Genealogy Research Leads to a Novel about Infamous Puritan

Guest blog by Donna Gawell

DG1In the Shadow of Salem is the story of an infamous Puritan, Mehitabel Braybrooke. Her life didn’t start out well, and history books and town records have not been kind. Mehitabel was an illegitimate child of a servant and a prosperous landowner, Richard Braybrooke. Both parents were whipped for the “sin of fornication,” and the court ordered Richard and his wife Joan to raise Mehitabel.

The novel arose from my genealogy research of my Puritan ancestors. As I was reaching farther back, I discovered that Mehitabel Braybrooke was my 8th great-grandmother. My first reaction was “Wow, that’s an ugly name!” Then the words like “witch” and “witchcraft” began to surface. As I assembled a sketch of her life, it occurred to me that someone needed to tell her story. That someone became me.

By all accounts Mehitabel was unruly. The history books and records portray her as “unchaste and a liar,” an arsonist, and a possible witch. This presented me with my first challenge of portraying her. I wondered how her foibles and missteps could have been the result of her unfortunate upbringing. Joan was childless, which The Puritans viewed as a curse, and the relationship between Mehitabel and Joan was strained from the start.

I am especially excited about this novel because it features many real people from that era. As a historical fiction author I know the importance of detail, and I made site visits to meet local Salem witch trial experts. Recent discoveries these historians shared with me helped me piece together important details from the period. Mehitabel’s story is woven into the tapestry of hysteria and panic that permeated New England in the year 1692.

DG2Donna Gawell has authored several nonfiction titles on genealogy, travel, and history. In the Shadow of Salem is her debut novel, and she is currently writing another historical novel set in her grandparents’ village in Poland during WWII. You can visit her website to learn more.

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