TWO BOOKS by Brunswick authors inspired me to take a different for this particular blog.
The first book, The Eastern by Deborah Gould, is a fictionalized account of five real families who settled along the Eastern River in Pittston in the early 1800s. Gould combines historical facts with a lyrical sense of place to illustrate the give and take of their rural community.
The second, The Passion of Perfection by June Vail, is a biography of social activist Gertrude Hitz Burton. Vail uses archived diaries as well as letters between Gertrude and her well-known friends, including Robert Peary, Clara Barton, and Alexander Graham Bell, to inform the reader of women’s struggles in the late Victorian era. Gertrude also happened to marry a descendant of Brunswick’s Capt. Benjamin and Mary (Elithorpe) Larrabee.
The authors’ descriptions of everyday 19th century life were integral to the stories rather than history lessons, yet they provided valuable historical context. Intrigued by their examples, I wrote the following narrative of an imagined Sunday sometime around 1742. All of the characters are real and appear in documents of the time. Their respective roles at Sunday meeting are accurate; their personalities and the particular actions of that day are entirely fictional.
Twice on Sunday: Part 1
EARLY SUNDAY MORNING in the house at Fort George, Mary Larrabee cradled Stephen, her youngest, in one arm while using the other to dole out porridge for the rest. One of the toddlers almost toppled her when he grabbed onto her skirts to pull himself upright. Mary called to her eldest daughter to set the child on the bench and see to it that he ate. Now. She told another daughter to make sure everyone was dressed so they could leave for meeting directly after breakfast.
Capt. Benjamin Larrabee made the rounds of the fort, seeing that the soldiers on guard duty were in place and alert to the activities of the Natives. Larrabee readied his gun, then passed it off to his Negro servant Pompey who, of course, already wore the Captain’s engraved powder horn and doeskin pack of musket balls.
Exuberant Larrabee children poured out of the house into the bailey, ready to walk the three miles to the meetinghouse. Nathaniel, though, having reached thirteen years of age, strode through the courtyard with the dignity appropriate for the eldest son of the fort commander. Since it was summer, the boys were barefoot, as were the girls. The older sisters carried their shoes and hose to keep them clean until they were within sight of the church. Then they would repair to the edge of the woods to put them on.
Mary carried the baby in one arm and a basket of provisions in the other. The eldest girl, Mary Jr, likewise carried a basket and the youngest girl. The Captain hoisted three-year-old Bennie up onto his shoulders.
He wondered, not for the first time, if he should invest in a horse. One with a pillion saddle so Mary and one of the girls could ride, each holding a babe. No, that money was better spent just as he and John Minot had done, on the wine flagons and cups for the communion sacrament.
Larrabee scanned along both sides of the road into the woods. All seemed clear. He’d feel safer when they finished widening the main thoroughfare.
John Malcolm’s dog trotted out to greet them, but Malcolm himself was nowhere in sight. Larrabee gripped Bennie’s legs tighter when the toddler struggled to reach the cur. Bennie dropped a morsel of food to the ground, which Malcolm’s mutt scrambled to eat. Now the fool dog would follow them to meeting and probably into the building itself. Well, never mind, Malcolm would suffer the fine for letting his dog into church, not Larrabee.
As soon as all that, the meeting house on the road to Maquoit rose into view. He sent the boys into the woods to forestall at least some wiggling around during the next three hours. Mary shooed the girls to the edge of the tree line to don their leggings and slippers.
John Malcolm stood at Esquire Woodside’s wagon, quenching his thirst from the trader’s offerings. Relieved the dog wasn’t anywhere to be seen, Larrabee merely nodded good day to both men.
Mary gathered her girls around. He heard her remind them that they were not the daughters of mere farmers, important though farmers were in providing God’s bounty. Nor were they the daughters of mere soldiers, may God bless their efforts against the Savages. No, they were the daughters of the Captain of the Fort, thrice elected Selectman of the Town of Brunswick in the Colony of Massachusetts Bay. Their future marriage partners might this very moment be judging the girls’ worthiness and humility.
His wife’s speech well pleased him.
He knew the hour must be near because Mrs. Dunning, the one from the blockhouse just below the fort, was already herding her own girls inside. Larrabee mounted the threshold, followed by Nathaniel, then Pompey. He didn’t bother calling the boys; it was their job to see they entered right behind him.
Once inside, he trusted Pompey to take his seat with the other servants. As it happened, Pompey found a place next to Joseph, Larrabee’s Indian scout.
Mary and the girls made their way to their pew at the very front of the meeting house, on the left aisle. Larrabee stood aside to let the females, then the boys, file onto the bench, reserving the outermost seat for himself. The Dunnings had already slipped into their pew across the aisle. Once again that David Dunning’s Negro lad sat on the floor next to the family, bold as brass. That Irishman spoiled his boy. By all that is holy, he ought to sit with the other servants.
The minister, Robert Rutherford, stood at the pulpit, arranging the bills for special prayers. Larrabee acknowledged the man with a subtle nod of his head. The Irish preacher was imposing, his great white periwig freshly curled and powdered. Larrabee had to admit, for a Presbyterian, Rutherford did a fair job of giving the sense of the scripture. Still, ‘twould be fine to have one of their own up to the pulpit one of these days.
Deacon Isaac Snow must now be at the entrance, for Larrabee heard him call meeting time. Snow proceeded to his seat in front of the raised pulpit, Larrabee acknowledging him as he passed. The Englishman would soon be his neighbor, once the Larrabees relocated to New Meadows.
There was a scurry of footsteps and rustle of skirts as stragglers found their places. A soft thump drew Larrabee’s attention. The dog had followed them in after all and set himself down in the middle of the aisle. He shot a look at Bennie. When Bennie grinned back, Larrabee pushed down his desire to smile back. The Good Lord help him, his Nathaniel would go far in this world and make him proud, but Bennie would always make him smile.
One of Malcolm’s brood grabbed the dog by the neck, then led the animal outside.
Rutherford looked down from the pulpit, one brow arched, then cleared his throat. When all was quiet, he read the first prayer request. It seemed the young man, Andrew McFarland, was ailing. Rutherford paused briefly. Perhaps, thought Larrabee, the minister was recalling his own grown son’s death this January past.
Rutherford read four more prayer bills: one for the sick; one for redemption; another for a son’s obedience; and the last the one, of course, for the continued safety of the town against the Indians and the French. Larrabee wondered if he’d be submitting prayer notes for a son’s obedience when Bennie was older.
Next, Rutherford led the congregation in reciting the Long Prayer. He followed that, as always, with the requests: that the ill might find renewed health, should it please the Lord; that sinners might find His salvation; that children submit to their fathers and wives to their husbands; that God might turn the heart of the Savages to the true Word and send the French to their just reward.
As soon as the minister announced the psalms Deacon Snow, his modest white wig slightly askew, stood, drew his shoulders back, and opened his psalter. He chanted the first line of psalm 107 to a melody Larrabee particularly disliked. Long psalm, dirge of a tune–the deacon must be in a mood today. Still, as the congregation responded, singing “the Lord is Good”, Larrabee’s spirits rose.
Snow lined out the next part; the congregation responded in song. Since Larrabee himself barely carried a tune, he appreciated Snow’s fine tenor and the sweet harmony someone else provided. Was that Dunning’s boy? When the psalm finally ended he had to admit, Snow was a more than passable clerk of psalms.
The deacon resumed his seat. All eyes turned to Rutherford, who took his time looking out over the lectern, his gaze finding each Selectman, first Larrabee, then Samuel Hinkley, and finally town treasurer Wymond Bradbury.
The minister began, “Today’s reading is from the book of Mark, verse ten, lines forty-two through forty-five.”
Larrabee pursed his lips. That explains the looks then. How has the select board transgressed against the citizens this time?
Next Blog: Twice on Sunday-Part 2
Note: Hear the Psalms of David sung a cappella
- Ancestry.com: Image Captain Benjamin Larrabee, vital records, family histories, family trees, and databases.
- BibleStudyTools Staff, compilers and editors. Bible Verses about Leadership. BibleStudyTools.com, Salem Media Group, 2/4/2015. https://www.biblestudytools.com/topical-verses/bible-verses-about-leadership/ . Accessed Jan. 18, 2018.
- Jones, Mark PhD. 17th Century Exclusive Psalmody and Hymnody. The Calvinist International. 31 May 2017. © 2017 https://calvinistinternational.com/2017/05/31/17th-century-exclusive-psalmody-hymnody/http://www.stutler.cc/russ/sing_psalms.html Accessed Jan. 18, 2018.
- Quigley, Connor, website designer. The Psalms of David–Sung a cappella http://www.thepsalmssung.org/scottish/ Accessed Jan. 18, 2018.
- Sampson, Cheryl A. (2015) Hymn Lining: A Black Church Tradition with Roots in Europe, The Spectrum: A Scholars Day Journal: Vol. 3, Article 9.
Available at: http://digitalcommons.brockport.edu/spectrum/vol3/iss1/9 Accessed Jan. 11, 2018.
- The British Museum research collection: Portrait of The Reverend Mr Peter Finch AM. Artist not listed. Museum number 1922,0612.19 AN849194001. britishmuseum.org. (c) The Trustees of the British Museum. Used by permission. Digital image received Dec. 23, 2017.
- Wheeler, George Augustus Wheeler, MD. and Henry Warren Wheeler. (Wheelers’) History of Brunswick, Topsham, and Harpswell, Maine. (Wheelers’) Alfred Mudge & Son, Printers, Boston, Mass., 1878. http://community.curtislibrary.com/CML/wheeler/index.html, accessed Dec. 15, 2017.
- Wikipedia contributors. Lining out, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Lining_out&oldid=818547813. Accessed January 9, 2018.