Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Mary Dyer, pioneer of civil disobedience

© Christy K Robinson

Little did I know when I set out to write a historical novel (part fiction, lots of fact), that I’d come upon so many fantasies, assumptions, and falsities in my heroine’s so-called biographies, or discrepancies in timelines that expose obvious mistakes. Who thought that at least one of two documents thought to be written by her, was not written by her, but significantly changed; and because that happened to the first document, the second one is highly suspect?  Or that much of what is “known” about her came from the highly-politicized and carefully-managed public relations wing of a budding religious movement?

Here’s what can be constructed about Mary Dyer:
  • was born Mary Barrett, about 1610-11 in England, parents unknown (though sensational-but-WRONG stories have Mary as the sixth-generation descendant of Henry VII. Did I mention this is WRONG?)
  • seems to have been well-educated and could write beautifully when most middle-class women could barely read and rarely could write
  • married William Dyer in 1633 at St. Martin-in-the-Fields church, which was an Anglican church at the time, before the Puritan regime took over in the 1640s
  • buried newborn son on first wedding anniversary
  • emigrated to Boston in 1635, was admitted to church membership in a conservative Puritan church, where her new son was baptized by a man who would be a tormenter at her death
  • was close friends with and mentee of outspoken female religious dissenter, Anne Hutchinson
  • in 1637 had a seven-months-gestation stillbirth of an anencephalic girl with spina bifida deformities; her pastor/teacher buried the fetus secretly
  • in 1638 offended Boston authorities by taking hand of Anne Hutchinson at Hutchinson’s heresy trial
  • Mary’s “monster,” the stillborn fetus, was exhumed and shown to more than 100 men as proof of her heresy in following Anne Hutchinson’s beliefs.
  • Because her husband William and 60 other men had signed a protest letter to the court in 1637, and refused to apologize, they were expelled from Massachusetts, effective May 1, 1638.
  • William and Mary joined the Hutchinsons and about 75 families in purchasing Native American lands that would become the colony of Rhode Island. They co-founded the Rhode Island cities of Portsmouth and Newport.
  • Mary had five children between 1640 and 1650 who lived to adulthood, but there are no existing records of what she was doing while William’s career in government and the law took off, and he increased their land holdings.
  • In early 1652, Mary sailed to England, leaving children (aged 2-17) behind with friends. William followed later, to obtain a commission to act as privateer in the Anglo-Dutch War, in the Dutch territories around Long Island Sound. He returned to Rhode Island without Mary.
  • In 1657, having at some point in the last 4 years become a Quaker, Mary and another woman sail from Bristol for Boston, but are detoured by extreme weather at sea. The ship waits out the winter in Barbados for a few weeks, and they return north on the Gulf Stream, arriving in Boston in March.
  • Mary is arrested straight off the ship, having been reported as a Quaker. Her belongings are burned. She stays incarcerated for weeks until her husband receives a message in Rhode Island. He goes to Boston to rescue her and pays a bond for her release.
  • Over the next two years, Mary supports the Quakers who come to Newport for refuge from Massachusetts, New Amsterdam, and Connecticut persecution. She protested the torture of Quakers in New Haven, Connecticut, and traveled again to Boston to support the imprisoned with material aid and spiritual comfort.
  • After repeatedly defying her banishment orders and sentences of death if she returned, Mary and two Quaker men were condemned to death by hanging. The men are hanged before her eyes, but Mary is reprieved by the court in a piece of manufactured drama. She would rather have been martyred, and writes to the court. She is released to go home.
  • But she can’t stay there when Quakers are beaten nearly to death, fined to the point of bankruptcy, and physically mutilated. She goes to Sandwich, Massachusetts and gets re-arrested and jailed for about a week. The man who transported her there is ordered to pay her jail costs and fine, and she is sent home to Newport.
  • Instead of staying in safety with her family, in November 1659 Mary sails to the eastern tip of Long Island, to a small island in its harbor, called Shelter Island. She spends the winter with the Quakers who own the island. She may have taught Bible lessons to the natives there.
  • Determined to rile the residents and defy the Boston court, Mary sails from Shelter Island past her own home without stopping, landing at Providence, Rhode Island. She and a female companion walk the same road back to Boston that the Anne Hutchinson group had walked in 1638 when they were expelled from Massachusetts Bay Colony. For the best effect, Mary times her arrival for late May 1660, for the sitting of the court.
  • Mary is arrested for visiting Quakers being held in the prison there. This time she means to be martyred, and she is, on June 1, 1660.

Why would this Englishwoman of high social status, education, a mother of six, and economically well-off wife of an attorney general, described as beautiful and intelligent, intentionally provoke her own death at age 48 or 49?

Did her religious beliefs make her mentally unbalanced? As you know, religious beliefs, whether conservative, center, or liberal, are complicated. They’re partly about how you live your life in relationship with others and God, and partly what you expect as reward or punishment in the hereafter. For the people of the 17th century, religion was everything. Nothing happened unless God directed it. Life on earth was fleeting, especially when waves of plague, misery, poverty, and war seemed unceasing; but the hereafter was “where it was at.” It was eternal, inevitable—and the only alternative was eternal hellfire.

The American Puritans were much more conservative than those in England, perhaps due to the bitter persecutions they’d experienced prior to their emigration. They combined their civil laws with Old Testament religious laws: Ten Commandments, plus many rules in the Books of Moses that were written specifically for the Israelites during their 40-year wanderings, along with Calvinist beliefs that men had a better chance of heaven than women (because Eve sinned before Adam) and that eternal salvation was only for a relative few that had already been chosen by predestination. How did one know one was part of the Elect who would attain heaven? They never fully knew if they’d be saved, but they showed their desire and intent to God, by keeping the laws, and by making sure that one’s community members also kept the law. This, of course, led to spying and tattling.  

American Puritans, then, were fearful of being lost, and frightened of a god as a harsh judge who, despite their lifelong, arduous work of being “good,” had no intention of saving them. When Anne Hutchinson in the 1630s and the Quakers in the 1650s came along saying that by faith in the free gift of God (grace), that God actually loved and desired their love, and that personal revelations of his will for their daily lives had replaced the old written law, people caught in that legalistic hell were attracted to a God of love and light. They could be saved. They would be saved.
Source: http://www.plainquaker.org/news.html

This was, in effect, a giant threat to the Puritan judges and ministers because their authority was undermined, they expected chaos from those who felt they weren’t required to keep any laws, their “New Jerusalem” city-upon-a-hill project had failed, and not least: that the lawlessness would bring a royal governor over to administer Anglican and secular affairs, and the magistrates and founders would lose their 1629 charter and their lifelong financial investments in the colony.

In their fear and fury at the Quaker invasion beginning in 1656, New England began making laws (which were contradictory and flimsy and were refuted by Quaker defendants untrained in the law!). The authorities burned books and papers, and arrested Quakers, putting them in prison for months at a time including freezing winters with no heat or light, forcing them to hard labor, feeding them poor rations or starving them, beating them several times a week, whipping (men and women were stripped to the waist in public and flogged), dragging Quakers through three towns and giving them 10 lashes at each town, dragging them at cart-tail out into the wilderness and dumping them barely alive, slicing off the ears, and other punishments. Some families endured these tortures and were fined large amounts of money; when the cash ran out, they lost cattle, horses, and properties, until at one time, a Quaker family’s teenagers were put up for slave auction. Because men vastly outnumbered women in the colonies and the Caribbean, the girl would probably have been doomed to be a sex slave, and the boy would have toiled until he died in the sugar fields. But the ship’s captain would not buy what appeared to be innocent young people for slave trade, and the attempt failed.

By this time, 1659, many Puritan settlers had become Quaker and Baptist sympathizers, sick of the cruelty, avarice, bloodlust, and injustice of their rulers. Some of them were fined and whipped for providing hospitality to Quakers or protesting the unnecessarily harsh penalties. Many of the sympathizers converted to Quakerism within a few months or years.

This is why Mary Dyer insisted on committing what we now call “civil disobedience.” Contrary to what many genealogy web pages say, and several accounts by Quakers of her time, Mary was no poor little victim. “She was hanged for being a Quaker,” they say. Absolutely not! She could have chosen peace, safety, health, and protection in Rhode Island, where her human rights were guaranteed. Instead, she actually sailed past her powerful and respected attorney husband and their six children who would have stopped her, to return to the scene of greatest hate and most malevolent government, and put herself face to face with their “bloody laws,” as Quakers called the system. She intended to rouse public opinion and shame the governor and court into annulling their laws. As Mary was escorted by more than 100 pikemen and musketeers to her first execution scene, she went happily and proudly, knowing she’d accomplished her purpose and would be in heaven in a flash. She didn’t need 100 armed soldiers to keep her from running away, but to keep the crowd from rallying to her rescue and to protect the Boston authorities who were executing a high-status woman, Mary Dyer. Her crimes were about the business of supporting those in prison—a biblical mandate—and disobeying the court by returning to Massachusetts, a misdemeanor in most eyes. The public opinion campaign was working.

After Mary’s 1660 execution by hanging, the early Quakers who wrote Mary’s and other heroic stories composed an appeal to King Charles II, newly restored to the throne, which refuted the Boston magistrates’ defense of their practices. As a result, the King ordered that Boston stop executions based in religion and refer their cases to England for trial.

Mary’s influential husband William was one of the framers of the 1663 royal charter of liberties for Rhode Island Colony. The charter confirmed the principle of separation of church and state, with liberty of conscience to believe, and worship (or not), in the way you choose as long as it doesn’t break the civil law. The Rhode Island charter was a model for the United States Constitution’s first amendment guaranteeing religious freedom and freedom of speech.  

So what do you think of Mary Dyer? Was she crazy to leave security and peace to be hanged? Did her choice to be a martyr have any effect on your civil rights? Would you have the courage to face death for a principle—or for people you don’t even know, hundreds of years in the future? Could you do what Martin Luther King Jr, and Mary Barrett Dyer did: own a dream, consider others’ welfare above your own, and commit civil disobedience, even unto death, to further righteousness and justice in this world?

Previously published on Sarah Butterfield’s http://sarahshistoryblog.wordpress.com/  during Women’s History Month, March 17, 2013.
Initially, I intended to write on Mary Dyer's contribution to religious liberty, but realized that the blog’s audience is mostly British and immersed in medieval and Tudor culture. So I wrote it instead as a popular piece, simplifying the complex issues and stripping out the others (including a large group of fascinating people) that were essential to the outcome. Because, you know, that's what journal articles and full-length books are for!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Angry bird--it's what's for dinner

William and Mary Dyer arrived in Boston, Massachusetts Bay Colony, in 1635. One of their parcels of land was part of Rumney Marsh, Saugus; later, when they moved to Rhode Island, William was granted Dyer Island in Narragansett Bay. Centuries later, both properties became wildlife refuges, particularly supporting birds. Of course, in the 17th century, there was no thought of conservation or ecological balance; merely "sport" and "Birds--it's what's for dinner."

Of the Birds and Fowles both of Land and Water 
As observed by William Wood in New Englands Prospect, published in 1634-35 as an advertisement for Englishmen to emigrate to Massachusetts Bay Colony. 
 Annotated by Jo Ann Butler* whose comments are printed in gold. 

The snipe
 Having shewed you the most desirable, usefull, and benificiall creatures, with the most offensive carrions that belong to our Wildernesse, it remaines in the next place, to shew you such kinds of Fowle as the Countrey affoords: They are many, and we have much variety both at Sea and on Land; and such as yeeld us much profit, and honest pleasure, and are these that follow; as
The Princely Eagle, and the soaring Hawke,
Whom in their unknowne waves there is none can chawke:
The Humberd for some Queenes rich Cage more fit,
Than in the vacant Wildernesse to Flit.
The swift winged Swallow sweeping to and fro,
As swift as arrow from Tartarian Bow.
Five species of swallow make New England their home. Barn Swallows, with their fondness for building their mud nests on barn rafters, can be observed at close range.
When as Aurora's infant day new springs,
There the morning mounting Larke her sweete lays sings.
There are many types of Lark in Europe, where Woods received his education, but only one in North America. Its song is so thin and tinkly that Woods probably refers to the Eastern Meadowlark. It is more closely related to blackbirds than larks, but has a sweet, cheery morning song.
The harmonious Thrush, swift Pigeon, Turtle-dove,
Who to her mate doth ever constant prove.
The Turky-Pheasant, Heathcocke, Partridge rare,
The carrion-tearing Crow, and hurtfull Stare,
The long liv'd Raven, the ominous Screech-Owle,
Who tells as old wives say, disasters foule.
The drowsie Madge that leaves her day-loved nest,
And loves to rove when day-birds be at rest.
The Eel-murthering Heron, and greedy Cormorant,
That neare the Creekes in morish Marshes haunt.
Sea Lark, or American pipit
The bellowing Bitterne, with the long-leg'd Crane,
Presaging Winters hard, and dearth of graine.
The Silver Swan that tunes her mournefull breath,
To sing the dirge of her approaching death.
The tailing Oldwives, and the cackling Geese,
The fearefull Gull that shunnes the murthering Peece.
The strong winged Mallard, with the nimble Teale,
And ill-shape't Loone who his harsh notes doth squeale.
There Widgins, Sheldrackes and Humilitees,
Snipes, Doppers, Sea-Larkes, in whole millions flees.

The Eagles of the Countrey be of two sorts, one like the Eagles that be in England, the other is something bigger with a great white head, and white tayle: these bee commonly called Gripes; these prey upon Duckes and Geese, and such Fish as are cast upon the Sea-shore. And although an Eagle be counted King of that feathered regiment, yet is there a certaine blacke Hawke that beates him; so that he is constrayned to soare so high, till heate expell his adversary. This Hawke is much prized of the Indians, being accounted a Sagamores ransome.

I’m not sure which of several New England hawks Wood refers to. Golden Eagles do occur in the East, but they aren’t common. I wonder if Wood is speaking of Gyrfalcons? The dark form occurs in the Maritimes and would get down to New England at times. They are spectacular fliers, and might well take food from eagles. The ‘princely eagle’ is our national symbol, the Bald Eagle. We Americans like to depict the bird as a ferocious predator. However, it is mainly a scavenger of fish and waterfowl, and would often be seen on the coast and rivers year-round. The Bald Eagle is one of the best comeback stories in the U.S. Once endangered by DDT contamination, critically so in the East, reintroduced birds are now multiplying.

To speake much of Hawkes, were to trespasse upon my owne judgement, and bring upon my selfe a deserved censure, for abusing the Faulconers termes: But by relation from those that have more insight into them than my selfe: There be divers kinds of Hawkes: their aeries are easie to come by, being in the holes of Rockes, neare the shore, so that any who are addicted to that sport, if he will be but at the charge of finding Poultry for them, may have his desires. We could wish them well mew'd in England, for they make havocke of Hens, Partridges, Heathcockes, and Duckes; often hindering the Fowler of his long look't for shoote.

Source: http://friendsofalewifereservation.org/
The Humbird is one of the wonders of the Countrey, being no bigger than a Hornet, yet hath all the dimensions of a Bird, as bill, and wings, with quills, spiderlike legges, small clawes: For colour, she is as glorious as the Raine-bow; as she flies, she makes a little humming noise like a Humble-bee: wherefore she is called the Humbird.

The Ruby-throated Hummingbird is the only species found in the Northeast. Hummingbirds are unknown in the Old World, so a caged bird would have been a wonder fit for royalty. Early explorers captured live specimens by squirting a hovering bird with water from a syringe.

Passenger pigeons, extinct in 1914
The Pigeon of that Countrey, is something different from our Dove-house Pigeons in England, being more like Turtles, of the same colour; but they have long tayles like a Magpie: And they seeme not so bigge, because they carry not so many feathers on their backes as our English Doves, yet are they as bigge in body. These Birds come into the Countrey, to goe to the North parts in the beginning of our Spring, at which time (if I may be counted worthy, to be believed in a thing that is not so strange as true) I have seene them fly as if the Aerie regiment had beene Pigeons; seeing neyther beginning nor ending, length, or breadth of these Millions of Millions. The shouting of people, the rattling of Gunnes, and pelting of small shotte could not drive them out of their course, but so they continued for foure or five houres together: yet it must not be concluded, that it is thus often; for it is but at the beginning of the Spring, and at Michaelmas, when they returne backe to the Southward; yet are there some all the yeare long, which are easily attayned by such as looke after them. Many of them build amongst the Pine trees, thirty miles to the North-east of our plantations; joyning nest to nest, and tree to tree by their nests, so that the Sunne never sees the ground in that place, from whence the Indians fetch whole loades of them.

The Turtle-Dove is a Eurasian bird, but Woods applies the name to our Mourning Doves, who are indeed devoted mates. His Pigeon is not the familiar Rock Pigeon of city parks. The Passenger Pigeon, similar in appearance to the Mourning Dove, once roved the eastern and central U.S. in gigantic flocks. Awed observers claimed some flocks took days to pass over. They are no more. Market hunting devastated the population, and clearing of their forest habitat ensured their extinction.

The Turky is a very large Bird, of a blacke colour, yet white in flesh; much bigger than our English Turky. He hath the use of his long legs so ready, that he can runne as fast as a Dogge, and flye as well as a Goose: of these sometimes there will be forty, threescore, and a hundred of a flocke, sometimes more and sometimes lesse; their feeding is Acornes, Hawes, and Berries, some of them get a haunt to frequent our English corne: In winter when the Snow covers the ground, they resort to the Sea shore to look for Shrimps, & such small Fishes at low tides. Such as love Turky hunting, must follow it in winter after a new fallen Snow, when he may follow them by their tracts; some have killed ten or a dozen in halfe a day; if they can be found towards an evening and watched where they perch if one come about ten or eleven of the clocke he may shoote as often as he will, they will sit, unlesse they be slenderly wounded. These Turkies remaine all the yeare long, the price of a good Turkie cocke is foure shillings; and he is well worth it, for he may be in weight forty pound; a Hen two shillings. Pheasants bee very rare, but Heathcockes, and Partridges be common; he that is a husband, and will be stirring betimes, may kill halfe a dozen in a morning.

We all know the Turkey, which is indeed a type of pheasant. New England has Ruffed Grouse, and Woods’ Partridge is likely to be the Northern Bobwhite, named for its easily-imitated ‘bob-white’ whistle. The Heathcock is another extinct bird, the Heath Hen. The chicken-like bird once lived on Boston Common and other heathland barrens. The familiar one-two punch of hunting and habitat destruction was joined by predation from feral house cats. Realizing that the suppression of fire in their scrublands contributed to their demise has helped conservationists preserve proper habitat for the Heath Hen’s Prairie-Chicken cousins.

Extinct heath hen
The Partridges be bigger than they be in England, the flesh of the Heathcockes is red, and the flesh of a Partridge white, their price is foure pence a peece. The Ravens, and the Crowes be much like them of other countries.

There are no Magpies, Jackdaws, Coockooes, Jayes, Sparrows, &c.
English house sparrows were introduced to various towns in eastern America in the late 19th century, in an attempt to control insects, but their insect consumption is only about four percent of their diet, the vast majority being grain and seed. Sparrows and starlings now number in the hundreds of millions and have supplanted native songbirds in many areas, from loss of habitat and food sources. Eugene Schieffelin wanted to introduce all the birds mentioned in the plays of William Shakespeare to North America, and he released flocks of sparrows, European starlings, bullfinches, chaffinches, nightingales, and skylarks to breed in the latter half of the 1800s.

The Stares [starlings?] be bigger than those in England, as blacke as Crowes, being the most troublesome, and injurious bird of all others, pulling up the cornes by the roots, when it is young, so that those who plant by reedy and soggy places, where they frequent, are much annoyed with them, they being so audacious that they feare not Guns, or their fellowes hung upon poles; but the Corne having a weeke or nine dayes growth is past their spoyling. The Owles be of two sorts; the one being small speckled, like a Partridge, with eares, the other being a great Owle, almost as big as an Eagle, his body being as good meate as a Partridge.

Screech Owls and Great Horned Owls both have horns, but the former is much smaller. The Greeks may be the last people who thought that hearing an Owl was a good omen. A hooting owl was thought by the Romans to have presaged Julius Caesar’s death. The bird’s call has been thought ominous ever since.

Cormorants bee as common as other fowles, which destroy abundance of small fish, these are not worth the shooting because they are the worst of fowles for meate, tasting ranke, and fishy: againe, one may shoot twenty times and misse, for seeing the fire in the panne, they dive under the water before the shot comes to the place where they were; they use to roost upon the tops of trees, and rockes, being a very heavy drowsie creature, so that the Indians will goe in their Canoes in the night, and take them from the Rockes, as easily as women take a Hen from roost; No ducking ponds can afford more delight than a lame Cormorant, and two or three lusty Dogges.

Personal aside: Aren’t you glad that blood sport is (mostly) outlawed? If you can’t eat ‘em, torture ‘em.

The Crane although he bee almost as tall as a man by reason of his long legges, and necke; yet is his body rounder than other fowles, not much unlike the body of a Turkie. I have seene many of these fowles, yet did I never see one that was fat, I suppose it is contrary to their nature to grow fat; Of these there be many in Summer, but none in winter, their price is two shilling.

The Sandhill Crane is not often found in New England. Perhaps the birds were fleeing drought or flood elsewhere, and New England might expect disrupted weather as well.

There be likewise many Swannes which frequent the fresh ponds and rivers, seldome consorting themselves with Duckes and Geese; these bee very good meate, the price of one is six shillings.

Swans are generally silent, communicating with hisses and honks. The “Swan Song” comes to us from the Greeks, who believed that the bird would finally find its voice with its dying breath. In 1898 D.G. Eliot, a zoologist, reported a swan he had shot uttering “plaintive and musical” notes that “sounded at times like the soft running of the notes of an octave,” so perhaps there is something to the tale after all.

Source: http://stoneplus.cst.cmich.edu/birds/1aSnowGoose.JPG
 The Geese of the countrey be of three sorts, first a brant Goose, which is a Goose almost like the wilde Goose in England, the price of one of these is six pence. The second kind is a white Goose, almost as big as an English tame Goose, these come in great flockes about Michelmasse, sometimes there will be two or three thousand in a flocke, these continue six weekes, and so flye to the southward, returning in March, and staying six weekes more, returning againe to the Northward; the price of one of these is eight pence. The third kind of Geese, is a great gray Goose, with a blacke necke, and a blacke and white head, strong of flight; these bee a great deale bigger than the ordinary Geese of England, some very fat, and in the Spring so full of Feathers, that the shot can scarce pierce them; most of these Geese remaine with us from Michelmas to Aprill; they feede on the Sea of Fish, and in the woods of Acornes, having as other Foule have, their passe and repasse to the Northward and Southward: the accurate marksmen kill of these both flying and sitting; the price of a good gray Goose is eighteene pence.

Brant, Snow Goose, and Canada Goose. Once Canada Geese flew over in spring and fall, and were absent in summer and winter.  Now we have them year-round. The Giant Canada Goose subspecies has been stocked across the country. As a result, we have all discovered a quirk of the Giant Canada Goose – they don’t migrate. Popular with hunters for their size, they are unpopular with anyone who has tried to keep grazing geese (and their cigar-sized poops) off their lawns and golf courses.

The Duckes of the countrey be very large ones and in great abundance, so is there of Teale likewise; the price of a Ducke is six pence, of a Teale three pence. If I should tell you how some have killed a hundred Geese in a weeke, 50. Duckes at a shot, 40. Teales at another, it may be counted impossible, though nothing more certaine. The Oldwives, be a foule that never leave tattling day or night, something bigger than a Ducke.

‘Oldwife’ is a type of duck whose males sport jaunty long tail feathers. Those males are very vocal, uttering whiny yodels, while the females have quiet, guttural quacks. But guess which human gender the bird was named after? The drakes were said to sound like scolding women, specifically Indian women. Therefore, the ducks were, until a few years ago, called ‘Oldsquaw.’ Recognition of cultural insensitivity in that name has finally led to a change. Now ornithologists refer to the Long-tailed Duck.

The Loone is an ill fliap'd thing like a Cormorant; but that he can neyther goe nor flye; he maketh a noise sometimes like a Sow-gelders horne.

Loons and grebes are extraordinarily well-shaped for life on, and under the water. Powerful legs and webbed toes propel them under the water with ease as they hunt their fishy prey. However, those legs are short, and are placed so far back on the body that they can barely walk on land. A loon that lands on ice, or mistakes a wet parking lot for water, cannot run fast enough get back into flight again.

The Humilities or Simplicities (as I may rather call them) bee of two sorts, the biggest being as big as a greene Plover, the other as big as birds we call knots in England. Such is the simplicity of the smaller sorts of these birds, that one may drive them on a heape like so many sheepe, and seeing a fit time shoot them; the living seeing the dead, settle themselves on the same place againe, amongst which the Fowler discharges againe. I my selfe have killed twelve score [240] at two shootes: these birds are to be had upon sandy brakes at the latter end of Summer before the Geese come in.

Humilitees and Simplicities – big and little shorebirds. It sounds like it didn’t much matter what type flew over – New Englanders would shoot and eat it. Maybe Doppers are the size in the middle. Woods is describing birds of wet marshes. Shovelers (similar to the European Shelduck) and Wigeons are common in tidal creeks. Woods’ Sea-Larks are actually American Pipits, a small bird which is similar in appearance to the familiar European Skylark, but can’t match that songster’s style.

Thus much have I shewed you as I know to bee true concerning the Fowle of the countrey. But me thinkes I heare some say that this is very good if it could be caught, or likely to continue, and that much shooting will fright away the fowles. True it is, that every ones employment will not permit him to fowle: what then? Yet their employments furnish them with silver Guns with which they may have it more easie. For the frighting of the fowle, true it is that many goe blurting away their powder and shot, that have no more skill to kill, or winne a Goose, than many in England that have rustie Muskets in their houses, knowes what belongs to a Soldier, yet are they not much affrighted. I have seene more living and dead the last yeare than I have done in former yeares.

Stop killing my people!
Source: http://postcaption.com/uploads/bs/Superb-Starling_0.jpg
William Wood frets a little about frightening birds away with gunfire, or whether everyone had time or means to hunt, but he had little concern about the effects of hunting on avian populations.

Passenger Pigeons are a spectacular example of how unlimited shooting, as well as habitat destruction, can exterminate even the biggest flocks, but the pigeon is not the only New England bird to have gone extinct since European arrival. Heath Hen, Great Auk, Labrador Duck, and even Carolina Parakeet used to be found in New England. The parakeets were killed to prevent their predation on crops, but the others are gone because they tasted good, their eggs were collected to feed fishermen, or the birds themselves were easy to kill.

Some of those extinct birds had one more thing in common with the Ivory-billed Woodpecker and Whooping Cranes, the poster children of birds in peril. Their ranges were limited, and they had nowhere else to go. The Ivory-bill may or may not be gone, but the Whooping Crane is hanging on. At last we’ve realized that their habitat must be protected along with the birds.

 * Jo Ann Butler is a naturalist, archaeologist, genealogist, and author of two historical novels set in Rhode Island during the lives of William and Mary Dyer: Rebel Puritan, and The Reputed Wife. Visit her website to learn more or to purchase the books.
More information on Massachusetts birds: http://www.cctvcambridge.org/Mass_Audubon_Report_2011