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.
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