Candace ~ imagining the life of a woman
enslaved in 18th-century New England

Click here to pre-order at Available April 3.

The idea for this book came to me last August as I sailed home from Star Island. For decades my husband and I have attended week-long conferences on that little rock in the sea, and I have always been interested in its history. Before the conference era that began in the 1900s, before the golden age of seaside resorts in the 1800s, the Isles of Shoals were home to a village called Gosport that was founded long before the American Revolution.

The town and church records in the Star Island library let me peek into the lives of the colonial residents. When I found entries showing that several people were enslaved on Star, including a woman named Candace brought there as a child, I began to ponder what her life might have been like.

There are the only two entries that mention Candace. Like so many enslaved people, we know nearly nothing about her. But it is possible to use these entries to embark on a voyage of possibility. We know many facts about the people who enslaved Candace, and how they lived. We know much about Gosport and the Isles of Shoals, where she spent her life. We know about New Hampshire and the other colonies that made up New England. Adding many details about life in the eighteenth century, we can make informed guesses about what Candace may have experienced.

Most of this book is about the world in which Candace found herself nearly 300 years ago. It is based on a wealth of research, nearly all from primary source documents. The scenes that imagine her experiences are conjecture, and I recognize that I have no way of knowing anything about her inner life. I have tried to leave her a fairly blank slate and avoid taking liberties with her memory. But I can place her in the midst of an ocean of facts, and I think it is worthwhile to envision her as a live person rather than just a fading bit of ink on a page.

Candace led a life of coercion. Violence was common in the eighteenth century and I have tried to include enough to be realistic, without knowing to what extent it filled her days. Her circumstances may have been much worse than I have depicted, a distinct possibility that acknowledges the terrible nature of her misfortune.

A Deep Dive into the Records

As I learned more and more about her time and place, I kept bumping into my own assumptions, and deeper research helped me get things right. I added to my collection of books about the eighteenth century and the Isles of Shoals, and found a great deal of information on-line. The book Black Portsmouth was a treasure trove of knowledge about the continuous presence in New Hampshire of people like Candace, a rich history long ignored, belittled, and erased.

But the real treasure was digitized archives. I looked through wills and court records, and foremost the Gosport town and church records. I roamed through transcripts typed in 1913 and made a pilgrimage to New Hampshire to see the ink-blotted script written some three centuries ago. I made many passes through these records, each time with a different focus. I noted the dates of each annual town meeting, which took place in March. Figuring out why they chose that month led to the history of off-kilter calendars that have plagued civilizations for millennia, along with a most unusual event that Candace experienced in 1752 when eleven days were left out of the month of September.

Deciphering records that mention currency led to exploring how the colonies handled money, which was not very well. Another pass showed when the town gave up trying to scrape up enough valid cash to pay their minister and switched to "commodity currency," hefty batches of highly valuable dried cod. Noting when various names appeared and what those people were doing added another layer. The town had numerous concerns, from wayward livestock to maintaining the meeting house, a task done by a Black man named Charles, whose pay was noted in the minutes of two annual meetings.

I have tried to include as much known detail as possible. The names of Candace's neighbors come directly from the church or town records. The parsonage was moved to the mainland after the Revolution and a photograph of it shows us the building in which Candace spent her life. Tucke's estate inventory tells us what was in the parsonage - the tools Candace used every day, the furniture that surrounded her.

One of my favorite research tactics is to determine how old people were at any given time. This provides a census-like "snapshot" of families and households. Throughout the book I use ages to inform my scenes, making imagined interactions more likely to be true in a general sense.

Daily Life and Family Trees

John and I spent many hours in happy companionship, side by side on our laptops. He has delved deeply into both of our families and become adept at locating records of all kinds. His assistance and expertise were invaluable. We delighted in the things I kept discovering about how colonists grappled with the basic organization of their lives. Each scene I imagined brought up fresh questions about how they measured days, years, and quantities, along with what they ate, what they wore, how they handled birth and death, what they taught their children, and how they ran their households and community.

One evening after we'd been peacefully tapping at our keyboards for some time I suddenly said, "What's a gill?" John winced, imagining the twisty history that question would involve, and we burst into laughter. As I uncovered family trees I took to asking him, "And guess what they named this baby?" He soon realized that answering "John Tucke" would be very often be correct.

I have drawn on my own experiences in bringing Candace's world to life, from breastfeeding to hand-sewing to many weeks on the Isles of Shoals. Books and plays from the eighteenth century give me the cadence of the Shoalers' speech. The lyrics of hundreds of folk songs rattle around in my head, steeping me in antique language and letting me glimpse the hearts and minds of people who lived long ago.

I hope we all can benefit from knowing more about the origins of our society through this work of imagination anchored in a sea of facts. I feel honored to envision Candace as a living person, rather than just a fading bit of ink on a page. She deserves to be remembered.

Candace cover