.
The vague idea I had in my mind of Puritans before reading this story is basically true of many of the townspeople in Lenski’s story. The religious leaders are concerned with everyone following strict rules and regulations to a T. “Tithing men” are assigned to each family (one watches over a few families in the town) to make sure they keep up with the rules. Violators are punished by stocks, pillories or even whipping or ducking (getting dunked under the water!).
While definitely a fictional story, Lenski portrays that some may have wavered in their conviction of this way of life. Mothers in the story weep with joy as they see their children celebrating Shrovetide and remember their celebrations of the holiday as a child, while later still being willing to condemn Aunt Charity for passing on the knowledge of these celebrations. And everyone puts up with Aunt Charity’s actions for a surprisingly long time.
I recommend this book as an interesting story with a few caveats — the language is a bit difficult to understand at times. Lenski wrote the dialog in the way that the Puritans probably spoke at the time and there are plenty of “ye” and “thee” and other such trappings of early modern English. Miss M seemed to follow the story fairly well despite this (and with a few explanations of word definitions as we went). Lenski also uses some terminolgy to refer to the Native Americans in the story that some may find offensive — such as the use of the word “squaw” and describing the Indian women as “fat” and “waddling” in a few places. I tried my best to skip over some of the more offensive descriptions, which didn’t take much away from the story.
Lenski was also not shy about incorporating what was probably a somewhat common way of treating servants at the time — Patty tucker is often whipped and otherwise physically abused by her mistress. Patty’s response to this behavior is held up in contrast to her behavior when treated much more kindly by Aunt Charity and others, so it does provide an interesting point of discussion.
One of my favorite parts of any work by Lois Lenski is her illustrations. I have a special place in my heart for Lenksi as an illustrator, since she illustrated the first four volumes of my all time favorite children’s book series (the Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace). Her style of illustration is very distinct, and as I saw the illustrations in this book, it made me imagine just a bit the girls in the Betsy-Tacy books dressed up in 17th century garb. 😉
Finally, I just have to say I’m so glad my library keeps old books like these. I loved this relic of the past in the back of the book:
The dates on this card are from 1957! 🙂
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