Today, Hartford Books Examiner welcomes guest contributor Kathleen Kent.
A recipient of the David J. Langum, Sr. Prize in American Historical Fiction, Kathleen Kent published her debut novel, The Heretic’s Daughter, in 2008. That book, which resulted from five years of exhaustive research on the Salem witch trials and early Colonial history, spent four weeks on the New York Times extended bestseller list and is now in its fourth printing (with 80,000 copies in print). The author drew inspiration from her own heritage, proving that the best history is personal.
Kent’s second novel, The Wolves of Andover (Reagan Arthur Books, $24.99), was published last month. A prequel to The Heretic’s Daughter, the book can be read as a stand-alone though it does weave in references to its predecessor. Publishers Weekly praised, “Kent brings colonial America to life by poking into its dark corners and finding its emotional and personal underpinnings,” while Booklist called the book a “genre-blender” and noted that it is “part historical fiction, part romance, and part suspense. Skillfully meshing these various elements, the author’s latest effort is bound to please fans of each.”
From the publisher:
In the harsh wilderness of colonial Massachusetts, Martha Allen works as a servant in her cousin’s household, taking charge and locking wills with everyone. Thomas Carrier labors for the family and is known both for his immense strength and size and mysterious past. The two begin a courtship that suits their independent natures, with Thomas slowly revealing the story of his part in the English Civil War. But in the rugged new world they inhabit, danger is ever present, whether it be from the assassins sent from London to kill the executioner of Charles I or the wolves-in many forms-who hunt for blood. A love story and a tale of courage, The Wolves of Andover confirms Kathleen Kent’s ability to craft powerful stories of family from colonial history.
Now, Ms. Kent shares her reflections on family, fact, and fiction…
A Giant in the Family
By Kathleen Kent
Growing up I had heard many stories from my mother and her parents about
Thomas and Martha Carrier, my grandparents back nine generations. Martha Carrier’s life and death have been well chronicled in both fictional and non-fictional works related to the Salem witch trials; she was one of the nineteen men and women hanged as a witch in 1692. She was so vocal in her own defense that Cotton Mather, one of the leading theologians of the day, named her “the Queen of Hell.” To a great extent, Martha and her five children—four of whom were also tried and imprisoned for witchcraft—were the main subjects of my first novel, The Heretic’s Daughter. Through the many court documents and historical source materials of the time, I was able to gain a clear picture of a capable, principled, often irascible woman who was perhaps the only accused person who confronted her judges, crying (according to her court testimony), “it is a shame that you should listen to these folks who are out of their wits.”
More elusive was the character of her husband, Thomas Carrier; a man my grandparents insisted lived to 109 years of age, stood seven feet tall and was one of the executioners of King Charles I of England. This giant figured prominently in my imagination for most of my childhood and it was in many ways a more daunting task developing his character for my second novel. The Wolves of Andover is a fictional rendering of Thomas’s life as a soldier for Cromwell in England, and of his flight to the colonies where he meets and falls in love with his future wife, Martha Allen Carrier.
According to the New England Journal of 1735, Thomas Carrier, also known in local records as Thomas Morgan “the Welshman”, did die at 109—his age is inscribed on his headstone—“stood erect and was fleet of foot” and walked a few miles with a bag of grain over his shoulder a few days before he died. Because of his great height, two coffins had to be put together end to end to bury him. The rumor mills in towns throughout Massachusetts, and Connecticut where Thomas and his family moved after the witch trials, continued to churn out stories of his involvement with the other regicides of Charles I, forced to flee England in 1660 at the restoration of Charles II to the throne.
Early on in the research, I had only a few colonial documents to breathe life into Thomas’s history. He was born in Wales around 1626, but I had no conclusive details about his Welsh family or even his exact place of birth. When I travelled to Wales during the writing of the novel, I wasn’t so much looking for the when and where, as much as the why. A person’s character is often forged by their native soil, and tramping over the hard rocky ground in Snowdonia National Park in the north of Wales, with its changeable savage weather, and its breathtaking views of the surrounding land, I began to sense the enormous vitality and fortitude of my many times great grandfather who had survived the English Civil War, a hurried passage to the New World, a wife who was hanged as a witch, and perhaps the beheading of a king.
With deep appreciation to Kathleen Kent for sharing her time and thoughts.
Be sure to view this article’s slideshow, which includes personal photos from Ms. Kent’s recent visit to Wales.
A related article from Hartford Books Examiner:
The Salem witch trials: Kathleen Kent presents The Heretic’s Daughter