Matthew and Rachel Wood are Kit Tyler’s American uncle and aunt. They, along with their daughters Judith and Mercy, are Kit’s only living relatives. The colonial Wood family is hardworking and devoutly religious. As Puritans, though, they are often at odds with Kit’s behavior and values.
Aunt Rachel is the sister of Kit’s late mother. As the narrator tells us, Kit has never met Aunt Rachel as she “fell in love with a Puritan and ran away to America without her father’s blessing” (2.24). Aunt Rachel was once a beauty, we learn, but the rigors of colonial life have permanently changed her. Kit better understands her aunt when she learns from Mercy of the two sons she lost – and the toll it took on her. She is kind-hearted enough to send some apple tart to Hannah Tupper, though adherent enough to her Puritan beliefs to warn Kit against befriending the woman.
If Aunt Rachel is the good cop, then Uncle Matthew is the bad cop. He is a stern Puritan patriarch who demands respect and obedience. Needless to say, Uncle Matthew and Kit butt heads continuously. Uncle Matthew is also a fiercely political man who criticizes the King’s interference in the Connecticut Colony’s affairs. His willingness to defend his rights and his land is representative of the fiery colonial spirit of early Americans. It is through his love of the land that Kit will come to understand and appreciate her uncle:
Going through the shed door one marooning, with her arms full of linens to spread on the grass, Kit halted, wary as always, at the sight of her uncle. He was standing not far from the house, looking out toward the river, his face half turned from her. He did not notice her. He simply stood, idle for one rare moment, staring at the golden fields. The flaming color was dimmed now. Great masses of curled brown leaves lay tangled in the dried grass, and the branches that thrust against the graying sky were almost bare. As Kit watched, her uncle bent slowly and scooped up a handful of brown dirt from the garden patch at his feet, and stood holding it was a curious reverence, as though it were some priceless substance. As it crumbled through his fingers, his hand convulsed in a sudden passionate gesture. (14.2)
In this scene Kit is able to fully comprehend her uncle’s character – and see the passion that her Aunt Rachel fell in love with.