Last month we talked about how life is complicated both now and in the past. I gave a little bit of historical background on the rise of Louis XIV and how it led to the reigniting of the Religious War in France in 1660/1 that forms the backdrop for Thrown to the Wind. There were only two main perspectives addressed in that book, those of the Catholics and the Protestants, and the complications that arose for families and communities within France as a result. If you missed that newsletter, you can find it on my website Newsletter page.
This month I wanted to focus on the historical background for book two, A Home in the Wilderness. This book opens two years later when Etienne and his family have settled in the countryside of northern Manhattan, near the village of New Harlem. This was still a wild area, far from the city metropolis that it is today. Native Americans still lived in this region too, which led to conflicts over land ownership. Even though the Europeans initially paid for the land they occupied, their understanding of what that meant was not the same as the Native Americans’ understanding of what land ownership entailed.
In the Native American mind, land could not be owned by a single person. Land was eternal. Tribes routinely migrated around to different places in different seasons or to follow the animals they hunted. There was an understanding of control of the land though, and tribes often fought bitterly over hunting rights and as the land became more crowded. When they sold land to the Europeans, they understood it more like a lease. And often they continued to hunt on the land sold to the colonists. This also explains why they often came back to the settlers and asked for more compensation for land they had already “sold.”
To add to the confusion there were multiple different tribes and tribal aliances. Manhattan was the territory of the Weckquaesgeek tribe, which was also called the Manhattans, or Wappingers, and was a part of the larger Lenape tribe. They were an Algonquian-speaking people, like the Mohawks of northern New York, the Wampanoag of New England, and the Shinnecock and Montauketts of eastern Long Island. This will become important, as will become clear in upcoming books.
I need to make an aside comment here to clarify an important point. As will soon become clear, it was important to distinguish the various Native American tribes living in the colony of New Netherlands (modern-day New York state).
Alsoomse, the Native America girl, Etienne runs into at the end of book one was a Weckquaesgeek. In book one I referred to her as a Manhattan, but as I was researching book two, it became clear that this term might cause confusion, as readers might equate it with all the people of various ethnicities living on Manhattan Island at the time. The more specific name for her tribe though is long and intimidating. The term Wappingers is used in the main primary source I used in describing the overarching event, the Second Esopus War, but the Native legends and myths I incorporated into the story referred to their ancestors as Lenape. I did not want to use too many terms because it would be confusing to readers, so in the end I chose the more commonly known term – Lenape.
Getting back to our main topic, whereas book one encompassed only two main perspectives, book two tackles many more. Just as New York City today is incredibly diverse demographically in terms of ethnicities, race, religion, languages spoken, and culture, all of which impact world views and perspectives, such was also the case in the 1660s. There were Dutch, English, French, Swedish, and Africans, along with dozens of different Native American tribes. And consequently, there were dozens of European, African and Native American languages and dialects spoken along with numerous religions and cultures practiced.
The differing Native American tribes reacted differently to the arrival of the Europeans and their continued expansion. Many saw the perceived benefits of the European arrival, which included irons tools and weapons, manufactured goods, and the trade benefits. While others saw only the slow encroachment on their land and the growth in European inhabitants and tried to force them to leave. Additionally, some Europeans benefited from trading with the Native Americans and worked with them, while others perceived the Natives as a threat and wanted to push them further inland.
I have tried to the best of my ability to shed some light on a few of these cultural groups and their resulting world views without taking any particular politically charged stance. As with book one, my goal was not to demonize one group over another, nor to glorify one group over another. This is where the study of history becomes complex. In my experience, as in my research, people have the same motivators, fears, failings, and enlightenments throughout time. Our nature has not changed, though we may wish it to be so. There were plenty of heroes and villains then as now, and which role they played largely depended on one’s perspective. Life is complicated.
I had great fun exploring Alsoomse as a character and I can’t wait to introduce her to you! I hope you will love her as much as I do. I also learned a great deal of fun facts and surprising cultural beliefs and practices in researching this story. I will share some of them with you next month.
Which minor character from Thrown to the Wind would you most want to know more about, or see again and why? Reply to the email and let me know!
As mentioned last month, A Home in the Wilderness, is launching on September 15th and is available for preorder on Amazon. Additionally, I am making good progress on book three, At the Mercy of the Sea, and hope to see it released at this time next year. Take care and see you next month!