Building a Giant: Thomas Morgan Carrier

I’m taking a break this week from my series of postings titled “A Day in the Life of a Puritan Woman” because I’m leaving for England tomorrow on book tour for The Traitor’s Wife, and a good portion of this novel chronicles the life of Thomas Carrier, my grandfather back nine generations and husband to Martha Carrier, hanged as a witch in Salem in 1692.  According to my Carrier relatives, Thomas lived to 109 years of age, was seven feet tall and was one of the executioners of King Charles I of England.

So I thought this week I’d post something about the research that took me to Wales a few years ago in search of clues for creating a substantive fictional character based on this remarkable ancestor. 

Most of my research was done the old fashioned way; with conventional study of historical source material of the American colonies and Restoration England found in libraries or bookstores.  There is a wealth of information that gives the Who, What, When and Where of the 17th century, and I spent several years compiling notebooks of information about colonial life, the spy rings of Charles II, and the flight of the regicides to New England.

But to find the Why of the characters I had been developing, especially for Thomas, I thought it would be important to travel toWales, the country of his birth.   Dylan Thomas writes of the Welsh countryside, “the carved limbs in the rock leap, as to trumpets”, and I wanted to see, and feel, for myself the land that had helped to shape his character.

Before leaving for Wales, I didn’t have a lot tangible information about Thomas.   All the documents regarding his livelihood and family status came from Massachusetts and Connecticut; sparse records of a farmer in the new world.  But I did have my family’s stories, a good many of which painted a portrait of a soldier who had first been a bodyguard to King Charles I, and who later fought for Cromwell during the English Civil War.   The rumor that he had been one of the executioners of Charles I followed him throughout his life while he lived in New England.

Not knowing for certain where he had been born, I decided to travel to one of the most beautiful towns in Wales—Conwy—not far from Mount Snowdon.  The 13th century castle, and its battlements, had been built to subdue the rebellious Welsh.    It was there, exploring the nearby villages, experiencing the hard rocky ground, the changeable weather, and the breathtaking views of Mount Snowdon that I began to formulate Thomas’ character.   Over time, I came to believe that the shadows of an invading English King’s fortress helped to give him his strength of will, but the lyrical, savage beauty of the countryside gave him his heart.

“The earth where I first placed my feet to walk was savage hard and rocky with scarce enough topsoil to fill the hand.”   Thomas Carrier, The Traitor’s Wife

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15 comments on “Building a Giant: Thomas Morgan Carrier

  1. Richard Futch says:

    I`m descended from the Carriers,My grandmother was Blanche,born in the 1880s,in Nebraska,indian territiries.

  2. Susan Dunham says:

    I’m also descended from Thomas and Martha, from both Richard and Hannah. 7 generations down, Richard’s descendant Frank A Smith Carrier married Hannah’s descendant Jennie Eunice Denio, and their second child Leslie Aaron Carrier was my great-grandfather. I’ve loved reading your books, and would be interested in learning more about your research, particularly into Thomas.

    • Susan: So happy that you posted! There’s not a lot about Thomas, other than the local New England records and family stories, so a lot of story development in The Traitor’s Wife (which was published as The Wolves of Andover in hard cover) was conjecture on my part. I’ve linked a video from a
      Carrier descendent reunion in Salem a few years ago. I hope you enjoy it! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DeDthLdySlQ

      • Susan Dunham says:

        I would have loved to have attended the Salem reunion, but by the time I learned about it it was all full up. I hope there will be another at some point!

  3. Larry Carrier says:

    Hi Kathleen,

    I’m trying to determine if I am related to Thomas and Martha. So far, I’ve only been able to trace back to my great grandfather, Charles H. Carrier, born in England in 1841. He was married to Eliza (maiden name unknown) born in 1845 in Ireland. They lived in Guelph, Ontario, Canada according to an 1881 census, and had five children: Charles 1861, Nettie 1863, Gertrude 1867, Herbert, 1871 and my grandfather Alfred 1873. Charles Sr. had a brother named William Carrier born in 1850 whose occupation is listed as “fancy food” and he was married to a woman named Emma born in 1853. They had daughters named Ella (1875) and Gertrude (1878). Do you have any information about Thomas and Martha’s descendants into the 1800’s?

    Thank you,

    Larry

    • Hi, Larry, Thanks so much for writing to me. Thomas Carrier, the patriarch of our Carrier line, came to the colonies from England around 1660 and his surname was Morgan (he was born in Wales) while he resided in England. He changed the name, we think, because of his association with some of the known regicides of Charles I. Thomas had to flee England or be arrested. There have been quite a few Carriers in England, and some from France, who emigrated to Canada in the 1800’s, but these Carriers, based on DNA testing done by one of my distant cousins showed that we were not related to the Canadian Carriers. Most of the descendants of Martha Allen and Thomas Morgan Carrier lived in Massachusetts and Connecticut until the early 1700’s when they moved to upstate New York, then in the early 1800’s to Western Pennsylvania. I hope this is helpful in some way. And I hope you will enjoy reading The Heretic’s Daughter and The Traitor’s Wife for more of the story of Martha and Thomas. Best regards, KK

  4. Brianna says:

    Hi, I am writing a paper about the carriers and was wondering if you could send me some of your sources and information about Thomas Carrier, I am having a hard time finding much! Thank you so much! My email is Bschootman@gmail.com if you would be willing to help out

  5. Alice Buck says:

    I’m related to the Carriers through my mother, always proud to point to both an alleged Salem Witch and a British regicide–a true power couple. New I’m reading Charles Spencer’s Killers of the King. Was first disappointed to see no Thomas Morgan in the index but instead after some other research see Thomas Wogan. And, yes, that’s what the signature at the top of the last row on the right of the regicides looks like… Wogan, not Morgan. Further research shows true lineage for Thomas Wogan in Pembrokeshire. So where does that leave us with our seven foot tall, red headed Thomas Morgan? Is he a regicide or not?

  6. Tami says:

    Hi, Kathleen. I am also a Western PA grandchild (9 generations) of Martha Carrier. I now live in upstate NY. I knew all about her but had no idea about Thomas. I will definitely look for your books. I suppose this then makes us distant cousins. 🙂

    • Hi, Tami: so glad you wrote to me! I’m always thrilled to meet fellow Carrier descendants. I am a tenth generation descendant of Thomas and Martha Carrier and was fortunate to grow up hearing stories about 17th century life in Massachusetts. My mom is also from Meadville in PA, and I think there are still quite a few Carriers in that part of the world. I hope you’ll enjoy reading The Heretic’s Daughter and The Traitor’s Wife—it was my love letter to our common ancestors. Best regards, KK

  7. Angie Johnson says:

    Hi Kathleen,

    I just now finished reading Heretic’s Daughter and was looking up Thomas Carrier on the internet and stumbled onto this page. Just wanted to say that I really enjoyed your book and it has spurred my interest to read more about the witch trials. I have always been fascinated (more like a frightened wonder) by the brutality and extreme stupidity of people claiming to fear God and yet enthusiastically inflicting horrors on individuals and their families. Your writing is beautiful. As an avid reader it’s not often that I stop and re-read passages in order to fully appreciate their unique descriptive beauty. I covet that ability to put thoughts to paper and since I was not blessed with that gift I will continue to appreciate it through your words. I look forward to reading The Traitor’s Wife. Thank You!

    • Thank you, Angie, for your message! I’m always thrilled to hear from readers who love history. As much as I’ve researched the Colonial era, I’m still amazed that our early history was so filled with so much intolerance and violence towards women who fell outside of “acceptable” behavior. I hope you enjoy The Traitor’s Wife–Thomas Carrier had a fascinating history as well. Best regards, KK

  8. Kevin M. Carrier says:

    Hello Kathleen, I think it is wonderful of what have done and how accurate it is some say thomas lived to 113 but we’ll debated .. I am from the descendants of Thomas and Martha Carrier and have a great deal info on the family tree and info that I would like to share and add on to … wish I would have known of the reunion maybe we should all plan another one I live in Connecticut now my father moved here from Western Pennsylvania were we still reside strong today

    • Kevin, thank you for contacting me! I’m always thrilled to hear from fellow Carrier descendants. The reunion in Salem was an amazing event and I’d always hoped to have another. If you “like” and follow my author Facebook page (Facebook.com/kathleenkentbooks) I’ll be giving new book publication updates and event updates there. In June of 2017 there will be a commemorative event in Salem for the discovery of Proctor’s Ledge, the place where the “witches” were hanged. I definitely plan to be there for that event. As that date approaches, I’ll be posting notices for any Salem events on Facebook. Best regards, KK

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