The best books about 17th century America

Karen Vorbeck Williams Author Of My Enemy's Tears: The Witch of Northampton
By Karen Vorbeck Williams

Who am I?

After living in, while restoring, an old farmhouse built in the late 17th century or very early in the 18th, it was impossible for me not to want to know the history of the house and the people who lived there. Combine that with the stories my grandmother told me about our ancestor, the suspected witch Mary Bliss Parsons of Northampton, and I felt destined to know her story. That led to many years of research and writing. At the moment I am writing another 17th century New England historical fiction. I love this period of history and so few write about it. 

I wrote...

My Enemy's Tears: The Witch of Northampton

By Karen Vorbeck Williams,

Book cover of My Enemy's Tears: The Witch of Northampton

What is my book about?

Based on the lives of Mary Bliss Parsons and Sarah Lyman Bridgeman My Enemy's Tears: The Witch of Northampton, takes us back to 1630s Puritan settlements along the Connecticut River. Amid Puritan superstition and religious piety, Mary’s father struggles to feed his large family, while Sarah’s father is well off. They spend their married lives in the villages of Springfield and Northampton. Sarah marries a carpenter and Mary’s husband becomes one of the richest men in the territory. Sarah’s babies die and Mary’s thrive. Jealousy festers into a reason to hate and then to fear. Sarah believes Mary’s good fortune is an act of witchcraft.

This fictional account of a true story describes two lives in conflict--one cursed and one blessed.

The books I picked & why

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Sex in Middlesex: Popular Mores in a Massachusetts County, 1649-1699

By Roger Thompson,

Book cover of Sex in Middlesex: Popular Mores in a Massachusetts County, 1649-1699

Why this book?

Well, the title was amusing. The rest of the book was fascinating, alarming, and totally surprising for an author who was researching the lives of Puritans in early New England. The public records, Puritan laws, along with Thompson’s analysis opened up a world of new information and removed every myth I’d heard about these staunchly religious people.

The Winthrop Woman

By Anya Seton,

Book cover of The Winthrop Woman

Why this book?

Anya Seton is my kind of historical fiction writer. She follows history throughout the story. Unlike, many historical fiction writers who dress characters in period clothes but magically make them think like modern liberals, her characters are true to their times. This well-researched book is written with integrity, style, and skill proving that history can be more of a page turner than fiction.

Mary Dyer: Biography of a Rebel Quaker

By Ruth Talbot Plimpton,

Book cover of Mary Dyer: Biography of a Rebel Quaker

Why this book?

Mary Dyer is a forgotten American hero, who suffered unbelievably for her faith. In early Boston Quakers, Baptists, Jews, Catholics—everyone but the Puritans—were banished. She became a Quaker missionary and led what became a hopeless cause: freedom of worship. Her whole story is painful, shocking, and cannot be summed up here without spoilers. The Puritan men who settled the Bay Colony hated and feared women who spoke up. They banished or destroyed them.

Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the Culture of Early New England

By John Putnam Demos,

Book cover of Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the Culture of Early New England

Why this book?

While researching and writing My Enemy’s Tears, I found Entertaining Satan on the shelves of a bookstore in New York City. Sure enough, there was a chapter on Mary Bliss Parsons titled Hard Thoughts and Jealousies. A prominent historian studied my 8th great-grandmother’s case and wrote about it. Local gossip was the author’s first subject for exploration—right on, because gossip is what led to Mary’s imprisonment and trial. Demos explores the lives of many accused of witchcraft and the culture that accused them. Anyone interested in the history of women’s lives and the reasons behind the centuries-long belief in witchcraft will love this book.

The English Housewife

By Gervase Markham,

Book cover of The English Housewife

Why this book?

The book’s subtitle: "Containing the inward and outward virtues which ought to be in a complete woman; as her skill in physic, cookery, banqueting-stuff, distillation, perfumes, wool, hemp, flax, dairies, brewing, baking, and all the other things belonging to a household.” And I must add: do all this while bearing children—sons preferably. The chapters offer up recipes, remedies, instructions on gardening, etc, along with spiritual guidance. Examples: To make a woman apt to conceive, let her drink mugwort steeped in wine. If a woman has a strong and hard labour, take four spoonfuls of another woman’s milk and give it to her to drink. I used the book for research and found it so entertaining and mystifying that I couldn’t put it down while thanking God I was born in the 20th century. 

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the Puritans, New England, and home economics?

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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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