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  • Writer's pictureMaggie Meahl

Re-Focusing During Historic Pandemic: Going Deep into 17th century England and New England

Updated: May 19, 2020

Is there a better time to dig into a writing project than during a pandemic when you are advised to be inside for most of your day? And, you are trying to distract yourself from the aches and pains of living with adult children and your spouse, 24/7?

Living through my own creepy historic time, I try most days to have my "ass in chair" and research and write about my new gal: Margaret Barrett Huntington Stoughton (1595-1665). One of the many themes in Margaret's very full 70-year-old-life was the constant threat of death due to virus and disease. While still living in Norwich, England, she lost an infant in 1632. Then, her first husband Simon succumbed to smallpox on their immigrant voyage over to Massachusetts Bay Colony in the spring of 1633. There were so many ways to die back then, but more on that later.

What did Margaret look like? Maybe this. Or not.

Above is a picture of a fine-looking Puritan matron, "Mrs. Baker" (1675--Owned by the Massachusetts Historical Society). It is not clear what her connection to New England is. This painting gives me ideas about how to portray Margaret when there are no known portraits of her. "Mrs. Baker" supplies us with useful clues as to what was important for the proper merchant housewife of the era: Bible in hand, finest black clothes, pointy Puritan hat, demure lace collar, gold ring, a tough countenance, and proof of her garden's bounty.

These days I am constantly thinking about Margaret and how stressful her life probably was once she left the comforts of her home in England. I want to build a picture of her life as best I can, digging for sources high and low about her time in Norwich, England from 1595-1633. Then, move on to her decidedly more rustic experience as an immigrant in Massachusetts and Connecticut colonies during those first decades of English settlement. Luckily, there are some primary sources I can use. For starters, here is a picture of the house she was born in: The Suckling House, Norwich, England.

Attached to a late 19th century addition is the 14th century Suckling House where Margaret was born and presumably lived until her marriage of 1623 to Simon Huntington (possibly afterwards as well). Now it is called Cinema City (awesome!) and used as a movie theater and tea room (but at least they didn't tear it down). I should be there right now but due to the pandemic, my trip to Norwich was cancelled.

Margaret was born to merchant/grocer Christopher Huntington and his wife Elizabeth Clarke in 1595. She was christened at St. Andrews Church (pictured below) across the street from her house. She was reportedly one of 7 children, and was the baby of the family (with many older brothers).

Finally, the Barretts were connected through marriage to the Robert Suckling family. Suckling was a mayor and MP from Norwich. Wealthy and influential, Suckling helped Margaret's father's grocer career probably through an apprenticeship in London. Margaret's future husband Simon Huntington (who's lineage is still difficult to prove), could have become acquainted with the Barrett family in any number of ways, however, they were definitely both successful merchants by 1633 when Simon Huntington took his family to New England. The very next year, Margaret's father was mayor of Norwich, the highest non-aristocratic political seat in the very large and independent 17th century Norwich.

More on Margaret in next post...

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