Polish Home Army During WW2

Today is the 75th Anniversary of the founding of the Polish Home Army which was by far the largest resistance force in Poland when it was occupied by Nazi Germany. At its height, in 1944, over 400,000  Polish men and women were involved in the Polish Home Army’s resistance efforts. They performed well over 30,000 acts of sabotage and fought over a thousand pitched battles and 24 major encounters. They had no armored vehicles or tanks and no air force or navy. It was mainly infantry aided by their compatriots who were forced into slave labor in camps. By design, these factory workers produced munitions and equipment that malfunctioned or rendered useless in battle.

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Polish Underground Grenade Production

Poles of all many religions, Protestant, Jewish, Orthodox, and Muslims, joined the predominantly Roman Catholic Poles in The Home Army. They all shared a love of country and Poland’s standards and wanted their country back. There was also what could be referred to as a phantom army of supporters. The fathers, mothers, sisters, brother and neighbors were the ears and eyes that provided medics, chaplains, messengers and financiers for the regular Home Army.

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German Train Blown Up by the AK

The resistance blew up German bridges and railroads, and their mission was to reduce Germany’s ability to wage war and to defeat them through acts of espionage to provide intelligence for the Allies. They also worked to rescue countless Jews, Poles, and POWs in prison camps. An estimated 1-3 million Poles died trying to rescue or help Jews.

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Polish Underground Radio Station

The Polish government still existed throughout WWII, intact and in exile in England with a small navy and air force also stationed in there. Poland’s treasure in gold bullion was sent to England and helped Britain purchase weapons and materials for its defense.

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The Polish underground sent a working replica of the German “enigma machine” along with the ciphers to England in 1939. With this device, the British could read every military dispatch sent from Germany by airwaves or by captured couriers. Three Polish mathematicians, Marian Rejewski, Jerzy Rozycki and Henryk Zyalsi were credited with the enigma replica. Alan Turning, a Brit was later given exclusive credit for this feat but was really responsible for making a version that could meet the wartime challenge of daily code changes.

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AK (Armia Krajowa)

During WWII, 7,000 German trains and 5,000 German vehicles were destroyed by the AK. Polish intelligence was the most consistent, prolific and reliable compared to any other occupied country during the war. The gallant efforts of the Home Army allowed the Nazis to squander valuable manpower and resources on failed operations.

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Symbol of AK (Armia Krajowa

Although the Allies greatly valued the AK’s work, in the end, the Polish Army was given very little credit. We must not forget the millions of precious heroes who gallantly sacrificed their lives but were extinguished so ruthlessly.

 

Operation Wildhorn III

Operation Wildhorn III

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One of the most dramatic recoveries involving a V-2 missile happened not too far from Blizna and Niwiska. The missiles were directed to areas northeast of Blizna and most blew up in mid-air. The Polish underground army (AK) had become very proficient in arriving at the missile crash sites before the Germans. Plans were made by the AK to storm the Blizna site or attack the rail transports carrying the weapons, but an increased Nazi guard presence made this impractical.

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AK transporting V-2 parts

Then, on May 20, 1944, a V-2 missile launched from Blizna landed in the marshy area near the village of Sarnaki on the Bug River. It had failed to explode and was the first intact rocket containing entire V-2 system ever found by the AK.  The 22nd Infantry Regiment of the AK  hid the rocket under reeds until it could be hidden in a barn nearby. It was then transported by cart under potatoes on little-used rural roads that were shadowed by armed partisans.

Jerzy Chmielewski and Antoni Kocjan worked to dismantle and log all 25,000 parts with a team of engineers and scientists from Warsaw.  This enhanced V-2 missile also included a new type of guidance system that had not seen before. Detailed reports with diagrams, photos and a chemical analysis of the propellant were made for delivery to London.

The local agents had new information about the unusual fuel composition which was neither oil nor gasoline and the AK attempted to transport a sample in a flask. The Polish couriers had no cars and had to transport the flask by bicycle by means of a relay. They would bike for 10 kilometers and pass it to the next member, but soon discovered the flask was empty and that their trousers near the flask were cold. The couriers assumed that someone had spilled the substance or had failed in their task. After another unsuccessful attempt, they were given a special flask with a precisely polished glass cap. This resulted in a successful run, and it was discovered the solution was ethanol alcohol and water.

The nineteen suitcases of the specialized equipment and V-2 parts, reports, and over 80 photos were readied to be smuggled to London. A Dakota V of the 267 Squadron prepared to leave Brindisi, Italy and the landing site was to be at Zaborow near Tarnow. The passengers would board the plane according to priority knowing the risk of being left behind if the plane could not take off. They had reasons to be concerned as so many obstacles would challenge the success of the mission.

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Dakota

The rains poured heavily for over two weeks, and the grassland airfield was very wet. It would take another two and a half weeks before the airfield was dried out for the landing of the Dakota plane. Then when it was almost dry, a Hungarian plane exploded and crashed near the field. It was complete demolished, and the engine sank beneath the earth.

In late July, the signal was given to Warsaw that London could be informed that it was time to commence the operation. Only London was in sole contact with the pilot at Brindisi, and everything appeared to be well planned, but another problem arose. One hundred Germans had just arrived with 2-3 anti-aircraft guns and were resting at a school just 1000 meters from the airfield. They had just fought Soviet guerilla troops in a difficult battle.

The AK prepared a group from their troops who would be ready to fight the Germans when the plane began to land. Their goal was to stop the Germans from getting to the airfield to prevent the plane from landing or taking off. If the Germans had noticed, everyone would have been slaughtered.

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German Storch Airplane

Another problem arose: three German Storches had landed, and the Germans left the planes on the airfield for the night. The AK passed the news of this problem to Warsaw, and they suggested using the horses to drag the planes off the airfield.  Meanwhile, the Germans had a watch all around the airfield. Fortunately, the German planes took off the next morning and were not in the way for the Dakota’s landing.

The Dakota required a couple of hundred meters for a ground run and the field needed to be somehow lit so that the pilot could see the landing field. The twenty-five AK officers brought oil lanterns from their homes and covered them with a cylinder made of stiff black paper. The lanterns could not be seen from the side, but their light was visible from the air.

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It was a beautiful, pitch-dark night in July and the AK took their positions in the airfield. The commander, Colonel Baszak reported they were all shaking, and all had to remain completely silent. He said that he would have shot anyone who attempted to light a cigarette.

The plane drew near, gave a light signal as it was flying without running lights. At the signal of a whistle, everyone on the landing field removed the cardboard sleeve from all fifty lanterns.  The pilot was too high and couldn’t land so had to circle to attempt another landing. Baszak reported that the huge two engine plane “wailed like the devil.”

Finally, the Dakota landed, and everything was quickly loaded onto the plane. When the pilot attempted to start the engine, there was silence. Then the engine finally started, but the plane wouldn’t move. Those onboard guessed that the brakes had probably locked up. There were three attempts to start followed by three failures. The crew suggested that the only option was to burn the plane. Baszak understood that there were other risks to burning the plane, including the inevitable revenge killings of innocents in the nearby villages by the Nazis.

Baszak boarded the plane as he assumed the Dakota had at least a few machine guns but soon learned that the crew had dismounted the weapons to accommodate the increased quantity of fuel felt necessary for such a long flight. Their only weapon was a small “ladies’ style” handgun with four bullets.

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After 80 minutes, Baszak walked around the plane and noted that the tires had sunk quite deeply in the muddy field. He called for his men to bring “plunks” which are the deep, slanted sides of a wooden cart and these were used under the tires of the plane.  Soon, the plane was in the air, and the plane eventually landed at Brindisi. The precious cargo was handed over to the Polish General Staff to translate the coded documents. They were then handed over to the British Crossbow Committee.

This information was passed on to Duncan Sandys, the rather brash and arrogant son-in-law of Winston Churchill who was certain such an unknown fuel did not exist and blamed the Poles for the supposed error. The AK responded that the British should come and see for themselves.

One of the most unusual stories about Operation Wildhorn III came from a Polish scientist who covertly worked out of German officer’s apartment in Warsaw on the V-2 parts. The officer’s servant worked with the scientist who hid some of the V-2 components in the officer’s empty suitcases. The servant would call the officer each day at his office at the airport to ask what he would like for dinner and when it should be served. This information alerted the scientist about the time period when he could work and he would then leave each day safely.

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Also discovered was the control box that consisted of transistors, something that did not exist in England at the time. Eventually, the British, working with Polish scientists, were able to give orders to the German rockets before they fell in England. The Germans would give the order to “FLY, ” and the English intervened and gave an order to “NOSE DIVE.”  The Germans couldn’t reissue orders to override the interception, and the rocket would fall down. London was saved from the more potentially devastating attacks of the V-2 because of the bravery of the incredible bravery of these Polish Army officers.

N is for Nimrod the Rebellious Indian and O is for Ordinaries or Taverns

N is for Nimrod, the Indian who made it into the Essex Court Records a few times. At first, he was like most of the other Native Americans from the area and hoped that the Puritans would help to defend his tribe against their more aggressive enemies.  Eventually, Nimrod began more antagonistic actions towards the Puritan community. The delicate and controversial topic of the Puritans and the Native Americans needs to be reviewed before Nimrod’s actions can be understood.

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The Puritan’s initial contacts with the Indians were mostly for trade and diplomacy.  In the earliest colonial decades, Puritans were vastly outnumbered by the Native Americans and were attempting to establish themselves in the area.  Missionary attempts to convert the native populations were still considered too much of a risk.

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The Amazing Story of Anna Grabiec’s Undelivered Letter

Anna Grabiec has been sending letters to America all her life, but one unmailed letter made her quite the American celebrity.

The entire village of Niwiska had been evacuated so the Nazi Regime could conduct research on a top-secret project of Hitlers: the V1 and V2 missiles. Many villagers were kept as workers for construction and provide food for the Germans through the maintenance of the local farms.

After World War II, the villagers in Niwiska suffered under the equally oppressive Soviet occupation of Poland.  The Russians occupied the area shortly before WWII officially ended. They used the flatlands of Niwiska to operate an airstrip.

An American B-24 bomber was hit and disabled by an anti-aircraft fire and had to make an emergency landing in Niwiska. Obviously relieved that they were able to land in a region of Poland that was no longer overrun with Germans, they were accommodated in an old schoolhouse with food and vodka until arrangements could be made for them to get back to their base in Italy. The crew of American airmen had to stay in Niwiska for several weeks but were kept away from the locals. Perhaps the Russians didn’t want the villagers to be influenced by American values and the good news of democracy.

The Niwiska villagers, of course, knew that the Americans were there and seized the opportunity to send letters to their relatives in America. They lost almost everything during the Nazi occupation of their village and wanted others to know of their desperate plight.

The villagers had written letters and hid them on the shelf above the outhouse door near the schoolhouse. At great risk of being caught, the villagers asked the American airmen to deliver the letters. One of those letters was from Anna Grabiec who wanted to communicate the situation in Niwiska to her aunt and uncle in Cleveland.

The Airmen were happy to fulfill this request, and they divided the letters between them. The one from Anna Grabiec was returned as undeliverable.  Perhaps her aunt and uncle had moved, or the address was incorrect.  The young pilot, Ed List put the undelivered letter in a briefcase and forgot about it−for more than forty years.

It was in November 1989 when Ed List and his daughter Talia Moser found the letter in the briefcase, and he explained what had happened. Talia was determined to find the writer and with the help of a Polish coworker, had the letter translated. Talia contacted the priest in Niwiska and he, of course, knew Anna Grabiec, a teacher in the village.

Talia’s generous and inquisitive spirit has been rewarded by a thankful and steady twenty-year correspondence with Anna Grabiec who wrote about her family’s hardships during the Nazi invasion. Typical of what I have learned about Anna, her letters also contained sincere gratitude for the kindness of those American airmen so very long ago.

 

Niwiska and Blizna during World War II (part two)

Niwiska World War II

The village of Niwiska is surrounded by the wild Sandomierz Forests and provided great strategic significance in World War II. The Nazis overtook the area and evacuated Niwiska and Blizna to test their experimental V-1 and V-2 missiles. The goal was to shift the balance of power with these new weapons. The seclusion of the forests made it a perfect location for such tests.  This isolation also led refugees and partisans to the Niwiska forests for a place to hide and conduct subversive activities.

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Woods near Niwiska

Many of the villagers were in church when the first Nazi bombs struck. They were listening to Father Kurek’s homily and were startled by these initial explosions.  Panic broke out, and the parishioners stumbled over one another as they fled.

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The Galician Farm and Home of Michal Grabiec

The Farm and Home of Michal Grabiec as described by his granddaughter, Anna Grabiec (revision by Donna Gawell*)

The farm of Michal Grabiec was located at the edge of the village of Niwiska, not far from the forest. The house stood on the hill a little way from the main road that leads from Kolbuszowa to Rzochow and Mielec.  The remains of the Sandomierz Wilderness stretched further on the horizon.

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The house was built of unhewn trees using a construction method that used coal. The trees were stacked with bricks of coal, and the bark was stripped off.

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A War Memory (World War II) written by Anna Grabiec

A War Memory (World War II) written by Anna Grabiec

From Donna: This story will tell you about the bravery of the Polish people who assisted the Jewish population who lived in the forests during WWII. 

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This photo was taken by Donna in Niwiska in 2016. It is the rebuilt barn on my ancestor’s property. A fifteen-minute walk through the woods leads to the Blizna Historic Site.

(Preface from Donna Gawell: the village of Niwiska and the adjoining village of Blizna were evacuated so the Nazis could build a research facility and testing site for V1 and V2 missiles. I will write another story about this important part of WWII history. Many villagers, including Anna Grabiec were active in the Polish Army’s covert activities that assisted the Allies.)

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Ebook now available for “Travel Back to Your Roots”

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Travel Back to Your Roots has just been released on Amazon.com. My goal in writing this book was to inspire others who wish to research their European immigrant ancestors and hopefully discover cousins back in the old country.

Travel Back to Your Roots is for beginning genealogists and those who may not know how to make the jump over the pond to research parish and village or town records in Europe. The reader will learn how to first find the necessary US census, church, and immigration records before tackling those in European churches and archives.

One chapter on immigration will give the reader insight into the reasons for immigration and details the Ellis Island experience to better understand our ancestors’ bravery and the struggles they encountered.

I’m optimistic you will have success in your research and therefore have chapters to explain how to find living descendants in Europe and then how to contact them. The reader will also learn how to plan a budget-friendly ancestral heritage trip.

Finally, another chapter explains how to self-publish beautiful and professional family history books and genealogies at no cost using Create Space. Check out my Amazon site to see examples of these types of books.

Starting genealogy just four years ago, I been able to go back to the 1700’s in the European records with seven out of eight of our immigrant ancestors (Polish, Swedish, and German.) I also found three groups of cousins in Poland and Sweden and was enthusiastically welcomed to visit them in 2014 and 2016. They all exemplified the saying “A Guest in the House is God in the House.”

A ebook version was released just a few days ago, so both versions are now available on Amazon.

Please ask questions!

M is for Maritime Crimes- Piracy!

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Piracy was America’s first encounter with organized crime. The golden age of piracy was from mid-1600 to the early 1700’s and flourished in the areas of the West Indies and colonial America.

The economy of Europe’s superpowers suffered greatly because of piracy but it was viewed differently in the New World. The Navigation Acts of the 1600’s were passed to strengthen England by restricting her colonies from commerce with other European nations. This had the effect of creating a black market, opening the door to maritime crimes.

Colonial merchants felt burdened with the prospect of paying exorbitant prices for English goods and also desired access to a wider variety of goods smuggled into the colonies from other nations.

Local colonial economies benefited from dealing with pirates or privateers. Many harbors exacted a per man fee for a pirate vessel to dock, and their local economies were bolstered as the crew came ashore to purchase foods, gunpowder, supplies and alcohol from local merchants. Pirates enjoyed a certain amount of celebrity as they strolled down the streets of New England.

Some historians believe that pirates, working with colonial officials, helped England hold onto the American colonies. Spain gave up some of its American empire just to get pirating of its cargo ships to stop. Indian and black slaves who were greatly oppressed by the Spanish in the Caribbean gave pirates inside information on where to dock ships and find supplies. Those who fled plantations were welcomed to join the crew on pirate ships.

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William Kidd, one of the most notorious pirates, started out as a privateer and was hired by European sovereign nations to attack foreign ships. History views him as more of a privateer who worked on behalf of the English until he went rogue on his final trip. Kidd and his crew attacked the Quadegh Merchant, a large Armenian ship carrying vast amounts gold, silk, spices, and other riches. With that ill-fated action, Kidd found himself on the wrong side with the British government. An influential minister was part owner of the cargo. When news about Kidd’s attack reached the minister, he complained to the East India Company. Kidd was brought from Boston to London and hanged in 1701. As a warning to other pirates, his body was covered in pitch and hung in a cage for twenty years for all sailors to see along the River Thames.

L is for Lists of Criminal Acts

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Yes, there were crimes during the Puritan era, but weren’t the Puritans a group of virtuous people with only noble qualities? The original colonists certainly intended to live saintly lives as they left England in 1630 with noble concepts. They envisioned their immigrants would be an example of righteous living for the rest of the world. The governor, John Winthrop, clearly articulated their purpose: “We shall be as a city upon a hill; the eyes of all people are upon us.”  

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Travel Back to Your Roots- now on Amazon!

bookcoverimage

Travel Back to Your Roots has just been released on Amazon.com. My goal in writing this book was to inspire others who wish to research their European immigrant ancestors and hopefully discover cousins back in the old country.

Travel Back to Your Roots is for beginning genealogists and those who may not know how to make the jump over the pond to research parish and village or town records in Europe. The reader will learn how to first find the necessary US census, church, and immigration records before tackling those in European churches and archives.

One chapter on immigration will give the reader insight into the reasons for immigration and details the Ellis Island experience to better understand our ancestors’ bravery and the struggles they encountered.

I’m optimistic you will have success in your research and therefore have chapters to explain how to find living descendants in Europe and then how to contact them. The reader will also learn how to plan a budget-friendly ancestral heritage trip.

Finally, another chapter explains how to self-publish beautiful and professional family history books and genealogies at no cost using Create Space. Check out my Amazon site to see examples of these types of books.

Starting genealogy just six years ago, I been able to go back to the 1700’s in the European records with seven out of eight of our immigrant ancestors (Polish, Swedish, and German.) I also found eight groups of cousins in Poland and Sweden and was enthusiastically welcomed to visit them in 2014 , 2016 and 2018. They all exemplified the saying “A Guest in the House is God in the House.”

Please ask questions!

K is for Keeping the Wrong Kind of Company

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Woe to those unwise Puritans who hung out with the wrong crowd. Community leaders had little patience for dissent and were apt to punish any behavior they considered deviant. The church and civil authorities were pretty much the same group of people, and they placed a high premium on religious and social conformity.

Authorities meted out punishments for what they considered undesirable social behavior, including swearing, drunkenness, idleness, gambling, flirting, and gossiping. Drinking was permissible, but excessive alcohol use was a punishable crime

Other punishable crimes included failure to attend church, outspoken criticism of church authority figures, and desecration of the Sabbath. The Puritans considered non-normative sexual practices ranging from extramarital relations and sodomy to bestiality as sinful, criminal, and deserving of swift punishment.

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J is for Judges of the Salem Witchcraft Trials

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It is in our human nature to blame others for our own troubles, and the Puritans in New England were no different.  Numerous problems beset the Massachusetts Colony, and the community sought to uncover the cause of their plight. The contemporary thinking was that  God was angry with the Puritans and had sent Satan to test their faith.

God did indeed test the Puritans’ beliefs and convictions. The disastrous wars with the Native populations and the “Papist” French had taken their toll, not only with mounting causalities but also economic decline. Extreme weather, crop failure, increased taxes and inflation combined with an unstable government and uncertainty with a new governor.

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I is for Indentured Servants

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   Ancestry from the Great Migration Period in America is one that many family researchers seek to claim.  This period includes the time between the Pilgrim’s landing in Plymouth to about 1640.  In reality, about 80% of the total immigration from Great Britain and the continent prior to the Revolutionary War were indentured servants.

     Indentured servants could be sold during their indenture and were in about the same situation as a slave except they would be released after the agreed upon time, usually 5-7 years. Even this could be extended if the servant violated a term of their contract.  For example, if a woman became pregnant, extra time would be added to her contract.  Criminal behavior or running away had the same consequence.

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H is for Heresy

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     The use of governmental powers to protect their faith was perhaps the most import   concern for the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The men and women who founded this colony believed that theirs was one true faith, one true way to worship, and that it was possible to determine the path of truth.

     With honorable and holy intentions, the Puritans held that it was the church’s duty to persuade those who held erroneous views and warn them of the spiritual and physical dangers the heretic would suffer if they publicly persisted. As a last resort, the heretic would be expelled from the spiritual society by excommunication.

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G is for Giles Corey

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   Giles Corey holds the distinction as the only person in the New World executed by pressing or peine forte et dure, the death he met as an accused witch during the Salem witchcraft hysteria. Corey achieved fame by calling out for “more weight” as men placed more stones and rocks on top of a board placed over his body. Pressing was considered one of the most severe forms of execution and had been abolished in the colony. Evidently, most Christian civility and common sense were cast aside during the year of 1692 in Salem and Ipswich.

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F is for Fashion Police in Puritan New England

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  The Puritans in New England quickly learned that silks, lace, and other finery were the privilege of only the wealthy. The first generation of colonists in the Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay Colony didn’t seem to obsess about the finer things in life, as far as clothing. Likely, they were too busy clearing land, building a home, and plowing and harvesting in the fields.

Fashion policing was scarce until 1652 when a shipment arrived from the Continent that included clothing items considered new and immodest. Illegal finery was defined as  lace, silver or gold threads, silk, tiffany hoods, points and ribbons, “broad lace” and French fall boots. Twenty defendants of this type of high fashion were accused in 1652, but the numbers declined in the following years.

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D is for Drunkenness

 

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Drunkenness and alcoholism registered quite high on the Puritan’s Wickedness Scale, but that does not mean that they didn’t imbibe. Rums, beer, ale, and cider, were the favorite beverages. Moderate drinking was permitted at ordinaries (taverns) and at home. Other gatherings where alcohol was consumed were suspect and subject to investigation by the assigned church police known as tithingmen.

The original pilgrims brought more beer than water on the Mayflower because water could make you sick. Though the Americas had plenty of fresh, unspoiled water, imprudent Americans sickened and sometimes died by drinking from polluted sources. In some cases, even when it was safe to drink, river water had so much mud that a bucket of it needed to sit long enough to allow suspended material to settle.

Early colonists took a healthful dram for breakfast; whiskey was a regular lunchtime tipple, ale accompanied supper, and the day ended with a nightcap. We might think the Puritans staggered around all day in a drunken state, but most were able to handle their alcohol because it was integrated into daily life. Increase Mather, a prominent Puritan minister, delivered a sermon describing alcohol as being “a good creature of God” – although the drunkard was “of the devil.”

The Puritans enjoyed their drink at taverns referred to as ordinaries which were regulated as was the brewing of spirits. The ordinary also served food and was the hub for gatherings and conversations in the colonies.

Still, drunkenness was a surprisingly common crime in Puritan Massachusetts and was frequently mentioned in the Essex County Court records. Women’s names came up in the court records almost as often as men. Mehitabel was accused of drunkenness and brought to court on a few occasions. To Puritans, drunkenness was excessiveness and therefore sinful.

Merriment, in general, was seen as excessive; a trivial pleasure that was unnecessary and shunned in Puritan society. In England, there was the prevailing attitude “to eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we will die.” This hedonistic enjoyment was in diametrical opposition to the deepest-felt Puritan beliefs. Alcohol was a necessity, but it was considered outrageous to partake in drunken behavior.

Many colonists believed alcohol could cure the sick, strengthen the weak, enliven the aged, and make the world a better place. Craftsmen drank at work, as did hired hands in the fields, sailors at sea, and soldiers in camp. College students enjoyed a malted beverage, which explains why Harvard had its own brewery. In 1639, President Nathaniel Eaton lost his job when the college did not supply sufficient beer.

C is for Cows, Especially the One Stuck in the Chimney

 

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Cows held a prominent place in the criminal records in Essex County.  A charge of witchcraft could made against a despised neighbor if a person’s favorite heifer died in a mysterious manner. Certainly, cows and swine were stolen on a regular basis. These issues were mundane compared to the story of Mark Quilter’ surprise.

“How a Cow Made it Down a Chimney in Ipswich” is a legendary tale in Ipswich, Massachusetts.  Two pranksters, Thomas and John Manning, carried a small calf up to the roof of Mark Quilter’s house and dropped it down the chimney. The singled storied home made it easy to climb. Roofs were rather low-hanging in those days, and the chimneys were large and square.

The Manning brothers must have had some unknown reason for choosing Quilter as the recipient of this prank. In the dark of night, the calf must have bawled in protest during its short drop to the hearthstones.  Imagine the startle Mark Quilter and his family had seeing ashes scattered with a disoriented calf leaping around the room!

B is for Branding

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Puritan sentences for crimes were harsh indeed! Branding with a hot iron might be considered unthinkable to the modern American, but it certainly presented a visible warning to all the colonists. It was another part of life considered normal for the Puritans.  Everyone knew what each branded letter represented, and the bearer was treated accordingly.

Branding was considered legal in England and all of her colonies and often took place in the courtroom right after the magistrate rendered the verdict. A group of spectators could always be counted on to witness the event.

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The ABC’s of Crime and Punishment in Puritan New England: A for Adultery

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My new series of blog posts will go through the alphabet as I describe the interesting crimes and punishments that took place in the early colonial period in Essex County, Massachusetts.  The blogs will also be a permanent page under the title “The ABC’s of Crime and Punishment in Puritan New England.

“A for Adultery”

Hester Prynne made the Scarlet Letter of “A for Adultery” well known in  Early American history.  This fictional single woman was forced to sew a scarlet colored “A” on her bodice as punishment for her adulterous affair with a married man.

The Essex County Court Records from the early colonial period contain numerous accusations of fornication.  The records sometimes use euphemisms such as “insinuating or wanton  dalliance”, “unlawful familiarity” and “committing folly.”

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Slavery in Puritan Times

For the documentary

Slavery in Puritan Times

      The history of slavery spans nearly every culturenationality, and religion and from ancient times to the present day. We don’t usually relate slavery as part of New England’s history.  Massachusetts was the first state to ban slavery and became a hotbed of abolitionist sentiment in the early 1800’s when abolitionist newspapers and pamphlets sprang into existence.  Despite these noble endeavors, the reality is that slavery in the northern colonies had originated a few hundred years before the abolitionist movement began. Continue reading

My Corrupt Political Ancestor: Sir George Downing

In honor of our presidential candidates, I would like to present my 9th great uncle, brother-in-law to Mehitabel Braybrooke Downing

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Sir George Downing is high on my list of “ancestors of whom I am not proud to claim.” Downing was a man of considerable political, diplomatic, and financial ability, but his character has often been brought into question by his enemies because of his willingness to make the most of changing political circumstances and to viciously betray former comrades to win favor from those in power.

   Downing Street, the residence of the British Prime Ministers, was named after him and Downing College in London was named after his grandson, Sir George Downing III. Sir George Downing, 1st Baronet, led an intriguing life and was in the first graduating class at Harvard.

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The Tragic Life of Rachel Clinton

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The story of Rachel Haffield Clinton’s tragic life lies buried in the early records of Ipswich, Massachusetts. Her family emigrated to New England on the sailing ship named The Planter in the spring of 1635. She grew up in an affluent household when Ipswich was a new village in the colony of Massachusetts, but the Haffield family fortune dwindled shortly after their arrival. The years to come would find Rachel destitute and one of the accused during the Salem Witchcraft Trials.

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Where is Gallows’ Hill in Salem?

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We now know the precise location where the nineteen hangings took place during the Salem Witchcraft Hysteria in 1692. Executions were intended as public events so everyone could witness the terrible consequences that awaited those who committed serious crimes. The details of the Salem Witchcraft hangings were poorly documented and appeared lost in history.

There was much speculation over the past centuries, and scientists were recently called in to collaborate on the Gallow Hills Project. The team confirmed the correct location is a lower section of Gallows Hill, which spans several acres, known as Proctor’s Ledge.

Many eminent past historians had proclaimed Proctor’s Ledge as the likely site. It was never marked, and the executions were placed broadly on the summit of Gallow’s Hill. This location is unlikely as the victims were transported by cart and the trek to the summit would have been next to impossible. Also, recent geo-plotting reveals that Gallows Hill would not have been visible from the McCarter House and the Symonds house where eyewitness claimed to have witnessed the hangings.

Tradition and family legends tell us that the twenty victims in 1692 were recovered under cover of darkness and buried on family lands. Results from geo-archaeological remote sensing on the site also support this theory. They found soil less than three feet deep, not deep enough to bury people. No skeletal remains have ever been found on Proctor’s ledge.

Many people incorrectly assumed the hangings took place on wooden gallows based on some artwork depicting the hangings. The experts concluded that the victims were hung from a large tree, a common practice of that period.

Salem’s plans for Proctor’s Ledge includes a modest memorial. The location of the site is in a residential neighborhood. Click below for More information about the Gallow Hill’s Project.

http://w3.salemstate.edu/~ebaker/Gallows_Hill#mediacoverage

 

Five Fact About the Salem Witchcraft Trials

Five Things You Might Not Know About the Salem Witchcraft Trials and Hysteria

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Witches and witchcraft are popular areas of interest in today’s culture and media. To feed this fascination and curiosity, recent movies and fantasies have perverted and distorted this important and fascinating period in American history. So, here is my attempt to educate the American public!

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Joan Braybrooke: Mehitabel’s Evil Stepmother

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Mehitabel’s Evil Stepmother : Joan Braybrooke Penney

Joan Braybrooke, one of the main characters in “The Redemption of Mehitabel Braybrooke, had every reason to be angry. Her husband, Richard Braybrooke, was accused of fornication in 1652 by the courts of Ipswich, Massachusetts.  After being whipped and fined, Richard fulfilled the next part of his sentence: he was to raise his infant daughter Mehitabel in the Braybrooke home.

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Mehitabel was a “nullius filius” (bastard) child

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Mehitabel’s status of a “bastard child”

Mehitabel’s life began poorly with the distinction of being a “bastard child”.  There are a number of legal terms that refer to  this situation more delicately: bar sinister, illegitimate, or “nullius filius”, which means “child of no one”, but Mehitabel was one of the more fortunate children born into this slanderous status. Puritan laws in the new American colonies forced men to take more responsibility for the sin of fornication. Continue reading

The Tithingman

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The above  image of a tithingman might imply that his job was a cross between a spiritual policeman and a royal fool.  In fact, his position was one of the most important in Puritan New England and went beyond just policing unruly children.

The key responsibility for a tithingman was to keep order in church during the long services conducted in the meeting house or early church buildings.   Most buildings had no heat or fireplace so winter services must have been a challenge.  Stifling hot church services were no reason to keep the congregation at home sitting under the shade of an old oak tree.

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Spelling in Colonial times

The writers of court records in Essex County didn’t follow many writing conventions during the early colonial period.  So, we have a variety of spellings found for Richard, Mehitabel, and Joan Braybrooke and Alice Ellis.

Here are some of the variants I uncovered:

Mehitabel, Mehitabell, Mehitable

Joan, Joanne, Joanna

Alice Eliss, Ellis, Eyliss

Braybrooke, Braybrook, Brabrook, Brabrooke, Brabruck

I settled on Mehitabel for the correct spelling as that is how Mehitabel spelled it in a very important letter she signed to the governor of Massachusetts in 1692.

Writers agonize over writing conventions such as spelling and punctuation, but we come to a greater appreciation of them when we struggle with these old documents.

 

Introducing Mehitabel Braybrooke

Life can begin as a curse. Mehitabel was born in 1652 to Richard Braybrooke and Alice Eliss in Ipswich, Massachusetts.  Joan, Richard’s wife likely wasn’t too pleased when she heard the news, but the town officials found out soon enough!  Richard was whipped severely at the village post for the sin of fornication and Alice was to be whipped when “her travail ended.”  As part of the sentence, the courts ordered Richard to raise his child.  Alice disappears from the town records but Richard,

As part of his punishment, the courts ordered Richard to raise his child.  Alice disappeared from the town records, but Richard, Joan, and Mehitabel are found in many more town entries as the years progress.  Mehitabel was Richard and Joan’s only child.

Mehitabel’s life continues to spiral downward when she finds herself in prison on two different occasions for crimes punishable by hanging.

In the Shadow of Salem, scheduled for release in June 2018 by Heritage Beacon, an imprint of Lighthouse Publishers of the Carolinas, is the first story ever written about this real-life Puritan woman.