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Anya Seton

Copyright © 1958 by Anya Seton Chase

Anya Seton was born in New York City and grew up on her father's large estate in Cos Cob and Greenwich, Connecticut, where visiting Native Americans taught her traditional dancing and woodcraft. One Sioux chief called her Anutika, which means 'cloud grey eyes', a name which the family shortened to Anya.

She was educated by governesses, and then travelled abroad, first to England, then to France where she hoped to become a doctor. She studied for a while at the Hotel Dieu hospital in Paris before marrying at eighteen and having three children.

She began writing in 1938 with a short story sold to a newspaper syndicate and the first of her ten novels was published in 1941. She died in 1990.


This book is built on a solid framework of fact; from these facts I have never knowingly deviated, nor changed a date or circumstance.

I have hoped that readers would be interested in following the story as it emerged for me in the original documents, and I have included excerpts from some of these documents,
except that for clarity I have occasionally modernized the spelling a bit.

I have also incorporated my characters’ own written words into the dialogue whenever possible. All these characters are real; even Peyto and Telaka (though nameless in the references) are based on fact.

My determination to present authentic history has necessitated a scrupulous adherence to the findings of research. And I felt that this woman, with her passionate loves, dangers, tragedies, and courage, lived a life sufficiently dramatic without fortuitous inventions. Mine has been a job of re-creation and interpretation, “putting the flesh on the bones.”

Elizabeth has thousands of descendants today; many of these - guided by Victorian genealogists and a biased presentation - have a vague feeling that they should be ashamed of her. A member of the Winthrop family, a hundred years ago, even went so far as to mutilate references to her in the original manuscripts. I believe that her life was significant and praiseworthy.

True, she was a rebel against the Puritan code, as exemplified by Governor John Winthrop the elder, who was her uncle, guardian, and father-in-law. She was also a woman who suffered the handicaps peculiar to her sex and her time, but she had the remarkable endurance which characterized all the first settlers - those who managed to survive.

This is one reason I have spent nearly four years in research and in writing about Elizabeth. Another reason was the attempt to vivify the founding of New England, and New Netherland days, in terms of a particular family - the Winthrops - and of Elizabeth, whose own history is commingled with national affairs. And I particularly wished to allot a proper proportion to the English background.

Almost a third of this book is given to Elizabeth’s English life. It has startled me that our early emigrant ancestors are so often treated as though they arrived full-blown from a mysterious “across the sea”, and suddenly turned into “Yankees”. Lack of research and documentation explain this blank in many cases. I have been fortunate in tracing the English part of this story, since we have old Adam Winthrop’s Diary to consult, John Winthrop’s
and innumerable family letters; also I made two special and rewarding journeys across the ocean to see for myself. Groton Manor no longer exists as a building, but the topography is unchanged, even the mulberrry tree still grows!

Here, among credit due to so many English friends, I wish particularly to thank the Reverend A. Brian Bird, the present vicar of Edwardstone and Groton in Suffolk. He had made intensive study of the seventeenth-century Winthrop family - most of whom were born, and some of whom are buried, in his parish. During the course of my visits Mr. Bird and I became friends and he has been tirelessly helpful and enthusiastic about my project.

I also wish to thank present members of the English Winthrop line; and the Reverend G. H. Salter, rector of St. Sepulchre’s Church in London.

The English journeys enabled me to unravel many puzzling discrepancies, and uncover some bits of new data, such as where the
sailed from in 1631, and other facts which I incorporated - though their details here would interest only genealogists.

William Hallet’s association with the Earl of Bristol is not yet proven. It rests on Dorsetshire legend, but there is enough evidence to confirm the probability.

When we reach Massachusetts in the story there is Governor Winthrop’s Journal
The History of New England
as one guide, and I have preferred James Savage’s edition of 1853, since it is not expurgated like the Hosmer edition of 1908, and is enriched by the most lavish and provocative notes.

Like every researcher into early New England families, I also owe an enormous debt to the indefatigable Mr. Savage for his
Genealogical Dictionary of the First Settlers of New England
(Boston 1860).

There is Lawrence Shaw Mayo’s valuable
The Winthrop Family in America
(Boston, 1948). Also Robert C. Winthrop’s
Life and Letters of John Winthrop
(1864) which is charming, but naturally very partisan, and incomplete, since many manuscripts were found later.

The prime - the superlative - source for all this book is of course
The Winthrop Papers,
five volumes of them, dating from 1498 to 1649, published by the Massachusetts Historical Society. And these I am fortunate enough to own, for I constantly needed to check with the sources. Much of the story is in the published
Winthrop Papers
for the delving, but does not, as yet, go far enough. So I have spent many an exciting hour in the Massachusetts Historical Society building in Boston, deciphering as best I could the original, and so far unpublished, manuscripts and having many of them photostatted. Some of my character interpretations are based on my examination of these people’s handwritings. As one instance among many, little Martha Fones’s childish scrawl as she tried to write to “Jack” Winthrop in their rather pathetic cipher, indicates, I think, Martha’s temperament.

My devoted thanks to the entire staff of the Massachusetts Historical Society for their kindly patience with me on many occasions.

Several Boston friends have helped with the Boston, Watertown, and Ipswich sections of the book, and my particular gratitude goes to Mr. Kenneth Murdock and Mrs. Lovell Thompson.

Professor George E. McCracken of Drake University, Iowa, has helped greatly in disentangling the Feake family, both in person and by his articles on the Feakes in
The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record.

The Connecticut section is thoroughly documented, by Indian deeds of sale, by Dutch journals (contained in the
“Narratives of New Nether-land,
edited by Dr. J. Franklin Jameson), by English translations in the exhaustive
Documents Relative to the Colonial History of the State of New York, ed. by E. B. O’Callaghan
(Albany, 1856); by the late Hendrik van Loon’s private translation from the Dutch of one all-important paper relating to Elizabeth’s troubled matrimonial affairs.

For the latter, and for permission to make use of her own extensive research on Elizabeth, especially in the Connecticut portion of her life, my fervent thanks are due to Mrs. Lydia Holland of Old Greenwich, to whom indeed I owe ray first knowledge of Elizabeth nearly ten years ago, long before I thought of writing about her.

The Huntingdon History of Stamford and the two Mead Histories of Greenwich were useful (though not always accurate) for this section, and so has been my access to private papers, since Greenwich is my own home town, and I live on what was once Elizabeth’s land. I wish to say here that the virtually unknown “Strickland Plains” massacre of the Siwanoy Indians by white men at what is now Cos Cob, Connecticut, seems to have been as shameful and devastating as any massacre - on either side - in our entire American history.

Seventeenth-century spelling was a matter of individual choice, or momentary whim, “Feake” is spelled eleven different ways in the records. I have chosen to spell each name in the way its owner

The date discrepancy is always a nuisance when dealing with periods prior to 1752, when England finally adopted the Gregorian calendar. I have followed “New Style” for the years, and contemporary dating for days, but perhaps I should remind ardent naturalists that the day dates given would be eleven days later now, and that therefore seasons were more advanced than they seem.

The seventeenth-century use of “thee” is baffling; it seems only to have been used privately, and connotes strong emotion except in the case of parents to young children - and it was inconsistent In Shakespeare, when Petruchio speaks to Katherine he often uses both “thee” and “you” to her in the same speech. Margaret Winthrop, in her sweet letters to John the elder, does the same. I have used the second person singular sparingly.

Rivulets of ink have been expended on the subject of Elizabeth’s third marriage. It has fascinated genealogists. It is this personal and international imbroglio (and the astonishing amount of documents we have relating to it) that is responsible for Elizabeth’s disrepute. I have weighed all the pros and cons, correlated many neglected clues, followed the chronology minutely and presented what I believe to be the truth.

I have tried to consult all source books, histories, and biographies for the period, both English and American. Also contemporary maps. I wish there was space enough to name each helpful person, but of the latter, besides those mentioned above, I do want to give special thanks to the following. To Brigadier-General John Ross Delafield of New York for his constant interest and illuminating letters to me; to Mr. Robert Winthrop of Old Westbury, Long Island, for his cordiality and the gift of
The Lion and the Hart’,
to Colonel and Mrs. Francis Stoddard of New York for help with research; to the American Antiquarian Society at Worcester; to Mr. Robert C. Suggs, archaeologist, for permission to “dig” with him on the Indian village sites in Greenwich and for the use of invaluable material relative to the Siwanoy Indians; to Mrs. John H. Tennent at the Bowne House Historical Society in flushing, New York.

Some of these gracious people arc Elizabeth’s own descendants, and I hope that they will be pleased by this reconstruction of her life.

Out of the hundreds of source books I have used - and besides those specially mentioned above - I wish to acknowledge my particular indebtedness to
John Winthrop the Younger,
Thos. Franklin Waters;
Builders of the Bay Colony,
Samuel Eliot Morison; the colonial works of Perry Miller;
Three Episodes of Massachusetts History,
Charles Francis Adams;
The Winthrop Fleet of 1630,
Charles Edward Banks;
Genealogies and Histories of Watertown,
Henry Bond; all of Alice Morse Earle’s books on colonial customs;
Every Day Life in the Massachusetts Bay Colony,
J. Francis Dow;
History of the State of New Yor\,
John Romeyn Brodhead;
Dutch New York,
Esther Singleton.


Elizabeth saw the hedge shadows lengthening across the dusty lane as the Fones family jogged north towards Groton. And yet, only a few minutes ago the church at Boxford had been full or light.

When the Foneses’ hired cart had stopped at the “Fleece” in Box-ford so that the horse might be watered at the inn-yard trough, across the village street in St. Mary’s tower the great passing bell was ponderously tolling. Someone very old was dead, thought Elizabeth on the wagon seat, counting the strokes while admiring the deep melancholy bong, bong, bong. Perhaps the sexton would let her pull on the bell-rope. The sexton at St. Sepulchre’s in London never would, though she had begged.

Profiting by her mother’s inattention, Elizabeth jumped off the wagon and darted over into the church. The little church was empty and smelled of the Lilies which decorated the High Altar. There were candles and a silver cross too, the child saw with surprise. High overhead the great brazen voice clanged on, but Elizabeth forgot the invisible sexton; she was awed by the luminous quiet in the church and astonished by a feeling of delight. She stood in the centre aisle staring about her until she realized that the focus of her pleasure was a great leaded window in the Lady Chapel. This window, tinted in jewelled greens, blues, golds, deepened here and there by spots of translucent crimson, looked like a meadow of dream flowers. Elizabeth crept nearer and saw that all the glistening bits made a picture of a lady who was smiling, carried a rose in her hand and wore a shining crown. The whole lady shone with light, and Elizabeth longed to touch the glowing petal-smooth hem of the azure robe. Elizabeth’s impulses usually resulted in action, and she had managed to clamber up on to the edge of the small altar and was reaching towards the lady when her father rushed into the church, crying, “So
you are, you naughty minx! Come here at once! Hasten!”

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