Kit hesitated. She didn’t want to admit how disappointing she found this first glimpse of America. The bleak line of shore surrounding the gray harbor was a disheartening contrast to the shimmering green and white that fringed the turquoise bay of Barbados which was her home. The earthen wall of the fortification that faced the river was bare and ugly, and the houses beyond were no more than plain wooden boxes. (1.4-5)
For Kit, America is drab in comparison with her tropical home in Barbados. The shoreline, the harbor, and even the houses are not much to her liking. Life in the colonies, as we see here, is tough and at times bleak.
“But don’t you have slaves in America?”
“Yes, to our shame! Mostly down Virginia way. But there are plenty of fine folk like you here in New England who’ll pay a fat price for black flesh without asking any questions how it got here. If my father would consent to bring back just one load of slaves we would have had our new ketch by this summer. But we Eatons, we’re almighty proud that our ship has a good honest stink of horses!” (2.47-46)
Kit doesn’t understand slavery as something wrong; however, Nat expresses disgust at the institution. He explains that his family earns their living the honest way.
“All the land had to be sold, and the house and the slaves, and all the furniture from England. There wasn’t anything left, not even enough for my passage. To pay my way on the ship I had to sell my own N**** girl.”
“Humph!” With one syllable Matthew disposed of the sacrifice, only a little less sharp than Grandfather’s loss, of the little African slave who had been her shadow for twelve years. (3.70-71)
The differences in attitudes in slavery appear between Barbados and the New England colonies. Kit’s attitude is especially worth noting.
The town! Kit stared, too aghast to realize her own tactlessness. There was not a single stone building or shop in sight. The Meeting House stood in the center of the clearing, a square unpainted wooden structure, topped by a small turret. As they crossed the clearing Kit recoiled at the objects that stood between her and the Meeting House; a pillory, a whipping post and stocks. (5.8)
Kit is surprised by the barren town, but she is also aghast at the forms of public punishment in the town. The pillory and the stocks would have been used in New England to denounce and punish criminals.
The long rows of onions looked endless, their sharp green shoots already half hidden by encroaching weeds. Judith plumped matter-of-factly to her knees and began to pull vigorously. Kit could never get over her amazement at her cousin. Judith, so proud and uppity, so vain of the curls that fell just so on her shoulder, so finicky about the snowy linen collar that was the only vanity allowed her, kneeling in the dirt doing work that a high-class slave in Barbados would rebel at. What a strange country this was! (8.19)
Kit finds it difficult to reconcile Judith’s prim appearance with the hard work that she does in the fields. Kit contrasts the behavior of people in this “strange country” to slavery in Barbados.
“Quakers cause trouble wherever they go. They speak out against our faith. Of course, we don’t torment them here in Connecticut. In Boston I’ve heard they even hanged some Quakers. This Hannah Tupper and her husband were branded and driven out of Massachusetts. They were thankful enough just to be let alone here in Wethersfield.” (10.18)
Religious intolerance, we learn, is a part of the early American experience.
For two days they had been boiling the small gray bayberries that Kit and Judith had gathered in the fields, and Rachel had skimmed off the thick greenish tallow. It simmered now in the huge iron kettle, beneath which the fire must be kept glowing all through the long hot day. At the opposite end of the kitchen, at a good distance from the heat of the fire, the candle rods hung suspended between chairbacks. Back and forth the three women walked, carrying the candle rods, dipping the dangling wicks in the tallow, hanging them back to cool, and dipping them again, till the wax fattened slowly into the hard slow-burning candles that would fill the house with fragrance all through the coming months (12.2).
Candle making is just one of the many difficult chores facing the families in New England.
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 form 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)
What is the importance of land to Uncle Matthew? How does Kit feel about her uncle in this moment?
“Please,” Kit ventured. “Those other women you spoke of – Good Harrison and the other? What happened to them?”
“Goody Harrison was banished from the colony. They hanged Goody Johnson.” (18.71-72)
A harsh fate awaits social outcasts in the Puritan New England colony. The Salem Witch trials were a historical fact.
All at once Kit was aware that this New England, which had shown her the miracle of autumn and the white wonder of snow, had a new secret in store. This time it was a subtle promise, a tantalizing hint of beauty still withheld, a beckoning to her spirit to follow she knew not where. (21.13)
The winter has been a hard and long one, but New England promises a change in the seasons. What does the New England spring come to represent for Kit?