A swashbuckler set in the West Indies of the early 19th Century, THE WITCH FROM THE SEA is a love story, a coming-of-age adventure and an eccentric comedy of manners about a woman who runs with the pirates to free herself from the conventional "rules" of gender, race and class.

Tory Lightfoot, an orphan of mixed white and Mohawk blood, flees the stifling gentility of 1823 Boston for the freedom of the open sea. But the merchant ship on which she stows away is boarded by pirates off the coast of Cuba, and Tory is forced to join the pirate crew to save her life. Making herself useful as both log-keeper and spy, she begins to earn a measure of the independence she craves. But fate, fever and the relentless U. S. Navy West Indian Squadron close in, and Tory must risk her hard-won freedom to save the man she loves.
"I highly recommend this book to any lover of historical fiction."
— The Historical Novel Society Review
"The Witch From The Sea is that rare creation, an historical romance with guts as well as glamour. Wild-spirited Tory is an irresistible character."
— Nautical historian Joan Druett (She-Captains; Hen Frigates)
"I am in love with this book. A+."
Reading Rocks / YA Fiction Review

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


The cradleboard was more than just a personal baby buggy to the Native American tribes. It was a piece of native artwork, as well as an important conduit of culture that was handed down through the generations.

California Indian cradleboards were woven out of reeds and wrapped in hides. Cradleboards of the Southwest and Plains tribes were made of wicker rods and canvas with lots of intricate beadwork.

But the Iroquois of the Eastern Woodlands of North America  made their cradleboards from the plentiful wood, especially sturdy basswood. And the Mohawk in particular were known for their carved and often painted cradleboard decorations. Usually, the father carved the board, which was then decorated by the mother and other female relatives.

This is a mid-19th Century hand-carved Mohawk cradleboard. The Pequot Museum (Mashantucket, CT) website has a slideshow of ten cradleboards, including this one, both vintage and modern, in their collection.

Here's a detail of a slightly less ornate, but just as intricately carved antique (undated) Mohawk cradleboard. (See other views here.)

Here's a link to a gorgeous Mohawk cradleboard in the Metropolitan Museum of Art collection, ca. 1860, from Quebec, Canada.

In practice, the carved, or otherwise decorated  side of the cradleboard went against the mother's back. The smoother inner side had a wide hoop at the top (sort of like a rollbar) to protect the baby's head, a footrest on the bottom to support the baby's feet, and either straps or hide or a blanket attached to the cradleboard to hold the baby in place.

When the baby was small, a Mohawk mother would strap her into the cradleboard and wear her on her back as she planted corn and worked in the field.

The Mohawk thought this gave every child the chance to view all people at eye level, as equals, from the very beginning of life.

(Cree mother and child, from the book American Indians, by Frederick Starr (1898), as seen online at ScienceViews

Monday, May 7, 2012


From Tory's Log ~

Mama told me that my cradleboard sang of Light Foot, an orphan with a wandering spirit who was adopted into the clan of his foster mother, "flesh of our flesh, bone of our bone," as the Mohawk say.  It sang of orenda, the unknown power that guides the people on their journey through life. It sang of Stockbridge, where many Mohawk families were invited to live alongside the white families in their English houses—until they were asked to give up the four Sacred Ceremonies and bend their knees to the white God in the mission church.

Many covered their fires and returned to their villages. But the family of Light Foot stayed on.

Near the top of the Tree of Life carved on my cradleboard, a naked branch stood out that bore only a single flower.

"Anne Keeping Faith," Mama smiled at me. "The first descendant of Light Foot to have an English name, because her papa was taught in the mission school. She was the only child her mama had."

Then came the war against the English king, when all the men of Stockbridge, white and Indian alike, went off to fight for freedom. As a child, I didn't understand what it meant, to fight for freedom, although I've had a great deal of experience in the matter since then.

By the time it was all over, Anne was carrying her own child. But her husband was far away on his first whaling voyage and Anne was too big to travel when all the other Stockbridge Indians were removed to the reserved land in the north. Evidently, there was not quite enough freedom to go around.

I met my Grandmother Anne once. She was as tall and straight as an old tree, and her face was just as brown and cracked, but tiny creases danced around her eyes and mouth when she smiled, and her cavernous laugh set the window panes rattling. She called me "Little Flower," and showed me how to husk corn. She said I was the future of the Hotinonshonni.

"Anne was taken in by her white neighbors, and elderly couple who offered to share their home if she would help work their farm after the baby came," Mama explained to me. "When the other Mohawk were sent away, Anne's mother gave her the cradleboard so she might continue the family history, and never forget who she was."

Above Anne's branch on the Tree of Life was another, longer branch, sprouting a seed pod. That was Mama's brother, Sam Light Foot, who inherited his ancestor's wandering spirit along with his name, and followed the Great Road out of Stockbridge for the sea. Beside his pod was carved another small flower for a new baby girl, as delicately wrought as the first blossom in spring. Molly.

"That was you, Mama!" I crowed.

"Yes, my Little Flower,"  Mama smiled. "That was me."

Above Mama's flower grew one more small branch. It bore another flower, more awkward than the others, but no less lovingly carved.

"I labored a night and a day to bring you into the world," Mama told me. "And your papa never left my side in all that time. When you were sleeping safe in my arms, he got out his knife and carved a flower for you."

My fingertips feel it still, the rough edges of my flower, a new song in the story of my ancestors. My place on the Tree of Life.