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  • Writer's pictureMaggie Meahl

When Life Gets in the Way of Writing

Updated: Mar 11, 2023

Recently I had shoulder surgery. Needless to say, it has somewhat stymied my research and writing. Before that, were the holidays which stopped the momentum as well. Anyway, life happens and one has to roll with it. I feel privileged to be able to indulge myself in my writing a book so I dare not complain.

Perit Fitch Huntington with great-grandchildren.
Perit Fitch Huntington (1886-1979), my cousin, and me. Circa 1972 at a family wedding. Photo taken by my uncle.

Where Am I in this Process? A Check-In.

I guess I am over two years into this book project: to document and analyze a family line from Norwich, Connecticut--generation-by-generation--to see how they made their money, who helped them, and how it accrued up until the American Revolution. Then, show how the money and influence trickled down to nothing causing my great-grandfather's family to leave in 1893 after 230+ years in Norwich.

Norwich, CT c1870s. Great image of market day near Chelsea Landing. Norwich was always a hopping town--until it wasn't.

The setting is Norwich. The characters are the Huntington family. The acts and scenes encompass the heart of a rich Norwich history from its time as a rocky Connecticut wilderness with a thriving Native American population to its boom era of the 1740s and 50s when its wealth skyrocketed due to an embrace and nonchalance toward slavery and all things West Indies. Then onward to the Revolution and its aftermath--nothing would ever be the same. Finally, the diaspora of a family at the end of the nineteenth century.

Norwichtown Graveyard. Final resting place of many Huntingtons, Lathrops, Perkins, Coits, Bills,--all related to each other.

My aim is to tell the story without prejudices or bias even though that is an impossible task. Fellow human beings were displaced, enslaved, and sometimes worked to death, in order for the Huntingtons, and families like them, to make their money. Period. Thus, enslaved Black Americans indirectly helped finance the Patriot war effort by assisting their merchant owners with all sorts of laborious work: farming, husbandry, ship building, crewing on sloops, and more. Later, many fought for the Patriot side.

The first draft is dry and clunky. Still, I have made it to the toughest part: Chapter Five. This is all about one of the wartime leaders of Connecticut: Jabez Huntington (1719-1786). The drama in his life, and its sad ending, is enough to make your head spin. I will include information about others in his orbit including his wives and enslaved workers he lived with.

Fire bucket
One of Jabez' fire buckets. Or, it could be his grandson's bucket. Owned by the Leffingwall House Museum, Norwichtown, CT.

Once I have all the ten chapters finished, I will be able to go back and enrich the first draft with better imagery, analysis, sources, and transitions. I am going to England this spring and hope to round out my research on Margaret Baret Huntington Stoughton (1595-1665) and her early life in Norwich, England.

Suckling House in Norwich, England
Margaret's childhood home in Norwich, England. Now a community cinema house, it once was home to many medieval merchant families including Margaret's. It is also called "The Suckling House." It was built in the 14th century I believe--with many updates over the centuries. It is a national historic landmark.

Everyday I try to imagine the successive Huntington generations' religiosity, manners, family network, clothing styles, chores, the cold they endured, the war they experienced, the deaths, the anguish, and their Puritan/Yankee Connecticut lives. It wasn't simple.

One way I do it is by reading books and diaries by authors from each century--especially Connecticut female authors like Madame Sarah Kemble Knight, Mehitable Chandler Coit, Frances Manwaring Caulkins, Lydia Huntley Sigourney, Mary Perkins, and Winifred Welles. They were well-educated women who documented or imagined daily an early romanticized view of Norwich. It was special enough to write about. With the exception of Knight and Coit, they all wrote about the Huntingtons.

Connecticut Author, Mehitable Chandler Coit
Diary of Mehitable Chandler Coit (1673-1758). Grandmother of Andrew Huntington's first wife, Lucy Coit Huntington.

Lydia Huntley Sigourney (1791-1865). Poet and author, she wrote about Andrew and Hannah Phelps Huntington and life in 19th century Norwich.

Frances Manwaring Caulkins (1795-1869). Another prolific writer from Norwich. She wrote the well-researched and comprehensive History of Norwich, Connecticut from Its Possession by the Indians to 1866. It is the "bible" of early Norwich history.

Winifred Welles and Norwich, CT
Winifred Welles (1893-1939). Another author inspired by her birthplace: Norwich, CT.


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