Embracing Alice

Kristin Luce, June 2014

My brother once remarked that I preferred the dead members of the family tree to those still living, and at the time, he was correct. I was happier spending  time squinting at barely legible census records than visiting with grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, or even my brother.

But recently it dawned on me that I probably wouldn’t want to spend much time with my dead relatives, if they were alive. As much as I’m hoping to find free-thinking foremothers, fun-loving forefathers — or even just a Democrat — most of the relatives I’ve been researching were probably  boring. Farmers. Farmers’ wives. A spinster here, a tax collector there. They’re prohibitionists. They work hard, and most of their fun is centered around church socials. They’d make me feel guilty about not seeing them more, not calling them, not writing  them, just like the ones I already have.

And then I stumbled upon Alice Martin Bishop. To get to her, I had to climb up a third cousin’s tree, but I think her research and sources are sound, even though I have yet to do the legwork. I did some googling, and landed on this fascinating blog, researched and written by a much more distant cousin, Erin Taylor. I posted one innocent comment and the next thing I knew, I was wheedled into the launch of AliceMartinBishop 2.0, exchanging numerous texts, emails, and phone calls with the person who is now my favorite relative.

But I have a LOT of catching up to do. Like Miranda in The Tempest, who, upon spotting her first colonist (circa 1609) exclaims:

O, wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in’t! (Act V, Scene I)

I’ve found myself in an unrecognizable world, and I’m scrambling to do even the basic research about seventeenth-century New England and the people who lived there, in the hopes that I can add to this blog. I’m immersing myself in Plymouth Colony history, reconstructed passenger lists, the poems of Anne Bradstreet, and women’s history. Women are frustratingly silent in seventeenth-century New England, and that makes me want to try even harder to hear their stories. To hear Alice’s story.

The overwhelming question is simply, “Why?” And it is this question that is at the heart of this blog. Erin has circled around this question, providing thought-provoking and scintillating background information about life in Plymouth Colony, possibilities about where AMB came from and when, and what kinds of personal experiences could have informed her actions in 1648.

As most mothers of young children will tell you, we have two great fears. The first is that something will happen to our children. The second is that something will happen to us, leaving our children motherless. Both of these tragedies happened to Alice, and for whatever reason, she was responsible for both.

We can’t choose our ancestors any more than they can choose their descendants. When we’re lucky enough to find an ancestor — particularly a female ancestor — who hasn’t been completely silenced by history, we need to embrace her and reclaim her, no matter what her story.

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