When his father dies, and his older brother inherits the family's homestead in Stogumber, England, William becomes an easy target for recruiters of skilled workers for the newly chartered Massachusetts Bay Colony in America. A devout Puritan (and political outcast in 1640), of marriageable age but landless, he faces conscription for a looming civil war. The colonies promise land grants and a Godly Puritan community. Believing it's God's will, William leaps at the chance to be counted and belong. He bounds a ship for Boston, Massachusetts with his inheritance, a bit of cash, his father's loom, and two spinning wheels. Twenty-four years later, the year his tenth child is born, he must admit his mistake. Although he's reaped the bounty of God's providence tenfold, the political winds turn, the Indians become enemies, and his children leave the faith. What he'd fled in England has followed him to New England. William, The Patriarch is the first book of The Watertown Chronicles, fictional accounts of a real family that lived through the turbulent and devastating King Philip's Indian War in 1676-1676.
Author Nancy Shattuck was inspired to write this series when she discovered her direct ancestors had lived through King Philip’s War. Exploring their history, she was so impressed by the complexity of the colonial experience that each family member began to tell a different story. No longer a novel, the “chronicles” were born. Nancy earned a master’s degree in Comparative and Japanese Literature at Washington University (WU) in St. Louis and completed the classwork for two separate doctorates, in Comparative Literature at WU and in American Literature at Wayne State University in Detroit. Previous publications include a children’s fable, "The Fishers," and memoir, "Travel Wings: An Adventure," in addition to short stories and poetry.” She is the recipient of an American Academy of Poets award in 1978; Tompkins awards for poetry and fiction in 2004, 2005, and 2007; a John Clare award for poetry in 2005; a Judith Siegel Pearson award for poetry in 2005; and a Heck-Rabbi award for drama in 2006.
The fictional family in "William, The Patriarch," is modeled from a family that actually lived and died in Watertown, Massachusetts in the seventeenth century. In fact, the Puritan progenitor, William Shattuck, was my ancestor. However, the artifacts that prove and detail the existence of this family are few. He was a skilled tradesman, not an important person, nor were his children. I had very few details to guide a rendering of their private lives. Even so, I was inspired by his published will to build both his character and the relationships he had with his family members. So, I may say the facts are solid before I stretch them into their story.
William, The Patriarch, 2nd Edition
I used the will published in 1672 to build Sherborn’s character and the relationships with his wife and children. We know from Lemuel Shattuck’s book that William Shattuck wrote and signed the will in sound mind on his sickbed, eleven days before he died. He had waited to the last to write this will. It was signed by adjoining neighbors (according to the Watertown map of original allotments), who were by his own words, ‘loving friends.’ The will was executed by his wife and witnessed by the Council Clerk. I took poetic license with the will, deriving from it the relationship that he had with his wife Susanna, and even her character. She was a unique woman of her time as she signed the first prenuptial agreement when she remarried after William’s death. One could assume she had some say in William’s original bequest. In his will, he grants her the use of his house on the hill until his two youngest sons turn twenty-one. That statement is followed by a badly worded clause he will give her four pounds a year “if she marry” or “if she marry not.” I play with the language to create a conversation between the two on his sickbed, when Susanna bargains with him to keep the house if she marries again. The will also informed me that he had favored his son William junior, as might be expected of a father whose son follows in his footsteps. He split his Waltham farm and meadowland between the older boys, Philip and William junior, but sweetened the bequest to the latter with his “loome and its appertinences” and a young horse. William junior was employed in Captain Prentice’s cavalry at the time, and the horse could have been specially trained for military use. I derived a troubled relationship with his oldest son John from the will as well. William gives John a cash equivalent of the land he bequeaths to William junior and Philip, but only after his mother’s death, and then, annually in four equal parts. John never appears in Council meeting minutes or on the church member rosters, which is notable for the oldest son. John only names his third boy after his father. I took these as signs that John had a poor connection to William. A letter from Reverend Sherman to Magistrate Danforth in Boston and Daniel Gookin’s account of a meeting in Charlestown, also belittle John’s character, which could change his Puritan father’s affections Oddly, William bequeaths three pounds to his married children, to be distributed a month after his death, but six additional pounds to his “son” Samuel Church (in fact his son-in-law). His sixteen-year-old daughter Rebecca had married Samuel Church, a man twice her age, with only one child issuing before the couple disappear from records. The facts were rich with implications any novelist would leap to convey.