Most women today are strong and capable, winning elections, sitting behind a desk as a CEO of a large company, bringing up children while holding down a full-time job or as head of household. Women hold a myriad of jobs and positions today, but it seems that without thinking, society has dismissed the women of the past, who held equally difficult jobs just to go from one day to the other while balancing a household and just surviving.
Some of the women, in this story, left the security of their hearth and home to follow a dream or to escape religious oppression. For the most part, they followed their husband’s desires for a new life, in a new country, traveling across treacherous seas. For some, life was good, hard but good. To others, like Mercy Otis Warren, life was a political challenge. Sister to the famous Revolutionary patriot, James Otis, Mercy spent many hours writing plays and poems depicting the deplorable conditions set upon the colonies during the years, previous to the war.
Born in 1727, Mercy soon learned that topics such as politics and war were thought to be the province of the men-folk. Very few women, at that point in history, had the education to write on such subjects, but she was the exception. She attacked the Royal authority in Massachusetts and urged colonists to resist British infringements through her works. Her father, a judge, was an outspoken opponent against British rule and all of his 13 children were raised in this atmosphere. It is no wonder that her brother James also became a strong opponent of the British having been the author of both “no taxation without representation,” and the right to oppose search and seizure, our 4th amendment.
A stately women as seen in the John Singleton Copley portrait, Mercy’s 7 foot bronze sculpture stands in front of the Barnstable County Courthouse with out-stretched arms holding an open book in her right hand and a quill in the other. In 1805, she published one of the earliest histories of the American Revolution, a three-volume History of the Rise, Progress and Termination of the American Revolution, the first history of the American Revolution authored by a woman.
Courage came in another form when Mistress Abigail Merwin was going about her chores in her home atop Pond Point in Milford when she spotted sailors of the British Royal Navy disembarking from their ships on the shores of Long Island sound in 1777. Although the sound is obliterated now, a full view of these men could be seen and knowing that they were after food and drink, Mistress Merwin, alone at the time, donned her red cape, took her baby under one arm and a copper pot under the other and sounded the alarm to the men who were at that moment hiding the livestock in an area we know as Calf Pen. It was in the low lying salt marshes that the citizens of the colony of Milford sought as a hiding place as the sailors had been moored for sometime and it was only a matter of time when they would search for food.
How they knew of her heroic ride, is not in the verbal history, but when she returned home, molasses had been dumped on the feather bed, windows broken and furniture destroyed, the house in disarray.
As much as Abigail was a hero, our next woman was not so well-liked as she made her neighbors well aware that she did not like them and that she was able to cast spells upon them. We speak of Hanna Cranna. Born in 1783 and married to Capt. Joseph Hovey, Hanna went about her business, all business. No hocus pocus but what appears to be a sour disposition. It was after her husband mysteriously fell off a cliff that Hannah showed her true colors. He was well aware of the area and walked it often but he didn’t make it this time. Hanna turned on her neighbors with vengeance and they called her Hannah Cranna. She cursed the neighbors when they refused her free food and firewood, and when she asked a neighbor for one of the pies cooling on the window sill she was rebuffed and she turned on her heels with fire in her eyes, storming out of the house cursing the woman.
She hollered that the woman would never again be able to make a pie and from that day on, no pie was ever made again. One would think that after losing a husband, the neighbors would gladly help her with firewood, food and help but it appears that before his death, she was such a sour soul that no one felt kindly toward her. Actually, they suspected her of doing him in. She continued her tirade with yelling at fishermen who were on her property in a stream saying they would never be able to bait a hook again and they couldn’t.
Hannah grew old and believing her death upon her, informed the neighbors that they were to carry her body up the hill, burying her overlooking her home and it was to be done by hand but not before sundown. A snowstorm on the day of her death prevented the box from being hand carried so it was placed on a horse-drawn sled. Halfway up the hill, she slipped off, sliding back to her doorstep. Once again, she was placed upon the sled, this time the casket was chained with several men sitting on it. Keep in mind that there was a snowstorm and the men were keeping warm inside and outside but when the casket began to shudder and shake, they were thrown off. Now well-passed sundown and they quickly placed her in the ground.
Upon returning down the hill, Hannah’s home burst into flames thus ending all that was Hannah Cranna, Monroe’s resident witch. Although Orange does not seem to have any witch stories, there are tales of sounds and unusual people walking around The Green. Not one to poo poo these siting’s, I do believe that there is a force in that area that cannot be explained, children’s voices heard in the Stone-Otis House when there were no children living there and a mother whose crying child was lovingly silenced by an invisible woman, only seen by another child in a nearby bed. Should you walk around The Green at night? Your choice.
A stable member of the community, held in great respect, was Mary Rebecca Woodruff born in 1876. As the daughter of Stiles Woodruff, the founder of the Woodruff Seed Company, Mary was a sickly child but outlived all of her 3 brothers. During her lifetime she was a significant member of the Orange Congregational Church missionary committee and clerk for the annual meetings for over 30 years. The minutes of the meetings were written as if they were prose using sensitive words rather than the dull facts of a meeting. It is told that she was a fabulous seamstress, making her own clothes and those of others.
A stately woman, somewhat like Mercy Otis Warren, Mary was also a writer. Taking methodical notes of interviews with town’s peoples and noting verbal histories, she put together the History of Orange in 1949. Mary’s book was reprinted by the Orange Historical Society (OHS) a few years back and a copy was given to each teacher in the system. The OHS staff has encouraged each teacher to read the book to familiarize them with the history of Orange so that tours in each of the three buildings, managed by the society, will coordinate what they have learned.
In 1907, Mary wrote an article about a Mulatto boy, 9 years old who was traded for 8 barrels of pork in 1765 using copies of legal documents between Zachariah Thomlinson of Stratford and Joseph Woodruff of Milford. As a member of the DAR, Mary was significant in numerous groups in Connecticut. Some of her writings included planned parenthood, a subject not common to print in the early 1900s. She was an accomplished artist and two of her works are located in the Academy. Her picture was printed in the NY Times announcing her presidency of a New Haven Women’s group and she spent a great deal of time with missionary work and an anti-drug movement.
Ahead of her time, our Mary. Each of our women made a place for themselves in times that were not made for women but whose perseverance as strong women made a difference.